The Second Great Awakening

“Footnotes deleted” in the excerpt below:

Most important was a shift in America’s theology. The preaching of the First Great Awakening (of the 1740s) was Calvinistic. The theology of the Second Awakening was increasingly antagonistic to Calvinism, and stressed Arminianism and the autonomy of the human will. Some theologians even careened into Pelagianism, denying Original Sin and human depravity. “Sin is in the sinning,” Yale’s Nathaniel Taylor taught, assaulting a Scriptural and Augustinian anthropology.

Anthopology (the doctrine of man) is invariably linked to soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Pelagian and Semi-pelagian teaching lead inevitably to a man-centered view of salvation. Salvation wasn’t a miracle, for instance, according to Charles G. Finney; it was simply the right use of constituted means. The trick for the revivalist was to apply the best techniques for prompting changes (or what appeared to be changes) of the will. As one historian observes, “[R]evivals came to be understood less as the mighty acts of God than as the achievement of preachers who won the consent of sinners.”

The Problem with Revivalism By Roger Schultz

“God did not save me. I saved me!”

“God did not choose me. I choose God… because it felt good for me to do so!”

“My righteous soul opened the path to life for me! And my righteous works will open the gates of heaven to me!”

Humanism — “Man first. God second.” — didn’t start with the Atheists. Or the Secularists. Or even the Darwinians.

Finney’s Altar Call

Charles Finney (1792-1875) best represents the theological and pragmatic shift of the Second Awakening. A renegade Presbyterian of dubious orthodoxy, Finney pioneered “new measures” — evangelistic devices such as the “anxious bench” and “altar call” to encourage decisions. Finney deliberately sought to stimulate emotions, to excite the will, and to prompt action: “He believed that all that was needed for conversion was a resolution signified by standing, kneeling, or coming forward, and because the Holy Spirit always acts when a sinner acts, the public resolution could be treated as ‘identical with the miraculous inward change of sudden conversion.’”

Finney-style decisionalism often employed manipulative and behaviouristic techniques. Jack Hyles, a modern fundamentalist Baptist, once discouraged using organs for altar calls, saying they would lull the will into inactivity. Always use a piano, he urged, since its sharper notes were more likely to produce decisions. Hyles even had tips for the timing of invitations. Because unsaved people knew that the altar call was coming at the end of the worship service, and could harden themselves against the gospel, he recommended that the invitation be slipped into the middle of the sermon. This way the unregenerate wouldn’t have time to resist. Even consistent Arminians should object to using stealth and trickery to dupe people into doing what they really don’t want to do.

“Salvation by the Power and the Will of Man!”

I recently heard an evangelistic message that raised the bar for gimmickry. The evangelist had a thrilling testimony, one that left me brushing away tears. (But he never used the Bible, which is always a bad sign.) For the invitation, the evangelist insisted that he did not want people to come forward. Rather, he wanted them to make a decision in the “quietness of their hearts.” Later, he asked all who had made decisions to “simply stand up.” A little while later, he directed all those who had stood up “just to come forward.” Had he been consulted about his deceitful methodology, the evangelist would probably argue that he was simply breaking down personal barriers and eliminating silly internal resistance to the gospel. To me, it seemed like a sneaky way of building up to an altar call. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need gimmicks.5

In The Feminization of American Culture, Ann Douglas explains the momentous change in America’s theological climate in the 19 th century, as doctrine and theology gave way to sentimentality, emotionalism, and numbers. A rigorous and doctrinal Calvinism had been the basic American theological paradigm until roughly 1820. In 1800, she writes, the average Protestant “subscribed to a rather complicated and rigidly defined body of dogma; attendance at a certain church had a marked theological function.” By 1875, Protestants had become a-theological, defining their faith “in terms of family morals, civic responsibility, and above all… the social function of church going.”

Most significantly, churches “shifted their emphasis from a primary concern with the doctrinal beliefs of their members to a preoccupation with numbers.” Numbers replaced genuine spiritual concern — and so it usually goes in Finneyistic churches.

The Problem with Revivalism By Roger Schultz

“Psychological techniques, and the need for more parishioners, with more tithe money. That’s the way forward!”

“Doctrinal truth? Unyielding commandments? Curses for disobedience? Repentance? Covenantal Duties? Building the Kingdom of God? Personal sacrifice? Spare me the Calvinist baggage: it interferes with the cash flow!”

What we need, now more than ever, is genuine Biblical revival, based on solid Biblical teaching. John Carrick notes that some 50,000 people were converted in the First Great Awakening, or roughly one fifth of the population. Were a comparable revival to come today, he notes, it would mean that “50 million people would press into the kingdom of God.” Now there is something to pray for! But such a God-sent revival should be pursued only through the forms of evangelism taught in Scripture.

The Problem with Revivalism By Roger Schultz

I am confident that Our Betters are already picking out some pious religious clothes, for when the welfare state goes down.

“So people aren’t paying the slightest attention to the political leadership or the courts anymore? They don’t believe in Free Stuff? They just want to hear what God says? Well then, it’s time for Our People to tell them what they want to hear — with the pious mumbo-jumbo they expect, of course… and reap the financial and political rewards for doing so!”

The best defense against the coming wave of pious hustlers and sweet-talking thieves and adultery is the Priesthood of All Believers. Everyone needs to take personal responsibility to know, and to personally uphold, God’s well.

Know your Bible. Spread your knowledge.

And challenge the coming wave of snakes, in public and private.

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