Historical Shifts & Doctrinal Decline

“With the [American] Revolution came deep yearnings among ordinary Christians for churches emancipated from the past, freed from vested privilege…Calvinistic orthodoxy, which looked to be unhappily anchored in the older world of heirarchy and privilege and hence appeared to be decidedly undemocratic, was put to flight before Arminianism. The church-centered faith that had been favored before the Revolution retreated before itinerant revivalism, reasoned faith retreated before exuberant testimony, and theological confession retreated before the axioms of expereince…By 1855, those who had been first, were last, and those who were last were first…In this broad-scale triumph of Arminianism over Calvinism, says William McLoughlin, we see ‘the theological side of the political shift toward democracy.'”

David F. Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, p. 206-07.

The topic of the American Revolution came up in a Sunday School class recently and I thought this post would be an interesting additional consideration for my readers to make of how that political event influenced the theological mindset of our nation. The New Testament church is not a democracy but in a culture where we appreciate the democratic political system it is very easy to have this kind of appreciation transcend the political sphere and override biblical revelation on the nature of the church.  When our understanding is driven along by culture in a way that contradicts Scripture the effects are always bad.


2 responses to “Historical Shifts & Doctrinal Decline

  1. Did I correctly understand you to imply that only Calvinist theology is orthodox, that Armianism is not?

    I’m not of an Arminian persuasion, but I can see where they are coming from and recognize that solid, studied Arminians (as opposed to those who just hold the position because it’s more comfortable) build their theology on a sound Scriptural basis. While I may disagree with the bulk of Arminian thought, I would hardly describe them as unorthodox. 🙂

    • tractsandtreatises

      Eric, Thanks for the comment.
      The reference to “Calvinistic orthodoxy” was part of the quote from Wells, rather than my words. Wells is refering to a historical reality that existed in the United States, which by the way, historically informed Arminians would also recognize, i.e. the prevailing orthodoxy of American Christianity was of a Calvinistic nature.

      As far as generally labeling Arminianism unorthodox…I suppose if a person means by “unorthodox” that they aren’t genuine Christians, then this would be a mistaken label. But that is not what is usually intended by the term unorthodox. It simply means that they deviate from the norm. This is in fact true of Arminianism, both historically and biblically. So I would heartily affirm that Arminianism is unorthodox while I would also recognize that there are many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who are unorthodox in their doctrine.

      Hope that helps!


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