Christian Thought in America

Christian Thought in America: A Brief History

Hannah Schell
Daniel Ott
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Christian Thought in America
    Book Description:

    In Christian Thought in America: A Brief History, Daniel Ott and Hannah Schell offer a short, accessible overview of the history of Christian thought in America, from the Puritans and other colonials to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Moving chronologically, each chapter addresses a historical segment, focusing on key movements and figures and tracing general trends and developments. While many texts offer a detailed history of Christianity in the American context, few focus on the philosophical and theological issues, which form an important yet often neglected part of our history. The narrative aims to underscore the diversity of Christian thought in America by addressing issues in their historical contexts and by examining across a range of traditions. At the same time, it conveys a sense of the vibrancy of Christian thought, as well as the liveliness and creativity of the ongoing theological debates. The book explores several recurring themes that mark the trajectory of Christian thought in America, including the idea of a divine mission, the tendency to privilege the individual, and the influence of the spirit of reform and revival. Each chapter concludes with a short bibliograpy of recent scholarship for further reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-5064-0033-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    We study our own history in order to know ourselves better. Knowing our own history, being faithful to it, is a difficult process that brings with it several challenges, including trying to “get it right” based on the sources that are available. But this is not simply a matter of data and interpretation; our attitude towards the past helps or hinders the process. Sometimes a nostalgia for what we imagine as a better time drives the pursuit of reconstructing the past. Alternatively, there is a danger in seeking to tell a story of triumphant progress, in which the past is...

  5. 2 “Errand in the Wilderness”: Colonists in the New World
    (pp. 19-54)

    In 1613, the rector of the Anglican parish in Henrico, VA, Alexander Whitaker (1585-1617), delivered the “Good Newes from Virginia” to an eager audience back in England.¹ His concerns were simultaneously geographic and spiritual:

    The whole Continent ofVirginia, situate within the degrees of 34. and 47. is a place beautified by God, with all the ornaments of nature, and enriched with his earthly treasures: that part of it which we already possesse, beginning at the Bay of Chaesapheac and stretching itself in northerly latitude to the degrees of 39. and 40. is interlined with seven most goodly Rivers, the...

  6. 3 Religious and Political Awakenings: The Revolution
    (pp. 55-86)

    In the 1740s, a series of religious revivals occurred in the colonies, from New England to Georgia. The impact and significance of these local revivals, collectively often called “The Great Awakening,” was debated then, by colonial theologians who experienced the revivals as either a threat or a sign of needed spiritual revitalization, and now, by historians seeking to contextualize and interpret the event. Some have argued that the religious fervor stirred up by the revivals directly contributed to the revolutionary spirit that yielded America’s cry for independence from the British Crown. The revivals can also be seen as the first...

  7. 4 Religious Thought in the New Republic Something New, Something Old: Revival and Restoration
    (pp. 87-114)

    A Congregationalist minister, and President of Yale University, Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) expressed the concerns felt by many clergy that the Revolution had brought with it “a long train of immoral doctrines and practices which spread into every corner of the country.”¹ A general sense of impiety and indeed immorality seemed to have gripped the country. Enlightenment ideals, deistic tendencies and the “irreligion” of Thomas Paine seemed to threaten the soul of the newly formed nation. A new period of revivalism, often referred to as the Second Great Awakening for Christianity in America, brought with it the emergence of a new...

  8. 5 New Paths in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 115-134)

    Although divided into “New Lights” (defenders of the revival) and “Old Lights” (the liberal critics of revivalist tendencies), New England Congregationalism did not experience an actual schism until 1805, in response to the appointment of Henry Ware to the prestigious position of Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. Ware’s appointment upset what had been a precarious balance between liberal and conservative forces on the faculty and it became clear to conservatives such as Jedidiah Morse that the liberal Christians, who Morse began to call out and label as “Unitarians,” had won Harvard. The conservative backlash led to the founding...

  9. 6 Times of Turmoil: The Civil War
    (pp. 135-160)

    For a time, whites and blacks (slave and free) worshipped together in churches, although usually seated separately. The number of African-Americans who participated in church worship increased significantly between the 1770s and the 1830s, due to the widespread evangelization that was part of the revivals. Many black men and women gained reputations as excellent preachers and religious leaders. In 1785, Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833) became the first black person in America ordained in a major white denomination, the Congregationalist church.

    Theologically, Haynes tended toward the New Light thinking of the Connecticut clergy who tutored him. His views were continuous with Edwards’s...

  10. 7 Spreading the Word: Victorian Evangelicalism and the Varieties of Protestantism
    (pp. 161-186)

    Many American Christians in the opening decades of the nineteenth century were post-millennialists, meaning that they optimistically believed that the millennial kingdom was gradually being ushered in and that the thousand years of peace would end with the Second Coming of Jesus. Alexander Campbell (founding figure of the Disciples of Christ), for example, looked to the details of Revelation 20 as describing a newly restored era of peace and justice. He used his newspaper, theMillennial Harbinger, to announce the details to a ready public. Others who looked for the new kingdom of heaven on earth understood Revelation as teaching...

  11. 8 Progressivism and Its Discontents
    (pp. 187-228)

    The life, and thought, of William James (1842-1910) marks an important turn in the history of religious thought in America. Writing not as a theologian but as one who was both fascinated by and an outsider to traditional religion, James’s careful psychological and philosophical approach opened up a new way of thinking about the nature of belief and the role it plays in the believer’s life. James was born into a truly American family of letters. His brother, Henry James (1843-1916), became a literary giant and part of the expatriate community, spending most of his life living in Europe. He...

  12. 9 The Courage To Be and the Courage To Act: Twentieth Century Developments
    (pp. 229-268)

    On May 1, 1933, a woman and her seven-year-old daughter meandered through a crowd of radicals and desperate workers gathered in Union Square, New York selling a newspaper for a cent a copy. The paper declared its purpose:

    It’s time there was a Catholic paper printed for the unemployed.

    The fundamental aim of most radical sheets is the conversion of its readers to radicalism and atheism.

    Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?

    Is it not possible to protest, to expose, to complain, to point out abuses and demand reforms without desiring the overthrow of religion?


  13. 10 Stretching the Christian Story: Into the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 269-300)

    During the 1950s, some leaders of the nascent homophile movement in the United States attempted to found religious organizations that would provide a secret, safe place for gay and lesbian Christians to worship.¹ As Phillip Jason, a leader in the New York Mattachine Society put the point, it was well-nigh time to address the needs of “that individual who is faithful, devoted, yet, at the same time, feels that … the pronouncements of the Church stand as barriers between himself and a full Christian life.”² By the late 1960s, after the Stonewall riots galvanized the gay rights movement, such efforts...

  14. Index
    (pp. 301-311)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)