Essay:The Coming Fifth Great Awakening in America
This essay is an original work by AddisonDM. Please comment only on the talk page.
I believe that in the near future, there will be another Christian revival, like the Great Awakenings of the Past, or failing that, the Jesus Movement. Here I set forth some of my ideas about why I think this will happen and how it will happen.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The Awakenings of the past
- 3 How do I know an Awakening is in the works?
- 4 The epicenter: the concepts, styles, and organizations that will be at the forefront of the Awakening
- 4.1 Concepts
- 4.2 Styles
- 4.3 Organizations
- 5 Keeping the Awakening going: The challenge we will face
- 6 Mission statements and slogans
Historically, the passing of every few decades saw what has been called a Great Awakening. These were lively Christian revivals which were lead by charismatic preachers and fueled by an intangible source of spiritual fervor and renewal. It has been at least 30 years since we have experienced a Great Awakening. To some, the Jesus Movement was the Fourth Great Awakening, but this is not conventional.
The major point is that there is nothing preposterous about suggesting that another Awakening is coming. It is in keeping with history, and, in my view, the current social climate.
The Awakenings of the past
- First Great Awakening: The First Great Awakening was a religious revival lasting from the 1730s to the 1740s and lead by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Its focus was on man’s sinfulness and need for redemption, and its preaching employed “fire and brimstone.” It also focused on the emotional and personal element of spirituality instead of the traditional, doctrinal elements. It was primarily in the AmericanNortheast and affected the colonies.
- Second Great Awakening: Lasting from the about 1800 to 1830, the Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement largely concerned with reaching out to the unchurched. It also encompassed many pre-Civil War reform movements, such as temperance andabolitionism. Its leaders are not as iconic as those of the First Great Awakening. The famous tent revivals on the American frontier were part of the Second Great Awakening.
- Third Great Awakening: The Third Great Awakening, from about 1850 to 1900, focused more on social reforms and outreach work than the past Awakenings. It was largely categorized by political activism. It gave birth to the Social Gospel and several new Christian movements, most notably Pentecostal and Holiness.
- Jesus Movement (Fourth Great Awakening): The Jesus Movement lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s. It focused on personal conversion and the outreach ministry it was categorized by was largely untraditional. Most of its converts, often referred to as “Jesus Freaks,” were former hippies, rock and rollers, occultists, and eastern religion practitioners. The well-known Protestant denomination Calvary Chapel was formed during the Jesus Movement, and the Movement gave rise to the now popular Christian Rock and Contemporary Christian Music genres.
How do I know an Awakening is in the works?
This is perhaps the most important question you can ask me, or that I can ask myself. Let me say it again- how do I know there is an Awakening in the works? Well, history can help determine the future and explain the present, so for starters we’ll go back to the 1990s and early 2000s.
Let’s look at the entertainment landscape. Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, NSync, LizzieMcGuire (Hilary Duff), and That’s So Raven (Raven-Symone). By 2005, these stars were largely either gone or no longer associated with their childhood roles.
Now, why do I mention them, and what is their significance? As far as the music stars were concerned, the music in this period was highly materialistic and sexualized. The stars began as little innocent children and as they got older, became more sexualized. None were especially associated with Christianity or faith- Britney Spears’ life collapsed, Mandy Moore left Christianity, the Disney stars were not vocal about faith (Hilary Duff once denied speaking a statement favorable to virginity).
Taken as a whole, these stars and their styles represent a period, which is now gone and over. So, two important points: 1) These stars were not very vocal about Christian faith, and 2) the style they represented is largely replaced.
The next important set of facts is what and who these stars and this period were replaced by. From 2005-2007, the present stars came in. The television and music landscape is characterized by Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, and the High School Musical series. All in all, Disney dominates the children’s and adolescents’ entertainment sector.
But that’s not important. What’s important is that the Jonas Brothers are the children of a clergyman, that Miley Cyrus has publicly spoken of the importance of faith- its her "main thing and reason she works in Hollywood"- and that Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers wear purity rings. Billy Ray Cyrus, the father of Miley Cyrus, even joined the conservative radio talk show host Sean Hannity on his Freedom Tour.
