Every few months Larry Rast shows up on Issues Etc. and every few visits he talks about Charles G. Finney [link], who was one of the main characters of the Second Great Awakening. His latest discussion regarding Finney is available from the Issues Etc archive [link] and his segment is called “American Revivalism.”
A typical Rast appearance involves a give-and-take with host Todd Wilken in which Wilken asks Rast softball questions as Rast sets forth distinctions between what Finney preached and what the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS) teaches. Rast then draws connections between Finney and modern evangelicalism, and/or between Finney and Lutheran Pietism, and suggests that anyone “saved” as a result of Finney’s preaching isn’t really a Christian somehow. He typically also refers to the “burned-over district” [link] as being some sort of spiritual wasteland and blames Finney for the secularization of modern Upstate New York.
In this appearance he adds what to my ears sounded like a new twist: he suggested that Billy Graham is just Finney repackaged. Also, he retold what he claims is a typical revivalist plea that goes like something like this:
Our lot for all eternity depends entirely on ourselves. God votes for heaven; the devil votes for hell. The deciding vote is ours. [e.g.]
At the end Rast and Wilken draw a straight line between Finney and modern evangelicalism, suggesting that Rast’s criticisms of Finney also apply to modern evangelicals.
I believe Rast and Wilken do their listeners a disservice when Rast does this, and for a number of reasons. First of all, the Second Great Awakening was primarily a Methodist phenomenon [link] and while it spawned a number of sectarian or heretical groups none of them are modern evangelical groups. Second, Finney died in 1875; most strains of modern evangelicalism have their roots in events in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy some 40 years later, or in the Azusa Street Revivals in 1906. So far as I can tell while there were important revivalists (e.g. Billy Sunday) who did some things that were passingly similar to what Finney did, there’s no lineage to connect them; I can’t see how Rast justifies connecting Finney to these various movements on the basis of the similarities he cites without there being some link between them. Third, so far as I can tell the Lutheran Pietists Rast and Wilken consider to be aberrant made no contributions to modern evangelical theology. And finally, while I’ve heard the voting cliche Rast trots out from fundamentalist or evangelical pulpits I’ve never heard it said seriously the way Rast presents it.
I would appreciate any help in finding an actual evangelical using the voting cliche above, seriously, from the pulpit. Please note that the source I quote above is a Catholic source.
One of the great mysteries of the history of modern fundamentalist Christianity is the gap between roughly 1925 (the Scopes Monkey Trial) and 1976 (the election of Jimmy Carter). Most histories of the Religious Right mention these two events and say nothing about the fifty years in between; some mention the rise of Billy Graham and the 1957 New York Crusade, but that’s about it.
It was during this time that my family became Baptists of a particularly fundamentalist stripe.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, but that also came to a head about 1925. As near as I can tell, many churches in our area in rural central Virginia ended up with little to nothing to say, and gradually became places people went to out of habit, but where virtually nothing was said from the pulpit. Or so I understand from our perspective. It’s not like there are any tapes of sermons from these churches from the period. But after the Great Depression and World War II came and went, a cluster of fundamentalists developed around an unschooled former circuit-riding preacher named Elbert Yeatts in the Bedford/Franklin/Botetourt County areas of central Virginia. I don’t have all the names of these preachers, but some of them became active in existing Southern Baptist (SBC) churches in the area and either took the churches in a fundamentalist direction or split off and formed independent Baptist churches.
Around this time as well there were preachers coming into the area who were graduates of Bob Jones University, which had recently moved to South Carolina. It’s a common misconception that BJU is Southern because the school itself is in the South; the school was not historically Southern per se, and the preachers who came into the area from BJU were a mix of men from the South and Midwest.
But that’s more or less how we became Baptists (and by implication fundamentalists), at least from our perspective: churches that had become glorified social clubs were either taken over or split by men who stood in the pulpit and read and interpreted the Bible.
When I pick this up again I’ll try to explain how we turned the corner again and got involved in politics. Hint: it wasn’t as simple as Roe v. Wade.