Recalling great personalities of Evangelical History like Wilberforce and John Newton, Jim Wallis writes that “Similarly in the nineteenth century, American religious revivalism was linked directly with the abolition of slavery and other movements for social reform. Wallis references this conclusion from historian Michael Kazin: “From the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s to the 1920s, there was a period where social movements were infused with the evangelical spirit” (Wallis/The Great Awakening, Seven Ways to Change the World/Harper-Collins/ 2008).
Wallis is not alone in such thinking! This does dump him off in the far-away country of theological liberalism, as some would like to believe, and which many to-the-right political conservatives discredit as mere “political correctness.” I have written about this before in reference to Nazarene Historian Timothy L. Smith, who among others found historical antecedents of the social-gospel in the revivalism of the nineteenth century Holiness Movement, rather than the later social gospel of liberalism.
Whatever current politics may assert, church history confirms “evangelical Christians fighting for social justice, precisely because of what God had done for them—an activity with which evangelicals have not been associated in more recent years,” says Wallis.
We are reminded that nineteenth-century American evangelist Charles Finney didn’t shy away from identifying the gospel with the antislavery cause. He was a revivalist and also an abolitionist. For him, the two were closely connected. Finney, who has been called the father of American evangelism, directly linked revival and reform and popularized the altar call. Why?
Wallis suggests Finney one reason was, “They would commit their lives to Christ and then enlist for God’s purposes in the world. That’s the way it always is for revival—faith becomes life-changing, but rather than remaining restricted to personal issues and the inner life alone, it explodes into the world with a powerful force. For Finney, taking a weak or wrong position on social justice was a ‘hindrance in revival.”
One cannot read the biographies of such leaders without discovering the “evangelicalism” within their perceived theological liberalism. I cite Martin Luther King who came out of a solid-south conservative experience and did his educational studies in a more theologically liberal northeast school.
At the height of the Montgomery bus boycott, King was receiving death threats on every hand via phone and mail. I was a young pastor in a small southern town not that distant from Montgomery and aware of the perceived liberalism of Dr. King, among other things. Stewart Burns recounts King’s epiphany in his writing To the Mountaintop, discovering at the midnight hour that ‘religion had to become real to me’—not merely the hand-me-down family business—and I had to know God for myself. With my head in my hands, I bowed down over that cup of coffee. Oh, yes, I prayed a prayer. I prayed out loud that night ...”
Confessing his weak, faltering and fearful ways, King admitted “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. I could hear an inner voice saying to me, Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for the truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world. I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone, No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” (We recognize that hymn).
Reading a book like Jim Wallis’s The Great Awakening would do much to help conservative Church of God Christians to revive their faith and filter their politics through the red-letter words of Jesus in the Bible rather than through the left and right sides Democratic and Republican politics. It might even give the reader a better feel for the challenge issued by Dr. Jim Lyons of Church of God Ministries to become involved in a new generation of abolitionism—human trafficking.
Lyon's call is not an enlistment of the weak and the timid; the fearful, the cynic, and the doubter! It is a clear Trumpet note calling for a radical defense of the imago dei and the Christian doctrine that every human being has value, that no matter who or what one is, the church cares, if for no other reason, because we are all created in the image of God.
From Warner’s World I am