Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Burned Over District

I read a little of a lot of books and blogs. I am going to attempt to draw some of the common threads together from several sources in order to make a point or more likely let more learned men make their points. Lets see if my feeble mind can. I will add my comments in italics. We will begin our journey with an excerpt from J.P. Moreland's

book,"Love Your God With All Your Mind."

pp. 22-23
The Loss of the Christian Mind in American Christianity:
Historical Overview:
1. The Emergence of Anti-intellectualism

"While generalizations can be misleading, it is safe to say that from the arrival of the Pilgrims to the middle of the nineteenth century, American believers prized the intellectual life for its contribution to the Christian journey. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in early Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, and studied, art, science, philosophy and other fields as a way of loving God with the mind. Scholars like Jonathan Edwards were activists who sought to be scholarly and well informed in a variety of disciplines. The minsiter was an intellectual, as well as a spiritual authority in the community. As Puritan Cotton Mather proclaimed, "Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of HERESY.""

Phil Johnsonof the Pyromaniacs has a recent article, A Certain Uncertainty, which discusses how the emergent types pile endless disclaimers and qualifications on to every profession of belief. They do this it is assumed because of their desire to share the gospel, however, by not really standing up for any of the individual Truths of God they neuter the Gospel. They are afraid to defend any truths that may offend their audience. The result of their lack of desire to defend the truth is that ignorance pervades and HERESY invades. The very people they claim to want to reach are thrown into a pit of confusion. Let's get back to Moreland's book.

"In the middle 1800s, however, things began to dramatically change, though the seeds for the change had already been planted in the popularized, rhetorically powerful, and emotionally directed preaching of George Whitfield in the First Great Awakening in the United States from the 1730s to 1750s. During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman's Prayer Revival (1856-1858). Much good came from these movements. But their overall effect was to overemphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationship to Christ instead of a deep grasp nature of Christian teaching and ideas. Sadly, as historian George Marsden noter, "anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.""

Sounds a lot like the emergents. They would run from doctrially precise sermons. Back to J.P.

"Obviously there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of these movements on personal conversion. What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that came to be part of the populist Christian religion that emerged. One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York. Thousands of people were "converted" to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching. As a result, two of the three major American cults began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught "converts": Mormonsim (1830) and Jehovah's Witnesses (1884). Christian Science arose in 1866 but was not connected with this area."

I agree, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis on personal conversion. The problem is after the initial emotionally charged decision the "converts" were not educated in Christian doctrine. They did not know what it meant to be a Christian. As a result they fell prey to multiple aberrant teachings. I know what you emergent types are saying, "J.P. Moreland and this R.C. cat are way too overconfident in their proclamations of truth. They need to qualify their statements. If they do not they are going to destroy all we are doing to try to reach the masses." I say to you, emergent types, your failure to plainly speak the truth is doing a great injustice to the conveyance of the Gospel to the World. When the truth is not proclaimed and Christian doctrine plainly taught the audience is led into despair.

Jonathan Edwards knew how the Devil works. Jonathan Edwards knew how the Devil overcomes every great revival: "It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ." It would do us all good to read the preface to Jonathan Edwards "Religious Affections"

Here is and excerpt from the preface to Religious Affections:

