By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008
Roots — Romanticism was an artistic phenomenon that spread over Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It affected different countries at different times and even influenced America by means of England. Romanticism in literature and other art forms was a reaction to what it perceived as the cold, structured, scholastic “neo-classical” art forms of the eighteenth century. We of the English-speaking world are most acquainted with the Romanticism of English writers like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. Romantic literature is marked by the exaltation of the individual and his feelings (as opposed to his reason); experimentation with new literary forms; a fascination with nature; use of the more common and less elitist forms of expression; and obsession with the bizarre and supernatural and demonic.
Heavy traces of Romanticism survive in modern culture, and religiously they were manifested markedly in parts of Protestant liberalism; they survive today in the conservative wing of Protestantism, including Pentecostalism, Fundamentalism, and Evangelicalism.
Modern Christianity resembles Romanticism to a striking degree. It is a movement characterized largely by a stress on individualism and feeling and a reaction against reason and what it perceives as cold rationalism. Like European Romanticism it distrusts elitism and intentionally appeals to common people. In many instances it is stamped by an undue concern for supernatural signs, wonders, visions, and subjective “leadership of the Spirit”-thereby possessing a “sanitized” similarity to the romantic obsession with the supernaturalistic and bizarre.
Infatuation with youth — A characteristic of Romanticism to which this essay pertains, however, is its infatuation with youth or the idea of primeval life. The romantics generally believed that age was spoiled by human institutions, and that if we could just tap the mind and resources of children we could restore to life what it really means to be human. Romantics seemed to overlook the ignorance of youth and stressed rather its innocence.
Similarly, conservatives are consistently looking back wistfully and longingly at their early Christian life. Often they are convinced that the period of greatest joy in their Christian life was immediately after their conversion. Because they believe they do not possess in the present the joy they once possessed, they are convinced that they lost some element of spirituality in the intervening period. Conservative preachers exhort their listeners to “come back” to where they once were spiritually. Defined as a restoration of the joy, enthusiasm and dedication of the early Christian life, revival is a common theme of conservative preaching. Those newly converted are held up as examples to older and more mature saints who have somehow grown colder and whose enthusiasm does not quite measure up to that of the recently saved. This romantic element is manifested further in the back-to-basics theme so prevalent today (“Things are getting too complex in our churches; we just need to get back to the ABC’s”).
The worship of immaturity — The problem here is not with the preacher’s calling God’s people to repent of their sin; the Bible is full of examples of that practice. The problem in conservative romanticism is, rather, that spiritual restoration is tied so closely to the early Christian life, that is, to the time of spiritual immaturity. The exhortation to or desire for a return to spiritual youth and “the ABC’s” of the Christian life is directly antithetical to the Biblical message, however. Indeed, Paul chided the Corinthians for their spiritual immaturity; the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews likewise rebuked those believers because they had failed after so long in the Christian Faith to manifest the marks of spiritual adulthood. In modern conservatism spiritual youth is romanticized; in Scripture, it is lamented, especially when Christians’ physical age far exceeds their spiritual growth.
A defective view of the Christian life — I am convinced that conservatives are so enthralled with spiritual youth because they have a defective view of the Christian life. To many of them, at least, the Christian life is a cycle consisting of obedience, backsliding, spiritual revival, obedience, and so forth. They need a good “revival” every once in a while (and remember that revival is equated with earlier periods in their Christian life) and when they experience a “revival,” they will be set-at least until they need another let-me-get-back-to-that-infant-enthusiasm “revival.”
But if they just understood that spiritual growth, rather than “revival,” is the normal Christian walk and the means of sanctification, they would quickly jettison the maudlin obsession with their spiritual childhood.
Liabilities of immaturity — To Paul, spiritual youth is fraught with pitfalls, ignorance, divisiveness, pride, and jealousy (I Cor. 3). It is a state of life perhaps inevitable for those newly converted, but reprehensible to those saved for any significant period. Undoubtedly what makes spiritual immaturity so attractive to modern conservatives is the euphoria and enthusiasm with which it is accompanied. When adults are converted they frequently experience joy because of their awareness of emancipation from the bondage of sin and because of their overwhelming sense of ecstasy in their new relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Contrary to conservative opinion, however, this enthusiasm, proper though it is, is no index of spirituality. Arguably, at root what many of the romantic-minded Christians are really looking for in the return to spiritual youth is good feelings that accompany the period immediately following conversion (it may be recalled that intensity of feeling was another chief characteristic of Romanticism).
