Puritanism vs. Pietism
“The Lord has established His throne in the heaven and His sovereignty rules over all.” – Psalm 103:19
THE 1990S WILL BECOME KNOWN AS the decade of Christians in government. Even more so than in the 1980s, the evangelical Church will have a greater voice in the political process. The full impact of this surging tide will not be felt until the 1996 election and beyond.
For those who are mobilizing for action at the grass roots level, it will become increasingly important to lay a foundation based on biblical law and to avoid building party platforms based on populist conservatism. Those entrusted with the vision to rebuild a Christian democratic republic must be aware that the blueprint for reforming civil government is given only in the Word of God.
The groundswell of Christian political activism began in the early 1960s with the defeat of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater; a constituency of conservative Christians were galvanized by Goldwater who received campaign support from a well known screen actor, Ronald Reagan. In the 1970s, evangelical Christians threw their support behind Jimmy Carter – a professing believer – only to be chagrined by his support of abortion and homosexual rights. The 1980s saw the emergence of the Moral Majority and two pro-life presidents who often promoted a biblical standard of morality. At the 1992 Republican National convention, one-third of the delegates were members of the Christian Coalition.
Over the past 30 years, American evangelicals began to cast off the pietistic notion that political involvement is somehow worldly. Christians regained a sense of history through studying America’s Puritan heritage. They awakened to the fact that the Church is to be the salt and light of the world and realized that they had a God-given mandate to possess the gates of the city.
But then something went awry on the way to the new millennium …
Evangelical activists suffered a crushing defeat in the 1992 presidential election. Since many had entered into the fray of social reform within the past twelve years, they had known only victory in the presidential elections. Christian activists are now reassessing their involvement in politics after the defeat of President George Bush at the hands of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
Since many could not palate the defeat of a holy cause, weak reasons for the demise of George Bush were offered. Some imagined the wrath of God on our nation: “God is judging America by giving us Bill Clinton.” Others concluded that there must be sin in the camp: “God is judging the religious right for a spirit of intolerance.”
Christians knew by the leading of the Holy Spirit that they ought to be involved in politics. Since the basis of their commitment was experiential rather than epistemological (belief-oriented), many began asking experience-oriented questions: “What went wrong?” The Christian with a solid biblical wordview should rather assess defeat by asking: “Why do I believe what I believe?” Ideas do have consequences. Christians should look carefully at the consequences of their beliefs through a systematic study of what the Bible says about civil government.
Instead of asking epistemological questions, many “spirit-filled” Christians are now adopting views about politics totally contrary to what they once believed (and contrary to scripture). Rather than looking at the Bible, they are basing their turnabout in belief on subjective experience.
In an abrupt shift of tactics since the Clinton “victory,” some among the Christian right have suddenly become disinterested in legislating according to the moral law of God. Ever since the inconceivable failure of the 1992 elections, some evangelical activists are downplaying moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality in favor of a more moderate campaign platform emphasizing tax relief, welfare and crime reform: “the concerns of the common people.”
Some have gathered under this “bigger tent” not realizing that the biblical commandment to oppose child killing and sodomy is not to be bartered for a larger constituency. This is a far cry from the militant model of reform prescribed by American evangelists of past centuries.
Nineteenth century revivalist Charles G. Finney preached: “Now the great business of the Church is to reform the world, to put away every kind of sin. The Church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers … the Christian Church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction – to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places – to reform individuals, communities and governments, and never rest until the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God – until every form of iniquity be driven from the earth.“1
At a time when our nation desperately needs a mighty revival in the Church and a corresponding spiritual awakening to restore the morality of our culture, Christians need to be educated all over again in the biblical basis for reformation.
Evangelicals ought to go boldly into the gates of the city with the fiery arrows of truth in one hand and the bow of judgment in the other. Shafts of truth must be directed into the opposing camp to subdue the enemy while he is even in the gates. The prophetic Church ought to be crying out with God-given wisdom in the gates of the city and in the high places of power.
Instead, the Church has leapt headlong into the dangerous waters of compromise. Some Christian conservatives have lost their way in the Clinton era of “change.” They have become polluted by the very system of politics which they had hoped to reform. The attempt to strike an even keel of balance in the stormy waters of “change” reveals how far evangelicals have drifted from their theological moorings.
