I John: You Should Know, Part 2 – It Is The Last Time

By: J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.

Little children, it is the last time; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18).

The second subject the Apostle John addresses in his first letter, that he pointedly said we should know, is one that is very pertinent to us today. If it was essential to understand in John’s day, how much more in ours?

What John says here, in Greek, if we literally translated it word-for-word in the order it was penned, goes something like this: “Little Children, the last time: it is and as ye have heard that [the] Antichrist shall come, even now antichrists; many are there whereby we know that the last time. It is.”

First things first. Biblical students who study carefully understand that we are in the “Last times” now, and indeed we have been since the first advent of the Lord Jesus. The writer of Hebrews makes that clear in Hebrews 1:1-2 – “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.

It cannot be argued Biblically that we are not in the Last Days, though we as Christians may disagree on the finer points about how this present age will finally be brought to an end. There are, however, many things’ Christians can agree on regarding what happens in the very last of the Last days.

John here identifies one sure sign that the Last Days have arrived. It’s not new to our time, but these days, it seems the examples are even more widespread and plentiful than in the time of the Apostles. John notes, “as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last time.” John wasn’t saying anything that hadn’t been said before. In fact, he was affirming what the Lord Jesus said some 60 years before would be the case: “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).

I was reading an article the other day about a California man (I know, go figure) who, in 1989 began to “channel” the entity “Kyron” who, allegedly is a part of the family of Michael the Archangel. And this guy isn’t alone. Even more famous is JZ Knight, who earlier in the 1980’s began to “channel” the spirit of “Ramtha,” a 35,000-year-old enlightened spirit. She’s made millions of “Ramtha’s teachings,” and spread his words on books, tapes, and the internet to 30 different countries. When someone else claimed to be channeling “Ramtha” some years ago, she slapped a lawsuit on them. And she won. I guess you can “own” exclusive rights to some “enlightened ones.”

Perhaps these “antichrists” are obvious to us. Less so are those who profess the faith, who remain in “the Church,” who go through the motions – maybe even preach from pulpits or lecture in Divinity Schools, yet they have deserted the faith and denied Christ long ago. These are the most dangerous of “antichrists” in our world today – and they are, and John says here, “many.”

But John also points out that “the Antichrist is coming.” Some later texts leave out the definitive article, which is interpreted “the.” It hardly matters, though. The meaning is the same. “Antichrist” is singular, and future. There is one coming into the world who will be the antithesis of Jesus. It is that one Jesus warned the Jews of when He said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; but if someone else comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43).

We should know that we are in the last days. We are surrounded by false Christs, antichrists, those who lead many astray through deception and fraud. We should also know that the Antichrist, the single individual antithesis of all that Jesus is, will come. He could be alive today, waiting in the wings to walk out onto the stage of history.

However, we as followers of the one True Christ have this assurance: We are out of reach of the Antichrist. He cannot touch us. Paul the Apostle makes this clear when he says, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming…” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

The “He” of verse 7 speaks of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the Body of Christ, and each individual Christian. The Holy Spirit, as He operates in and through the Body of Christ on earth restrains the evil Satan can do now. His “lawless one” (or “wicked one”) cannot be revealed until the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth in the sense that He works right now – and that is through the Church. So, if He goes, we go. And that, we are assured, is the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; I Corinthians 15:51-54).

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

I JOHN – YOU SHOULD KNOW

PART 1 – THAT YOU KNOW CHRIST – 1 John 2:3-5

J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.

The Apostle John was the longest living of the Lord’s original 12 Disciples, and the last to die. He was also the only one to die of natural causes, at an advanced age – probably his 90’s – sometime between 98 – 102AD in Ephesus, in present-day Turkey.

John writes more of the New Testament than any other author except Paul and covers almost as many subjects. One of his most prominent themes, however, is knowledge. Certainty. The philosophical term for what constitutes knowledge is epistemology. John wanted his readers to know.

But, to know what?I

n 1st John, the term “know” is used 27 times in 22 verses. While the overarching theme of the book is “Love One Another,” the major sub-theme is that we should know. Throughout the course of this letter, John continually returns to subjects and ideas that we, as followers of Christ, should know.

The first instance we see John concern himself with our certainty about the issues he addresses is in 1 John 2:3-5. Four times, John uses the word “know,” or in some versions, “known.” After spending the first Chapter explaining what it means to “walk in the light,” and yet also to be realistic about our walk. To realize our sins, our failures, and to understand that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins if we ask him.

John moves on in Chapter 2, and addresses the next logical topic – well, how do I know that I know Christ?

Now by this, we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments” (I John 2:3).

The word “know” here in the first instance is an active, present-tense voice. It indicates a certainty, something we can be confident in. The second phrase, “that we know him,” can also be translated as “that we have known him,” and is also a present tense verb, but it is in the perfect sense. In other words, it is actively true now, but was accomplished in the past – like “he has done.”

In short, we “know” that we came to a true knowledge of Christ, “if we keep his commandments.”

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound good. How many of us “keep his commandments”? I mean, how many of us “walk perfectly,” and without failure or fault, obey God?

Remember, John had just written in the previous chapter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).

John was not here saying that we could achieve “perfection,” nor that we had to be sinless to know Christ. The meaning of the Scripture demonstrates that, if we truly know Christ, we will follow Him, we will want to please Him, and we will be enabled to walk as He walked, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We will fail at points, but within our reborn spirit, we will want to walk like Jesus, even if our flesh is sometimes weak.

I heard a preacher put it this way once: “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll be ‘sinless,’ but it does mean that you will sin less.”

Indeed, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, He is in the process of sanctifying us – making us more holy, conforming us more to His image. If that process is happening, you can KNOW that you KNOW Jesus. If it isn’t, you might want to examine your spiritual walk a bit more extensively….

John then reinforces this idea in verse 4, where he says:

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).

Again, if someone says they “know” Jesus Christ, yet are living in open, unrepentant sin, the Apostle John does not mince words. He “is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” And John is not alone in this sort of declaration. Often, those who claim Christ, but seek to justify still living a life in sin, attempt to separate Biblical writers against each other, or Biblical writers against the [red] words of Jesus in the Gospels, or worse, the declarations of God in the Old Testament from those in the New Testament.

As if they’re smarter than God….

The New Testament writers do not contradict the essential moral commandments of God from the Creation, as given in the Old Testament. A failure to comprehend that is not a failure of God or Biblical authors, it is our failure.

Paul, for example, clearly states:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Now, before anyone gets the desire to point any one or two of these sins out as particularly “evil” or worthy of judgment, I would recommend you read the entire list in this passage again. Paul pretty much catches all of us in the broad net he tosses.

We are not saved by our works. We cannot perfectly keep His commandments. We must call on Him to forgive us our sins. And it is only by His power that we grow in Him, and in the process die to sin, and “live as Christ.”

Another point one can discern from John’s words is that he is already facing, during the time he wrote this letter (85-90AD) the beginnings of early heresies in the Church, particularly the Nicolaitans and the Gnostics. John directly rebukes the Nicolaitans in the book of Revelation, which he would write a few years later. But the Gnostics are specifically in view here.

Gnostics did not “believe” in Christ, they claimed to “know” Christ with a secret knowledge – a knowledge that was passed on secretly through Gnostic leaders, apart from the Apostles. And, because they held this special “spiritual” knowledge, they largely devalued “the flesh,” which meant, many thought what we did in our fleshly bodies had no relation to our “religious” convictions or practices. So, they indulged the flesh, lived as they wished, and ignored “commandments.

”This always met with condemnation from the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers. This concept is called “antinomianism,” and it simply means that those who hold this view are no longer subject to the “laws” or “commandments” that are binding to everyone else. It is always heresy. John is drawing a distinction between true followers of Christ, who really “know” Him, and those who claim “knowledge” of Christ but do not obey Him.

But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5).

John sums up his reassurance to his readers by reminding them that whoever keeps God’s word is “perfected in Him.”

There are two possible ways to understand this. First, the Greek word rendered “perfected” can also be translated as “matured.” Thus, it does not denote absolute “perfection,” but spiritual maturity. Second, if one understands this to refer to the whole process of the Christian life, from the point of salvation until the point we stand in Jesus’ presence, then we shall indeed be perfected in His Presence. The essential fact to remember is that our walk with Christ is a process, a journey. It is not perfection, but it is growth in Christlikeness.

Charles Spurgeon once explained the words of the Apostle John here, saying “The Christian no longer loves sin; it is the object of his sternest horror: he no longer regards it as a mere trifle, plays with it, or talks of it with unconcern… Sin is dejected in the Christian’s heart, though it is not ejected. Sin may enter the heart, and fight for dominion, but it cannot sit upon the throne.”

But, Dr. Reuben “Bud” Robinson, the late Church of the Nazarene Evangelist, who was a bit more plainspoken, once put it this way: “I’m not what I ought to be, but I thank God I’m not what I used to be!”

Therein lies the difference between knowing that you know Jesus Christ – and not knowing at all.

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ARE WE IN THE “LAST” DAYS?

I have often heard this question in the past, when I served as a Pastor, and even today, as a Bible Teacher. It’s one of the most common questions astute followers of Christ ask, considering the condition of the world right now. In fact, I wish more people were asking themselves this question.

There is a simple Biblical answer. The answer really does not depend on your theology (if your theology is orthodox). It doesn’t even matter what you believe about the “Kingdom Age” (or, Millennial Reign of Christ). This may elicit some gasps but, it really doesn’t matter, at least directly, when you believe the Return of Christ will take place…. Although, if you read this Scripture, I think it makes much more clear which view of both Christ’ return and the Kingdom Age is part of the framework of God’s Plan for the Ages.

The answer is found in the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 1. (NOTE: I won’t get sidetracked about who the author of Hebrews was – Paul 😊 – I’ll get to that another time)… Hebrews 1:1-2 —

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…”

Please note the phrase at the beginning of verse 2, “hath in these last days…”

IN THESE LAST DAYS….

The Book of Hebrews, we know, was written before the end of Temple Sacrifices in Jerusalem, which occurred in 70AD with the Romans destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple complex (cf. Hebrews 8:5 – present tense).

So, what does that tell us about the authors idea of “the last days”?

May I suggest that we have literally been in “the last days” since Jesus’ first advent to the earth?

It’s true. When John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ, and his message was “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he meant it. And, it was a genuine and real possibility. When Jesus came on the scene a few months later, and He proclaimed, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” His statement was just as genuine and sincere. But the ones to whom He was sent to offer the Kingdom – Israel – refused it. That they would reject Christ was already known to God, of course, so Jesus prepared and sent forth His Disciples, to establish His Church…. But He promised, He would return.

The Apostles believed He might return in their generation. The Church has always had elements that believed their days were the last days. And it’s very clear, the writer of Hebrews believed we were in the “last days.”

Was he wrong?

No. Neither were John the Baptist, nor Jesus, nor the other New Testament writers, nor the Early Church Fathers such as Papias, Polycarp, and Irenaeus. Since Our Lord came the first time, completing the work of salvation in His death, burial and resurrection, He could return at any time, to set in motion the events that lead to the inauguration of His Kingdom.

At. Any. Time.“

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him,” Jesus told us in Matthew 24:44.

And indeed, when we look around the world today, does it look like the world expects Him? Does it even look like most of His Church expects Him?

The world openly mocks the idea, and most of the Church sheepishly withers in the face of their taunts and insults.

Does that sound vaguely familiar? In the words of Peter:

“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

What was that Peter said?

In the “LAST DAYS.”

Yes, we are in the last days. We are very near the end of the last days, if one reckons the “signs of the times” with a Biblical mind and a watchful eye on the world we live in. We have been for nearly 2000 years. And He may return any moment. Be prepared, Church. It’s certainly closer than when Paul and Peter wrote of it.

And if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you cannot be ready for the events of the Last Days. You certainly aren’t prepared for the return of Jesus. But you can be. It is at once simple, but profound. You must:

A – Admit Admit what you have sinned (done wrong morally, ethically, spiritually) and ask forgiveness. Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death. I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

B – Believe Believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again as a payment for your sins. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

.C – Confess and Choose Confess and choose to allow God to the be in charge of your life Matthew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:13 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Peter says in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

It’s not too late – but we are in the “last days.” Don’t put off what you could end up regretting for eternity.

