Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 39 - The Second Great Awakening (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-039 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: I'm still fascinated by your answer regarding the first Great Awakening. If it was the first, was there a second Great Awakening? And if so, what characterized it? >> SPEAKER: The first Great Awakening is a fascinating event, David. You're right about that. But in some ways, the Second Great Awakening is even more compelling. At least, it provides some more real action and some stories that are just difficult to comprehend, given our present day circumstances. The second Great Awakening is a much longer process as we historians define it, stretching from about 1801 well into the 1830's, maybe even into the 1840's, depending upon how you like to set the cutoff date. But in this period of time, American Christianity is transformed in fundamental ways. Demographically, paint this picture in your mind. In 1790, the major churches are still the old colonial churches: The Congregational Church, the Episcopal Church, churches like that. Emerging churches are the Methodists, Baptists, the Presbyterians. And these three are especially strong out on the western American frontier. And that's where we need to go as we start this discussion. Now, by the frontier I mean, of course, Kentucky and Tennessee. In the immediate wake of the American Revolution and the signing of the United States Constitution, Kentucky and Tennessee become the first place that immigrants to the West began to move to. And they generally take one of three routes. One is from Savannah, Georgia, Charleston up through the Piedmont of North and South Carolina and then through the mountains, the Smoky Mountains, into Tennessee and ultimately Kentucky. A second route is down the Shenandoah Valley, coming out of Pennsylvania and Maryland and even Virginia, into the valley. They then pass through the Cumberland Gap and into the West, Kentucky and Tennessee once again. Perhaps you remember that famous picture of Daniel Boone leading the settlers through the gap. A final route is through Pittsburgh, coming over the mountains from New York, Philadelphia, and the like. Folks then take the Ohio River as the main transportation route down into Kentucky, Tennessee again and to a lesser extent, southern Indiana, southern Ohio, southern Illinois as well. So these areas are the frontier, the old Southwest as we call it. To the north, the Old Northwest, northern parts of Indiana and Ohio, Illinois as well, those areas are still largely inhabited by Native Americans. And the Indian territory is a dangerous area for European immigrants or Americans who are moving west to go. So Kentucky, Tennessee, and it's in these places that we see some of the most dynamic expressions of American Christianity in this period of time. What do we mean? Well, first off, these are truly frontier circumstances, and these people are largely isolated. One of the things that enables the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists to grow so rapidly during this period of time is the fact that they are better positioned to provide pastoral care in a variety of sorts to these folks. Once that happens, these denominations, these traditions, grow and thrive in the most difficult of circumstances. Each is faced with some unique elements that they have to approach. The Presbyterians believed in a strongly educated ministry as a necessity for their churches. However, once they cross the mountains, finding qualified ministers is increasingly difficult. As a result, Presbyterian congregations that are formed on the western frontiers oftentimes go without regular pastoral care. In order to address this challenge, the Presbyterians begin to hold, already in the 1790�s, what they call sacramental seasons. And these sacramental seasons are simply events of most often four days duration in which large numbers of people gather together to celebrate the Lord's Supper. All of the pastors from a given area will get together. All the people from a given area will get together. And over the course of these four days, preaching, prayer, preparation, and finally the celebration of the sacrament itself would follow on a Sunday. In all this, there is a focus on fulfilling the command of the Lord to do this, namely, celebrate the sacrament in remembrance of me. These gatherings become increasingly large over the latter part of the 1700's until finally, in 1801, at one of these particular gatherings, some amazing things happen. And the second Great Awakening explodes onto the scene. What happens? Well, this gathering is called Cane Ridge. And what we now refer to as the Cane Ridge Revival has been referred to by others as America's Pentecost. Paul Conkin, a professor at Vanderbilt, named it that. And what it was was simply a Presbyterian sacramental season to which enormous numbers of people came. The estimates vary widely going from 12,000 on the low end, to 25,000 on the high end. But regardless, there is a significant population of people present for this Presbyterian communion event. Obviously, not all of them are Presbyterians. There are Baptists; there are Methodists present. There are atheists present as well. And the principle of democracy playing itself out, each of these groups claims the equal right for proclamation of their particular view in these circumstances. The results, competitive preaching, if you will, among the various preachers. And as they compete with one another for the attention of congregations, some amazing things start to happen. Barton Stone who was a Presbyterian preacher and later on was an instrumental figure in the formation of what we now know as the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ traditions, was present at this Cane Ridge meeting. And he described what he saw in the most illustrious of terms so that you cannot but get the sense that you really are there. He says, what we began to see were remarkable, physical evidences, bodily agitations, which we saw as evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence. What kinds of things? Well, he referred specifically to the barking exercise, to the shakes, to the running exercise, to the falling down exercise, the singing exercise, and a variety of others. But generally, what he said was you saw human beings have a physical response to the proclamation offered by the preachers. They had a bodily response to the message of the gospel as they heard it. Now, the question was: What was the real heart of the entire event? For Stone, it was seeing these people respond in a physical way, and he and others began to say, if we saw that happening once, perhaps we should develop techniques to make it happen again. Among the Presbyterians, this caused a split. Some Presbyterians said, no, we don't want to go in this direction. The outright chaos that resulted, as a matter of fact, they said you didn't need a map to find Cane Ridge; you just follow the noise with the people barking and screaming and singing and falling down and so forth. We don't want that kind of response in a worship service. We want it to be orderly. But Barton Stone and his colleagues said, no, this is precisely what we want to see. We want to see people affected by the preaching of the word. We want to see them do something as a result of the preaching of the word. And so he