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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Happy New Year!  

Wednesday, January 12 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Awakenings

On Monday I said I learned much from Nancy Pearcey's book, Total Truth, which I recently read, that I might have found years earlier if circumstance and conscience hadn't required me to concentrate on making a life for my children and myself after the end of my ministry in 1984. As a lifelong Protestant and a campus and youth minister for over 15 years before that, I had absorbed many impressions about the history of religion in America, but Pearcey's book, which traces the major strands of American faith since the time of the Colonial Pilgrims and Puritans, altered many of my notions. I had thought of the generation of the Revolutionary War freedom fighters as a golden age for Christianity.

In one sense, there was truth in that impression. The First Great Awakening, a mass turning to Christianity, spread throughout the original United States in that period, beginning even before 1700 but catching fire from the 1730s to the 1770s, bringing tens of thousands of the early Americans to Christian commitment and church membership. The Methodist Church began and quickly grew at that time, and the Baptists and Presbyterians also multiplied quickly through the First Great Awakening. John Wesley, the British evangelist and Church of England minister, the founder of Methodism, visited the colonies repeatedly to speak to thousands in open-air meetings, and his colleague George Whitfield came even more often to preach in the new country and conduct some of the first American-style evangelistic crusades.

The Sunday school was also invented in that generation and quickly spread, often being the impetus of starting new churches but soon after was adopted by virtually all Protestant denominations as an educational program for children first and also adults later on. Whitfield supported Benjamin Franklin in launching the institute that quickly became the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the site of the first American Medical School. And Jonathan Edwards, the greatest American-born preacher of the Awakening, was the first president of what became Princeton in the Presbyterian-Reformed-dominated New Jersey.

While the First Great Awakening was in full flower, so was the Enlightenment which could also be called the dawn of the scientific age. A century before, Isaac Newton published Principia Mathematica, which was seen by many top thinkers of the time as challenging traditional religious formulations because implicit in the work of Newton and other Enlightenment thinkers "was the assumption that human beings had the ability to discover the secrets of the universe and thereby exert some control over their own destiny." This movement overlapped the opening of world travel and commerce as the European colonies in the Americas and newly established trading stations in Asia proved viable and prospered.

Though our own generation has seen untold change in human life through technology, so did the generations of the 1700s undergo vast changes in their view of the world and human potentials. And no doubt this ferment was a major impetus in the minds of the Enlightenment thinkers who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, which was in actuality a declaration of war on England and probably more importantly, on not only the Old World geographically, but all old-world ways of thinking.

The First Great Awakening was interrupted by the war that followed the Declaration of Independence (1776, the American Revolutionary War, of course). But the war wasn't even over when a former slave trader from England, John Newton, had penned Amazing Grace (first published in 1779) and shortly after the American Republic got its start, religious revivals broke out again and soon began to be called the Second Great Awakening, which continued for another fifty years or so, up to the Civil War and the movement leading to the abolition of Slavery in this country.

Though Nancy Pearcey works for several Protestant institutions as a researcher, journalist, author, and conference speaker, she is not as enthusiastic about the Great Awakening as I used to be. She argues that it was far less "Christian" than it's generally considered.

Which is where we'll continue next time.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2005

Dead fish

Little Nancy was in the garden filling in a hole when her neighbor peered over the fence. Interested in what the cherub-faced youngster was up to, he politely asked, "What are you up to there, Nancy?"

"My goldfish died," replied Nancy tearfully, without looking up, "and I've just buried him."

The neighbor was concerned, "That's an awfully big hole for a goldfish, isn't it?"

Nancy patted down the last heap of earth then replied, "That's because it's inside your cat."

Thought for today

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Sign hanging in Einstein's office at Princeton  

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