In Jesus’ Name…. Amen.

J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.

The “Progressive” March

by: J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A. 15 January,2021

When Abraham Lincoln prosecuted the war against the Confederate States, forcing them to remain in the Union, he escalated and multiplied the size and power of the Federal Government irreversibly.  Since the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Government has never ceased to grow, enlarging itself at the expense of American Taxpayers, Inalienable Liberties, and the First Principles of our Founders.  While there have been periods when such growth was arrested, or even temporarily reversed in certain sectors, overall, any “reduction” of Federal power and size has been an illusion – a dangerous mirage.  Since the end of Reconstruction, when Lincoln and the Radical Republicans set the Precedent, there have been four additional “waves” of “Progressivism” that have washed across this nation, like a Tsunami over a Pacific atoll. 

The first great wave was the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beginning on the heels of the Spanish-American War of 1898, and lasting until 1919, a year after the end of “The Great War,” when Americans got fed up with both war and Government, and moved toward a “Return to Normalcy” which was pitched by the successful – and generally Conservative – campaign of Republican Warren Harding.

The second great wave of the Progressive March began in earnest in 1932, with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the consequent implementation of his “New Deal.”  While the previous Republican Administration, under President Herbert Hoover, had attempted some of the “progressive” approaches at reform once the Great Depression started in late 1929, he was met with failure, and an often uncooperative Congress.  FDR faced neither of those obstacles, and pushed both the size of the Federal Government, and the scope of their involvement in the business of the States as well as the personal lives of individual Americans to a new, bigger, and more obtrusive high.  Once again, however, it was war that actually “ended” this wave of the “Progressive March.”  FDR died in April, 1945, just as the war was about to end, and the US had been largely rescued from the Depression by the frenzied military-industrial complex that supplied our war effort, and would continue at a heightened state of production into the early Cold War.  Truman could do no more than retain the programs of FDR’s New Deal, as his “Fair Deal,” which would have expanded the Progressive March once again was largely rejected and times became more prosperous in the post-war without government interference. 

The third wave of the Progressive March came, unsurprisingly, in the 1960’s.  It might have started under John F. Kennedy, had he lived long enough.  But, as fate would have it, he was assassinated before he was able to fully implement his programs of social and government reform.  And, JFK actually demonstrated a tendency toward some more “conservative” principles and ideas than had other Democrats in the past few generations, so, it’s arguable how his legacy might have turned out had he lived.  Instead, his Vice President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, succeeded him, and went through a political metamorphosis that only a Democrat could have.  He was a Southern Segregationist Democrat who, once JFK died, “embraced” his social agenda – and pushed it farther Left – perhaps much farther, than JFK would ever have attempted.  He called his program “The Great Society,” and from it, he and the Democrat-dominated Congress passed more “social welfare” programs and policies than any other Government since the first FDR term (1933-1937).  From 1965 to 1969, it was LBJ and the Democrats in Congress that gave shape to the United States “Modern Welfare State,” not only creating more entitlement programs than any previous Federal Administration before, but also leading in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act – approved in Congress by mostly Northern and Western Republicans and Democrats – but without almost all Southern Democrats, who were Segregationists.  The Supreme Court also became much more “Activist” during this period.  In reality, the Court became more “Liberal” and loose in its interpretation of the Constitution in the 1950’s, while most of the nation was content with Eisenhower as President – and with the Status Quo.  But with Johnson in office, appointing even more Activist judges to the Federal Bench, it was a matter of due course that the Court would eventually rule that Prayer and Bible Reading in Schools was “unconstitutional,” that hanging the “Ten Commandments” on the wall of Schools was “unconstitutional,” and eventually, that the aborting of unborn babies was “a right of women,” rather than a matter of the rights of the unborn child.  But the American People tired quickly of LBJ’s “Great Society,” not so much because of its progressive domestic agenda, but because it went hand-in-hand with the Vietnam War, which Johnson could not extract himself from.  The huge Leftist Counterculture that formed early in the 1960’s, to include the Civil Rights movement, the Hippies, the Free Speech Movement on College Campuses, and the Anti-War movement, all began to fall apart as well, leading to the ebb of this third wave by late 1969.

Then the fourth and last of the waves of the Progressive March was the Obama Era.  Barack Obama, when elected President in 2008, proclaimed that he and his Party would “Fundamentally transform” America.  It was a refrain he would often repeat.  And indeed, they did.  In his two terms in office, there was more change than at any other time in US History to that point.  What passed for government-run healthcare, “ObamaCare,” was enacted.  Social and welfare programs were extended further than at any time since the Great Society of LBJ in the 1960’s. Trillions were wasted in supposed “stimulus packages” to improve the “Great Recession” economy. The Federal Debt doubled – in just 8 years.  Military spending was actually cut, but the demands on our Armed Forces remained high, though their mission was often redefined to that of humanitarianism or charity workers rather than warriors or defenders.  The General and Flag Officers corps, and the Officers corps, were “purged” of many, if not most of the “relics” of the patriotic past.  Careerists, globalists, and social engineers within the ranks became Generals, commanding officers.  “Same sex marriage,” unthinkable just a few years before, became federal law.  On the cover of the February 11, 2009 edition of Newsweek magazine, less than a month after Barack Obama took office, the editors loudly and proudly proclaimed, “We are All Socialists Now.”  And they thought we – Americans – were.  President Obama and the Media certainly went a long way in attempting to solidify that into reality.

Since that time, Americans have once again retreated from full on “socialism,” choosing instead to elect a Nationalist Populist, not to mention a billionaire reality TV star, in Donald J. Trump.  The “Progressive” resistance to this President has never before been this vehement, this heated, this hateful, this threatening.  Progressives of today are revealing their “true colors,” their heretofore hidden aims and objectives.  They so fear losing power that they are tipping their hand, showing the nation that they aren’t “moderate” or “centrist” in any form.  In reality, they never have been.  They are Marxists, through and through.  They began the march to overthrow this nation, the Constitutional Republic, well over 100 years ago, perhaps as long as 150 years ago, but, their methodology was not immediate, violent revolution, as occurred in Russia in 1917 with the Bolshevik Revolution.  Instead, it was “incrementalism,” changing, converting, nudging Americans, a little bit at a time, toward Marxism, never giving up their façade of “liberty, democracy, equality.”  Loaded words to Progressives.  In this present day, they see many of their achievements, so close to becoming complete, to be threatened by an upstart, outsider – a billionaire no less!  How dare he. 

The Progressive March was being blocked, till November.  But in a few short days, we will lose the one man who acted as a restrainer, the only defense against their angry, hateful and power-seeking modus operandi.  There is no doubt remaining as to their tenacity and designs.  Progressives will not stop.  They will press on, undaunted.  They want power.  They want control.  They want to establish the State as the supreme entity – they want to be in charge.  If they cannot secure it by incremental means any longer, then the will, as all Marxists do, eventually resort to violence.  It’s a matter of time. 

This is who the Progressives are.

JDW

Hindsight is 20/20 – Federalists, Anti-federalists and our Current National Predicament

By: J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.

January 11, 2021

When the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, we began to govern ourselves by “The Articles of Confederation.” The Second Continental Congress had constructed the document in 1777, in hopes that they would actually get to govern themselves after the war. It was anything but certain in 1777. But, with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, since most of the major fighting was over, the Articles went into effect….

And they were pretty much a disaster. At least in the eyes of — well, the majority of Americans. There was only one branch of Government, the Legislature. They could not raise an army, levy a tax, nor amend the Articles without ALL 13 States approving the change (which was never going to happen). Each state had separate currencies, laws, rules, regulations… If you traveled from South Carolina to Massachusetts in 1778, you would have to exchange your money a half-dozen times or more, at every State border, just to do business…. And, each state levied fees for the exchange, of course. Business was almost impossible across State lines. Farmers were hurt the worst — many lost their farms, which actually led to a rebellion in Massachusetts.

It was time for a change — or so the majority thought. Even those who wished to retain the Articles, knew they needed amending. But two groups formed, with two different philosophies, as to what kind of Government SHOULD be formed to succeed the “Articles of Confederation.”

Eventually, in 1787, the States agreed they had to do something, so they agreed to send delegates to Philadelphia to “fix” the Articles. Some of our Founders bitterly criticized the conference, and those who attended, saying it was an attempt to build a national government that would run roughshod over the States just like Britain had…. Hmmm…

Of course, the document that came out of that Philadelphia Convention — was the United States Constitution. But the argument had just started. They didn’t just offer a “fix” to the Articles, they offered a complete replacement, with a Federal Government, which would have certain powers delegated to it by the States, over which they would have supreme authority. And the States had to “ratify” the Constitution in their Legislatures. It could only go into effect AFTER nine of the thirteen States passed it….

That took two years. And the intellectual and philosophical battle lines were drawn. Those who’d introduces the proposed Constitution, and who supported its ratification, were called “Federalists.” Those who opposed the Constitution, and did not want a “strong” national government, were called “Anti-federalists.” And neither group was without its giants among the Founders,

Among the most prominent Federalists were George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Some of the most prominent Anti-federalists were Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason and George Clinton.

During this two year period, men from each of these groups wrote essays supporting their positions, or attacking the arguments of the other side. Of course, the side that eventually “won,” the Federalists, became the most popular and widely read. In fact, “The Federalist Papers” is still an essential document if one really wants to understand what the Founders desired of, and meant for, the Constitution to be. “The Anti-federalist Papers” have also been preserved, though they are not as widely read — and that’s a real shame. I’ll tell you why.

Once the Constitution went to the States for ratification, most of the Legislatures were not interested. There were far more Anti-Federalists than Federalists. They had a number of complaints, but their main issues were that the document nowhere explicitly protected the liberties of individuals, nor the rights of the individual States. Alexander Hamilton snidely dismissed the concern (yeah — I don’t care much for Hamilton), simply saying, “the Federal Government nowhere is charged with effecting any of those things, so there is no reason for their protection from a Federal Government.”

The Anti-Federalists were: “Yeah. Right. Sure.”

James Madison, however, understanding the concerns of the Anti-Federalists in the States, made a deal with them. He proposed that, if the States would ratify the Constitution, the very first act he would offer for passage in the new Congress, would be a “Bill of Rights,” which would amend the Constitution to specifically protect individual liberties and States Rights. With these assurances, nine States ratified the Constitution. True to his word, Madison proposed 12 Amendments to the Constitution in September, 1789, which were approved and sent out to the States for ratification. In 1791, ten of those Amendments were passed by nine States, and the “Bill of Rights” became “law.”

Now, having said all that, it is worthy of note that many of the Anti-federalists still did not like the Constitution. Sam Adams, Patrick Henry — these guys were hard core. Oh, they didn’t raise a rebellion. They accepted the fact that their countrymen had chosen this path, and they would follow along with them, as the loyal opposition. However, they never repented of their opposition to the “Federal Government,” saying that the Constitution would not matter. They were convinced that when a central government fell into the hands of “designing men,” that the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights would provide protection against their usurpation of power for their own gain.

A few days ago, I heard a scholar and sometimes pundit make the statement that “the Anti-federalists were right, all along. Everything they warned us would happened, has happened, and is happening.

Yes. Yes they were. And yes, it is. And that is why Americans should read BOTH the Federalist AND the Anti-federalist Papers.
– JDW


AUTHORS NOTE: In the American History classes I teach, students ARE assigned to read a selection of BOTH the Federalist and Anti-federalist papers. It should be required reading for all Americans.


c. 2021, all rights reserved.

New Year, New Revelations – Old Temptations: The Unraveling of the “Evangelical” Church

By: J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A.

3 January, 2021

It was early 1987 when Jim Bakker’s sins were exposed for the world to see.  I was a Senior in College, just called into Ministry, and I’d never been a big fan of Jim Bakker.  His scandal with Jessica Hahn, and then the alleged financial misdealings that got him arrested and imprisoned brought down the PTL ministry.  At the time, I thought it was a necessary purging of an exceptionally deceptive Ministry personality.  As a young Christ-follower, I had great confidence that the vast majority of Church Leaders were worthy of the trust I had in them.  And those who were not, I thought, I could discern.

