Liberty Just in Case

A Dialogue for the September 12th World

Archive for January 10th, 2005

Americanism as Religion: The Puritans Impact on Evangelicals in America

Posted by Mark on January 10, 2005

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.

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