Sunday, January 09, 2005

Americanism: The Enemy of the Puritan Hope

Americanism: The Enemy of the Puritan Hope

I have decided, on this rainy Southern California Sunday afternoon, to take up the challenge from Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost and comment on the article, Americanism- and Its Enemies, by David Gelernter.

In his article, Americanism - and Its Enemies, Gelernter is attempting to make a connection between the historical resistance to Puritanism and the current resistance to America’s grandiose view of itself in the world. He makes this connection by stating that Americanism is a later stage of the Puritan vision. Here is the thesis of Gelernter’s piece:

I believe that Puritanism did not drop out of history. It transformed itself into Americanism. This new religion was the end-stage of Puritanism: Puritanism realized among God’s self-proclaimed “new” chosen people—or, in Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable phrase, God’s “almost chosen people.”

Many thinkers have noted that Americanism is inspired by or close to or intertwined with Puritanism. One of the most impressive scholars to say so recently is Samuel Huntington, in his formidable book on American identity, Who Are We? But my thesis is that Puritanism did not merely inspire or influence Americanism; it turned into Americanism. Puritanism and Americanism are not just parallel or related developments; they are two stages of a single phenomenon.

Gelernter is arguing not that the zeal of Puritanism faded and that Americanism replaced it but that Americanism is a later stage of Puritanism. To Gelernter, Americanism is Puritanism. Gelernter’s claim is basically that because some presidents have seen themselves as doing the work of God that Americanism is the same as the Puritan vision. As a lover of the Puritans and as a churchman and pastor, I believe categorically that nothing could be further from the truth. If I were to remain silent on this matter, I believe I would be failing to protect the aspirations of all lovers of the church and the dreams of those filled with a passion for her purity.

The Puritan Hope
The essence of the Puritan hope is in direct opposition to the aspirations of Americanism. If we understand what constitutes the Puritan hope and contrast these core principles with Americanism, we will see that, as a worldview, Americanism is the enemy of the Puritan Hope.

1. Puritanism is a religion founded on the power of the Grace of God. The Puritan faith was the by-product of a strict theology of conversion which believed that Jesus Christ brings redemption to the human person which, when communicated to the life of the individual, transforms the individual’s affections and subsequent behaviors. This belief in the power of the Grace of God led the Puritans to hold high expectations for the fruits of faith. When taken to its logical extreme, this faith in the transforming power of grace in this life led the Puritans to apply high expectations to the observable life of the corporate body. Puritanism cannot be equated with just any belief in the progress of society and mankind. The cornerstone of Puritanism is a theology which emphasizes God’s role in man’s salvation in this life and the age the come. In fact, the theology of Puritanism was in direct and vocal opposition to the various forms of humanism of its day. It is insulting to the Spirituality and the theology of the Puritans, which remains a dominant theology in the American church, with aspirations of human progress separate from a clear biblical theology based on grace from God through the Gospel. Puritanism cannot be separated from a faith in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Americanism, which places its hope for progress in a worldview separate from the Gospel of Grace, is not only antithetical to the Puritan theological vision, it is the enemy of the Puritan hope.

2. The Puritanism believes in the instrumentality of the organized Church. Puritans, and their current day incarnation, not only believe that God has a plan for purity and freedom in their life, but they believe that their dreams and visions are to be accomplished through the church. It is the corporate body of Christ, founded on the Gospel of Christ, that is being equipped to perform the work of Christ. Puritanism leaves no room for the accomplishment of our dreams for a Morally Beautiful Community through the state. Puritans do not believe that human progress will be accomplish through the state. Puritans oppose the attainment of our true humanity through participation of the grand schemes of the state. It is the philosophy of Hegel that sees the state as the instrument of authentic human progress. It is Hegel, not Jesus or the Puritans, that saw the state as the instrument of the manifestation of the Spirit of a people. We have been down that road before. It is called World War II. Hegel’s children, Max and Hitler, fooled us once. News flash, Mr. Gelernter, WE WON’T BE FOOLED AGAIN!!!

3. The Puritan Hope is best practiced in a land that allows the free practice of religion. Though the practice of our Puritan vision may lead a Christian to fight a political battle to free the church from tyranny and oppression like in the case of the English Puritans, this does not mean that the Puritans were fighting for a pure and holy state or that they thought of England as the people of God. The Puritan influence on human government is centered on the need for the freedom to live in a world where those with a Puritan vision can live as the People of God, as the church, in freedom.

4. The Puritan hope is not dead. The progeny of the puritan movement is not Americanism and its grandiose view of America. Puritanism is still alive in the pulpits of America. Though the vision of today’s Puritanism has been polluted and diluted by Americanism, the vision for a church of purity and influence is not dead. I write this essay precisely because I consider people like myself, a Christian Reformed pastor, and the thousands of pastor’s with a heart for a revived church in our generation to be part of the endless line of splendor which the Puritans maintained so well in their generation. Though such men and women, myself included, are filled with Thanksgiving for the freedoms we have which allow us to seek our dreams of renewal in the church, we will never turn the responsibility for accomplishing our dreams over to the realm of politics or the jurisdiction of the state.

I cherish my freedom, but, more than this, I cherish my God given love for Christ’s church. If Americanism seeks to transfer the Glory due to Christ to America, count me as an enemy of Americanism.

God Bless,


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