                I should have seen through that a year later when Jimmy Swaggart, an Assembly of God Evangelist whom I did respect, was also caught up in a scandal.  His defiance of the AoG restoration process and move out on his own – subsequently leading to more scandals – was not surprising to me.  I was “wise” to him, at that point.  Still, I was trusting of the vast majority of Church Leaders.

                I shouldn’t have been.

                I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church.  I was familiar with the cultural milieu of Evangelicalism, with the “heroes” of the faith, as it were.  And in my childhood days, calling the name “Billy Graham” was like calling the name of Moses.  I was saved at age 15, and by the time I arrived at college, I was a warrior in the battle for the re-taking of the Southern Baptist Convention from Liberals (so-called “Moderates”), which had started in 1979.  Four years on, when I arrived on campus, I was a part of the small Conservative crew of Christians who understood the importance, the necessity, of the essential doctrines of the faith, and of the requisite high view of the inspiration of Scripture.  I have no regrets, to this day, for the convictions God led me to embrace as a young follower of Jesus.  I remain devoted to every one of those distinctives.

                When I finished College and entered ministry, I began in the Southern Baptist Church, but shortly shifted to the Free Will Baptist Church, due to particular doctrinal distinctives I held.  It was among them that I was licensed and ordained.  I spent nearly 16 years among 2 different Free Will Baptist denominational fellowships.  Therein lies a clue as to the nature of the issues plaguing the Church today, but those details are for another time.  Three Pastorates in three states, three Church staffs, three denominations….. 

                I had the good grace of the Lord to allow me to separate my calling and Orders (or Credentials) from any denomination in 2003, when I was “Ordained” (again) by the Evangelical Church Alliance, an international non-denominational ministry fellowship. Happily, my credentials were no longer subject to the whims of denominational politics and mischief.  But in that period between late 2001 and 2003, I endured a period of deep introspection and struggle.  I questioned everything.  I questioned my own faith itself.  I found, thankfully, that Christ is ever-faithfully.  That God is always there, even when we don’t see Him, or understand.  I hold on to that to this day.

                However, the way I understood the Church was transformed forever.  For long stretched during those two years, I didn’t “attend” Church at all.  I DID make it my intentional practice to meet, regularly, with Christian friends, Brothers in Christ, for fellowship, discussion, prayer.  I did not “forsake” the assembling of myself with other believers, though I didn’t attend a local Church every Sunday. 

                In my thinking, and in my writings, I began to understand something that, even until now, has remained with me.  I looked at “The Church” on earth, differently than I ever had before.

                Oh, I’d always been taught in all the Churches I’d been a part of that there was a “Spiritual Body of Christ” made up of all believers, no matter what “church” they attended, and there was the “Local Church,” which was the physical manifestation of the “Body of Christ.”  And, of course, different denominations saw that relationship different ways, and practiced different sorts of polity or Church Government, but the basic premise remained.

                During these years, however, my view of the physical Church, the Church on earth, the visible manifestation of the Church – whether it was as a local body, or as a denominational structure, or even as a “para-church ministry” – changed enormously.  The name I began to identify the “earthly church” by, was the “Made-With-Hands Church.”  Paul noted in Hebrews 9:11 that “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.”  Some would say I’d become jaded.  Others would declare I’d become downright cynical.  Still others would upbraid me for being so sarcastic.

                I plead guilty to each and every charge.  My experiences in the “Made-with Hands” Church have jaded me.  The things I have seen done – in the Name of Christ – have made me cynical.  The sins of the people who claim the name of Christ – draw from me a deep-seated and (I believe) wholly justified sarcasm toward the “Made-with-Hands” Church. 

                Recently, there has been a plethora of new Church “scandals” that have plagued the Evangelical movement of Protestantism in particular, though “Christendom” as a whole is ravaging itself as an “institution” in world culture.  The Devil need not do anything to harm the cause of Christ.  The Church is doing that quite effectively enough itself.  But as these new spiritual plagues of infidelity, iniquity, and avarice are discovered throughout the “Organized Church,” its “Institutions” and various “Ministries,” and as we’ve watched headliners from pulpits to praise leaders to “Christian entertainers” disown God, deny Truth, and depart from the faith and become apostate…  What are we to conclude?  How are believers to navigate these storms? 

                There are several facts we cannot deny. 

FIRST, Christ called out his Church, He meant for it to be visible on the earth.  We have a Great Commission to fulfill.  We have the Great Commandments to keep.  We have the ministry to be SALT AND LIGHT to the world!  These truths cannot be denied – and those who deny them fail to understand and embrace the Biblical mission of the “Ekklesia” of God fully. 

SECOND, however, we must recognize our own wretchedness as humans.  We can’t – no, I CAN’T – point my finger at a Jim Bakker, or a Jimmy Swaggart or – how about a Ravi Zacharias?  I can’t point to them and say, “They’re worthy of judgment,” when I know, in myself, that I’m guilty, too.  I’m a sinner.  I’ve failed Jesus.  In thought, word and deed, I have utterly failed.  And but for the grace of God, I could fall into the traps these men – or so many others have. 

THIRD, something is profoundly WRONG about how we “do Church” now.  I’m not specifically referring to how we worship or how we dress or how we preach or how we pray, though all those things could be affected by or result from, a completely errant understanding of what it MEANS to BE – CHURCH.  That’s it.  Which is better – to DO, or to BE?

                I’ve found that, in my experience, when I am myself, and I do what naturally comes to me, I can DO pretty well with the things I am supposed to do, the things that are a part of me.  To BE – is to LIVE OUT a life of DOING – because it is who you ARE.  There are a lot of people who “Do Church” on Sunday and they “Did Saturday night at the bar” and they “Did Friday Night at a Keg party on the Lake.”

                Christians – we ARE the Church.  Stop just “doing,” and BE the Church.  That’s the first admonition I come to in thinking through all this MESS that has become the failing, flailing, gasping, dying “Evangelical” Church of our day.

                Maybe it’s time we step away from all that “doing,” and get quiet before God, and ask Him, anew – how do you want me to BE your Church, Lord?  The answer you get may not fit the mold of the “Made-with-Hands” Church of today.  But, who are you serving – Men, or God?

                We MUST begin to seriously, circumspectly, examine WHO we are as Christ Followers, and WHAT we are as “the Church,” and then re-orient ourselves to BE His Church.  That’s what He called, commissioned, gifted and empowered us for!

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). 

A Pessimistic Optimist: Part 1 – Why I am a Pessimist, and What (or Whom) I am Pessimistic About

Authors Note: I first published this on a previous blog in 2012. The views expressed in this essay remain at the core of my convictions today. That is one reason I decided to post it. Another reason is, I’m hoping to finally get back to writing Part 2 — which I’ve never completed! I trust you will be blessed with understanding as you read…

And [Jesus] said, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God'” (Luke 18:27).

“I’m a pessimistic optimist,” said Dr. William Davidson, whom I had the honor to study Church History and American Christianity with while in Seminary.  In fact, I consider myself doubly blessed, because he was also my faculty advisor and the foremost Free Will Baptist Historian of the era.  Since I was a Free Will Baptist minister at the time, and members of my family have been Free Will Baptists for at least 7 generations in North Carolina, that meant a great deal to me.

I confess, when I heard “Dr. D” verbalize this philosophical maxim, I was initially puzzled.  He quickly added that “what men could not do, God could do.”  In the context of the class that day — as I recall, it was American Christianity — and of the greater subject matter, it made sense.  From that moment on, Dr. D’s philosophical maxim has stuck with me.

I suppose, however, that I’ve taken his observation much farther than he ever would.  Dr. D is a faculty member at Columbia International University, and I am a very happy alumnus of the Seminary.  Class of ’96.  I got what I believe to be among the best educations in “Divinity” available at any Evangelical Graduate school.  The College, and later the Seminary, were born out of the American arm of the “Keswick movement,” which began in the last quarter of the 19th century with a conference in Keswick, England (where it got it’s name), and spread through a significant portion of Evagelicalism.  It is also known as the “Higher Life movement,” and its basic teaching is that it is possible — and it should be the “normal” Christian experience — to live an abundant, joyful and victorious Christian life.  This “victorious Christian life” emphasizes that believers have the privilege of living above known sin as part of their walk with Christ, which enables them to live in holiness and victory.

Now, I would hasten to add that I don’t know Dr. D’s personal theology on the issue, though like the vast majority of professors at CIU, I imagine the “Keswick” view is likely.  It has been and is even now very common among Evangelicals the world over.  Back in the 1800’s, “famous” adherents to the Keswick message included the renowned Evangelist D.L. Moody, founder of China Inland Mission Hudson Taylor,
and R.A. Torrey.  In the early part of the 20th century, of course, Dr. Robert C. McQuilkin was a leader in the American Keswick movement, and out of that movement was born Columbia Bible College — Now Columbia International University.  In the last generation or two, well-known Christian Pastors, writers and theologians such as Robertson McQuilkin, Stephen Olford, John Stott, Stuart Briscoe, Alistair Begg, and this evangelist (you may have heard of him) from North Carolina named Billy Graham have all professed adherence to the Keswick view of the “victorious Christian life.”

Thus, when I say that I took to heart Dr. D’s maxim, “I’m a pessimistic optimist,” I imagine I took it much farther than he would have ever intended.  The reason I say that is because I do not fall into the “Keswick school” regarding the nature, ability or possibility of mankind to live “victoriously” in this life.  At least, not as we think of it in our too often limited, humanistic, materialistic capacity.  I take Jesus quite literally at His word when He says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”  And remember, this was a direct answer to the Disciple’s question, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26).

The simple answer:  NO ONE.  Of course, this is nothing that most traditional, Biblical Evangelicals do not affirm.  Evangelicals “know” that we as humans can do nothing, contribute nothing, add nothing to earn nor buy our salvation.  And even after salvation, what we “do” is not us — but Him working in us and through us.    Thus, we are not victorious — HE is, in us.

Let me explain, then, why I say I am “a pessimistic optimist,” particularly as it regards mankind, both as individuals and as a race.

First, because Humans are “totally depraved.”  That is, humanity — every human being — has inherited “original sin” from the father of the race, Adam.  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed to all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).  Not only have humans inherited a nature that is fallen, but they are thereby predisposed to act sinfully themselves.  This is “volitional sin,” and is what Paul addresses when he writes to the Romans, “There is none righteous; no, not one….For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,23).  Total Depravity does not mean that humans are “as bad as they can be,” but that all parts of human nature are marred and corrupted, and indeed dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1a), and humans are rendered incapable of doing any good at all apart from the grace of God (John 15:5).

Second, because humans can get worse.  In fact, Moses records in Genesis 6 that in the years leading up to the great flood: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  During Noah’s lifetime, he watched humanity descend to the depths of depravity — and he built an ark.  They mocked, and he kept building.  They scoffed, but he kept preaching (2 Peter 2:5).  None believed, but he kept on working.  And when the rains came, he and his family entered the ark and GOD shut the door (Genesis 7:16).  None were saved but Noah and his family alone — because humans can get worse.

Third, because human civilizations always do decline and fall.  Paul makes that excruciatingly clear in Romans 1:18-32.  Here, Paul describes the steps any given human civilization goes through as it descends into the depths of depravity.  When it reaches the deepest depths, and drags the bottom, that civilizations time is up.  The four steps of any human civilization as it descends into depravity, and thus, destruction are:

  • Intelligence – (Romans 1:18-20; cf. Psalm 19:1) God reveals Himself in the Creation
  • Ignorance – (Romans 1:21-23; cf. I Corinthians 3:19,20)  Man willfully rejects knowledge of God
  • Immorality – (Romans 1:24-27)  Willful ignorance leads to immorality — when mankind refuses to believe the Truth of God, they will believe the lies of Satan (cf. Genesis 3:1-8; John 5:43, 8:44; 2 Thessalonians 2:11)  NOTE:  “God gives them up” (1:24), “God gives them up” (1:26)…. 
  • Impenitence – (Romans 1:28-32)  When mankind rejects God and begins to reap what they have sown, they most often do not repent, but angrily shake their fists in the face of God (cf. Revelation 9:20,21). This is the last stage of a human society, a civilization in decline, facing collapse under the weight of their own depravity and rebellion against God.  As with Pharaoh, there comes a point when the hearts of the leaders and the people are hardened and will soften no more — and God then hardens their heart, for they are fit for nothing but judgment and condemnation.

