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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Americanism as Religion: The Puritans Impact on Evangelicals in America

The Puritans have been much on my mind of late. These stereotyped, often despised people who came to this country believing they were Called, with a capital C. Liberty Just in Case owes much to these people, and their desire to live their lives, and their faith, in freedom. This desire was so great that they left their homes by the thousands in the late 16th Century and early 17th Century for what they firmly believed was a Promised Land. As David Gerlerntner put’s it:

The “political” goal of Puritanism was to reach back to the pure Christianity of the New Testament—and then even farther back. Puritans spoke of themselves as God’s new chosen people, living in God’s new Promised Land—in short, as God’s new Israel.

Professor Gerlerntner is quite correct that they passed this Calling on to the generations of Americans that followed, right up to this day. This idea that God had a plan for the United States of America has remained deeply ingrained in our national consciousness.

This idea has especially impacted the Evangelical Christian community. It was most developed through a series of books begun by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. The Light and the Glory had a huge impact on Evangelical Christians in the early '80's, and with the release of the next two books in the series, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Sounding Forth the Trumpet, this impact has continued. The idea that this nation was Called, and that Divine Providence has Personally and Specifically intervened in it's history continues to be a driving force in American Evangelical Christianity.

I do not see Americanism as a religion in and of itself, but a Calling that resulted from the Puritans view of Christianity. The Puritans believed in Covenant Theology, and in individual Salvation. The Great Awakening, and The Second Great Awakening spread these ideas beyond the MassachusettsBay Colonies to the wider populace. Evangelicals are direct Inheritors of both. This Calling led across the plains of the West, and has led us to both Iraq and Afghanistan. America's Call has always been toward Liberty. We've stumbled badly along the way. Just ask the American Indian. But the Call has always been there. This Call to be a New Israel, A Shining City on a Hill.

I'm beginning to wonder about this Call in today's world. As the secularization of America has continued, I think Evangelicals are rethinking their citizenship. It's only a whisper so far, and certainly Christians remain actively involved in the political process, as the last election has demonstrated. But I think we are coming to the knowledge that our true citizenship lies elsewhere, as does our ultimate allegiance. Like the early Christians, we are coming to see ourselves as having dual citizenship, with one foot in one Kingdom, and the other firmly planted Elsewhere. I think this is a truth our Puritan forefathers knew well as they left their English shores for a hostile land. We would do well to read the writings of these great men. I am struck by the words of Governor John Winthrop, as the Arabella was setting sail. They are words we of Dual Citizenship would be wise to remember:

Therefore let us choose life,

that we and our seed may live,

by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him,

for He is our life and our prosperity.

Wheaton College, my alma mater, has as it's cornerstone this mission statement:

"For Christ and His kingdom."

I have no doubt our Puritan Forefathers would heartily agree.

1 comment:

  1. I think, hahaha... that though you might be expecting a different "line of thought" from me on this one.. you may enjoy this post! LOL

    I actually couldn't agree more with many of the things you said, but from the other side of the balance, actually.

    Though Evangelical Christianity and Druidism couldn't be more diametrical different, this is actually something that many might be able to see certain commraderie with.

    It has been believed, for long and long.. that Service to the Gods has been the ultimate goal of life, together with growth in wisdom. To forget these things, is to put us at risk of losing all the wisdoms ever gained and handed down through Oral Tradition from Mother to Daughter and Father to Son.
    It is in the passing of the lore, in rememberance of all that has come before us that we find the wisdom to live our daily lives with great purpose and thought.

    Mark said:
    Like the early Christians, we are coming to see ourselves as having dual citizenship, with one foot in one Kingdom, and the other firmly planted Elsewhere.

    Again a very stated part of the Oral Lore of the Celts, is the ability to realize that we ever walk a fine line, with one foot in each world. That it is in balance that we are able to accomplish that which is our Destiny to accomplish in this world.

    It is the goal of the Druid in the modern day world as well.. to reach back to the purity of Earth Based Faith and to walk in peace and in healing of the Earth and its creatures, believeing that as the rock is, as the doe is, so thus are we.. all deserving of respect and love and caring.

    I suppose that the only comment that I cannot see my way free to supporting here, is that it is by Divine Call, that we enter places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Sadly, that is to assume that the motivations from the secret places of the heart, are always just, always godly, always motivated by a thought of peace and not disaster.
    I think, that assumes MUCH on the part of the current leadership of this and other countries. As long as there is money to be made.. and jobs to be had, in the destruction of nations and their rebuilding.. then how can one rightly assume that it is a godly reason for whence we go?

    I think it would be easier to ascertain motivations, were it not that key companies and key people were the recipients of the benefits of said wars.
    To have Halliburton secure most of the contracts for rebuilding was a great travesty--and a mark on the slate of "faith in the mission". I think it is also a travesty that the very country we are bombing is the recipient of so great a monetary gain. If we are going to bomb things to the ground, why not LEAVE them there? If not.. perhaps bombing is not, and will never be the answer. It is, IMHO, a faulty logic.

    In any case, I wanted to chime in here, with saying.. we are not so different on all things, and these thoughts of Destiny (Fate), of service to God (or the Gods), the ability to walk the worlds and remain a citizen of a Universal Webweaving as well as citizens of a country are actually quite the same.
    I think that is a testimony to the fact that there are simply some truths that are irrefutable. Like, they are the truths of one Heartbeat.. of all the world. It is in this, it is easy to remember that though we may call Father by a different name, or Mother by a different name, we are still uniquely bound together as humanity.

    Thanks for the great post.