Tag: David French

The Tale of Two Speeches

One Speech and One Sermon, two different perspectives on the Church in America, One from the President of the United States, One from the President of a prominent Evangelical Seminary, who is correct?

Jonathan Faulkner

I just spent the last half-hour listening to the president’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Like many, I am tired of the insults and put downs that have become common place within these speeches and so I would not normally have watched it, but since the President tends to talk up his accomplishments and since he was before one of his primary bases, Evangelical Christians, it seemed logical to expect to see much of the same in this speech. Guess what? I was not disappointed. Listening to the speech made it sound like Christianity was alive and well and he even used the word “Thriving” to describe what was happening. A similar word was used by Pew and Lifeway when they did their research on the ever-marginalized Churches in New England, Churches that are no longer sitting at the forefront of social influence and power and are increasingly further from those centers. The President also made mention of how he has done more for Christians than any other political leader in the nation’s history and one could infer “Since Constantine.” Still, between the self-endorsement and the attacks on political enemies one saw what the second speech reiterated over and over again.

The Second speech, which was actually a sermon on Psalm 85 by the new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. Scott Sunquist from GCTS Spring Convocation which served as my wife and I’s spiritual nourishment and preaching as we sat at home Sunday Morning waiting out the snow storm that canceled our own service. The sermon opened with one poignant and heart-wrenching line: “The Church in the United States of America is sick, Evangelicalism is sick, brothers and sisters, we are sick.” He then went on to paint the grim picture, combining for us all the statistics on church-decline all the reasons the people in our pews are so anxious, but at the end of that he gave us hope, he showed us the way back to health, his solution? Reach out to God and ask Him for restoration. I know this is likely the first time some of you have heard of this sermon so please go and take a listen before you continue reading.

I said above that the presidents remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast proved, in many ways what Dr. Sunquist said in his sermon, I will get back to that in a second. First, I want to ask the question that I asked in the tagline on this post because these are two very different views of the state of the Church in the United States of America. There is no compatibility here, either the Church is doing amazing and things are great, or we are sick and in need of a biblical restoration. The question we have to ask here is “What is the truth?” Is one of these men passing around false information meant to make himself look better in the eyes of a constituency? Or are they both way off base and the truth is somewhere in the middle? Many of us would like to believe the president, as a Pastor that would take a load off my mind. I would like to say that Christianity is thriving here in the United States of America. I would love to be able to stand before my congregation and say that all their fears are for not, we are in great shape.

However, I cannot ignore what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears. I cannot ignore what the cultural exegetes tell me, those people whose job it is to know exactly what the state of the church in America is like. I cannot help but think about Peter Bienart’s article in the Atlantic in 2017 that talked about “America’s Empty Church Problem” or the pianist at my church who lamented about a town where all the churches are either museums or condo’s or homes now (that was a town in Wisconsin no less). I think of what Barna Group calls: “the rise of the none’s” and what David Kinnamen calls: “the dropout problem” where young Christians who leave the church are not coming back and many are abandoning their faith altogether and the heartbreaking reasons why this is so. I think of the increasingly close entanglement between cultural evangelicalism and Political Power and the promise that all these things I mentioned above are no longer true, even though they are. I think of Dr. Peter Kuzmic who told the church we attended in Hamilton in 2019 that the president of the United States was: “Absolutely hindering missions work all over the world because of Evangelicals association with him in American Politics.” I see and read all of this, I hear the way people in my town talk about the people on the other side of the isle, people who are otherwise perfectly kind men and women who treat bitterly their political rivals. I cannot help but think that Dr. Sunquist is right, that we are in need of restoration. We have violated what Philip Schaff defined as the definition of Religious Freedom in the United States: “It is a Free Church in a Free State, or a self-supporting and self-governing Christianity independent but in friendly relation to the Civil Government.” That the very people who once wrote into their founding confessional documents like the Saybrook Confession that Christian Magistrates could not “proselytize” are now looking to the government to do just that.

