In a fascinating section in her important book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey examines the historical context that gave rise to two-storied thinking.
She shows how the changing political ethos of 18-19th century America influenced and shaped the religious experience of the country, paying particular attention to the revivalist impulse of the Second Great Awakening in the 1800s. In reading this section, one can’t help but become very aware of how these impulses continue to define and shape Evangelicalism – especially in the areas of ecclesiology (the theological doctrine of the Church) and soteriology (the theological doctrine of salvation).
You need to read it.
In one particularly telling section, she describes the changing model of leadership and Christian ministry that emerged. Circuit riders and big-tent revivalists replaced pastors as those who wielded primary spiritual influence. No longer, then, did these leaders have much personal connection or relationship with those they influenced. And it didn’t really matter that much because religion was becoming increasingly an individual matter of the heart anyway.
The evangelical celebrity culture was born.
“The populist branch of the evangelical movemenet cast aside an older model of leaers as holy men and instead gave rise to leaders who were entrepreneurs – pragmatic marketers who were willing to use whatever worked to get conversions.”
Pragmatic methods of evangelism, aimed at “producing” conversions (or “decisions for Christ”), were honed and practiced. The evangelical ideal of a Christian minister shifted from theological instruction and care to a “popular crusader and exhorter,” and theological education became more focused on practical instructions and pastoral techniques.
Not surprisingly, preaching changed too. “Expository preaching on biblical texts gave way to topical sermons on the felt needs of the congregation.” The goal was not instruction but an emotional charge.
“Increasingly, the populist preacher became a performer, stringing together stories and anecdotes, often from his own life.”
Does all of this sound pretty familiar to you too?
(Quotes are from p. 286-7)