Economics and Family, Politics and Church in the Age of
In the early nineteenth century the new
Economically, in Western society, the ideas of Adam Smith took hold along with the blossoming of new industrial technology to produce the Industrial Revolution. This produced an unparalleled increase in the supply of goods. But it also produced deep social changes that impacted the family greatly, especially in the growing urban areas. Production was gradually separated from the home and family. This did not immediately occur in
Yet the type of production implanted at this time in
This time in
Yet there were serious spiritual flaws in much of the Awakening movement. There is a reason that a leading history of American religion calls this time period “The Golden Day of Democratic Evangelicalism.” The key word here is “democratic.” Older conceptions of religion and Christianity were thrown out, and the individual became supreme in determining for himself his relationship with God. The Calvinism of the Puritan founders of
The most influential figure who embodied and promoted most of the worst traits of this movement was Charles Grandison Finney. He combined rationalism with elements of Christianity and promoted it with a powerful, direct preaching style. He basically believed that conversion and revival were the result of simple, humanly-achievable steps. For example, he declared, “Revival is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical [i.e. scientific] result of the right use of the constituted means.”[ii] This kind of unbiblical thinking was woven into the fabric of American Christianity, and it has had tremendous impact even to our day.
Many Americans of that day formed their religion to fit their American ideology, and American ideology reflected the triumph of democratic, not republican, ideals. The election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency epitomized the triumph of democracy. Historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “Democracy was seating itself in the saddle, and in 1828 it rode hard.”[iii] This was in contrast to what some founding fathers, like George Washington and John Adams, believed. They believed in a republican ideology that would keep the masses in check. They did not believe in direct rule by the people. As Sean Wilentz writes of the founders, “Philosophically, the assumption prevailed that democracy, although an essential feature of any well-ordered government, was also dangerous and ought to be kept strictly within bounds.”[iv] But
The Second Great Awakening did much to preserve American Christianity from the problems overtaking
[i] The Age of Abundance (
[ii] Cited by Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 2nd ed. (
[iii] The March of Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933), 2:161.
[iv] The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to
[v] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote, “Jacksonianism thus assisted the growing secularization of society. Its substantial effect was to divert the church toward what many in this century believe its true function: to lead the individual soul to salvation, not to interfere in politics. Religion, the Jacksonians felt, could best serve itself by ending its entangling alliances with political reaction” (The Age of Jackson [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950], 360). If we recognize that “secularization” is itself a religious position, then I believe that Schlesinger’s first sentence is accurate. Jacksonianism was a move toward a pagan dualism. The church did need to end its entanglement with the state, and