Yes, Dr. Sunquist is correct, we are sick, and the president is incorrect, we are not barreling towards a brighter day, we are headed for our own destruction. Yet, I would be a fool to not look at the positive things that are happening in Christianity. The article by Peter Beinart I mentioned above does point out that one affect of our current situation in American Religion is that cultural Christianity is declining and biblical Christianity, which at the time was apolitical, is on the rise. According to a 2018 article in the Washington Post: “Conservative churches” which would better be defined as “Bible Believing” are growing while Liberal churches are dying on the vine. It is also true that 4 Million people between the age of 20-35 classify as what Barna calls “Resilient Disciples” that churches in the places where they are not longer the dominate power structure and where Power Religion is mocked and the church marginalized are laying down their denominational hard lines and embracing a biblical definition and the biblical example of the Church. In short, the Church is reforming, and though this time around there is not a one pivotal figure who has walked up and nailed 95 thesis on the Cathedral doors, there are many spirit led men and women who have found a more ancient voice, the voice of the Holy Scriptures. This new Reformation is taking place around our dinner tables and our fellowship times, at Theology on Tap and in Post-Sermon Q&A sessions. It is active and extremely organic, at times to a fault. Jesus is once again eating with the sinners and the tax collectors and the religious pharisees are once again condemning Him. It is true in Church History and it will prove true again, anytime the church aligns itself with the halls of power it never ends well for the church. Further, anytime we lose our power and influence it forces us back to a time when we had to live out what we believe rather than speak from a place of assumed authority. As Schaff predicted in The Principle of Protestantism, the cultural sects are dying off or reforming and rejoining the main body. Sectarianism has proven untenable.

Now, back to a point I made earlier, I said that the President’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast points to the truth of what Dr. Sunquist said about our sickness. If you listen to the president’s speech, he does exactly what James 3:9-12 tells us not to: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olive, or a grapevine bear fig? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” In almost the same breath the president of the United States both cursed and attacked his enemies, those who he saw as working against him, and then praised God and even, at points, touted his own accomplishments as being from God. It may also surprise you to find that the general way of speaking, by the president, or tweeting, by the president, tends towards cursing man more so than it does to praising God. This is a sign of how sick we have become; we have propped up and praised a man who is in direct violation of the commands and text of scripture, and not only James 3:9-11. We have embraced a man who regularly participates in “course joking” who has openly admitted to sexual immorality a man who, at the National Prayer Breakfast, openly and brazenly admitted to hating someone who is very possibly his sister in Christ and accusing that sister of making false claims about her own religious practice. His harboring of anger and hatred puts him direct violation of Jesus own commands in Matthew 5:27. If this is not proof of illness, I am not sure what is. We claim the bible is authoritative, we claim that scripture is the means by which we are to live through the Holy Spirit, but then we do not live it out in our own lives and ignore it when it is convenient or expedient.

We are quickly coming to a point of no return, will we pray the prayer of Dr. Sunquist, “Restore us oh God.” Or will we continue to whore after the god of political power and influence? Will we continue to ignore scripture in favor of our preferences and our safety? Or will we repent and remember that it was not Christians in power that brought the Roman Empire to its knees, but a Church under persecution? IF we continue this line of pursuit, we put ourselves in danger of increasing persecution (some places this has already begun). Or we can return to the intention in Schaff’s definition above, two separate and free entities with only a friendly relation unless that government is openly apposed to Christianity. We may not be able, at this point, to back to what Schaff described as: “The relationship of church and state in the United States secures full liberty of religious thought, speech and action within the limits of the public peace and order. It makes persecution impossible. Religion and liberty are inseparable. Religion is voluntary and cannot, and aught not, be enforced.” I fear we are passed the point of a return to this vision and continued attempts to use the government to proselytize we will only face increased persecution.