The city of God is now being built far off of the foundation established by our Puritan forefathers. The view of America envisioned by modern evangelicals resembles more the nostalgic television reruns of the 1950s than the powerful transforming spiritual awakenings of past centuries. The view of government offered by modern Christian activists resembles more closely that of the mystics of the Middle Ages who viewed politics as Satan’s domain. They have obscured the view offered by our Puritan forefathers who saw government as an institution given by God to be reformed by His chosen elect.
Two Views of Government
There are essentially two views of government that have been held to by two groups of evangelical Christians in modern times – the Puritan or Reformed view (based on the ideals of the Protestant Reformation) and Pietist view.
- The Puritan view of government – All people are under a two-fold theocratic form of government (ecclesiastical and civil). The Church legislates the moral law of God through the preaching of blessings and curses found in God’s Word (the Bible); the state enforces the moral law of God through a system of reward and punishment. Believers obey the moral law of God out of love and are subject to church discipline; sinners obey out of constraint and fear of punishment by civil judges. But both classes of men are to be ruled by the moral law of God. Human government is an institution given by God to be cared for and reformed by men.
The Puritan historical view of government is providential with Jesus Christ leading believers in His train as a captain leads an army to victory over the anti-Christian power bases of the world. The ultimate destiny of government is to establish Christ’s dominion over all the earth with God’s people ruling in positions of power. Christ will return to the earth when all things are subject to Him under His feet (the Church). The role of the elect is to occupy the power bases of both ecclesiastical and civil forms of government until He comes to establish greater justice.
- The Pietist view of government – Christians are under the authority of both church and civil government; sinners are under the authority of civil government only. The moral law of God rules over Christians; but since sinners are doomed to hell, they are free to do whatever they please. Civil government is a part of the world system which is controlled by Satan. It is no surprise to the pietist that so many governments are unjust and evil.
The Pietist historical view of government is conspiratorial. Government is a part of the world system which is controlled by Satan and his cohorts. The conspiracy will end in a one-world government ruled by an anti-Christ figure who will control the hearts and minds of men for a dispensational time period. The only job for the church is to preach the gospel so that some may be saved. The job of Christians in civil government is limited since politics is evil. Christians have to wait until Christ returns to the earth with cataclysmic judgment before they can rule as the elect.
The Puritan View
The Puritan view of history and government is what resulted in America being founded as a Christian democratic republic. Throughout the early years of America’s history, the plan for civil government was based on the ideals of the Protestant Reformation. As America was being explored, the Reformation was still very much in progress. In 1492, the year that Columbus first sailed to the New World, Martin Luther was a school boy singing for his supper in the streets of a small town in Germany.2
The theology developed during the 1500s by men such as Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Knox was adopted by an enlightened few in the Church of England. These were the Separatists (or Pilgrims) and the Puritans. By the early 1600s, when the Pilgrims and Puritans began their exodus to Massachusetts Bay Colony, the ideals of the Reformation had taken hold of most of northern Europe. Yet the Reformation had its fullest expression in America.
The biblical model of reformation for church and civil government was pioneered by the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled America. This was the foundation for our democratic republic. Although Christianity in America has become increasingly diverse, every reform movement of consequence throughout American history has been neo-Puritan in character. This was true of the First Great Awakening during the time of Jonathan Edwards and also of the sporadic revivals of the 1800s which resulted in societal transformation.
Although the Christian foundation of American society has eroded today, most retain a feeling of pride that we are somehow different as a nation. We somehow believe that freedom in the world today sprang from our nation. We believe that our country is the best place in the world to live. Yet today most have an uneasy feeling that something is dreadfully wrong with us. If we are to retain today the ideals that once made us great as a nation, we need to examine our origins in order to discover the source of this problem.
Two Strains of the Reformation
To better understand how Christian Americans arrived at their present state, it will be useful to take a brief look at the schools of thought within the Reformation which were prevalent during the founding of America. These two strains have been present in the Church since the beginning of the Reformation in the 1500s. The Protestant Reformation occurred mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries and involved two groups of reformers. There were also two strains of the reformation which we will call the Pietists and the Puritans.
As we look at the two strains of the Reformation, we should remember that there is truth and error in each. All orthodox Church movements since the Reformation have restored some aspect of truth to the Church. We need to study each keeping in mind that no movement or sect of Christianity has yet come completely out of the anti-Christian darkness of the Middle Ages.
Consider the words of John Robinson to his congregation before the Pilgrims left to come to America, that “if God should reveal any thing to us by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive truth … (for) it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick anti-Christian darkness, and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.”
