Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 40 - Distinctive Movements in American Theology (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-040 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. ***** >> PAUL: Now as is so often the case when I�m studying history, I�m beginning to see there is something quite unique about the American story. Would you speak to this as it relates to religion in America? Are there any distinctively American theological movements and thinkers? Can you offer some analysis regarding what has shaped the development? >> SPEAKER: Paul, that's very perceptive what you've raised here. And to try and put this variety of movements that we've been talking about into a more synthetic package, a tighter kind of package, is really a challenge. we've seen some significant American figures already in the course of our studies for this class. We've seen Jonathan Edwards. We've seen Gilbert Tennent. We've talked a little bit about Charles Finney. But there are many, many others. Certainly, we shouldn't shortchange the Lutherans who participated as well by this time in the 19th century; Samuel Simon Schmucker being foremost among them. What all these men shared is a geography and a perspective that makes them realize that what's happening in America is a new and is different. Now, to some, that's a bit of a threat. To others, it's an opportunity for development and forging their way forward into the time to come. So if we try to pull this together in terms of what all of this means, I'd say it's this: especially in the year 1790 to about 1840, you see a fundamental change occur in American Christianity. And that change, that shift, continues to affect us even down to the present. What I think really characterizes American Christianity above all other things is its democratizing direction. In this respect, I'm not unique. I'm largely building on the work of a fine church historian by the name of Nathan Hatch who has written a groundbreaking book called "The Democratization of American Christianity." It was published by Yale in 1989. And despite the fact that it�s some years old now, it continues to be a formative book. And in it what Hatch argues is this notion of democratization changes everything for religion in the American setting. And that America, in turn, shares this perspective more widely with the world. What do we mean? Simply this: what Hatch argues, and I think he's right, is that the democratizing thrust takes seriously the perspectives and the experiences of common people and not only takes them seriously, but those thrusts, those developments, those perspectives, those structures that grow out of combined efforts actually shape and form the church in unique ways. Now, when Hatch talks about democratization, he means largely it occurring in 3 forums. Those forums are simply these: first, theological or religious sphere; secondly, in the economic sphere; and thirdly, in the political sphere. Let's leave religion aside for a minute and take those other two. In the economic sphere between 1790 and 1840, America under those fundamental changes moving from a republic in which there is a sense of interdependency in which you have any number of smaller producers and producers who are related to one another through the production of specific kinds of items, whether it be growing food, whether it be tailoring, whether it be making barrels, whether it be making shoes. But production on a limited scale that's carried out in an interdependent set of relationships. That is to say, say you're a farmer. You produce food for your family and beyond what you produce for subsistence living, you use in barter with other produces, say of shoes, to procure shoes for your family. An economy on a very limited scale in this respect. What changes, says Hatch, is that we move from production for the sake of subsistence to production for the sake of the market by 1840. And market capitalism says very simply, if you succeed, you succeed on your own terms. If you fail, you fail on your own terms. If you produce for the market successfully, then you advance economically. If you make bad business decisions, if you're too lazy to work hard, then you have nobody to blame but yourself when your business fails. So an emphasis on the individual and individual responsibility within the economic realm. At the same time, a change is happening politically in America. We oftentimes think in terms of democracy for America, but in fact, when things first kick off, there is a limited representation for those who are able to vote in the American scene. Thomas Jefferson was very hesitant about who he would let vote and who he would not let vote. He wanted landowners and well-educated men to vote. Common laborers, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their color, whatever their background, he was not confident in them. However, by the 1820�s, the notion of one-man one-vote is coming to the forefront. That is to say, individual responsibility for one's political future had come to the forefront as well. And then finally, in the theological realm, we see also this emphasis on the individual coming to the forefront. Theologically, older systems had emphasized the sovereignty of God and emphasized God�s arbitrary action of choosing or rejecting sinners for salvation. Everything was placed in God's hands for the salvation of the lost soul. But now, with the movement towards an Arminian theology, as exemplified especially in the second Great Awakening, you see a greater responsibility of the individual brought forward. Your eternal destiny is in your own hands. The choice is yours. The most powerful example of this that I've seen in the religious realm, is from a tract that comes later on in the 19th perhaps the early 20th centuries that appears in George Marsden's marvelous book, "Fundamentalism and American Culture." And in this particular book, Marsden has this incredible tract that shows as it's heading, "Important Election." It's surrounded by Bible verses included one that says, "Make your calling and election sure. And here is the ballot: will you be saved? God has voted yes. Satan has voted know. A tie. The decision is in your hands. The choice is up to you.� Here you see the pinnacle of individual responsibility, even within the theological realm. God has done his part, sent Christ into the world to suffer and die, that is to say, before that can be applied to you, you must do something. And that something is your specific choice, your specific vote. See how that brings these together so beautifully in the sense that the emphasis is all on the individual. And here we see an emphasis on individual responsibility as the key to all of this. This is unique in American Christianity. And Hatch's argument, interestingly enough, is that it is this theological thrust that, in fact, is the determining factor both for politics and for economy. Arminian theology, decision theology, is that which gives American economics and American politics their distinctive shape. Now, I think he may say too much in that respect. It might be better to see the three of them seamlessly interacting as they mutually inform and support one another. But the point is clear. What distinguishes American Christianity is this particular thrust, the individual and the individual alone. ***** 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. *****