Fourth, because humans are getting worse.  Some might seek to contradict me.  They would say “there is nothing new under the sun,” or “the same sins being committed now have always been around.”  This line of reasoning is faulty. The Apostle Paul leaves little doubt about conditions in the future when he warns Timothy, “But evil men shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).  I think this statement refers not only to individuals in the immediate sense who, as they indulge in sin become less and less restrained, but also to societies and civilizations, as Paul explained in Romans 1.  Not only can it happen, it is happening — in our time, in this day, in our nation and across the entire globe.

Fifth, because the “Church” is failing — and will fail.  This is the one that gets me in the most trouble with the most people.  Not just the Keswick proponents, but just about everyone else.  Biblically, however, the “Church,” at least in its human, institutional, organizational form on earth, has failed, and will fail to complete the Mission God has set before it.  I have long called this the “made-with-hands” Church.  Too often we have “sanctified” our denominations, and glorified our organizations and exalted our edifices when Paul rightly taught that “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing He is the Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24).  Paul (yes, Paul) further explained in Hebrews that “when Christ appeared as the high priest of good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation…. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:11,24).

Paul warns Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:1,2).  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul went even further in describing the kind of failures the Church would see in “the last days”: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3,4). But Paul was not alone, as Peter also warned the disciples, “there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).  Peter goes on to tell them, “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires” (2 Peter 3:3).  Jude, the half-brother of Jesus also noted that “They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires” (Jude 1:18).  


I won’t take the time to illustrate or explain a distinction between the “Universal Church,” or the “Invisible Church,” or the “Body of Christ,” which is spiritual, and is composed of every truly born again believer, and the “Institutional Church,” and the “Visible Church,” or the many varied denominations, sects and local churches that compose the temporal organization that is made up of members as defined by each of the groups as they see fit — some true to scripture, many not — and all composed of, as Jesus referred to them in His Parable, “Wheat and Tares” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  It is worthy of noting, however, that the “made-with-hands” Church fails.  The Church fails because the temporal institution is composed of humans, corrupted by humans, and manned by depraved humans.  Even the greatest of saints have warring within them two natures, and this battle continues until the day he or she passes from this life and stands in the presence of the Lord, glorified and freed from the very presence of sin (Galatians 5:16-26; Romans 7:14-25).

I must note at this point that my “pessimism” about the Church — and about humanity — is not a full “fatalism,” as some might believe.  I have not said that victories cannot be won.  I have not said that we cannot see miraculous things happen, or that obstacles, sins, and many other problems, issues and handicaps cannot be dealt with in our Christian walk.  I have found, however, that there is only one “secret” to “living the Christian Life.”  If you want to “live for God,” DIE.  Die to self.  Paul gave us the one and only formula for “victory” when he said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  The “victories” that come in life are completely of HIM.  The failures are completely ours — because we fail to plug in to HIS power.  

I also won’t take the time to draw the eschatological/prophetic implications of my statement that the Church is failing and will fail.  I will leave that for another time.  Suffice it to say that our inability, even with the Holy Spirit indwelling us, available in full measure to fill us that we might walk in His power (Ephesians 5:18), we still fail.  We fail to achieve unity, to fulfill the Great Commission, to observe the Great Commandments, to be salt and light….  To simply do those things that God has called us to do, as individuals, and thus as a collective.

Sixth, because life confirms scripture.  I would like to say that my own experience in life contradicts the view that I outline here from Scripture, but instead, what I have seen in my life confirms Scripture.  When I read of Ananias and Sapphira, who sought not only to lie to Peter and the Jerusalem Church, but to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), I can say I have known some Ananias’ and Sapphira’s.  When I read about Hymaneas and Alexander making shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1:18-20), I can sadly say I have known those who have become “apostate,” and left behind the faith they once knew.  When Paul tells Timothy that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10a), I can sense his deep sadness, because I have been forsaken by those who chose the things of the world over loyalty to the Lord, to His Word, to His Servants.  And when I read the final words of Paul, testifying that “at my first defense [before Nero] no one stood with me, but all forsook me.  May it not be charged against them” (2 Timothy 4:16), I have been left alone when “all forsook me,”  with only the exceptional “Luke” who stayed with me, and the Timothy and Mark who rushed to me for ministry in my time of need.  They were the exception, not the rule.

I don’t pretend to say that my experience is anything more than anecdotal — but it is my experience.  Apparently, my experience has been shared by millions of others, to a greater or lesser extent, in the “made-with-hands” Churches of the world.  When one can say that they have been more mistreated by those within “the Church” than those in “the world,” What kind of witness is that to the world?  What does that say of “the Church”?   To me, it says, “The ‘Church’ has failed.”

Finally, then, one might conclude with the words of the Lord: “The things which are impossible with men….  I am pessimistic about the ability of mankind to effect any kind of positive change in society or human life.  I am pessimistic about the ability of even redeemed mankind — those who are “saved,” who have been redeemed and are a part of the Church — to make lasting, effective and positive changes to this world.  Why?  Because the world is currently given to the rule of “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and though believers have at their disposal all the power to defeat him through Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), they do not call upon it, avail themselves of it, nor experience the potential for total victory that could be theirs.  In fact, it is more likely that the redeemed will be “prone to wander,” in the words of the old hymn, and fall back into their worldly ways, even while in the Church — something that Paul, John, Peter and Jude had to deal with in the epistles of the New Testament often.

From the time of the Reformation until near the mid-20th century, the predominant eschatological view (understanding of the end times) was known as “Postmillennialism.”  Postmillennialism had a very positive faith and confidence in the ability of redeemed humans to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.  This view basically affirmed the idea that the Church would expand through evangelism — and where necessary colonialism — and eventually the world would become “Christianized.”  That is, the majority of People on earth would become believers in Christ — and thus the Church would “bring in” or “initiate” the Kingdom of God on earth.  The belief was that the Church would reign over earth during the “Kingdom Age” (euphemistically call “The Millennium” – though some believed it was a literal 1,000 years), and only at the END of that Kingdom Age, when Satan came to earth to directly attack the Church, would Jesus literally return to fight for the Church, receive His kingdom from the Church, and create eternity future — the New Heavens and New Earth.

It was this view that drove the Puritans to cross the Atlantic and settle in Plymouth Colony — to “create the Kingdom of God on earth.”  It was this view that drove many of the Founders in the Rebellion against King George III — “We have no King but Jesus!”  It was this view that compelled the Abolitionists in the early Republic to fight for an end to chattel Slavery, and the Temperance movement to fight against legal alcoholic beverages.  Both succeeded — slavery was abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment; Alcohol was made illegal in 1919 [Prohibition] with the 18th Amendment, but repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment.  This view of Christian “triumphalism” was behind the great migration west, “Manifest Destiny” which was the belief that we [the United States — or at least Anglo-Protestant Christians] were to rule the entire continent — which meant the Native Americans had to go — to reservations or to the grave (in the name of Jesus and the United States Government, of course).  It was this concept that promoted the “Monroe Doctrine,” forbidding any European powers from colonizing any lands in the Americas after the Administration of James Monroe.  It was This ideal that Teddy Roosevelt pushed when we went to war with Spain in 1898 — and became an “empire” for all intents and purposes, conquering Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam — for the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba — something the Spanish didn’t even do.  And it was this dream that Woodrow Wilson seized upon when, after his reelection, he broke his promise to keep us out of the “Great War” in Europe, and committed American forces to fight in what he dubbed, “The War to End All Wars.”  Why?  Because he was sure that when this war ended, his dream for a “League of Nations” would be the blueprint for establishing the “Kingdom of God” and “Christianizing” the Earth.  But, Woodrow Wilson was wrong.  Terribly wrong.

In reality, “the War to End All Wars” was merely “strike one” for the grand optimistic view of redeemed human’s abilities to establish the “Kingdom of God.”  “Strike Two” came in 1929 with the crash of the stock market and the following Great Depression.  And “Strike Three” came between 1939 and 1941, depending on where you lived on the earth.  In Europe, it was 1939.  In Asia, it was 1939 — or even a decade or more earlier, if you ask the Chinese and Koreans, who had been fighting conquest by the Japanese Empire for years.  December 7th, 1941 was the date of death for most Postmillennialism in the United States.  It’s very difficult to remain an optimist about humanity — even redeemed humanity — when 25-30 million people die in the WWI, the Great Depression leaves at least 25% of people without jobs, homeless, unable to purchase necessities, hunger and starvation in some countries becomes common, especially Germany.  Then, 60-65 million die in WWII, which ends with the detonation of the first atomic weapons, and includes the Holocaust — the murder of over 6 million Jews, nearly a third of the worlds Jewish population.

By the Mid-20th Century, most Protestants, Evangelicals in particular had adopted a decidedly pessimistic view of the ability of humanity to effect lasting and real change on the earth, via politics or other social means.  In fact, in many cases Evangelicals and Fundamentalists took that withdrawal and “separation” from society, culture and the Body Politic too far.  Most within the orthodox church did realize, however, the reality that no theology, no doctrine of anthropology, could rightfully claim humans had the ability to bring in the Kingdom of God.  Postmillennialism withered.  Optimism about the ability of humans, even redeemed humans, is unwarranted.  It is unsupported in Scripture, in experience and in history.

But, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27).

THIS is why I am a pessimistic OPTIMIST.  Which I will explain in a future essay: A Pessimistic Optimist: Part 2 – Why I Am Optimistic, and What (or Whom) I Am Optimistic About.

JDW
Posted by J. Dale Weaver, M.Div., M.A. at 1:40 AM

The Role of Postmillennial Eschatology in the Formation of the Political Philosophy of Progressivism in the United States

No political movement has impacted the United States over the past century more than Progressivism.  The principles, policies and values of Progressive ideology are integrated into the fabric of the American nation at every level of governance and society, and its views and beliefs are ingrained in the hearts and minds of many in every class across every region of the country.  At one time, however, Progressivism was not natural or accepted ideology, but a new and foreign concept that was rejected by many Americans, or at least unknown and vaguely defined.  The question that confronts the historian is, how did the philosophy of Progressivism, which would give rise to so much of the modern and postmodern socio-political landscape, become the most effective, impacting and powerful American political movement of the last 100 years? 

There were, of course, many contributing factors to the formation of the movement that would become known as “Progressivism.”  The nexus of these influences are complex and widely varied – beginning with the early monarchical machinations of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton who desired an all-powerful centralized government,[1] and the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in 1798 by the Federalist Congress in part to restrict criticism of President John Adams’ policies and silence his political oppositions “free speech.” [2]   Some would also label as a “progressive” trait the rather heavy-handed style of leadership characteristic of the presidency of Andrew Jackson who “defended his own authority with resolute determination, [but] he did not manifest a general respect for the authority of the law when it got in the way of the policies he chose to pursue.”[3]

The Progressive Movement certainly doesn’t owe its whole existence to American sources and personalities.  With the emergence of the socio-economic political theories of Karl Marx, “socialism” or “communism” became quite popular after the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848, and the philosophical premises of Marx’ ideology were to some extent adopted by those in American Government and politics, which contributed greatly to the continuing hunger of many for the centralization of power in a Federal State, a centerpiece of the Progressive Movement. 
            Many members of the early Marxist movement from Germany and France immigrated to the United States after the failed Marxist French Revolution of 1848, and became leading proponents of the Union Cause in the American Civil War, supporting Lincoln, the strengthening of the Federal Government, and centralized political power.  Karl Marx himself, as well as Friedrich Engels saw the victory of the Union as a triumph for Socialism, and Marx even penned a letter of support to Lincoln during the course of the war.[4]  These early infusions of foreign “socialist” intellectual encouragement in addition to the many thousands of Europeans that immigrated, bringing their dialectical materialist worldview with them certainly had an impact in creating the foundations of the Progressive Movement.
            Furthermore, Progressivism came from a long line of American protest movements particular to the American Mid-west, beginning with the Grangers and moving to the rural Populists, and then naturally migrating into major population centers to form what became Progressivism.  While Historian Russell B. Nye noted that Progressives were generally urban,

and not of the same “class” as their predecessors in protest, the Populists, he contended they came from the same general line of ideological remonstrance against the system.[5]  While Populist rural farm and ranch laborers protested against the Cattle Barons and Railroads, Progressivist urban industrial laborers took up the cause against so-called “Robber Barons” or Captains of Industry.