What’s important is that this new generation of teen stars- some of the most popular role models for pre-teens- is not hostile to Christianity or afraid to express their Christian beliefs. And it is my opinion that this is not just a generational or social difference, or a marketing ploy, but an evidence and a symbol that a change is coming.
Three Christian-themed websites rose up during my proposed period of transition (2005-2007): GodTube, MyChurch, and Conservapedia. GodTube, a Christian version of YouTube, is the most successful of the three, and in July 2008 became one of the top 500 online websites. Conservapedia, a Christian-friendly online encyclopedia created as an alternative to Wikipedia, is growing, and in all likelihood will continue to grow.
Most importantly, Barack Obama won the Presidency based on some of the most forward-looking, inspirational, and sometimes even vaguely religious (leading to his being mocked as the “Messiah”) rhetoric ever. He commanded what was almost faith in a promise of a better future. While his policies were in my view completely wrong, his style was extremely important and will be mentioned again.
Of course, there are other events and occurrences of Christian value, but I have chosen for this chapter to overview only the greatest examples.
The epicenter: the concepts, styles, and organizations that will be at the forefront of the Awakening
I explain here what exactly will be the center, the central force, of the Awakening. Unlike the old Awakenings, which were began and fueled by an intangible source of fervor, or by individual preachers, this Awakening will be fueled by a more centralized source. An organization or umbrella of organizations will be the center, from which the most important and influential elements of the Awakening will proceed.
The Gospel and how it must be preached
The First Great Awakening’s Jonathan Edwards was a famous fire and brimstone preacher, and his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is one of the best examples of fire and brimstone preaching.
Most importantly among concepts, the future Awakening is not, is not, and once again is not going to be fire and brimstone. Like the Jesus Movement, the driving force, the “mission statement,” if there must be one, is going to be salvation and conversion, from a positive view. The mission statement that comes to mind is “Out of the darkness.”
As children’s educations suffer in public schools, as teenage girls choose abortion out of fear, as teens and adults alike turn away from traditional Christian values in an effort to be “accepting” and “tolerant,” as too many girls- and guys- go to bed hurt and unsure of love, the last message anyone needs is fear. Some will be shocked into faith, but more will feel disenfranchised.
We don’t need the vision of Hell that our Lady revealed to the children of Fatima; we need to hear the words of Christ, “I have called you each by name,” “Be not afraid,” “Come to me, ye heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
We need to see Christ extending His arms in love and blessing, we need to see His suffering on the Cross, which brought darkness over the land but opened to us the everlasting light of Heaven. We need to visualize, and hope towards, and help build, the future when nations will be at peace, when animals will not kill each other, when there will be no more pain or suffering, when the Earth and the heavens shall be transformed.
We need to go out into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. The Gospel is uplifting and enlightening- and more importantly than its own intrinsic characteristics, the Gospel, compared to “false prophet” means of enlightenment, is the real thing, and its own light will shine even brighter when surrounded by darkness. Simple enough, right? A Christian revival preaching the Gospel.
But it’s not the Gospel alone. It’s a combination of Gospel verbatim along with soaring rhetoric, like (here I am mentioning him again) that of Barack Obama. To put it succinctly, I’m talking the style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel. Combined together, we can attract record crowds like Obama, yet we can effect real and true change in hearts and minds with the truly transformative message of Christ.
Specific ministries and issues
I also see social ministry work being at the center of the Awakening. Obviously, not abortion and contraceptive services and gay rights, but social ministry of other sorts. We need to apply faith to everyday life. Too often, faith is seen as a parallel life that takes place on Sunday morning and is then forgotten. Exactly the opposite must be true. Faith must be the center of life- but this faith must not seem depressing, anti-fun, highfalutin, or carry with it any sentiment that makes one afraid that life is suddenly all sinful. Faith must first be adapted to life- not by watering it down but by making it relevant- and then we can make it the center of our life.
