Lesson 35B Preview: A Video on key “Englightenment Thinkers; A Video on “Thomas Jefferson and Deism”; John Gerstner lectures on “The Enlightenment”; Videos on “Charles Finney and Decisional Regeneration”

A professor of history provides his class with a 10 minute, very basic overview of the Age of Enlightenment, and includes a discussion of John Locke along with Descartes, Newton, and Hobbes.

Jefferson and Deism is a talk apparently delivered by an astute history professor  at a professional meeting sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and held on the grounds of Monticello, Jefferson’s home.  I regret that his name and academic address is not supplied by the Foundation in the numerous videos presenting his entire talk at YouTube. I should add that in another segment this professor points out that Jefferson once referred to the Trinity as “metaphysical insanity”, a phrase that settles any debate over his beliefs regarding the Trinity.

Prof. Gerstner returns with his Calvinistic perspective to deepen our understanding of the Enlightenment: The Enlightenment: Root and Branch Attack on the Reformers. (Click on the title to go to the page where you can launch the video  player.)

Charles Finney

Opposition to the Reform and Lutheran traditions came from early American revivalists as well as post-enlightenment skeptics, such as Deists. Charles G. Finney was a very successful preacher-revivalist who strayed from evangelical Christian theology. Wikipedia tells us “Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792 – August 16, 1875) was a leader in the Second Great Awakening. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism. Finney was best known as an innovative revivalist, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian perfectionism, a pioneer in social reforms in favor of women and blacks, a religious writer, and president at Oberlin College…

Finney was a primary influence on the “revival” style of theology which emerged in the 19th century. Though coming from a Calvinistic background, Finney rejected tenets of “Old Divinity” Calvinism which he felt were unbiblical and counter to evangelism and Christian mission.

Finney’s theology is difficult to classify, as can be observed in his masterwork, Religious Revivals. In this work, he emphasizes the involvement of a person’s will in salvation.Whether he believed the will was free to repent or not repent, or whether he viewed God as inclining the will irresistibly (as in Calvinist doctrine, where the will of an elect individual is changed by God so that they now desire to repent, thus repenting with their will and not against it, but not being free in whether they choose repentance since they must choose what their will is inclined towards), is not made clear. Finney, like most Protestants, affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience.Finney also affirmed that works were the evidence of faith. The presence of unrepentant sin thus evidenced that a person had not received salvation.”

The two presentations below (11 mins. each) highlight the problems Finney, following the principle of Decisional Regeneration, caused through his preaching. His revivalism still impacts many aspiring preachers who have, as result, shaped Protestant American ideas about evangelical theology and the doctrine of salvation:

A Quote for Your Consideration: “In consequence of some conversation with Dr. Rush, in the year 1798-99, I had promised some day to write him a letter giving him my view of the Christian system. I have reflected often on it since, and even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the antient [ancient] philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate, . . . . I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and show in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, character, and doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice and philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, and even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark . . . that his system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the antient philosophers.(Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Joseph Priestly, Apr. 9, 1803.)

Lutheran Satire

Things Your Lutheran Pastor Totally Loves: Talking with a Biblicist

Super True Stories: Best Conspiracy Ever

Super True Stories: The Original John Calvin

Bible Verses for Reflection: Revelation 14:6-7   Romans 3:19-28;    John 8:31-36

A Quotation for Your Consideration: “Does being Lutheran matter? Many would suggest that to insist on being and remaining Lutheran is to insist on what divides us from other Christians rather than on what unites us with them. “I’m more interested in people being Christian, rather than Lutheran” is a comment one actually hears these days quite often, sadly and tragically, even from Lutheran pastors. Clearly this is a false alternative that we must be on our guard to avoid. Being Lutheran is not a matter of culture, tradition or habit, at least is should not be simply that. No, being Lutheran is about being passionate about the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth as revealed by God in Holy Scripture. As much as we care about the truth of God’s Holy Word and the proclamation of a pure and unadulterated exposition of the Scriptures, being Lutheran matters. Martin Luther was concerned that people would be using his name, but then he realized that using the name “Lutheran” was a way to identify with what he stood for, to identify with his confession of the Gospel, in other words, to clearly identify oneself as a person who holds to a specific confession of Christ and none other. There are so many competing points of view of what Christianity is. Being Lutheran therefore is a way to distinguish and teach and confess and bear witness to the Christian faith in a very specific and faithful way.”

The above  quotation is from the Rev. Paul McCain (LCMS) at his blog Cyberbrethren.

Discussion Questions:

1. How can we distinguish The Age of Reason from The Enlightenment? Who was the champion of heliocentrism and during which period did he live? How would you compare and contrast John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? Why do people today still cite the Latin phrase “cogito ergo sum” [Wikipedia] when discussing the history of philosophy and this thinker who, while considering himself a faithful Christian, nevertheless became a catalyst for the Enlightenment break with traditional views of thought and nature?

2. The professor lecturing on Jefferson’s Deism, quotes Jefferson as saying “_______ causes a stronger religion than does    ________ [fill in the two words]. How is that possible in Jefferson’s theology? What is the “golf course” religion test for identifying contemporary Deists that our speaker outlines? What were the two pillars upon which Deism rested?

3. Prof. Gerstner recalls an event he was part of at Rutgers University where he debated the proposition “There is no God.” His opponent’s approach to this debate represented, according to Dr. Gerstner, a typical Enlightenment perspective. What did this apparently frustrating, for Dr. Gerstner, perspective involve and why was it essentially a reflection of Enlightenment biases?

4. What is “common grace” and why does God provide it? What is the “natural image” in man of God vs. the “moral image” in man of God?

5. Identify three of Charles Finney’s “innovations”, missionary techniques he pioneered that our speaker argues shaped modern notions of what good evangelistic preaching should incorporate.

6. What is Finney’s “real legacy” according to our speaker. What is the evidence offered for his assessment of Finney?

7. How would you define “decisional regeneration”? What past heretical movement in the history of Christian theology is recalled by the doctrine of decisional regeneration? How might we distinguish it from a Lutheran perspective on regeneration?

8. In the above satire The Original John Calvin, we hear doctrines of Calvin parodied by our two characters. How many of the doctrines alluded to can you name?


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