Pietism is a term describing not one specific church group, but a broader movement which began in the late 17th century. In earlier centuries, Pietism is discernible in medieval Roman Catholic mysticism and the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptists were reformers who believed that baptism should occur after repentance and salvation (hence the term ana- “after” baptism). Anabaptists are sometimes called “the radical reformers.”
The Anabaptist movement was a manifestation of a continuing mysticism in Christianity which had always been present in the Church. These were often persecuted Christians who were impressed by the extreme wickedness of the world and sought to withdraw into communities of believers. They wanted to have as little to do with civil government and the military as possible. Some Anabaptist communities refused cooperation with civil authority entirely.3
In the early centuries, Montanists, Marcionites, Novatians and various forms of Monasticism were in this mystical tradition. In the Middle Ages, the Paulicians, the Waldensees and the Lollards were continuations of what later became known at the time of the Reformation as the Anabaptist movement. Mysticism is the belief that revelation can come directly from God. This belief was present in the early Church and continues to this day. Mystics look to the “inner light” of the Holy Spirit as the guiding source of salvation.4
There is validity for mysticism within the framework of Biblical orthodoxy. The problem with mysticism is when it leads to “extra-biblical” revelation. There is no doubt that there have been many true Christians among the Anabaptists. The problem has not been with conversion experience, but with the frequent doctrinal errors which came from a reliance on extra-biblical revelation. Many of the teachings proposed by the Anabaptists were based more on subjective experience than the Word of God.
One of the earliest of the mystics among the Anabaptists was Sebastian Franck, a contemporary of Luther. Franck rebelled against what he deemed excessive emphasis on the written Word. He taught that a divine element existed in all men and emphasized the inner working of the Spirit as the means to salvation.5 An early center of the Anabaptist movement was Zurich, Switzerland. Here Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz led a group of radical reformers who went much further away from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church than other Protestants. The movement spread to Austria and Southeast Germany. Many missionaries were sent out to other parts of Europe and gathered Anabaptist communities.6
While having received some valid biblical truth, such as adult water baptism, one of the frequent mystical extra-biblical errors of the Anabaptists regarded predictions concerning the imminent return of Christ.
- Melchior Hoffman, a Swabian furrier, predicted that after his death he would return, in 1533, with Christ in the clouds of heaven, that the wicked would be judged, and the New Jerusalem be set up in Strassburg.7
- Jan Mathys, a baker from Holland, predicted that Munster was to be the site of the New Jerusalem. They sought to gain control of Munster and organize a Christian society. The deposed bishop of that city, aided by Catholics and Lutherans, laid seige to the Anabaptists and had the leaders tortured and killed.8
- Hans Hetz, a German, proclaimed that the day of the Lord was near and that the saints were to use force in rooting out the wicked before the visible reign of Christ was set up on earth.9
- Michael Servetus, a Spanish scholar, believed that the millennial reign of Christ was about to begin and was later burned at the stake in Geneva for teaching heresies.10
The Anabaptists were often violently persecuted, but their movement survived. In England, Independents, Baptists and Quakers developed out of the Anabaptist strain. In Germany and the low countries, the Mennonites and Amish were pacifistic Anabaptists who survived persecutions. They were later welcomed in Russia and America because of their industry and thrift.
Pietism, as mysticism’s modern expression, arose out of the tragedy of the Reformation, the Thirty Year’s War, which was a conflict between the pope and the Reformers. The Reformers won, however, the war left most of Germany devastated. Philip Jacob Spener, a Lutheran minister seeking to comfort the people of Germany, emphasized the mystical side of Luther’s teachings. Spener hoped to cultivate a deeper spiritual life among his flock. He preached the necessity of the new birth and a personal, warm Christian experience. Pietism soon spread rapidly throughout Europe via Lutheran churches.11
Pietism had its positive effect by infusing a sense of personal experience with Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. This emphasis helped the cause of evangelism. Those among the Pietists who helped spread Christianity worldwide were Count Leopold von Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Missionary Society, which sent hundreds of missionaries to America; Roger Williams, a Baptist, who founded Rhode Island after being expelled from Massachusetts by the Puritans; and the Quakers, George Fox and William Penn, who founded colonies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The negative aspects of Pietistic thinking are: a withdrawal of Christians from society because of the belief that the world is Satan’s domain; and an emphasis on the imminent return of Christ with a preoccupation with date-setting for the Second Coming.
The strengths of Puritan or Reformed thinking are: the belief that Christ rules over every sphere of society with Christians being stewards of the earth; and having a long term view of Christ’s return with an emphasis on advancing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The Puritans came from the Reformed tradition. The fathers of Reformed theology were Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox. Unlike Martin Luther, who had mystical, pietistic leanings, the Puritans tended to be more Calvinist in their thinking.