The actual social ministries I see are help to the poor and homeless (the image of a tall man in a coat in a big city, with a pocket New Testament in his hand, bringing a homeless man out to lunch and reading him John 3:16, is a powerful and recurring one), Christian messages about relationships for teens, help for the divorced, and more generally active participation projects like letter campaigns.
Related to concepts is the list of actual issues that we work with, when it comes to activism. Definitely traditional marriage, pro-family, and pro-life messages will be at the forefront. Religion in the public square, and educational methods such as public school vs. homeschooling are almost definitely going to be important too. Christian unity is also going to be a focus. A very contentious issue I am not sure about is creationism vs. evolution. I do not see this issue coming up, and I do not want to take a side here.
“Inclusivism” vs. “exclusivism”
Inclusivism and exclusivism are two terms I have come up with to refer to two different strategies. Inclusivism is the tendency to make an enclave of similar people, to stay inside it, to refuse to go into the world or cross denominational lines, and the like. In sum, I define it in the phrase, “If it isn’t explicitly (Catholic, Christian, etc) it’s bad.”
Inclusivism is the tendency to include everything unless it is explicitly opposed to Christianity, Catholicism, etc. Thus, exclusivism is “anything not explicitly Christian is bad,” while inclusivism is “anything not explicitly anti-Christian is good.”
I believe that inclusivism must govern the Awakening. In order to form our broad coalition (discussed below), we must include everyone and everything we possibly can without violating our Christian beliefs. We should expand Christianity and its influence and we should make even what is not explicitly Christian work for our goals.
There is too much anti-Christian sentiment and bias in entertainment and the media for us to condemn anything with Christian morals and values, even if it are not outwardly or explicitly Christian. What we want is anything that is substantially Christian. It’s truly the message that counts- but where the message is not quite as Christian as we'd like, we must step in and add our own message.
In order to safeguard our faith, we must also clearly distance ourselves from anything which is anti-Christian. We need a broad line, but as soon as that line is crossed, we need to be vigilant.
Some will view the phrase “style of Barack Obama” with understandable skepticism. This section is a more in-depth explanation of what I mean by it. Barack Obama made himself the subject of faith and hope, and he did it with very inspiring rhetoric. To make legitimate, Christian use of his style, the subject of faith and hope must, of course, be God and Christ.
What I really mean by “Style of Barack Obama, substance of the Gospel,” is that our preaching and speaking must be just as emotionally appealing and exciting as Obama’s speaking; it must (in homage to Chris Matthews) give us tingly legs. But in an Obama speech, for that matter in most any political speech, as soon as the emotion is gone and you wake up the next day, there’s nothing left. The excitement is over. In the end, after all the talk about how we can all change things, after all the rhetoric of a new time dawning upon us, the only thing you really take away is “Vote for me.”
We must deliver that emotional appeal contained in a good political speech, but we must knock it home with some Gospel. We’ve got to say to people, “You can change the world,” but we’ve got to give a real gameplan, some real Christian advice on how an average person really can. We’ve got to add to the wish and the resolve that comes from hearing the speech the ability to really do, to really want to do, what we feel like doing as we are listening. We must join together the emotional desire in hearing a good speech with the mission that comes with faith- not only will we make change possible, we will make it enjoyable and uplifting. Ultimately, the goal would be to have such a combination of substance and style that the substance (Gospel) reinforces the style (emotion). That is, to make real, orthodox Christianity very uplifiting and emotionally appealing.
For concrete examples, let’s look at this quote from Obama’s June 3rd speech in Denver, and compare it with an example of the kind of speaking I’m talking about:
- Obama- “Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.”
- My style: At this defining moment, at this hour of decision which weighs upon us and upon our world, we must decide who we are going to work for, we must decide, whose side we are on, and we must dedicate our lives on this day and every day for the Kingdom and the Glory of God. And that done, we cannot allow ourselves to spend one day, one hour, one minute of our lives, without doing something for God or neighbor. For though many, we are one. Though different and individual, we are united. Though we possess each our own gifts, we dedicate them all to the common purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We have been called a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people unto God, and so it will be we who the future looks back on, it will be we who those in need look up to, and most of all it will be we who God looks down upon, making sure that we remember Him; for our work, our memory, and our legacy, are ultimately His.
