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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Friday, January 28 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

When common sense isn't

In the end of the great revival in politics and religion that boiled over throughout the 1700s and first half of the 1800s, "common sense realism" began to fail because what is common sense to one person is, after all, nonsense to another. At first, it was only the leftist elitists who criticized the "common sense" approach to life that the American Christians lived by. And even though chinks were beginning to show through the system, through the middle of the 1800s another wave of evangelistic fervor swept the nation, with what was called the Second Great Awakening. Beginning as early as the end of the American Revolution, the second wave produced the Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches, which quickly became the fifth-largest Protestant association of churches in the country, spun off the Mormons, and legendary evangelists like Charles Finney and Dwight L. Moody. It also fostered the flourishing of the YMCA movement, international missions organizations, and many other new smaller denominations and other manifestations of Christian fervor and enthusiasm.

But by the end of the 1800s the "new thing" rising from the North Atlantic East was Protestant liberal theology, born in Germany and imported to America through many of the old established colleges, universities, and seminaries, where a new generation of transcendentalists (see Wednesday's entry) were ready to come "out of the closet" and openly challenge the biblical and trinitarian faith they had long been opposing. As teachers of the country's best educated ministers, they were able to influence a whole generation of leaders of the so-called mainline churches (the ones like Congregational, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and by now the Methodists) that had been the least swayed by or, at least by now, were ready to distance themselves from the Great Awakenings.

By the 1920s the swing toward the liberal "anything-goes-in-the-church" development was being countered by a rising popular movement of fundamentalism, spearheaded by an insurgent resistance at Princeton Seminary, mostly Presbyterians with a respectable support troop of Baptists. They called the evangelicals to turn away from naive "common sense" toward a new scholarly but biblically based engagement in the academic life and the larger culture. Those who had willingly let the old "Christian-founded" major universities slip away from their control now scrambled to establish new colleges of their own and study what the Bible had to offer for academic study in fields beyond preaching and foreign missions. To tie up the end with the beginning, this is where Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), who was discussed in the first installment of this series, shone, as the great popularizer of biblical Christians engaging the whole world in every sphere.

I won't try to go into the permutations in this movement, except to recap briefly that by 1950 the "scholarly" vanguard of that movement called for a revival of evangelicalism, calling it "new evangelicalism," which put distance between themselves and the more separatist fundamentalists. Billy Graham was heralded as its new main proponent, Christianity Today was launched as its most appealing publication, and it established major beach-heads in the media, especially radio. By the 1970s the new evangelicals were a formidable force, recognized as having had a major impact in the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and, conversely, Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.

And after decades of infighting between fundamentalists and "new evangelicals," eventually a new consensus seemed to emerge, with Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell (formerly a hard-line fundamentalist) all members of the largest evangelical denomination, and the only major Protestant denomination to continue to grow exponentially throughout the 20th Century, the Southern Baptist Church. By the end of the 20th Century the evangelical movement had reclaimed its former leadership in American religion, far outnumbering the more liberal, establishment liberal denominations, and out-influencing public opinion by every measure. And by the early 21st Century, an informal alliance between the mainstream evangelicals with conservative Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, uniting primarily around "defense-of-the-family" issues like abortion, homosexual "marriage," and failures in the nationwide public school system to reinforce traditional values, was seen as the major development in American religion.

The 2004 election of George W. Bush was no more fervently supported by evangelical Baptists (and members of other denominations) than was Thomas Jefferson's two centuries earlier. But now "common sense realism" is finally being replaced by a more enduring Judeo-Christian—biblical— worldview to shape public life and our common destiny.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

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

Classic Hollywood Squares, 6

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. It is considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is politics, what is the other?

A. Paul Lynde: Tape measures.

Q. During a tornado, are you safer in the bedroom or in the closet?

A. Rose Marie: Unfortunately, Peter, I'm always safe in the bedroom.

Thought for today

Christians should never fail to sense the operation of an angelic glory. It forever eclipses the world of demonic powers, as the sun does a candle's light.

Billy Graham  

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