It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ. It is plainly by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivals of religion, since the first founding of the christian church. By this he hurt the cause of Christianity, in and after the apostolic age, much more than by all the persecutions of both Jews and heathens. The apostles, in all their epistles, show themselves much more concerned at the former mischief, than the latter. By this, Satan prevailed against the reformation, begun by Luther, Zuinglius, &c. to put a stop to its progress, and bring it into disgrace, ten times more than by all the bloody and cruel persecutions of the church of Rome. By this, principally, has he prevailed against revivals of religion in our nation. By this he prevailed against New England, to quench the love and spoil the joy of her espousals, about a hundred years ago. And, I think, I have had opportunity enough to see plainly, that by this the devil has prevailed against the late great revival of religion in New England, so happy and promising in its beginning. Here, most evidently, has been the main advantage Satan has had against us; by this he has foiled us. It is by this means that the daughter of Zion in this land now lies on the ground, in such piteous circumstances, with her garments rent, her face disfigured, her nakedness exposed, her limbs broken, and weltering in the blood of her own wounds, and in no wise able to arise; and this, so quickly after her late great joys and hopes: Lam. i. 17. “Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the Lord hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries shall be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” I have seen the devil prevail the same way, against two great revivals of religion in this country.—Satan goes on with mankind as he began with them. He prevailed against our first parents, cast them out of paradise, and suddenly brought all their happiness and glory to an end, by appearing to be a friend to their happy state, and pretending to advance it to higher degrees. So the same cunning serpent that beguiled Eve through his subtilty, by perverting us from the simplicity that is in Christ, hath suddenly prevailed to deprive us of that fair prospect we had, a little while ago, of a kind of paradisiacal state of the church of God in New England.

After religion has revived in the church of God, and enemies appear, people that are engaged to defend its cause are commonly most exposed, where they are least sensible of danger. While they are wholly intent upon the opposition that appears openly before them, in order to make head against that, and while they neglect carefully to look around, the devil comes behind them, and gives a fatal stab unseen; and he has opportunity to give a more home stroke, and to wound the deeper, because he strikes at his leisure, being obstructed by no resistance or guard.

And so it is likely ever to be in the church, whenever religion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shows, and glistering appearances, by which they are counterfeited; the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. By this means, the devil gratifies himself, that multitudes should offer to God, under the notion of acceptable service, what is indeed above all things abominable to him. By this means, he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls; making them think they are something, when they are nothing; and so eternally undoes them: and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who, in God’s sight, are some of the vilest hypocrites. By this means, he many ways damps religion in the hearts of the saints, obscures and deforms it by corrupt mixtures, causes their religious affections wofully to degenerate, and sometimes, for a considerable time, to be like the manna that bred worms and stank; and dreadfully insnares and confounds the minds of others, brings them into great difficulties and temptations, and entangles them in a wilderness, out of which they can by no means extricate themselves. By this means, Satan mightily encourages the hearts of open enemies, strengthens their hands, fills them with weapons, and makes strong their fortresses; when at the same time, religion and the church of God lie exposed to them, as a city without walls. By this means, he brings it to pass, that men work wickedness under a notion of doing God service, and so sin without restraint, yea with earnest forwardness and zeal, and with all their might. By this means, he brings in even the friends of religion, insensibly, to do the work of enemies, by destroying religion in a far more effectual manner than open enemies can do, under a notion of advancing it. By this means, the devil scatters the flock of Christ, and sets them one against another with great heat of spirit, under a notion of zeal for God; and religion, by degrees, degenerates into vain jangling. During the strife, Satan leads both parties far out of the right way, driving each to great extremes, one on the right hand, and the other on the left, according as he finds they are most inclined, or most easily moved and swayed, till the right path in the middle is almost wholly neglected. In the midst of this confusion, the devil has great opportunity to advance his own interest, to make it strong in ways innumerable, to get the government of all into his own hands, and to work his own will. And by what is seen of the terrible consequences of this counterfeit, when not distinguished from true religion, God’s people in general have their minds unsettled in religion, and know not where to set their foot, or what to think, and many are brought into doubts, whether there be any thing at all in religion; and heresy, infidelity, and atheism greatly prevail.

Therefore, it greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavours, clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist. Till this be done, it may be expected that great revivals of religion will be but of short continuance; till this be done, there is but little good to be expected of all our warm debates, in conversation and from the press, not knowing clearly and distinctly what we ought to contend for.

Till this be done. Until the church can discern wherein true religion does consist revivals will be short lived. We, as Christians, should endeavor with all haste to determine true religion.


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