Socio-Economic and Political forces did not exhaust the attitudes and convictions that were driving formation of Progressivism, either.  The United States was a nation given to religion, and particularly to a predominantly Protestant brand of Christianity that had its roots sunk deep into the traditional faiths of their European forefathers, particularly as they emerged from the Reformation era of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  While many Americans came from spiritual backgrounds steeped in one of the English Church traditions or its “spin-off’s,” the Anglicans, Episcopals, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalist Puritans, and so forth, many others followed similar Protestant Church traditions, though with their own national and cultural flavors, such as the German Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Scottish Presbyterian, French Huguenot, Moravians, Waldensians, and so on.  Regardless of the particular strain of Christianity, however, Historian Nathan O. Hatch observed two very important “central components” that were common to most Christians of the Early Republic, and that by their nature would come to mesh well with a Progressive agenda and political ideology, at least on the surface.  First, Hatch noted that Christianity in America, unlike its European counterparts, had largely jettisoned the antiquated idea of the strict distinction between clergy and laity, and had instead adopted as the “central force” of the American faith “its democracy or populist orientation.”[6]  Hatch went on to explain that this “empowered ordinary people by taking their deepest spiritual influences at face value” rather than subjecting them to “the frowns of respectable clergy,” and actually freed the lay people to act on their faith, their belief system, and to become involved.[7]  These two elements of personal empowerment and populist orientation were big influences on the psyche of common Christians in the first half of the nineteenth century, which explains why a growing number of them became involved, not only in spiritual matters such as the “Second Great Awakening,” but also in social issues of the day like abolition of slavery, temperance and the fight against alcoholic beverages, women’s suffrage, the labor movement, and many more. 

But, what motivated the involvement of these Christians?  What internal conviction, what doctrinal affirmation compelled them to labor toward the ends of establishing positive social change?  Of particular interest in addressing this question, particularly during this period of American History, is the way Christians saw the future.  Eschatology is “a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind; a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment.”[8]  Most American Christians have always considered their understanding of how the future will unfold from both a Biblical and a social perspective to be an essential facet of their religious faith.
            From the earliest days of the nation, and in fact, back to the beginning of the Colonial period, many of the prominent Protestant ministers and theologians, heavily influenced by the Reformation tradition and Puritan experiences in the New World, took a very optimistic view of the future, believing that redeemed humans, as embodied in the Christian Church, would eventually evangelize and win the world to Christ, leading not only to a spiritual but also to a social transformation of the entire globe; a Kingdom of God come on earth.

One such Protestant leader was Puritan John Winthrop, who led the early English settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  It was Winthrop’s fervent hope that he and his colony would serve as an example of redemption and reform that would transform, not only the “New World,” which they called “New England,” but also the “Old World” of Europe, and eventually the entire world.  Despite the hardships of the early years, Winthrop’s famous words echo through history and set the optimistic, but demanding tone so characteristic of Puritan eschatology of the time: “We must consider that we shall be as a city set on a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”[9]

  America’s most famous native scholar of Scripture, Johnathan Edwards, also affirmed this optimistic and theologically progressive view of eschatology in his works during the first half of the 1700’s.  Edwards, a Newport, Rhode Island Congregational Minister, is most renowned historically for his leadership in the spiritual revival known as “The First Great Awakening” of the 1730’s and 1740’s, and the classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”  which he preached hundreds of times in Churches throughout New England and beyond.  He was, however, also a prolific writer and theologian who contributed a great deal to a uniquely American Protestant theological vision, and his most important conclusion with regard to how the Kingdom of God would be achieved on earth is revealed in his The Works of Johnathan Edwards, A.M., in a commentary entitled, “To the Fall of the Antichrist.”  Edwards, regarding the coming of the Millennium, or Kingdom of God on earth, summarizes, “This is a work that will be accomplished by means, by preaching of the gospel, and the use of the ordinary means of grace, and so shall be gradually brought to pass.”[10]
            During the Colonial and Early American era, this concept of Christian Eschatology formally became known as “Postmillennialism.”  The formal theological definition of Postmillennialism is “The Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ’ Second Coming will follow the millennium, a kingdom or utopian age (that may not necessarily be viewed as a literal 1,000 years).  In this view, the Church progressively “conquers the world” so to speak.   During this present age, Postmillennialists believe that sin will not cease, but it will be minimized because of the influence of the church.  Christ will not physically reign but rather he will spiritually reign through the church because of its vast influence over all facets of life. At the culmination of time, Jesus will return to judge the world, sending the wicked to Hell and the righteous to their reward.”[11]  In very simple terms, Postmillennialism understands the future “millennium” or “kingdom age” as “the climax and goal of human progress, with human effort contributing to the realization of God’s providential design….  This is called postmillennialism [because] the Second Coming of Christ occurs at the end of the millennium.”[12]

The question, then, is how this popular, fervent and optimistic brand of Christian Eschatology became an influential, perhaps even formative element in the development of the political movement called Progressivism in the late nineteenth century United States.
            One suggestion might be that Postmillennialism combined the perfectionist ideals of the Second Great Awakening with the kingdom-building optimism of “Yankee pietism.”[13]  Yankee Pietism emerged as a movement among the:
                        New Testament oriented, anti-ritualist, congregational in governance, active

            in para-church organizations, and committed to individual conversion and

            societal reform in order to usher in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ.

            Pietists did not compartmentalize religion and civil government.  Right

            belief and right behavior are two sides of the same spiritual coin.[14]

Mark Noll and Luke Harlow additionally observed that, though most of the “Yankee Pietists” were from the “anti-liturgical” traditions (such as “Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, Congregationists, Quakers”),[15] in the political and social movements, the term was “too vague,” and “confessionalists can be pietists and devotionalists too.”[16]  The social and political implications of “Yankee Pietism” transcended the sectarian Christian doctrinal differences.  This ecumenism naturally lent itself to “other than Christian” motivations for accomplishing goals for the greater good, and later perhaps motivations with no religious foundation at all.
            Numerous historians have addressed the effect of the Christian eschatological belief system of Postmillennialism and how it influenced the development of the United States politically, particularly during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.   
            Daniel Walker Howe noted that “Postmillennialism provided the capstone to an intellectual structure integrating political liberalism and economic development with Protestant Christianity.”[17] This was certainly not the universal view of all Protestant Christians of the time, but with the champions of Second Great Awakening like Lyman Beecher,[18] Richard T. Ely[19] and Charles Grandison Finney,[20] it became the prevailing view by mid-century, and certainly after the Civil War. 

            Part and parcel of postmillennial eschatology was the encouragement of activism.[21] It was this brand of Christian eschatology that drove the “continuing moral and social improvement” movements such as abolition, temperance and women’s suffrage,[22] and also “provided the rationale and motivation to sustain the imperial vision” along the way, leading to such events as the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, the Spanish-American War and ultimately World War I.[23]

            According to Mark Noll and Luke Harlow, there is no doubt that as Postmillennial “Yankee Pietism” grew in numbers and social clout, beginning early in the nineteenth century when they “launched a crusade to Christianize America.”[24]  This agenda was deliberate and divided into two phases.

                        First, they created the “benevolent empire” in the 1810’s to spread

                        the Gospel and teach the Bible.  Then, in the 1820’s, they established

                        reform societies to eradicate slavery, saloons, Sabbath desecration,

                        and other social ills.  Finally, in the 1830’s, they entered the political

                        mainstream by joining the new Whig Party against the Jacksonian

                        Democrats.  By the end of the 1840’s….they added nativist legislation

                        To their agenda, especially by extending the naturalization period

                        from four to fourteen years.[25]

            Somewhere along the way, however, Postmillennialism lost its “spirituality” but retained its optimism, its utopian ideals, and its concept of human progress.  Historian James H. Moorhead refers to this as an “erosion to the more open-ended eschatology of the kingdom,”[26] which is also seen in the emergence of theological liberalism and Biblical “higher criticism” regarding heretofore traditionally accepted orthodox doctrines of the faith.  William R. Hutchison quotes Charles S. Briggs, a late nineteenth century proponent of “Modernism” and Biblical higher criticism as saying “We have undermined the breastworks of traditionalism; let us blow them to atoms.  We have forced them from the face of the earth that no man hereafter may be kept from the Bible.”[27]

            In the absence of a strong reliance on Christian traditions and staunchly held cardinal doctrines, those who maintained a generally “postmillennial” eschatology began to gravitate to a philosophy that placed their reliance in another means of “establishing the kingdom.”   “God,” Richard T. Ely declared, “works through the State in carrying out His purposes more universally than through any other institution.”[28]  This was the perfect soil into which was sewn the seed of collectivism, Darwinian Evolution, a drive by Radical Republicans during and following the Civil War toward centralization of power in the Federal Government, and a Marxian Dialectical Materialistic philosophy that conspired to produce Progressive political pioneers like Robert M. La Follette,[29] and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt[30] and Woodrow Wilson.[31]

            The emergence of politicians like Wisconsin Governor and later Senator Robert M “Fighting Bob” La Follette in the last half of the nineteenth century tracked with the merging of the social practices and political ideas of the more liberalized Postmillennial Pietists and their more secular and materialist counterparts in public life.  La Follette, born in 1855, rose to prominence as a Congressman first elected in 1884 and serving three terms as a champion of the populist interests of common laborers and farmers, and an outspoken foe of the industrial giants and corporate interests like railroads and the lumber industry, very prominent in Wisconsin.[32] 

            La Follette himself had been raised by a Baptist mother who had come west with Yankee Pietist ideals already formulated, however his father Josiah La Follette, who had died when Robert was young, was an agnostic.  When his Mother remarried John Z. Saxton, a very conservative, strict and dedicated Baptist, Robert grew to dislike the formal religion and doctrinal absolutes of his Step-father. 
            “I got fed up with that sort of thing as a boy.  My stepfather insisted on entertaining the Baptist Minister every Sunday,” La Follette once quipped when asked about his disposition to churches and religion.  According to biographer Nancy Unger, his disdain went further than merely disliking the institution, but the harsh discipline his religious Stepfather often inflicted upon he and his siblings for “poor manners, impoliteness, and discourtesy” and other unacceptable behaviors in children of the day.[33]  Yet La Follette never abandoned the ideals of “Yankee Pietism” he was taught as a child, and he wove them into his social philosophy and political ideology, forming a microcosm and prototype of the exemplary “Progressive” in the late nineteenth century, having moved away from the overt religious faith, but kept the social involvement and activism, and gravitated toward a much more statist and collectivist theory of governance.  In this sense, Robert La Follette serves as the nearly perfect reflection of what happened to the population of Postmillennial Yankee Pietists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

            By the time Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, the “Progressive Era” was well underway.  During Roosevelt’s Presidency, the “Social Gospel” movement was at its height, and theologically liberal leaders such as Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, Episcopal Richard T. Ely, and Congregationalist Washington Gladden were championing many diverse social causes.  Common during this time were temperance and the push for prohibition of alcohol, support of labor unions and “worker’s rights,” women’s suffrage, working against poverty, and just the beginnings of racial desegregation and “civil rights.”[34] 

            Teddy Roosevelt was no political slouch.  Unlike McKinley, Roosevelt was a Republican in the more “progressive” vein of the Party.  While he was certainly no Robert La Follette, Roosevelt more than once spoke of his appreciation for the Progressive firebrand, so the direction Roosevelt took in governing the nation was not surprising.  Roosevelt demonstrated his “progressive faith in scientific management and committed to enlarging presidential power,” also “sponsoring legislation that expanded the administrative power of the federal government.”[35]  Theodore Roosevelt rightly earned the title of the first “Progressive” President, because the Federal Government had not taken a leap in regulatory power or legal control over the people or the States since the end of “Reconstruction.”