This is why the president was wrong and Scott Sunquist right, all that is happening that is good in the church right now is actually in spite of what the president is doing or not doing for the church. His own speech and actions, violation of the biblical text which we claim is sacred, and so on and so forth are proofs to Dr. Sunquist point. Further, As David French pointed out our propensity to make excuses for him and to justify his behavior is even more damning and destructive. As we have seen countless times, in the attack on Russell Moore, in attacks on Mark Galli and in too many other cases to admit, we have violated Biblical teaching and done damage to our Gospel witness in a world that already wanted nothing to do with God. We are certain not in the favor of all the people (Acts 2:42-47). Just the opposite, we have taken the offensiveness of the Gospel (you cannot save yourself) and added our own offensiveness to it by not turning to God, but to man, to save us. We should be quick to repent before it leads to our destruction.

Bibliography

Bornman, Adam S. 2011. Church, Sacrament and American Theology: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin’s Theology of Incarnation. Eugene : WFPF & Stock Publishing .

Fea, John. 2019. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump . Grand Rapids : Eardhman’s Publishing .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Antichrist: Or the Spirit of Sect and Schism (1848) .” In The Mercersburg Theology Series Vol Vi: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome One: The Ecclesiological Writings of John Williamson Nevin (1844-1850) , by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 160-245. Eugene : Wfpf & Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “The Church .” In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, John Nevin’s Writings on Ecclesiology (1844-1849) Tome One: The Mercersburg Theology Study Series Colum Five, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 144-159. Eugene : WFPF and Stock .

Nevin, John Williamson. 2017. “Thoughts on the Church .” In The Mercersburg Study Series Vol VII: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Tome Two: John Williamson Nevin’s Ecclesiological Writings (1851-1858, by John Williamson Nevin David W. Laymen, 131-152. Eugene : WfPF and Stock .

Philip Schaff, . 1964. “The Principle of Protestantism .” In The Lancaster Theology Series on the Mercersburg Theology V: VI , by J.W. Nevin, Ed Bard Thompson Philip Schaff, 48-219. Philidelphia : United Church Press.

Schaff, Philip. 1888. Church and State in the United States or The American Idea of Religous Liberty and its practical Effects . New York : Charle Scribner & Sons .

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Why Didn’t the Awakenings Bring About an End to Slavery?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

It seems like a harmless enough question, although I should know by now that there is no such thing when discussing reconciliation and American History. When Pastor Bryan Lorritts asked it I felt myself rouse for a fight. After all, I am a historian of that time period and though I have spent the better part of Seminary studying 19th Century Eucharistic Reformed theology (Mercersburg) I have read everything we have in print by Jonathan Edwards and wrote a major paper on the debate between Edwards and Charles Chauncy over the First Great Awakening and traced out how that particular controversy began a series of controversies, divisions and fights that culminated in the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy of the early 20th century. I am currently preparing to write my thesis on the controversy between Mercersburg and Princeton, the sectarians and the Revivalist in the 1840’s. So, when Pastor Bryan asked the question: “Were the Great Awakenings real revivals because they did not bring about an end to slavery?” I was more than ready to answer yes and bring the full authority of my historical knowledge with me, but then I thought about it and though my answer is still yes, it is a yes with a caveat.

Before I go on I have to establish some historical guidelines before talking about this subject. There is a tendency in the modern study of history to commit the fallacy of Present ism; present ism is reading our own cultural attitudes and actions back into history while making no effort to understand how the people of that time period thought or acted. The famous musical Hamilton would be a case of present ism, though because it is a creative art and not a major history paper I have no problem with their presentation. The other thing I want to do is acknowledge my bias, In school I learned a white-washed history of this time period, as I did in college and for years I brought that bias to my study of historical figures. The result was a one-sided view of historical figures, it was not until I read George Marsden’s book on Jonathan Edwards that I knew he owned slaves. So this question and seeking to answer it requires me to do what I claimed to do when I first presented my theory of method for studying Church History, examining every angle of a topic to answer the question.

