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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Evangelicalism: The Early Days


Evangelicalism at the time of the Second Great Awakening was driven by three primary motivators. The first was perfectionism, “premised on the belief that truly redeemed Christians would be motivated to live free of sin and reflect the perfection of God himself” [1]. Second, disinterested benevolence asserted “that true Christianity requires that a person give up self-love in favor of loving others” [2]. Finally, postmillennialism argued that “it was the duty of converted Christians to improve the world around them in order to pave the way for Christ’s redeeming return” [3]. These motivators drove evangelicals to establish voluntary organizations, argue for temperance, and work for abolition [4].

Early evangelicalism set lofty, admirable goals, motivated by an ideal vision of the Christian life. Yet the work of evangelicals rested primarily on the activism of individual, rather than on the life of Christ witnessed to in the Church. Perfectionism rested on an individual’s personal desire to live free of sin. Postmillennialism assumed it was humanity’s work that would bring about the return of Christ. Such goal and work driven Christianity, while admirable in its aims, would have been tempered and nuanced by St. Paul’s words in Galatians 3:2-5 (NRSV): “The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”

[1] Elena Abbott et al., “Religion and Reform,” Emily Conroy-Krutz, ed., in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


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