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A Tale of Two Paths

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 26, 2022 12:01 am

A Tale of Two Paths

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 26, 2022 12:01 am

American church history is a tale of two diverging paths: the way of biblical conviction and the road to cultural compromise. Today, Stephen Nichols surveys this history to help Christians keep on the right path in the present moment.

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Philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. And that's equally true when it comes to church history. It helps us be faithful disciples.

Now in the here and now where God has placed us so we learn from the examples of the past of both the steps and missteps so that what's the goal we are more faithful disciples. We are a more faithful church by faithful. Of course, remain faithful to God's word is precisely why we take time to study church history here on Renewing Your Mind. This week will bring you a new series by moving her teaching fellow Dr. Steven Nichols's focus is on Christianity in America but in order to understand how the church developed in this country. We need to go back further than its founding.

What like to welcome you all to this teaching series on Christianity in America.

This is a fascinating story. It really is. It's a story that's full of all sorts of fascinating characters, interesting characters to meet a lot of them as we go along but I want to start off with this observation.

This comes from Philip Schoff from 1844.

Now if you don't know the name Philip Schoff. He was in the German Reformed Church. He's probably what we consider to be the sort of father of American church historians. He started the American church history, society, or the American Society of church history. He, he was the editor of the three volume creeds of Christendom and he himself wrote an eight volume history of the church. Schoff was rooted firmly in the German reformed tradition, but he also was an American church historian and American scholar, so he is a great perspective on the American church in 1844. This is what Schoff said. He said every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here. His bungling trait and course by here he sucking about America right every theological vagabond. Every peddler comes here to drive his trade without passport or license and sell his false where at pleasure. But what is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen now that was in 1844 I was on the heels of the second great awakening which was a significant moment in a cataclysmic shifting changing moment not only for the American church but for American culture, but in some ways, what Schoff is saying there.

I think for many of us summarizes that sort of ugly underbelly of American Christianity, we just sort of see it as a place of chaos in a place of confusion actually like to present you an idea that as we go through this story of American Christianity we think in terms of a tale of two paths now is really no say a tale of two cities, but had nothing to do with Dickens. See all into Dickens right away and she had to do with Augustine and Augustine talked about the two cities and his classic text city of God are written as Rome was collapsing, falling around him, and everybody was sort of running doing their chicken little thing that the sky is falling because Rome is collapsing, Augustine solid theologian that he was God centered vision that he had takes a step back and writes the city of God, and he says there is the city of man, and there's the city of God and we as Christians we we have of role-play in this earthly city but our true home is heaven.

Our true allegiance is due to God, and God governs every step he even governs the nations as Augustine says that on this earth do totter. Not a great line any a song about Rome in the vast empire that was Rome, and Augustine says it's just a nation that totters on the face of the earth.

What Augustine was trying to help people see in this this moment back in the 400s trying to help them to see was that they needed to stay focused on God they needed to stay focused on their cultural affirmation. The other confessional affirmation rather because there's an opposite path that sometimes Christians are tempted to take in their tempted as it were, to hitch their wagon to the culture and there are even tempted to accommodate Christianity, to those cultural sensibilities and those cultural mores so as I look at the study of American Christianity as we walk through this with you all these interesting figures. Fascinating events want you to be thinking about these two trajectories.

So on the one hand, are these two.

These two paths so on the one hand, the first path is cultural accommodation cultural accommodation. The other path is now try to squeeze this word in here best as I can.

Confessional affirmation that I see the difference between the two. It's basically a question of what is going to be your guide. What is going to be our authority as we move along and in this trajectory we we want to have influence in culture in order to have influence in culture we need to serve speak the language.

We need to have the dialect we need to know the lingo and we need to sort of get along and so it's cultural accommodation and sometimes it's cultural accommodation for good motives to be able to influence right we we all want to see culture go in the right direction and so sometimes you might be motivated by this we will come to call it. I think the myth of influence, but we might be motivated by influence as we accommodate culture, but the other side of the coin, of course, is no. We have a confession that governs us and guides us. It hasn't ideology. It has a view of who God is and has a view of who we are as human beings and has a view of authority, namely the word of God stands over us as authority. So all that is bound up in what I'm calling a confessional affirmation now, and cultural accommodation. What happens very quickly to Christianity is, it begins to be what we call nominalism.

This is exactly what the reformers were reacting against and trying to reform back in the 16th century. Nominalism is the idea that I am simply a Christian by default. If I was born in England and I was baptized by the church.