            President Roosevelt knew how to make his view of an “energetic national government” palatable to the American people, however.  As an example, this was demonstrated when he chose to run for re-election in 1912 after a term out of office. The Republican Party failed to nominate him, instead re-nominating incumbent President William Howard Taft.  Taft was from the Conservative wing of the Party, and Roosevelt bolted, running on the “Bull-Moose” ticket – another name for the Progressive Party.  At the conclusion of the Progressive Party convention that year, Roosevelt is reported to have proclaimed, “Our cause is based on the eternal principles of righteousness; We stand at Armageddon, we battle for the Lord.”  As a response to his speech, Roosevelt had the Convention delegation wave their Bibles and march out of the auditorium as they sang the Christian hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers.[36]
            Woodrow Wilson was, by far, the most successful President of the classic Progressive Era.  Wilson managed to integrate the formerly separate Progressive Party into his Democrat Party, and persuade his party to adopt many of their ideas.  Among his greatest triumphs were the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment approving the “graduated” or “Progressive” Income Tax, the Seventeenth Amendment authorizing the direct election of Senators by democratic vote rather than by vote of the State Legislatures, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission and the passage of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act regulating commerce and limiting monopolies as well as aiding organized labor, the Keating-Owen Act outlawing child labor, the Federal Highway Act, and the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the transport and sale of intoxicating liquors.[37]

            Raised the son of a Presbyterian Pastor and Theologian, he drank deeply from the well of Calvinist theology, believing in the tenets common to the Reformed tradition: Predestination, the omnipotence and sovereignty of God, and a personal life of devotion to his faith which included daily Bible reading, morning and evening prayers, and church attendance, including at mid-week prayer services.[38]  If Robert La Follette was the prototype of Progressivism’s beginning, it’s flirtation with Christian themes but adoption of secular and materialistic methods and goals, then President Woodrow Wilson was the personification of the Postmillennial Progressive Christian.  His religious convictions and ideas of God formed the framework of his entire worldview.  His assurance in the truth of God’s sovereignty and predestination gave him a confidence in God’s guidance, both for himself as a leader, and for the nation he led.  He held an optimistic and idealistic view that the United States, as a Christian nation, was to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”[39]  Wilson was firmly postmillennial, viewed his role as a messenger of God, and considered his support for democracy, the “War to End All Wars” (World War I) and establish a “League of Nations” as “divinely inspired paths” to achieving the prophesied “Kingdom of God” spoken of by the prophets in Scripture.[40]

The eschatological view of Postmillennialism found its greatest acceptance among Protestant Christians in the United States, Europe and around the industrialized world as Christian missionaries continued to reach new lands with the Gospel, revivalism and awakenings continued to flourish, and Christian nations enjoyed general prosperity and comfort.  Is it any coincidence that during this period of time, the political movement known as Progressivism developed, and enjoyed its greatest popularity during the Industrial Revolution in America and England when people saw their world improving, their faith growing, and their causes advancing?
            Of course, it couldn’t last forever.  Woodrow Wilson’s second term ended after he’d won “The Great War,” but the American People balked at his “League of Nations,” fearful of the international entanglements it could bring.  Wilson was struck down by a stroke, and the US economy suffered a brief but sharp recession as he left office, returning a Conservative, Calvin Coolidge to the Presidency.  So, too, the days of Postmillennialism’s popularity were numbered.  After 1921, the United States suffered two more major blows that caused many Christians to entirely abandon the optimistic eschatological prognostications once held by so many in the prior century.  The Great Depression, which began in 1929 with the crash of the Stock Market, followed by a second and even more devastating World War less than three decades after the first simply crush whatever optimism many had left for a better world.[41] 

            Progressivism, however, has remained one of the most pervasive and longest lasting political movements in American history.  The proponents of Progressivism and its reforms may find it politically expedient to change the labels they are wearing at a given time in the life of the national body politic, like “Liberal,” for instance, or they might retreat on certain policy issues when the political tone and atmosphere turns against them.  A great example of that might be the Clinton triangulation on the issue of “Workfare” rather than “welfare,” which President Clinton initially resisted, but once a Republican Congress was elected, he not only embraced, but claimed credit for.  This kind of tactical retreat and incrementalism has allowed the survival of Progressivism as political movement far longer than most others, and for that reason, its impact cannot be overestimated. 
            Often, however, one of its most important sources is glossed over or completely missed by some historians and modern commentators.  Much of the basis for the optimism, collectivism, and the positive belief in building a better world “progressively” may be attributed to the ascendancy of the nineteenth century Protestant eschatological view known as postmillennialism.  Affirming a great optimism in the abilities of “redeemed humanity,” they believed the Church could bring about the Kingdom of God on earth through reform, economic and social improvement, and the use of Government to implement these changes, both in the United States and eventually, abroad.  Though the initial dedication of early Protestant adherence to traditional doctrines gave way to higher criticism and their rejection, these more liberalized Christians retained their optimism, collectivism, concepts of Statist centralization and high opinion of human abilities to achieve a “utopian” ideal, and the result by the beginning of the twentieth century was a full and complete political philosophy known as “Progressivism.”  This movement gave birth to modern Liberalism, and indeed, remains a major player in politics today as expressed in the ideology and policies of President Barack Obama, the Democrat Party, major Unions, Occupation Wall Street and the like.  While it may seem unlikely in some cases, one of the pillars of Progressivism was a Christian Eschatological view with a positive view of the future, and of human’s abilities to bring it to pass.  That vision endures in most Progressives of today.

Bibliography

Bendle, Ph.D., Melvin F. . “The Apocalyptic Imagination and Popular Culture.” Journal of           Religion and Popular Culture 11 (2005),

http://www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art11-apocalypticimagination.html

            (accessed August17, 2012).

DiLorenzo, Thomas.  Hamilton’s Curse. New York: Crown Forum Publishing Group, 2008.

Edwards, Johnathan, Henry Rogers, Sereno Edwards Dwight.  The Works of Johnathan Edwards             A.M. Vol. 2 London: Childs & Sons, 1839.

Evans, Christopher H.  The Social Gospel Today. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Fine, Sidney. Laissez Faire Thought and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in           American Thought, 1865-1901. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956.

Gillon, Steven M. & Cathy D. Matson. The American Experiment: A History of the United           States. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006.

Handy, Robert T. A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities.2nd ed. New    York: Oxford University Press USA, 1971, 1984.

Hatch, Nathan O.  The Democratization of American Christianity. Boston: Yale University Press,            1989.

Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.     New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

 Hutchison, William R. The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism. Durham, North          Carolina: Duke University Press, 1992.

Kleppner, Paul. The Third Electoral System, 1835-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Link, Arthur S. ed. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 23. Princeton, New Jersey:   Princeton University Press, 1977.

Magee, Malcolm D.  What the World Should Be: Woodrow Wilson and the Crafting of a Faith-    Based Foreign Policy.  Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2008.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (Encyclopedia Brittanica Co., 2012):

            http://www.merriam-webster.com/  (accessed August 19, 2012)

Moorhead, James H. “The Erosion of Postmillennialism in American Religious Thought, 1865     — 1925,” Church History 53 (March 1984): 61 — 77.

Moorhead, James H. World Without End: Mainstream American Protestant Visions of the Last    Things 1880-1925. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Noll, Mark A., Luke E. Harlow.  Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to    the Present. New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2007.

Nye, Russell B. Midwestern Progressive Politics: A History of its Origins and Development         1870-1950. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State College Press, 1951.

Online Bible Dictionary. (Spreading the Light Ministries, 1999-2009):             http://www.spreadinglight.com/theology/dictionary/definitions/postmillennialism.html     (accessed August 19, 2012)

Pestritto, Ronald J. & William J. Atto, eds. American Progressivism: A Reader. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2008.

Quandt, Jean B., “Religion and Social Thought: The Secularizing of           Postmillennialism,” American Quarterly 25 (October 1973): 390 — 409.

Schweikart, Larry & Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.

Unger, Nancy.  Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer. Chapel Hill: University Of    North Carolina Press, 2000.

Wilson, Clyde. “Lincoln’s Marxists: a Review.” Chronicles Magazine, April 2012.  p. 27


[1] DiLorenzo, Thomas. Hamilton’s Curse. (New York: Crown Forum Publishing Group, 2008), pp. 16-17.

[2] Schweikart, Larry & Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States. (New York: Penguin Group, 2004): p. 152

[3] Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007): p. 411

[4] Wilson, Clyde. “Lincoln’s Marxists: A Review,” Chronicles Magazine (April, 2012): p. 27

[5] Nye, Russell B. Midwestern Progressive Politics: A History of its Origins and Development 1870-1950 (East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State College Press,1951): 4, 13, 21-22

[6] Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. (Boston: Yale University Press, 1989): pp. 9-10, 213

[7] Hatch, p. 10

[8]Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (Encyclopedia Brittanica Co., 2012): http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eschatology

[9] Schweikart, Allen. p. 29

[10] Edwards, Johnathan, Henry Rogers, Sereno Edwards Dwight. The Works of Johnathan Edwards A.M. 2 Vols.(London: Childs & Son, 1839): Vol. 2, p. 605

[11] Online Bible Dictionary. (Spreading the Light Ministries, 1999-2009): http://www.spreadinglight.com/theology/dictionary/definitions/postmillennialism.html

[12] Howe, p. 286

[13] Paul Kleppner. The Third Electoral System, 1835-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), p. 190; Howe, p. 619

[14] Noll, Mark A., Luke E. Harlow. Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007): p. 150

[15] Noll, Harlow, ibid.

[16] Noll, p. 142.

[17] Howe, p. 287

[18] Howe, pp. 287, 580

[19] Jean B. Quandt. “Religion and Social Thought: The Secularizing of Postmillennialism.” American Quarterly 25 (October 1973): p. 403

[20] Howe, pp. 174, 287

[21]Moorhead, James H. World Without End: Mainstream American Protestant Visions of the Last Things 1880-1925. (Bloomingtom, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999): p. xv

[22] Moorhead, p. 47

[23] Moorhead, p. 6

[24] Noll, Harlow, p. 150

[25] Noll, Harlow, pp. 150, 151

[26] Moorhead, p. 173

[27] William R. Hutchison. The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992): p. 94

[28] Sidney Fine. Laissez Faire Thought and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956): p. 180

[29] Steven M. Gillon & Cathy D. Matson. The American Experiment: A History of the United States. (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006): p. 816

[30] Gillon & Matson, p. 828

[31] Gillon & Matson, p. 836

[32] Gillon & Matson, pp. 816, 817

[33] Unger, Nancy C. Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000 ): p. 22

[34] Evans, Christopher H. The Social Gospel Today. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001): p. 149

[35] Gillon, Matson, p. 829

[36] Pestritto, Ronald J. & William J. Atto, Ed. American Progressivism: A Reader. (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2008): p. 10

[37] Gillon, Matson, p. 837

[38] Link, Arthur S. ed. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977): Vol. 23, p. 20.  “The Bible and Progress,” a speech delivered May 7, 1911, in Denver, Colorado.

[39] Link, ibid.

[40] Magee, Malcolm D. What the World Should Be: Woodrow Wilson and the Crafting of a Faith-Based Foreign Policy. (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2008 ): p. 34

[41] Online Bible Dictionary. (Spreading the Light Ministries, 1999-2009): http://www.spreadinglight.com/theology/dictionary/definitions/postmillennialism.html

A Unique American Christianity: A Late Twentieth Century Topical Historiography

Public prayer and religious expression became decidedly more accepted in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Such blatant displays of a religious and particularly of a Christian nature would have been frowned upon or legally suppressed just months before the September 11th attacks by a myriad of special interests and government officials. For decades, religious expression seemed to have taken a back seat to greater social involvement, expansionist statism, and a desire for greater moral “freedoms.” Yet, just under the surface, the majority of Americans still hold firmly to a religious and identifiably Christian understanding of their personal lives and the world. Christianity has been a constant in American life throughout history, and at this moment in the American experience, its interaction with and impact upon the nation, as it is understood by the recent generation of cultural historians deserves closer investigation.

Historians in the latter quarter of the twentieth century had no shortage of theories regarding the impact of Christianity on the formation and progress of American culture. During the period, American religious historians began to examine a number of recurring issues that to one degree or another appeared in works of scholarship. The issues included the individualization of Christianity, the theological movement toward Arminianism and away from Calvinism, regionalism within the church and culture, religious authority, racialization, and the restructuring of American Christianity as it confronted new cultural and religious realities. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it represents a general grouping of themes and it indicates how scholars have examined them. A sampling of scholarly works about each of four periods in the nation’s history demonstrates a rich historiography of American Christianity that explores how Christians have influenced or confronted culture. Scholars seem to emphasize one or two of these recurring themes depending on the period of history they studied. The debate concerning the place of Christianity within American culture continues unabated today, informed by the work of these historians.