The Puritans who arrived in America had already absorbed a century of accumulated Reformation doctrine. The Puritans were Anglican Church reformers who adopted John Calvin’s theology. They were the English version of the Scottish Presbyterians. They were a part of a reformation that was still very much in progress. Yet, at the time of their arrival in the New World, the Puritans had a vision for a society built on the laws of God.
They had broken away from Episcopalian government – but not completely away from the Church of England – and now sought to create a theocratic government. They disclaimed the divine authority of lords and bishops and believed in the priesthood of the individual believer. As each believer was to be self-governing, so was each church; each family; each community; each township; each colony; etc.
The Puritans saw themselves as soldiers in a war against Satan. This small band of believers struggled against adversity to build the city of God in New England. They saw all of human history as a progression toward the fulfillment of God’s design on earth.12
Unlike the pietistic Anabaptists, the Puritans had a long term view of history, they generally regarded the Second Coming of Christ to be far off, and they were optimistic about the attempts of Christians to reform civil government. The founders of New England were not social radicals. They disliked bishops and so they came to America to set up the city of Zion. In their doctrine of covenantalism, they saw God bringing in the kingdom in a gradual and orderly fashion. They believed that the Second Coming of Christ would not happen for centuries to come – and they were right. They understood that it was their role in society to be visible saints, to submit to church discipline and to be the light of the world.13
The contribution of the Great Awakening was a revitalized “neo-Puritanism” – a combining of personal experience with God with the complete biblical worldview of the Puritans. The Great Awakening began under the ministries of Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards and English evangelist George Whitefield in the early 1700s. These three personalities were strictly Calvinistic in their view of salvation yet they preached in such a way as to awaken sinners to a state of grace.
The mass conversions that took place during the Great Awakening were undergirded by the Puritan ethic which had been developed in the preceding centuries. It was the strength of the Reformed view of biblical social order combined with personal experience with God that led to the reformation of American society. The Great Awakening did much also to unite the thirteen colonies. This union resulted in the establishment of the United States of America a generation later. The Great Awakening encouraged people to look optimistically at life in America. The revivals of the 18th century promoted the idea that the “city set upon a hill for all the world to see” was still viable.
By 1800, what America is today as a nation had become well defined, reformed and and constituted. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French social scientist, recorded in his classic work Democracy in America that Americans exhibited certain distinctions that set them apart from Europeans. It was as if God Himself had formed a new race of men and women in the earth. American idealism was so unique that it warranted an investigation. According to de Tocqueville, American idealism was characterized by individualism – a self-reliant spirit that pushed individuals to take on great responsibilities and produce great accomplishments. There was a sense of a personal responsibility to God, country and family. These were, in fact, neo-Puritan ethics.
According to Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette: “In 1815, the Christianity of the United States, like that of the Thirteen Colonies, was still overwhelmingly Protestant…. Even more than in the Thirteen Colonies, it was showing a marked variety. To the denominations brought from Europe, several were being added. Some were divisions from the old and others were quite new. Still more than in colonial days, the Christianity of the United States represented the extreme wing of Protestantism.“14
Neo-Puritanism can thus be defined as a blending together of the ethics and worldview of the Puritans with the later truths that were restored to the American Church during the Great Awakenings.
The Shift Away From Neo-Puritanism
The shift away from neo-Puritanism began in the early 1830s when the competing worldview of dispensationalism emerged which gave Pietism a systematic theology.
DISPENSATIONALISM = The idea that God has worked in different ways throughout history through different economies or dispensations. A dispensationalist makes a major division between the Covenants, God acting with wrath and vengeance in the Old Testament and with love and grace in the New Testament. Dispensationalism teaches pre-tribulational rapture, divides the end times into several dispensations and teaches a conspiratorial view of history.
- John Nelson Darby, an Irish priest (Anglican), organized a more numerous group called the Plymouth Brethren. Darby taught that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. He rejected the creeds of the early church and believed that social reform is useless. Darby’s followers concentrated on saving men and women out of the world.16
- C.I. Scofield, a Texas pastor, popularized the teachings of J.N. Darby in a systematic theology known as dispensational premillennialism. C.I. Scofield first compiled his reference Bible as a teaching aid for missionaries. It soon became one of the most widely used tools for Bible study among entire denominations such as Southern Baptists and Disciples of Christ.17
Despite the fact that many of the dispensationalists stressed personal holiness, the paradigm shift of the early 1800s paved the way for an much greater evil, antinomianism, which means literally “anti-law.”
