As I am reading through McGrath’s book on the Reformation I noticed that prior to the Great Awakening there was this mentality in the Church that revolved around intellectually believing the right doctrines. If one accepted the right beliefs then they were considered among those who are Christian. It wasn’t until the Great Awakening, with a few exceptions, that the focus began to shift to whether or not one experienced conversion. During the Great Awakening people were having experience with God when they came to faith in Christ that was considered conversion experiences. From these people began to tell their testimony of when they met Jesus rather than the focus being on ascribing to certain intellectual propositions. The Moravians, a Christian group in Germany, had already had these type of experiences and already emphasized personal relationship with Jesus over doctrinal beliefs. Also there are many books written by individuals prior to the Reformation who spoke of such experiences and depth to their walk with Christ.
But it seemed in this age that there was a distinct shift from what one believed in their mind, to what one experienced in their heart. The faith from intellectual belief deepened to a faith which had personal experience.
Reading on, I read about Jonathan Edwards; a man who is often mischaracterized by most. Throughout my Christian school education and on into my college years at secular colleges I was taught this fiery man was one of those sorts of preachers that made Christianity look bad. The problem is most focus only on his most famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. There is a whole story surrounding that sermon that I won’t go into at present that makes sense of that sermon. However, there is so much more about this man. I recently read something by him regarding the manifestations people were experiencing in his day, akin to the Pentecostalism of today. He addressed every common argument I have heard against such a thing being God showing point by point how it very well can be God. I realized I want to study this man more as well as some of the other key people in those days. He is certainly a more interesting fellow than I once realized.
The last thing I wanted to address was the difference history reports between the ministry that came out of the groups of Christians who were all about knowing Christ experientially and those who were staunchly about what doctrines one maintained. The missions sent out from the experiential group were all about helping the people preserve their cultural identity and protecting them from the advances of colonialism. They would work to get to know the people, be helpful to them, learn their language, and transcribe their cultural stories so that they would be protected for future generations. The Moravians who settled in North Carolina befriended the Native Americans and lived amongst them. However, the missions that came from the more staunch groups were combined with financial prospects of commencing trade, converting the native people to the ways of the colonizers, and often they brought harm and trouble upon the people.
I am often met with the argument of the No True Scotsman. However, I think there is really a difference between those who follow a set of doctrine and moral laws and those who claim to know God experientially and have real relationship with them. These two groups had stark differences—one seemed to walk out the life of Christ with hearts full of compassion and love and the other trying to fulfill a mandate of reaching the world with the Gospel without knowing God’s love experientially. I am not sure that truth or love can be lived out with only intellectual understanding of it, I think it takes a transformation of the heart that has come into relationship with the living God.