Nathan Hatch, in his 1989 work The Democratization of American Christianity focused his research primarily on the ways in which Christianity began to emphasize the place of the individual in religion during the formative years of the young republic, 1780-1830. Hatch’s research examined five “mass movements” that emerged during that era. According to Hatch, “They all offered common people, especially the poor, compelling visions of individual self-respect and collective self-confidence.”1 Each of these five groups, Methodists, Baptists, The Christian movement, black churches and the Mormons, gained an audience because many “common folks” of the day felt left out of religion as expressed by the elite Anglican Episcopal church, and distant from the puritanical Congregationalists and old school Presbyterians. Hatch noted that the political climate of Jeffersonian democracy and republican sentiment, when coupled with the distrust of leaders among “ordinary folks,” created a “religious populism” that gave rise to a greater interest in the role of the individual in religious life and influence.2

Hatch also examined the emergence of Arminian theology in America particularly through the explosion of Methodism from 1780-1830. Arminian theology emphasizes the “free-will” of every individual to accept or reject salvation in Christ. This theology was in stark contrast to the prevalent Calvinist theology of the day, championing the sovereignty of God and predestination of man. Calvinism is essentially spiritual determinism, teaching that God has already decided the eternal destiny of every man, without any input from the individual. However, the main rifts that appeared between Calvinists and Arminians were not primarily doctrinal, Hatch contended. They stemmed from a different concept of Christian ministry, and a faith that was preoccupied with theology rather than practical matters.3 Arminian theology allowed for a clergy made up of “common folks,” not scholars, and it also emphasized common experience and Christian living in a more practical sense than Calvinism did. Thus, in many ways, the theological debate, which opened the door to the Arminian flavored Second Great Awakening in the 1830s, was actually an adjunct and subordinate to the larger democratization of American Christianity, and the resulting emphasis of individualism in religious faith in the early years of the republic.4

Donald Mathews, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, was a pioneer when his examination of American religion approached the subject on a broadly evangelical scope rather than denominationally. Until this point, most works regarding American Christianity were denominational in nature. In his 1977 work Religion in the Old South, Mathews examined much of the same religious populism, individualism, and Arminian tendencies that Hatch addressed, but he also introduces regionalism. During the Colonial period, the South was distinct in its development from other regions of the country, particularly New England. In keeping with the theory of historian Jack Greene, the experience of the South was quite different from New England. Greene contends that New England is best understood as a model of declension, drifting from the principles and purposes for which it was originally founded, much to the chagrin of the clergy of the Colonial era. On the other hand, the South follows a developmental model, having been founded for purely economic reasons. As the South became more populated and settled, the people began to search for community and spiritual fulfillment.5 Mathews’ theory of religious development in the South reflected Greene’s larger theory. Mathews noted that “the church” in the pre-Revolutionary South commonly referred to Anglicanism. Due to the rural character of the South, Anglicanism was weak, never supplying enough clerics to meet the need of the people in the countryside, nor to exert influence or control over them. According to Mathews, three distinct groups soon filled this void; New Light Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. This “evangelical” movement appealed to the common people of the South because it sought to meet their needs, rather than to perpetuate the “hierarchical social system” supported by Anglicanism.6 The emphasis of evangelicalism in the South was a personal “conversion” experience, in which an individual faces a crisis moment, realizing their sinfulness and need for a Savior.7 This same emphasis on a personal salvation experience was present in the First Great Awakening under the preaching of George Whitefield and others primarily in New England, which Nathan Hatch also recounts and emphasizes.8 In many ways, conversion was the great equalizer, because no one was exempt from its necessity, all were sinners. This included every person regardless of sex, race, economic, or social status.9 Furthermore, Southern evangelicalism, with its emphasis on a personal conversion experience, also lent itself to a more Arminian flavored theological context.10 Mathews traces the development of southern evangelicalism from several local denominational efforts in the middle and late 1700s, through the revivals that dotted the Southern landscape beginning at Cane Creek, Kentucky in 1799, to its emergence in the early 1800’s as the mainstay of Southern culture, becoming popular and influential at all levels.11 The evangelical acceptance of education and hegemony over Southern culture did not rid the movement of its anti-intellectualism and wariness of “formal” religion, and continued to rely heavily on what Mathews characterized as “a thoughtless bibliolatry,” and a dedication to the orthodox proposition that the Bible was an “infallible guide” to Christians.12 Furthermore, Southern evangelicals tended to be less activist socially and politically than their northern counterparts, mostly due to the issue of slavery. Southern evangelicals, due to their wish to avoid dealing with slavery, or because they had failed to rid Southern culture of the institution a generation before, regarded it as a “civil institution,” in which the church should not interfere.13 Evangelicals in New England, a hotbed for abolitionist activism by the 1820s, saw this as a cop-out on the part of Southern Christians, and the seeds were sown for regional division within American Christianity.

Mathews, through these conclusions, clearly demonstrated the themes of individualism, the resulting practical and experiential theology of Arminianism, and the development of regionalism in American Christianity that would have devastating effects far beyond the churches in the nation over the next century. Mathews also introduced two other themes that would be more fully developed by historians studying the periods just prior to and particularly following the American Civil War: the Protestant Christian concept of authority and the issue of race in the churches and cultures of a divided nation.

Mitchell Snay in his 1993 work The Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South attempted to explore the relationship between religion and the origins of Southern separatism.14 According to Snays’ thesis, the church most clearly exemplified the developing “sectionalism” in the generation immediately preceding the Civil War. During the 1820s and 1830s, Snay contended that northern clergy began attacking Southern clergy for their lack of opposition to slavery. Snay also contended that though Southern clergy had a long-standing aversion to involvement in civic affairs, they were drawn into a political conflict that exploded into acute sectionalism with the 1835 Abolitionist Crisis.15 Mathews illustrated Snays’ argument, pointing out that two of the major evangelical denominations in the South separated over regional interests, the most explosive of which was slavery; the Methodists in 1844, and the Baptists in 1845.16 Charles Reagan Wilson in his 1980 work Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920, also notes that New Light Presbyterians in the South broke with their northern counterparts over slavery and other sectional interests in 1857.17 The schism among America’s churches foreshadowed the political division that was to come.

Snay’s argument goes beyond the cultural and political fissures that were developing in antebellum America and deals with the theological division that characterized that era. The key theological fracture during this time, says Snay, was a different understanding of the issue of authority. In other words, Snay contended that Christians in the different regions understood differently how the Scriptures were to be interpreted and who had the authority and ability to interpret them. Snay summarized the northern view by quoting prominent theologian Adin Ballou, who said that Scripture was to be interpreted by the individual “according to the evident spirit of its text, rather than the mere letter.” Southern clerics on the other hand insisted on “placing the written law of God over individual judgment.”18 Snay concluded, therefore, that the Southern rejection of the theological view that individuals have the authority to interpret the “spirit” of the Scriptures and insisting that the Bible itself was the final authority, contributed strongly to their strict constructionist view of not only sacred matters, but of the Constitution as well.19 The “higher view” of northern Christians was in direct conflict with the “doctrinaire insistence” of southern Christians that the Bible was the final authority on all matters, including slavery. In reaction to northern objections, concluded Snay, southern believers developed a concept of “sanctified slavery,” and in so doing created a southern nationalism that employed a rhetoric of honor which further emphasized regional differences and fortified the church in both the north and the south for the conflict that was to come.20

This was not to say that all the churches or ministers in the antebellum era were in solid agreement in the north or the south. Mark Hanley examined the quarrels that developed between 1830 and 1860 in his 1994 work Beyond a Christian Commonwealth: The Protestant Quarrel with the American Republic. As the new nation developed, said Hanley, “Protestant praise for the Republic in the decades before the Civil War was accompanied by a countervailing ‘critical republican vision’ that turned its focus to the secular potential of American liberty.”21 Hanley noted that theologians predominately from northern Christian institutions of higher learning such as Princeton were most concerned with the “material expression of the new liberalism,” with emphasis on materialism, individualism, and diversity.22 Hanleys’ assessment of this Protestant quarrel indicates that it was one primarily among northern Christians. An apparent contradiction is evident within northern Christian circles over the issue of individual liberty. On the one hand Snay argued that northern Christians advocate that the individual has authority to interpret the “spirit” of Scripture on issues such as slavery.23 On the other hand, Hanley argued that these same theologians feared their parishioners might also “be hoodwinked by the alluring countenance of individual freedom.”24

Historians of the antebellum era reflect in their works the division and uneasiness that American Christians felt with the growth of the young republic. The “Protestant quarrel” Mark Hanley addressed arose from the changing concept of individualism among American Protestants. Individualism as an issue appeared to be a two-edged sword for the church, particularly in the North, encouraging its anti-slavery message while at the same time reacting against what that kind of liberty could potentially produce. In the South, the reaction against the idea of personal liberty at least as related to slaves brought division with their northern counterparts and set a precedent of Southern Nationalism which, after the Civil War, would continue into the early twentieth century.

The emphasis of late twentieth century historians studying American cultural history before the Civil War centered upon the issue of individualism as well as issues of theology and regional aspirations. However, in most of the works addressing the colonial and antebellum era, the issue of race is also addressed. Nathan Hatch includes the significant development of the black churches immediately following the American Revolution. In the three decades from 1780-1810, thousands of blacks, 90 percent of which were slaves, turned to Christianity. Hatch noted that these conversions were almost exclusively due to the work of the “insurgent religious movements” of the early republic, and their ability to wed the gospel to popular culture.”25 According to Hatch, black Christians became a driving force in evangelicalism and American Christianity even before the Civil War. This, of course, was due in large part to the evangelical doctrine of “conversion,” which Mathews described as “the great equalizer.”26 Unfortunately, while the evangelical message of equality applied to spiritual matters, it did not apply to civic matters of individual liberty, particularly though not exclusively in the South.

Christians in the South, after initial attempts to end slavery in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, turned away from active campaigning on “civic” issues and turned exclusively to an evangelistic, spiritual mission to slaves. The goal of such a mission, contended Mathews, was to reach out to slaves that God had placed in their care. This allowed the Southern church to fulfill the biblical mandate to preach the Gospel to every creature while at the same time justifying the institution of slavery.27

Donald Mathews and Nathan Hatch among other late twentieth century historians of antebellum America were innovative in their approach, but were more generalized in examining racial relations prior to the Civil War. Late twentieth century historians who examined the decades following the Civil War brought racial issues into sharper focus. “Race, of course, was of fundamental importance to Southern culture,” said Charles Reagan Wilson in his 1980 work, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920.28 Wilson argued that in the aftermath of the Civil War, defeated Southerners who were denied a political nation built a cultural identity by blending Christian rhetoric with symbols of Confederate tradition.29 A key component, Wilson argued, was the racial tradition and practice that had served as a cement for Southern cultural cohesion.30 Wilson demonstrated that white supremacy played a key role in the Southern way of life. After the Civil War, said Wilson, Southern preachers used racial stereotypes and the assumption of white superiority to reinforce Lost Cause religion. Wilson also noted, however, that race itself was not the main issue in Lost Cause religion, but the virtues of the Confederates. These virtues, said Wilson, included a paternalistic view of blacks, and brought about the development of segregation in the years after reconstruction.31 The Southern position of segregation, Wilson noted, reflected a nationwide growth of Anglo-Saxon racism during the modernist era.32 Interestingly, historians examining racial issues in the post-bellum era give almost exclusive attention to developments in the South. Scholars such as George Marsden, in his 1980 work Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925, mentioned black evangelicals in only one footnote, noting that the fledgling fundamentalist movement developing in the North was never a dominant force among black Christians.33 The apparent lack of research on black Christianity and racial relations in the North during the post-bellum era represents a significant weakness in the literature of the period.