I'm a Christian that's nominal Christianity, you're going to see it at even in some of the denominations that spring up from the Reformation as they evolve away from their confessional affirmation and instead begin to assume some cultural accommodation, it becomes nominal Christianity and we call this cultural Christianity very much was a part of the American scene from the 1940s really up until recent years were every Christian had a copier every American had a copy of the good book in their home. And of course their Christian because there American and there's a church on the corner that's more than happy to affirm them in their Christian identity right will what we have over here confessional affirmation is not nominalism but I love this word conviction that we are Christians by convictions doesn't just a social club that we belong to. These are beliefs that are a matter of life and death and we affirm them as conviction and what is this can result in right is going to result in a counter cultural Christianity was the words of the New Testament. A peculiar people there with the churches go back to the pages of the New Testament and what you find is not cultural accommodation is not nominalism is not a cultural Christianity back to the pages New Testament defined group of people who are on the margins of culture because they believe entirely differently from the culture around them. They believe about God differently. They believe about themselves differently. I believe about marriage differently. They believe about their work differently everything about their Christianity sets them apart as countercultural and they are in fact a peculiar people and that's really the two paths that were lunacy and as we go through the story bump back into this time and time again and remind you of this and try to show the suit but also like you to be thinking about this because you can sort of see this get played out. As these events unfold and I'm not at all opposed to using history to help us understand the present day effect that's what I believe church history does. It helps us be faithful disciples. Now in the here and now where God has placed us so we learn from the examples of the past. Both the steps and missteps so that what's the goal we are more faithful disciples. We are a more faithful church by faithful course remain faithful to God's word so I want you to be thinking about this as we go through the study of American Christianity I want you to be thinking about how we see this taking place right now very much in our moment as we come into the 2020s. We are very much seeing a cultural accommodation that in one sense, is saying let's just sell our birthright, but just sell our fidelity to the authority of Scripture so that what we can maintain some kind of influence over culture or are we going to be confessional in her affirmation and convictional and maybe that will make us countercultural and cause us to be a peculiar people. Well, that's the big picture. I can't wait to get into some of this with you but the before we spend more time on that. Let's talk a little bit about the journey that we are going to be on and this journey is both through the American church and through American culture and they sort of like a ping-pong game they sort of play off of each other and push each other a little bit.

So let me give you some of the big events were to be talking about and just give you sort of a mental sort of ladder that you can the climb on to sort of walk your way through American Christianity. The first part that we come to courses. The settlements and no were mostly reformed here so we care.

Of all the settlements we really care about the New England Puritans.

The most but it's not just because of our identity that we care about the New England Puritans. They were the towering. They were the towering group over the colonial period. They really held sway over the early American.

At this point, colonial Christian identity. The Puritans, the New England Puritans on the source suck the oxygen out of the room when were talking about colonial settlement sort talking about the colonial settlement era in American history. The pre-Republic in church history were taught about Puritanism and really spent the whole episode on Puritanism affect will probably do that next with you what happens. This is the story of church history, it's a sad story declension happens and we begin to lose the fervor.

The zeal we begin to lose a little bit of that commitment and conviction, and all of a sudden we began to slide into more and more nominalism that starts to happen, we start to see decline in the 1690s 1710 1720s.

Jonathan Edwards is chastising his congregation for leaving behind their Puritans sensibilities and being too worldly. This is the 1730s were talking about, and he's up there condemning them further worldly materialism.

While what comes on the heels of that decline. The first great awakening and I'll give you dates for 1739 George Whitfield arrives in Philadelphia. That's a great start date for the first great awakening.

1739. It starts 1745 pre-much comes to an end. Now there's a lot of aftermath as the literary term has it, the dénouement after the effects of the great awakening, but that's the significant moment so he with me. We've got the Puritanism we got the declension or the decline and 1 Particular Way were going to get it that is looking at the so-called halfway covenant or what I'm calling halfway Christianity. And yes, if you're wondering halfway Christianity is no Christianity at all. So yes, I'll draw the connect the dots. Therefore, you then it's the first great awakening. But then what happens well on the American scene we go into the Revolutionary war. We go into the early Republic in this. From 1790 to 1840 is a very significant moment in the formation of America. It's also a changing moment in American Christianity, and what happens over those same years roughly 1801 to the late 1830s is the second great awakening and figures like Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards is involved. Edwards casts a long shadow over the American Christian story, but the key figure of the second great awakening is none other than Charles Grandison Finney so will see him and what he was up to.

Back in the 1800s, and his influence with the second great awakening will coming out of the second great awakening. Of course, America goes into the Civil War and, in the post-Civil War era, there is the rise of modernism and we tend to think of modernism as 1/20 century thing. The optimism of 1900 that is going to be even speak of the progressive era of the early 1900s in American culture use. See the seeds of it back in the late 1800 and it's very interesting to trace how that rising modernism affects the church cultural accommodation and we see the rise of liberalism, so as were talking about the years 1850 to 1900 were going to focus on the rise of liberalism, and that is going to be responded to in the early 1900s by a really feisty group of people and sometimes they're seen as fighters and these are of course the fundamentalists and fundamentalism and this is a variety here fundamentalism.

