The Fall and Rise of Evangelicalism

If you doubt my anticipation of a great coming revival, then consider the following historical facts. The 16th-century European Reformation had a profound impact on virtually every area of European life. However, the spiritual danger facing Europe of the early 17th century was one that the magisterial Reformers Luther and Calvin would not have predicted. The rising sun of the Reformation that had shown such promise of being the standard-bearer of the light of the gospel to the nations had, within just several decades of their deaths, been eclipsed by a false gospel -- the "light" of reason. In the hands of Descartes and Locke, this light was said to aid men in their search for the truth of Christianity. In the hands of Tillotson and Toland, however, this light became the grid through which all revelation was to be judged.

By the mid-18th century, the gloves were off. When Voltaire and Rousseau referred to their activities as promoting the "Enlightenment," they meant that they were replacing what they per­ceived as the darkness, ignorance, and grip of Christianity that had ruled men's minds from the Middle Ages to the Thirty Years' War with the "light" of human reason, autonomy, and tolerance.

It took but a short time for the doctrines of the Enlightenment to reach the shores of America. By the late 18th century, the "best and brightest" of our still young nation were being captivated by its se­ductive grip. It's believed that by the time Timothy Dwight became the eighthPresident of Yale in 1795, there were fewer than twenty Christians in the entire college. Yet did God wring His hands in desperation? No. In response to the prayers, fasting, and supplications of godly men and women in Scotland and America, He raised up mighty, Spirit-filled preachers of the gospel, men such as Daniel Baker and Asahel Nettleton, to usher in the Second Great Awakening.


This article is taken from Barber's new book, My Almost for His Highest (Wipf and Stock). Dr. John Barber is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and instructor at Uzima Reformed College in Nairobi, Kenya. He is author of several books, including The Road From Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture. He maintains a website ( specializing on topics relevant to Christianity and culture and he blogs at Legato (

8/18/2010 4:00:00 AM
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