Friday, April 1, 2011

nuggets from Farris' "From Tyndale to Madison"

These are tidbits from my reading of Michael Farris' From Tyndale to Madison-- a great book on the historical emergence of religious freedom in the U.S. and Europe. (Here's the full review...)

First, Farris has a number of insights that relate to what constitutes "true" Christianity-- really, and merely in perception.

One big perspective difference: The view in that time period was so different from today. The aim today is the conversion of individual souls; then, it was trying to turn nations into a unified “true” church.

One tool used for this was persecution. A resulting irony for those who saw themselves as the “true church”: by persecuting true believers, the persecuted were strengthened spiritually, in a way only available through persecution. In contrast, those who saw themselves as the true church struggled to maintain their faith—both in their families and in efforts to evangelize.

Related to this, Farris also depicts a common contemporary phenomenon: the frequent transition from true believers (or those who pass as such through their religiosity) to cultural Christians from one generation to the next. Avid followers were unable to pass along their "faith" and it turns lukewarm in the next generation. This led to a big dilemma: For those in colonial America who were trying to define the State as Christian, how do you define "church member" and thus, "citizen"-- especially when so much is at stake, politically.

The same problems impacted attempts at "evangelism". Farris critiques early English settlements among the Indians as far more interested in turning them into English than disciples of Jesus (236-237): “It is impossible to say what might have happened if the English settlers had practiced a form of Christianity that honored the freedom of the will rather than the doctrines of coerced uniformity. Perhaps if the message had been to ‘become like Christ’ rather than ‘become British’, the outcome would have been different.” (243)

Second, a series of little things…

a.) Farris on King James: there was “considerable evidence that King James I had homosexual leanings and, in fact, did little to hide his affections—to the great disgust of some members of his court.” (125-126) What irony, given the support for the KJV of the Bible among fundamentalists!

b.) Farris argues that gambling (75-77) fueled disputes between the wealthier Calvinists (yes) and the poorer free willers (no) in jail!

c.) A few ironies for Baptists:

-the first “believer’s baptism” by an English-speaking congregation was not done by immersion…but pouring water over and drenching the head” (135)

-both men and women were deacons (139)

-the emphasis what on the individual believer, but there was a big focus on church discipline and accountability (298)

d.) Farris asks his readers to imagine American history if Virginia had not narrowly supported the Constitution. Without a “Bill of Rights”, Virginia would not have been on board and Washington could not have been President!

e.) Farris repeats a common confusion about “libertarian (sic) morality”. He means "libertine" morality and ironically, ends up criticizing what he wants, at least in this context: “libertarian politics” (90).

f.) Reading Farris makes clear that religious freedom is freakish in human history. This impacts eschatology. First, the last two centuries suddenly look a lot better. Second, Revelation 13's combo of State and False Religion becomes even more impressive. Revelation 13 may refer to some End-Times event, but it clearly applies to the End Times (defined as the Church Age).

g.) A great quote from Jefferson to close: “Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”


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