Think of just sort of sums are like umbrella term and underneath that umbrella. There are a lot of really interesting people and also very different from each other and it it's almost better to speak of fundamentalisms than fundamentalism that dominates the story really right up until pre-World War II. So from 1910 to 1930. It's it's fundamentalism. So if you're keeping track, it's Puritanism decline halfway Christianity that it's the first great awakening minutes. The early Republic, and the impact that's having culturally but the impact that has on the church, which leads to the second great awakening after the second great awakening.

It's the rise of liberalism and the response to liberalism is fundamentalism.

While that gets us up to the 1940s and it gets us to that very suave and debonair looking Billy Graham and so in the end of the 1940s and into the 1950s, we have the birth of evangelicalism and evangelicalism is going to have a long and strong generation and get us right up to 2000, and then who knows what happened in 2000 and who knows what is happening now I'm sort of joking with you, but we will talk about evangelicalism and then will ask the question what what does post-evangelical American Christianity look like, and I sort of feel like bringing up shops quote again, what is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen right so Schoff couldn't predict everything that was going to come on the heels of the second great awakening back in the 1840s, we have seen since the 1990s a massive cultural eight seismic cultural shift and it has had impact on the church and in all kidding aside, what is to come of all of this confusion is not now to BC but what what we know right. We know that in the midst of all this we can affirm our confessionals. We can be a church of conviction and we recognize that we are called to be a peculiar people. We are a peculiar people our identity. Well, the story of American Christianity does not begin in America begins in the Reformation. So before we finish off this first episode want to explore a little bit of our roots as American Christians and our roots are the Reformation just as America.

We often call America the melting pot, enter immigrant culture we are sort of a a a melting pot of all the nations and all the ethnicities of the world have all come to America as Neil diamond told us there coming to America see it now you can sing that song in your mind rest of the day, so it is with the Reformation all the branches of the Reformation of come to America and American Christianity will eventually evolve to a melting pot of all of that. But what we have well in New England we got the Puritans to think of the colonies going down the Atlantic seaboard we've got in New England. The Puritans, they of course come of first group comes in 1620.

These are technically the pilgrims that come in 1620, but they are the separate tests of Puritanism back in old England at one of the best ways to understand Puritanism is again to see it as an umbrella term and you have Anglicans who are Puritan, among them John Owen is probably the chief example you have Presbyterians that are Puritans you have even Baptists that are Puritans. That's a joke for our Baptist friends, but you also have what are called the independence now that group comes to America in 1630 on board the Arbella with John Winthrop and that's the group that we technically call the New England Puritans so the New England Puritans dominate those New England colonies. The exception is going to be Rhode Island were all of the dissenters end up and it becomes also the home of Baptists in America with Roger Williams thank you, down to the middle colonies, and it's a little bit of a mixed bag in New York you've got the Dutch reformed coming in New Jersey you've got the Scotch Irish Presbyterians who also come into Pennsylvania. You also have the Lutherans who come into Pennsylvania and later you're going to have the Anabaptists come into Pennsylvania, you have the only colony that was established as a haven for Roman Catholics and at Maryland is predominant population was Anglican and ended up service squeezing the. The Catholics almost out. Of Maryland, and then what you have in the southern colonies. While it's dominated by Anglicanism, the Carolinas, Georgia. So there you have those branches of the Reformation all throughout Europe and representing these European nations coming to America in these various places and they very much also gave an identity sheet and identity to those colonial cultures. Now, in addition to the story of the 13 colonies which is primarily within the Reformation. The slight exception being Maryland with the counterreformation and Roman Catholicism.

You do have the Catholic settlements in the non-colony areas of what will come to be the United States, and of course we are filming this here in Florida so we have to talk about Florida long before the Puritans ever step foot in New England.

The Huguenots stepped foot here in Florida but they were driven out by the Spanish Catholics. So much of her early Florida history is dominated by Catholicism. You go over to New Orleans. It too was dominated by Catholicism and traveling as they did up the Mississippi River taking Catholicism with them into those regions of pre-America. And then of course you've got California and the Spanish Catholics with the missions going all the way up, strategically located as you go up the California Peninsula and so you have the Catholic presence was really in early America is outside of colonial America come into play later. Well, that's the story of a tale of two paths.

That's the story of our roots and the next episode operated and get into New England Puritans. And with that introduction we could call Dr. Steven Nichols latest teaching series Christianity in America. That's our focus this week your own Renewing Your Mind as we cover these important movements in early American church history. History helps us understand the present day and studying the growth of the American church reveals many pitfalls that we can avoid here in the 21st century we will be glad to send you this complete series. Just contact us today with a donation of any amount and we will add the videos to your online learning library. There are 12 messages contained on two DVDs you can make a request to give your gift or call us at 804 354-3430. Today's message picture interest you probably want to tune into Dr. Nichols podcast. It's called five minutes in church history, and you can find it by searching for later ministries in her favorite podcast app or visit five minutes in church when you hear the term Puritan, what comes to mind for many people it carries with it plenty of negative connotations. Dr. Nichols will correct some of the stereotypes and misrepresentations tomorrow. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind

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