ANTINOMIANISM = an anti-law position which states that man is saved by faith alone; since faith frees the Christian from the law, he no longer bound to obey the law. Antinomianism creates a system in which the laws of the Bible cannot apply to governing an individual or society.
Dispensationalism promoted antinomian thinking by deemphasizing the relationship of the Old Covenant law to the individual. In turn this led to a waned influence of Christians in society. Against the rising tide of antinomianism in both England and America, there arose a group of social reformers who countered retreat from society. Notable among these new reformers were Charles Finney in America and William and Catherine Booth in England. They were not Calvinists, however, but followed in the tradition of Wesleyan Arminianism. Although the covenantal understanding of the Puritans was not in the forefront of their theology, these revivalists brought lasting social change to their respective nations.
To the Puritans, covenantalism and the law of God were obvious foundations of Christian social order. Let’s look at two of the Puritan pillars that stand in stark contrast to dispensationalism and antinomianism: covenantalism and theonomy.
Covenant theology laid the groundwork for a political theory which held that state and all society came into being as a contract on the basis of God’s eternal covenant. Hence, the moral law of God must be the foundation for a society’s laws and government.
COVENANTALISM = The Puritans held to covenant or “federalist” theology which maintains that God operates through covenants, or eternally binding legal agreements with men. The Old and New Covenants are God’s basis for governing the universe. There is no division between the Covenants. The New Covenant is built firmly on the foundation of the Old Covenant. This presupposes that the Law does not change: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). God is not a dispensational, evolving, developing God; He is a God that never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Covenantalism stands in stark opposition to the modern notion of antinomianism. Covenantalism begins with the assumption that the believer is no longer condemned by the law but justified by faith. But unlike antinomianism it answers the obvious question: Once a man is saved, is he restored to a position of law keeping or not? Yes! – Although the law can never help a man do this!
“God sent his own Son in the likeness of flesh and condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:4).
The work of the cross of the New Covenant is the destruction of “sin in the flesh.” Once the propensity to sin is destroyed, sin is gone and the law no longer condemns us. The law is not primarily for the regenerated believer, but for the unbeliever to reveal his sin. However, this does not mean that the Covenant of the Law has passed away.
The Bible teaches us that the law is eternally binding as the standard of sanctification for both the individual and society. The reformers and the Puritans believed that the Church and the kingdom of God is subject to God’s laws. In turn, it is the Church’s mandate to advance the the kingdom of God on earth. This includes legislating the moral law of God in the nations. This concept is known as theonomy which means literally: “God’s law.”
THEONOMY = The belief that the moral laws of the Old Testament are still binding in the New Testament age. God’s law is a standard for personal, family, ecclesiastical and civil righteousness. Civil governments are obligated to follow the moral laws outlined in the Bible. Theonomy asserts that only laws which are specifically fulfilled or changed in the New Covenant – such as dietary laws, agricultural laws, sabbath laws and ceremonial laws – are non-binding in the New Covenant age. Moral laws, such as the Ten Commandments and other commandments, are still the ethical standards for governing individuals and society.
Civil governments are obligated to follow God’s moral laws. If they are not, then Christians have no real standards by which to influence legislation. There is no other standard besides the moral law of God to effect the Reformation of the America except democratic pluralism: What the majority thinks is right in their own eyes.18
Democratic pluralism has led us to the current state of affairs in our nation. In early America, there was a type of theocratic pluralism, or democracy under the moral laws of God.
Anyone who would doubt that theonomy was a vital part of the Reformation need not look to obscure sources for proof of this fact. We have none other than John Wycliffe and John Calvin as credible witnesses.
- John Wycliffe, sometimes called “The Morning Star of the Reformation,” paved the way to the reformation of the laws of English society with his writings and his English Bible. John Wycliffe wrote in the preface of his English Bible: “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” He was referring to church government only, but later this concept was applied to civil government.
God’s moral law should be society’s law; this was the point. But Wycliffe also included the phrase “by the people.” In other words, the people themselves should read and know the Bible so that they shall be able to govern and be governed by biblical laws. This pattern held true throughout European history. Knowledge of the written Word of God always led to a radical departure from the government of popes and kings.
- John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, taught that the law of Moses has always been the principle in governing the Gentile nations. Calvin termed this state of affairs the common law of nations. Others have termed this the natural law or revealed law.
