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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Monday, January 17 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Common and uncommon sense

In sharing some discoveries in my recent reading over the past week, I've already cited some of the positives of the revival movements of the 1700s and 1800s, known as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening respectively. The positives include bringing a new interest in God and godliness among the colonial Americans in the first of those centuries and those on the frontier in the second. Those too far from a regular church to be able to attend regularly were encouraged, in a dynamic, soul-stirring, way, to practice devotion to God through private and family prayers and Bible readings, and to study on their own to discover what Christianity means to them individually.

Though this is positive, its "flip side" is that such ideas and teachings tended to undermine the church in its literal meaning and, more importantly, its spiritual meaning. If the individual is to make up his own religion to suit himself, as many understood this new emphasis as teaching, what was the place of authority in his or her life; who had the key to the Scriptures? Was any interpretation as good as any other? Obviously, over centuries of struggling with these questions, many have concluded that this was a weakening of the church as an institution and the faith itself. Yet congruently in the temporal sense and incongruently in the rational sense, interest in Christianity was reawakened and the enthusiasm that was stirred up in the preaching of the frontier evangelists has continued to ignite Christian piety and desire for God in the American people in a way that's more pronounced than in any other modern nation, and to keep the fire more alive than the same revivals that swept England and Wales also in the same generations.

I didn't mean to go into a history of Christianity in America when I began this series, but only to look at the phenommenon of common sense realisn as a philosophy that began shaping American thinking in those same generations and has shaped it ever since. To segue into that particular subject, let me quote Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth. She says*: A...

key person of the Second Great Awakening was John Leland, one of the most popular and controversial Baptists in the early nineteenth century [early 1800s]. Leland...was a fervent Jeffersonian, taking the concept of self-government in politics to imply personal autonomy in religion. "We will be free, we will rule ourselves," he wrote....

Leland took the concept of religious autonomy so far that he was even opposed to parents teaching their own children....He urged people to make a deliberate effort to free themselves from all natural authorities, whether church, state, teachers, or even the family.

Leland's rejection of religious authority led him to insist that the simple and the ignorant are actually more competent than the learned clergy to read and understand the Bible: "Is not the simple man, who makes nature and reason his study, a competent judge of things?"....

The troubling thing about all this is that Christianity was not shaping the culture so much as the culture was shaping Christianity....

There are two seminal thoughts here: "Is not the simple man, who makes nature and reason his study, a competent judge of things?" is a nutshell summary of common sense realism which, although originating in Scotland, can be called the most formative philosophy in America from its national founding to even this post-modern generation. And whenever "Christianity [is] not shaping the culture so much as the culture [is] shaping Christianity," that Christianity has to be seen as inauthentic, putting something other than the Lord it professes above Him and His revealed will for it.

More next time.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

*Total Truth, Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey, Crossway Books, 2004, pages 276-277.

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

Classic Hollywood Squares, 1

If you remember The Original Hollywood Squares and its comics, this will bring a tear to your eyes. These great questions and answers are from the days when "Hollywood Squares" game show responses were spontaneous! Peter Marshall was the host asking the questions, of course.

Q. Do female frogs croak?

A. Paul Lynde: If you hold their little heads under water long enough.

Q. If you're going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be?

A. Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.

—Sent by Judy Rose

Thought for today

Resolved: never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758,  
leading light of the Great Awakening

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