Because the fact remains, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, by every account he treated them well: “As part of the family”[1] as one historian puts it, but that does not and will never justify owning another human being, that is indefensible. Inconsistently though, had his family and the powers that were in the Massachusetts colony had listened to Edwards when he insisted on treating the Indians with respect and dignity we likely would have avoided the escalation of fighting in the French and Indian War. His contemporary and fellow Awakening Preaching George Whitefield also had a troubled history with slavery. He had preached and written an anti-slavery pamphlet in Virginia but was told that no one would come to hear him preach if he published it. Shortly after that he worked to convince the governor of Georgia to adopt slavery so he could build his orphanage, a task that he was successful at.

Anyone who is familiar with the story of the Hymn Amazing Grace knows that John Henry Newman was a slave trader who later repented and was the wise council behind the young parliamentarian William Wilberforce who fought for and succeeded at passing the abolition of the English slave trade. In the states the revivalist Charles G. Finney fought for abolition twenty years before the Civil War though he speaks in the same bigoted language of many of his 19th century contemporaries (the only place I have not found it is in the Mercersburg Theologians, one of whom was a German who had theological issues with slavery, the same kind we wish others would have formed).

 

The Awakenings were incredible things, especially if you read Edwards accounts of them or the accounts of the revivals led by Finney or the later tent revivals led by D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. In all three Awakenings men and women and children came to faith in droves, and those in first would sit for upwards of 3 hours to learn what they were getting themselves into. But even after slavery was abolished, during the Civil Rights years and the Graham Crusades left the late Billy Graham lamenting that he wished he had done more to advance the cause of Civil Rights.

The church during the Awakenings and Civil War grew divided on this issue, especially as the Abolitionists grew stronger and won the abolition of slavery in the North. As Lincoln moved forward to prevent the spread of Slavery into new territory succession began and the divide between the churches grew. On January 4th, 1861 Henry Ward Beecher stood in his pulpit in Plymouth New York and called Slavery: “The most alarming and most fertile cause of national sin.” Meanwhile, in the south James Henley Thornwell, a preacher in South Carolina asserted that slavery was a: “Good and merciful way of organizing labor which providence has given us.”

A revival may be defined as: A move of the Spirit of God, directed by God, working towards the outward and inward transformation of the individual or group through drawing them to God or through their own personal decision. Because this outward change is lost in the third Awakening (it was an awakening focused on the inward change) many, myself included, do not consider it a legitimate awakening. But since the other two still did not abolish slavery, was it a legitimate awakening?

As I said earlier, I do believe it was, in fact, I agree with Edwards that an Awakening is an Awakening if it produces outward fruit and in the case of the First and Second Awakenings it is hard to deny that there was some form of outward fruit. Even Charles Chauncey, who was hostile to the New Lights admitted in Seasonable Thoughts on the Sate of Religion in New England that fruits were evident in some who had been “so affected.” In Religious Affections Edwards asserts that the only true mark of an inward work of the Spirit was “the fruit of such a work.” As C.S. Lewis would say two hundred years later in his lectures on Christianity, the evidence was not that nice men became nicer, but that “new men become new.” One had to show they were truly transformed and redeemed. One of the issues that John Williamson Nevin would raise in the 19th century with Finney’s “Anxious Bench” is that it forced “disingenuous conversions.” Though Finney would be the flagbearer for revivalists for a century even to the point of a redaction of his social theology.

The trouble was that there was a concerted and conscious effort to oust any social theology that upset the “Status quo” or was “Outside Accepted Christian Doctrine.” That meant that those who redacted Finney’s works removed any mention of the abolition of Slavery. Thankfully Garth Rosel has restored these manuscripts for us and we can learn more about Finney’s social theology than ever before. At the time though, the accepted thought patterns of the day in America were bigoted and maintained an order of Racism. It would take something catastrophic to dismantle that system of thought.

I do however, think that God was working against the evil of slavery, working to dismantle that system and that is why we had two Awakenings and then a Civil War. The spirit was working to change the lives, inward and outward, of the people and that should have naturally brought about a hatred of and contempt for the institution of slavery. The issue is that those systems of thought were so ingrained that even when the Spirit turned Finney against Slavery, his bigotry remained.