These two passages are very different, in both content and form, but the underlying style is similar. The greatest similarities are the use of repetition in phrasing (“This was the moment” vs. “It will be we”) and conjuring a sense of urgency, of importance. That is, a focus on the importance of the present moment, a here and now. And yet at the same time, a focus on the better future that awaits if we actually work in the present for it.
The nature of the foremost organizations, as I said in concepts, is going to be centralized. There will one or two organizations which specifically ally with others to form one united Christian body. They will not necessarily work together in terms of projects or ad campaigns, but they will work together on a high level.
There must also be a broad coalition. There must be some diversity of less important views. The focus cannot be on a partisan liberal vs. conservative divide. For example, “liberal” ideas like vegetarianism and environmental responsibility are going to be accepted and promoted, along with pro-life and pro-family views. The average person does not think liberal vs. conservative. They have their views, and they must not feel pushed away or disenfranchised, or hit with claims of “liberal bias,” "fascism," or the like. The coalition must have principles, but I do not think it can be rigidly identified with political conservatism.
Political arrangement of the central organization
Let’s go back once again to Barack Obama, or more broadly any political campaign. (Here’s where it gets interesting!) Political campaigns are both top-down and bottom-up. They have a central office, a central logo, a central statement, and of course a central candidate. But they also have offices in every small town in America, where volunteers from school electioneer and teach passer-by about the political climate and why their specific candidate must be elected. Of course, there is no true political component to the Awakening, at least in terms of a presidential election.
But there is an extremely valuable lesson to be learned from a presidential campaign, and Barack Obama’s especially. Barack Obama compiled huge email lists and was able to send alerts to millions of people. He was able not just to get the votes of half the nation, but to mobilize it behind him. To be effective, we have to learn from this. The Awakening may feature both a central office and multiple local ministries and coalitions affiliated directly, indirectly, or nominally with the central organization.
Importance of the media
Another extremely important aspect is the media. There must be a professional ad campaign behind the Awakening. We must also learn how to get media attention. There is already a substantial Christian media, which we can mobilize and utilize, but we must bill ourselves as mainstream. In order to be truly sweeping, the newspapers and news shows are going to have to feature the Awakening.
But when it fails to garner media attention, that’s where the ad campaign comes in. If you can’t get the attention, make it. Internet ads, radio ads, “salvation phonelines”, bill boards, and cable television ads are all going to play an indispensable part. There is one more kind of ad which is relatively rare, which I also see being a substantial part of the ad campaign: “bulletin board” ads. These are inexpensive ads created on graphic designing software that can be printed out and placed in churches, on bulletin boards, and in public places. This is an inexpensive way to get a message out, or to advertise for a specific cause or website.
Specific functions of the centralized organization
What are the functions of this centralized organization? Will it bill itself as a force in a Great Awakening, will it even be founded by those who believe in a coming Awakening? For the last two questions, no, yes. For the first, let’s investigate.
The organization will act as a sponsor and headquarters for local ministries, like work for Christian unity among individual congregations and the social ministries I mentioned above. But the actual execution of these ministries will be on a more local level.
The major function of the centralized organization is going to be sponsoring what I call “projects” instead of ministries. These are larger, high-profile activities such as large scale boycotts, nationwide tours, and the like. Their focus will be to gain media coverage and to reach large amounts of people. An example is something I have thought of that I call the Faith Tour: a nationwide tour of large buses presenting evidence for Christianity and the existence of God. So let’s add a new line to our slogan: The style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel, and the media genius of Disney. With all that, there can be a well-publicized, sweeping Christian revival in our nation.