Just as in a hearty, protracted marital relationship, love between spouses consists less in the euphoric feelings of dating and engagement than in the security of commitment and quiet confidence of companionship, so spirituality of the Christian life should be measured not in terms of intense feeling but in certain commitment to Christ evidenced by obedience to his word (2 Jn. 6 ).
Impatience — It just so happens, though, that modern conservatives, like most modern Westerners, are not exactly thrilled with the patience required for quiet, progressive growth. They want good feelings, and they want those feelings now. They “lost that lovin’ feelin’,” and must recover the enthusiasm (or weepiness) associated in their minds with their immediate post-conversion life.
If the Christian life is understood as a period of patient progressive sanctification, nonetheless, restoration of spiritual immaturity is not merely undesirable but retrogressive, i.e., going in the wrong direction spiritually. When believers “go away from God,” they need spiritual growth, not its opposite,which is spirituality immaturity. They need to recognize the requirements of the word of God and comply with those requirements. They don’t need the tingly enthusiasm associated with spiritual immaturity.
Cult of youth — Just as a characteristic of Romanticism was the belief that youth was a period of sincerity in which clear eyes unclouded by adult prejudices is the ideal, so the Christian romantics believe that somehow those recently converted possess a pure sincerity in devotion necessarily eroded by time in more mature believers. If the Bible is true, however, that simply cannot be. In those who are truly saved Christ operates ineluctably (Phil. 1:6). Since the Christian romantics often do not recognize the doctrine of progressive sanctification, they must appeal to the “revival” of spirituality.
Romantic evangelism — I should not avoid mentioning, in addition, that Christian romanticism is often related to defective views of evangelism. In churches in which the convicting operation of the Holy Spirit is circumvented in favor of techniques manipulating human emotions and will, we may naturally expect false conversions, and among unbelievers nonetheless convinced of their conversion there can be no genuine spiritual growth; therefore, they are often urged to somehow recover now-dormant feelings immediately following their supposed conversion experience. In other words, Christian Romanticism is a technique for giving false assurance to specious believers.
More importantly, it is a pernicious mood that should be strenuously avoided.
Forerunner - Home » The Puritan Storm
Your comments are welcome!
Visit The Forerunner's Discussion Forum!
Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
$49.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Exposing The Occult Roots of Abortion
This presentation looks at the spiritual roots of abortion and exposes the myths surrounding child killing. Little known historical facts about abortion and how they relate to modern feminism are presented logically and accurately. Has been effective in converting many to a pro-life position.
Massacre of Innocence goes where no pro-life presentation has gone before in “tearing the lid off abortion” to reveal the spiritual realities we must battle if we will bring an end to this crime. The presentation is absorbing, fast-paced, informative and incredibly devastating to any attempt to justify abortion.
“… an extraordinary statement … a powerfully articulate presentation about what abortion really means, and why a great and moral nation like the United States must not allow the slaughter to continue.”
— Congressman Robert K. Dornan
Running time: 85 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 40 pages of dynamite!
Revival, Resistance, Reformation, Revolution
An Introduction to the Doctrines of Interposition and Nullification
In 1776, a short time after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were assigned to design an official seal for the United States of America. Their proposed motto was Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. America owes its existence to centuries of Christian political philosophy. Our nation provided a model for liberty copied by nations the world over.
By the 21st century, we need a “Puritan Storm” to sweep away the Hegelian notion that the state is “God walking on earth.” We need revival and reformation in full force to vanquish the problems that plague us as a nation — from government controlled healthcare — to abortion on demand — to same sex “marriage.” This booklet gives a primer on our founders’ Christian idea of government and examines how the doctrine of nullification was woven into the Constitution as a safeguard against federal tyranny. It concludes with the history and theology of civil resistance. A Second American Revolution is coming with the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing! (Acts 19:20).
$7.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!
Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.
Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 200 pages
A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism
Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner
The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.
Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)