and others began to develop techniques to ensure that that would happen again. The word coming back East from the Cane Ridge revival in 1801 stunned Americans. They thought, that's just the excesses of frontiersmen who never have any contact with one another and don't know how to behave when they're together with others in the midst of a group scene. Others, however, began to say, perhaps a mighty work of God is evident in this. And many of the churches in America divided within themselves over the question of exactly what happened at Cane Ridge. To make a long story short, this perspective doesn't simply remain a frontier reality. It begins to make its way back East as Christians who've experienced some of these revivals, as they're now being called, not only at Cane Ridge but at other places, as they've experienced these revivals, they take their experiences back East and say these experiences are normative for us. This, in fact, is what we should be doing as Christians here in the United States. The result: well, all of the churches began, at least in part, to have to grapple with this particular issue. And it won't be until finally in the 1820�s that it settled really in a concrete way. That happens largely through the great figure of the 1800's in American Christianity, Charles Grandison Finney. Charles Finney takes this revival perspective; he takes the techniques that have been developed by some, and he puts them together into a very intentional, carefully thought out program which he guarantees will work if it's properly applied. In his most profound work in terms of how to do this, his revival lectures of 1835, he describes in specific terms how this plays out. And there are theological ramifications to this as well. One point Finney always made was that doctrine and practice go together. And what Finney especially emphasized in his preaching was that any pronouncement of sinfulness on the part of the person that hampered them from seeking God would kill a revival immediately. He said rather, what we need to do is to emphasize human capability to affirm each human being in their freedom and to encourage them to exercise their will in choosing God. This is necessary. Some folks said, what about the bodily agitations? What about the physical evidences? Finney came back and said, we still do need those kinds of physical evidences. We need to emphasize that before a person is saved, they must do something. Now, we don't mean, says Finney, screaming, singing, shaking, barking. But what we mean specifically is moving up out of one's chair, or one�s pew, coming forward to an area now referred to as an altar and on that altar, dedicating oneself to God, giving one's self to God. That is the point of conversion. And it is specifically an act of the human will that exists within the natural capacity of every human being. In other words, the preacher�s job from here on out is to lay out clearly the path of life and the path of death, to challenge their hearers, to choose life, to get up out of the pew or the chair to come forward and to give themselves to Christ. In this respect, Finney developed what he called new measures. And new measures were devices that he developed, sometimes that he borrowed from others and simply systematized, that encourage people, that helped people along in the process of making this final decision. The most important of these new measures, for Finney, the one that was most spectacularly successful for him was called the anxious bench, sometimes also called the mourners' bench. And what the mourners' bench or anxious bench was was simply an area in a revival set apart from other areas. If it was being held in a church, it might be the front pew, but an area specifically for sinners who were anxious over their sin. And what Finney would do would be to preach and encourage folks to come forward, but if they weren't quite sure, they could spend some time on the anxious bench where they would struggle with God, grapple with Him, before finally making the decision for themselves to choose him as their savior. In this respect, Finney was criticized widely by many of the historic churches saying, there has never been anything like this before in the history of the church. Finney's response: Of course there's been. In fact, he says in his revival lectures, the anxious bench fills the exact same place that baptism did for the apostles. The anxious bench is a place where people are challenged to come to and to give themselves to the Lord just like baptism was in the early church. In the end, said Finney, we have to be clear on these points. Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in this: obedience. Those are words from Finney's revival lectures. Now, we as Lutherans here very clearly right off the bat that these are words of law. Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obedience. And here is the great failure of Finney�s theology. It takes the focus off of Christ who has been obedient for us, who was done all things for us, and it places it unto ourselves so that man becomes the focus of all things. Finney sometimes talked about the atoning work of Christ, but often it was in an incidental way. Normally when he spoke of Jesus, he presented Christ as an example for us to follow, of the means by which we could achieve the possibility of salvation, the door to which Christ had opened. But never did you hear from him an unequivocal statement that sins are forgiven because of Christ, the very Son of God who bore our own sinfulness in his body, suffered, died, and rose again. It's always obscured by placing some necessity on man. Within the context of the Great Awakening, then, we see two things having happened. We've seen the completion of a theological change that began already in the first Great Awakening, a move from the older Calvinism, to a new theology called Arminianism. Today we refer to it as decision theology. And then, a move from the older worship styles of the Reformation to a new kind of worship called revivalism. Finney said the two go hand in hand. They are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. In many ways, Finney was right. And his guarantees of success were born out. However, he said, largely these are the result not so much of a miraculous working of God, but simply the right use of a program. In that respect, Finney downgraded the work of God's spirit, distracted his hearers from the centrality of Christ, and in many ways, relegated the word of God to a secondary position behind human programs. So while in many ways the second Great Awakening can be said to have done good things in exposing people to the word of the Lord, taking the gospel message, at least in some form, albeit an impure one, out into the words. It also brought with it some profound confusions, and in some cases, outright error. That's one of the things we have to grapple with as Christians in America, the influence of the second Great Awakening remains present with us today. And the influences that it has had throughout American Christianity continue to shape American thinking generally and the thinking of the church specifically. Our Lord calls us then to be faithful in the midst of this, to engage these things with a critical eye which doesn't always mean negative but always to interpret things without fail on the basis of His unchanging word. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****