Keeping the Awakening going: The challenge we will face
So we have our rough plan:
- An organization or set of organizations operating both top-down and bottom-up
- An ad campaign and other means of garnering media attention
- Preaching the Gospel in a relevant, modern, appealing, uplifting way, without watering it down
- A focus on ministry and outreach
But how long can this revival last, and how can it be kept going? Will it even be great enough to identify a time when it began and ended?
The great challenge we face is not getting the Awakening started- history and the current leanings of society are behind us. The challenge is keeping the movement going once it begins- that is, to make it timeless- more a permanment change in society than a passing revival of fervor. In order to find out how to do this, let’s investigate similar movements that have already ended.
Old movements and why they didn't last
Since we have drawn from the Obama Campaign, we should investigate it. Its styles and means of mobilizing supporters were very effective, and we will need to make use of them. It got going because of that. It ended because it had to end. It was put up against a deadline, like all political campaigns. Every four years people come together and get excited, and then on November 5th (this year) it's all forgotten.
The lesson to carry away here is to not base the Awakening on time limits, make specific predictions, or put a fixed duration on the most succesful activities. We must let the Gospel do its job, and not place artificial time barriers of any kind on it. We cannot bar in or limit the Gospel.
The Nineteen-Fifties are renowned as a time when traditional values and morals were practiced. Political policies aside, the moral character of society was probably more conservative, while the backlash of the Sixties which is still with us today is more liberal.
Why did the Fifties give way to such completely opposite and harmful ideas? Why are these ideas still popular today? The Fifties were (this is important) not based enough on Christian values- the behavioral standards were set by unwritten societal rules, which, if transgressed, gave someone a bad name. The actual standards were largely right, but they were based on the wrong foundation. The Fifties were a house of rock built on a cliff of sand.
The backlash of the Sixties and Seventies carried with it the Sexual Revolution, feminism, legalized abortion, and in general a message of liberation and freedom. Of course the backlash was not right either. The liberation and freedom it offered were in sin, and sin is slavery, not freedom.
The point is this: we must clearly convey that the Gospel provides true freedom, and we must judge all conduct by the Gospel, not by other standards. The Gospel is timeless. Before the foundation of the world was the Word, and He shall remain when the heavens and the earth have passed away. Our substantive foundation must be the Gospel alone, not societal whims which will be replaced with opposite societal whims.
The focus on the Gospel is so important because it is the message that truly fills us. One trend gets boring, and contains in itself the opposing backlash. But the Gospel is not a trend; it is the objective and eternal code of behavior and message of salvation. When properly preached, it will satisfy much of the need for something new.
In short, the Awakening must be more than a movement. It must be a centralized, unified effort to continually preach the Gospel in an appealing, relevent, and absolutely faithful manner. It will be an impetus and an occasion for an effort towards Christian unity never before seen. It will bring Christianity proudly into the public square once again. It will satisfy the wants and the needs of those who are overlooked and forgotten by the government and society, and of those who cry out for help and recieve no answer. It shall once again make heard the voice of Jesus, "Behold, I am coming soon," to which His faithful shall reply, "Come, Lord Jesus."
The Awakening must also:
- Not focus on durations, or use time limits very much at all
- Focus on the Gospel and always base its message clearly and solidly in the Gospel alone, which is alone unchanging
- Bill itself as the true answer to our desires and need, and the true object of our faith. Our love is hurt, our trust is broken, our faith runs out. Yet we still hope. The Awakening, through the Gospel, must once again claim our faith and hope, but truly deliver.
Mission statements and slogans
- The style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel, and the media genius of Disney
- Devoutly Christian, thoroughly modern (In reference to being both Christian and mainstream)
- How can we preach from the rooftops if we don’t enter the city? How can we be the leaven if we are not part of the bread? (In reference to the tendency to form a Christian enclave to the point of not going out into the world and preaching the Gospel)
- Those whom we would first criticize, are those whom we must first help (In reference to the focus on love and forgiveness as opposed to condemnation)
- Change is not static. It is an ongoing process through which we conform ourselves to God, and so transform the world (Speaking of the process of conversion and spiritual change)