David French made an interesting point in a national review article recently when he said that: “of all the worlds history of slavery, the west was the only part of the world to look at this institutional and call it the evil it was.” Even so, as the Spirit of God tried to move us in that direction through two Awakenings and then the terrors of the Civil War, instead of letting Him complete the work and bring reconciliation, which Grant and Lee wanted not just between North and South but between Whites and Blacks, the church, especially in the south, upheld and supported Jim Crow and segregation, some of whom were my own distance relatives. There are still those who call themselves Christians who continue to espouse bigoted thought and support racist systems. Men like Jerry Falwell Jr. fail to realize that the Church, the people in the pews on Sunday are, according to sociologist Peter Beinart is “Less likely to be racist, bigoted or misogynistic their unchurched counterparts.  The Church today is also integrating racially and socio-economically, the latter of which is not happening in communities that are racially integrating. But this is three-hundred years after Edwards wrote “On Revivals” and almost 200 years since the Civil War and is an extremely new development in Church History as we look to be entering an ecumenical age of the Church.

I think the Revivals were legitimate, I think they were genuine awakenings. The people living in their time largely considered them to be and it would be dishonest for us to tell them they were wrong because we have the perspective of three hundred plus years. However, I think they were incomplete and that the spirit was working against slavery but because people of that time were so enculturated to think in the terms of their time. The entire system of thought was corrupted and needed to be completely torn down. I think one of the reasons we ended in Civil War is because the Spirit was doing that work against Slavery and a war was the only thing that might tear down that system…and even that did not. In the church we are moving towards a total rejection of that system of thought, towards what I would consider a more biblical view with a definition of humanity rooted in the Imago Dei and a call to treat all with deference and love.

Part of the reason for this is that the institutional church, as a whole, has lost the position of power it enjoyed during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries respectively in America (and since Constantine in Rome). Secularization has made it possible for people in some parts of the country to be ignorant of the location of church buildings. Church Leaders recently released a poll that found that 95% of unchurch people polled had never met a Christian. On top of that, the narrative pre and post-election of the current president has been extremely unfavorable to Christians as well as painted an extremely inaccurate picture of American Christianity. The lack of Churches added to the diversifying of neighborhoods and small towns means we are worshiping with brothers and sisters from many ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, though, if you ask the spokes people chosen by the Media to represent Christianity, or who serve on the president’s advisory board, they are unaware of the current trends in the Church. If they would talk to their people, they would find a very different Church then the one they think they are representing.

The problem has been that each event that has meant to be catalytic has only shaken the foundations of the system of thought. It has taken the election of our current president for many of us to realize just how divided we have become and had been. I know, I know, research tells us that people are more comfortable in homogenous groups. But we are moving well beyond a time when homogeneity will be the expected norm and likely will become the exception as communities and churches integrate. Therefore, we must be willing to listen and respond with compassion and, if need be, repentance, in the hopes of healing broken relationships between ethnic groups. After reconciling us to God, as I said in last week’s article, God works to reconcile us to one another, and we have been stubborn and even indignant in allowing God to do that.

I think the Spirit has been working at this reconciling work for a long time. First working to get rid of the institution of Slavery, then working to change the hearts and minds of the people during the Civil Rights Era and now through drawing us together in our communities and churches. I also think this has taken so long because man is despairingly depraved and has fought against such a change on nearly every front. Now, secular culture, though aimlessly so, is fighting for reconciliation, though it is an incomplete one without Christ. We should have been and can be, leading in this area and leading by example.

Maybe that’s what the spirit intends?

I hope we’re open to it…

I Am.

 

 

[1] This may have just been an attempt to paint Edwards in a favorable light, though Marsden makes this same point and even acknowledges that Edwards freed the first slave he bought and had many free men in his congregation at Northampton.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.