The issues of regionalism and racial relations that so preoccupied late-twentieth century historians examining the post-bellum era began to be subsumed by developments on two fronts as the nineteenth century ended. First, Southern nationalism gave way to Americanism largely due to the Spanish-American War in 1898 and World War I in 1917. Wilson contended that these wars allowed the South to again identify itself with the values of the American nation.34 The Spanish-American War allowed the South to again participate “in the saving work of a redeemer nation,” in part, said Wilson, because America had brought liberty to the captives of Cuba.35 Wilson also argued that World War I allowed the South to believe that her honorable Confederate past prepared the entire nation for her “manifest destiny” as the “champion of the moral forces of the universe.” 36 While these were milestones in reconciliation, posited Wilson, the religion of the Lost Cause in the South didn’t just disappear. Confederate symbols were still honored, virtues were still celebrated, and unfortunately, some errors were still practiced.37

The development of fundamentalism also became pivotal in the reuniting of a country that had been so divided for decades. George Marsden argued that in the post-Civil War era, two elements of American evangelicalism diverged. The Beecher family, represented the progressive wing of northern evangelicalism, while the Blanchard family, represented the traditional wing of evangelicalism. Prior to the Civil War, these families were friends, crusaders together against slavery and other sins and fleshly vices.38 After the war, asserted Marsden, the moral crusades championed by traditionalists were crushed by the changes in the modern world. Thus, traditionalists became increasingly disillusioned with the idea of building the “perfect society.” Though the crusade against slavery was successful, Marsden asserted that traditionalists came to see their role to restrain evil until the Lord returned.39 In this way, Marsden claimed that traditionalists came to see themselves as puritans in an American Babylon.40 The progressive wing of northern evangelicalism, Marsden continues, began to accept scientific theories such as evolution and to develop “social gospel” ministries. In addition, Marsden notes that progressives began to advocate a style of preaching which would “understand men” as opposed to creeds and traditions. Thus, according to Marsden, progressives no longer viewed theology as a fixed body of eternally valid truths but as an evolutionary development that needed to adjust to the standards of the modern culture.41 Marsden asserts that evolutionary naturalism, higher criticism of the Bible, and idealistic philosophy and theology converged to create what became known as “modernism.”42 The development of modernism after the Civil War appeared to be a natural result of many northern theologians in the pre-war period who advocated the individual believer’s authority to interpret the “spirit” of the Scriptures, making the believer the final authority for determining truth, rather than the Scriptures themselves, as was asserted by Mitchell Snay previously.43 This growing ideological conflict among Christians, contended Marsden, gave birth to the fundamentalist/modernist conflict of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Though fundamentalism began within the northern Presbyterian churches, it quickly spread to other denominations and regions of the country, according to Marsden . Marsden asserted that through the revivalism of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, the growth of holiness teachings, and dispensationalism, fundamentalism had a broad appeal to large constituencies in America.44 Marsden noted that nowhere was this appeal more powerful than in the South. According to Marsden, southern theology was already strongly conservative and resistant to change and that tendency was intensified by the Civil War. Therefore, Marsden posited an anti-modernist impulse was already present among Southern Christians. Although revivalist conservatism in the South and fundamentalism in the North developed independently, Marsden pointed out that when twentieth century fundamentalism became a distinct entity, Southerner evangelicals flocked to it.45

Historians studying American religion and culture in the modernist period from the end of the Civil War to the 1920s noted the division that developed within both the church and culture as the progressive spirit of modernism began to hold sway over the American public of the time. Fundamentalism developed as a reaction of traditionalists to the modernist impulse and quickly spread into many denominations and schools across the nation. By 1925, Marsden concluded, such divisions existed in major denominations that many fundamentalist churches left their traditional denominations and became independent or formed their own denominations and schools. Marsden also noted that 1925 was a watershed year in the political realm as the Scopes “monkey trial” in Tennessee received national attention. Though the fundamentalist Christian lawyer William Jennings Bryan won the trial legally, Clarence Darrow managed to publicly portray the fundamentalist view of science in a poor light, embarrassing the movement, and precipitating its retreat from involvement in public policy issues.46 Though fundamentalists continued to lobby on particular issues, public perception turned decidedly against their philosophy from 1925 until the beginning of World War II, during which time Marsden stated that fundamentalists busied themselves with building a viable sub-culture, apart from the modernist consensus.47 Thus, by 1925, the schism that existed was no longer primarily regional in nature but had become philosophical. The question of authority in religious life had blossomed to the point that the schism of the American church was between modernist or liberals and fundamentalists. Historians of this period such as Marsden focus strongly on this fracture and how it impacted both the church and the culture between the Civil War and World War II.

In the years following the 1925 Scopes trial, science and technological progress was the focus of the culture, and late twentieth-century historians reflect that interest. Historians studying this period concentrated their investigations upon the interaction of Christianity with science and the resulting restructuring of religion in American life. This was the purpose of Redeeming Culture: American Religion In and Age of Science, written by James Gilbert in 1997. Gilbert began his examination of the subject where George Marsden left off, the Scopes Trial in 1925. Gilbert concluded that the Scopes trial set the stage for a struggle that would last two generations. Gilbert accurately noted that World War II, the Cold War, and the nuclear scare punctuated the period from the 1930s to the 1950s. This caused many people of the era to distrust scientists as elitists and to buy into the rhetoric of conservative Christians that science could be viewed as subversive, asserted Gilbert. Gilbert further asserted that scientists, once perceived by others and perhaps themselves as promoting a superior ethic, began to temper their rhetoric, speaking more modestly about modern science and more favorably of religion.48 By 1962, Gilbert noted, the era of scientific triumphalism had passed. Gilbert concluded that science had failed to become the sole arbiter or architect and American culture, and religion had maintained its central place in society. Each had been reshaped drastically, said Gilbert, and both had found places of respect and acceptance in American culture. Yet, Gilbert asserted, nothing had really been settled, and many of the questions that had begun to be addressed in 1925 were still being asked in 1962.49

In his 1988 work The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II, Robert Wuthnow attempted to identify the changes in the place of religion in society following World War II. Wuthnow’s work provided a broad study of the evolving mood of American Christianity from the end of World War II into the 1980s. In the wake of the war, religious leaders and organizations were optimistic about returning to the business of the church, but they were also pessimistic as a result of the horror and devastation the war had produced and the potential future tribulations the nation might face.50 Wuthnow said that during the 1940s and 1950s religious leaders could assume particular social influences by the manner in which they understood their own message, the culture at large, and the connections of values and behavior. These assumptions, Whutnow noted, began to fade as society changed during the middle and later 1950s.51 American society was changed by several factors, which according to Wuthnow, began in the 1960s and 1970s, and included the involvement of government in issues and arenas once considered sacred matters, the rise of “special interest” groups, and internal changes in many Christian denominations with the expansion and complexity of their organizational structures. These factors produced a polarization between groups of constituents within both American society and the church. Wuthnow asserted that issues once considered personal or sacred such as abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and school prayer became matters of public policy, compelling conservative religious groups to react and leading to the rise of the “religious right.” Wuthnow noted that the most significant organizations within this movement, the Moral Majority founded in 1979, and the Coalition for Religious Freedom, founded in 1984, led the charge on issues that caused tension between Christian conservatives and religious liberals and society at large.52 It is noteworthy that Wuthnow spent far more time dealing with the religious right than with the religious left. This is true of most historians of the post-World War II period and it forms another area that deserves more scholarly attention.

Wuthnow concluded that, at the time he was writing in 1988, two distinct civil religions had emerged, one belonging to religious liberals, and another to conservatives. Both groups in previous decades built “legitimating myths” to perpetuate their versions of civil religion, yet Wuthnow suggested that both are grounded in certain principles that at least vaguely drew upon Jewish and Christian theology.53

Thorough research of historical documents and the works of late-twentieth century historians have answered many questions about Christianity and how it shaped and interacted with American culture. In the colonial and young republic era, individualism was the key issue affecting religious life in both the church and the nation’s culture. This affected the theological concepts of salvation among American Christians, producing a spiritual egalitarianism championed by early evangelicals based on a conversion experience. This spiritual equality and the parallel emphasis on political democracy also introduced the issue of race into the consciousness of the American church and culture. Historians dealing with the antebellum period concentrated on the sectionalism that developed and detailed how Christians participated sometimes even championing it. The regionalism that originated during this period brought greater attention to the race issue particularly in the South, and also produced circumstances that facilitated a later schism on the basis of authority. The modernist saw man as the authority in matters of faith, while the fundamentalist saw Scripture as the final authority. The modernist church largely accepted the new scientific ethic and technological advancement uncritically, while fundamentalists viewed scientific theory skeptically and fearfully.

The struggle between the conservative church and the scientific ideal championed by modernism produced a restructuring of American religion that opened issues for public consideration once considered personal and spiritual in nature. Even in the postmodern era, this theme of struggle and restructuring within the church and culture has dominated the historiographic record. The investigation of historical documents and events has allowed historians to more clearly explain the role Christianity played in American culture. Many questions remain, however, and the debate continues unresolved.

As the debate over the place of Christianity in American culture continues, two issues deserve more scholarly attention than they have received. One concerns the contribution of black Christians in the north prior to and following the Civil War. The race issue is covered widely in the work of historians interested in the South; however, little attention is paid to the rich history of black Christians in the North during the period. Most historians dealing with race in the North during that era approach the subject from a secular perspective and deal with the civil rights movement and political history. An examination of the black church in the North from the 1830s to the 1920s would provide many answers not available now and would certainly be a significant addition to the historiographic record.

A second area that deserves more attention is the social and political activism of the liberal church particularly since World War II. Most of the historical works of that period focus on the conservative church or the theological contributions of religious liberals, but a cohesive examination of political and social activism from the perspective of a religious or cultural historian has yet to be written. Such a volume would likely be a seminal work and a welcome addition to the historiographic record.

Late-twentieth century literature on the subject of Christianity in American cultural history has expanded our knowledge of the subject while at the same time raising important questions that must still be addressed. Christianity in its numerous American teachings and expressions has every area that shapes and defines the nation. Christianity has impacted how the nation understands the place and importance of the individual, the values Americans hold sacred, and the way in which different groups and races interact with one another. American history and culture cannot be properly understood apart from Christianity, its principles, and its adherents. Events such as the attacks of September 11th only magnify this truth. The religious history of America is so intertwined with the political, social, and cultural development on the nation that it seems certain to remain an essential field of study and a perpetual arena of debate well into the future.

Footnotes

1 Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989): 4.

2 Ibid., 5,14

3 Ibid., 44,174

4 Ibid., 212

5 Jack Greene, Pursuits of Happiness (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988): 81.

6 Donald Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977): 9.

7 Ibid., 19

8 Hatch, 11,21

9 Mathews, 67

10 Ibid., 60

11 Ibid., 87

12 Ibid., 157, 176

13 Ibid., 157

14 Mitchell Snay, The Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993): 5.

15 Ibid., 20,53

16 Mathews, 160

17 Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1980): 4.

18 Snay, 64

19 Ibid., 65

20 Ibid., 150, 214

21 Mark Y. Hanley, Beyond A Christian Commonwealth: The Protestant Quarrel with the American Republic (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994): 56.

22 Ibid., 6, 56

23 Snay, 64

24 Hanley, 57

25 Hatch, 102

26 Mathews, 67

27 Ibid., 173

28 Wilson, 11

29 Ibid., 1

30 Ibid., 11

31 Ibid., 100

32 Ibid., 101

33 George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980): 291.

34 Wilson, 161

35 Ibid., 163

36 Ibid., 169

37 Ibid., 163, 167

38 Marsden, 22

39 Ibid., 31

40 Ibid., 32

41 Ibid., 25

42 Ibid., 26

43 Snay, 64

44 Marsden, 32,47

45 Ibid., 103

46 Ibid., 185-187

47 Ibid., 195

48 James Gilbert, Redeeming Culture: American Religion In an Age of Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997): 61.

49 Ibid., 298

50 Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988): 14.

51 Ibid., 54

52 Ibid., 100

53 Ibid., 266

WORKS CITED

Gilbert, James. Redeeming Culture: American Religion In an Age of Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Greene, Jack P. Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Hanley, Mark Y. Beyond A Christian Commonwealth: The Protestant Quarrel with the American Republic. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven: Yale Univeristy Press, 1989.

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Mathews, Donald G. Religion in the Old South. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Snay, Mitchell. Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Wilson, Charles Reagan. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1980.

Wuthnow, Robert. The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith since World War II. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.