“When the gentiles, who have no knowledge of the law, act in accordance with it by the light of nature, they show that they have a law in themselves, for they demonstrate the effect of a law operating in their own hearts. Their own consciences endorse the existence of such a law, for there is something which condemns or excuses their actions” (Romans 2:14,15).
The law itself is holy and good; but it cannot make anyone, Jew or gentile, holy or spiritual. As long as a man is carnal, the law spells death. It is only through grace that we fulfill the law. Furthermore, no system of law can ever sanctify a society. However, when society’s laws are based on God’s laws, they can serve to teach an entire civilization about the character of God and lead some to salvation. The moral law of God serves as the standard of sanctification.
According to Calvin: “From these things one can gather … the function and the use of the law…. While showing God’s righteousness, that is, what God requires of us, it admonishes each one of his unrighteousness and convicts him of sin. All men, without exception, are puffed up with insane confidence in their own powers, unless the Lord proves their vanity. When all this stupid opinion of their own power has been laid aside, they must needs know they stand and are upheld by God’s hand alone. Again since by righteousness of their works they are aroused against God’s grace, it is fitting that this arrogance be cast down and confounded that, naked and empty-handed, they may flee to God’s mercy, repose in it, hide within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit. For God’s mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true faith.“19
20th Century Pentecostals
Most early Pentecostals embraced Scofield’s eschatology. They believed with Scofield that nothing stood in the way of Christ’s return, although they rejected his teaching that tongues, prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit had passed away after the dispensation of the apostolic age. Thus 20th century Pentecostals, along with most charismatics, fundamentalists and evangelicals, stand in the long line of Pietistic date-setters.
A few years ago, Edgar Wisenant, a Southern fundamentalist, published a book predicting Christ’s imminent return. First, he predicted September 1988, giving 88 reasons why Christ would return in 1988. The spokesman from Arkansas revised his forecast to September 1989 when he was wrong.
Do you see a pattern emerging here? The neo-Puritans have been consistently right in their long term view of history. The Pietists and the dispensationalists have consistently been wrong in their date-setting.
As we approach the 21st century we need to ask ourselves: Where are we headed as a nation? Is America doomed? Is the world quickly sinking into a dark night of despair? Will immorality, the breakdown of the family, abortion, humanism in the schools, economic disaster, food and energy shortages characterize America’s final days.
Or were the Puritans right in their view of a coming “Golden Age” that would surpass all of the greatest revivals of human history? Will we see a day when God’s laws and His righteousness affect all nations? Will we see revival and spiritual awakening in our nation in the midst of the present darkness?
Rather than viewing the current decline of morals and spirituality with pessimism, we should view it as evidence that America is ready for a spiritual awakening. Revival always occurs during a time of deep moral decline. To see a Christian democratic republic rebuilt by the 21st century, American Christians need to return to the Puritan foundations. This will mean reembracing neo-Puritanism; developing a comprehensive systematic theology; reading books about Reformed theology (not the shallow self-help books churned out by the pulp mills); and building a comprehensive biblical worldview as a model to better understand and influence our culture.
We must reembrace two important pillars of the Protestant Reformation: covenantalism and theonomy. Christians ought to spend more time learning to properly interpret the Word of God and cease from Scripture twisting proof-texting as a way of discerning the times. We need to properly learn history from a providential perspective. We will never understand where we are headed if we don’t know where we’ve been.
What we experience as a nation in the next few years will largely depend on the obedience of the Church to the Word of God. It will depend on evangelicals making the necessary paradigm shift toward a vibrant, robust neo-Puritanism.
“Who knows whether you are called into the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
1 Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology.
2 Charles Carleton Coffin, The Story of Liberty (Maranatha Publications, P.O. Box 1799, Gainesville, FL 32602) p.172.
3 Kenneth Scott LaTourette, A History of Chrisitanity (Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1950) p.779.
4 Ibid., p.786.
5 Ibid., p.789.
6 Ibid., p.780.
7 Ibid., p.783.
9 Ibid., p.782.
10 Ibid., p.759.
11 Ibid., p.895.
12 The Norton Anthology of American Literature (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1979) p.3.
13 Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards (Meridan Books, New York, 1959) p.320.
14 LaTourette, p.1045.
15 Ibid., p.1184,1185.
16 Ibid., p.1185.
17 David Shibley, A Force in the Earth.
18 Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (American Vision Press, Atlanta, GA, 1988) p.210.
19 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 Edition (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI) p.34.