Friday, July 14, 2006

The Fourth Turning: American Awakenings

My great great grandfather, RY Russell, was a preacher during the mid-19th century. In the 1820's and 1830's, he preached revival and experienced amazing results -- it was that hotbed season of renewal known as the Second Great Awakening. A renewal of interest in spiritual things was happening all across the country -- people were beginning to look inward and assess the state of their hearts and souls and look for meaning beyond the meaterial world.

Yesterday, we talked about the seasonality of Crises in American culture, however Strauss and Howe posit that Awakenings are also seasonal. Just as the crises lead to a reformation of societal structure, so the Awakenings lead to a reformation of the inner lives of folks in society. "While a Crisis rearranges the outer world of power and politics, an Awakening rearranges the inner world of spirit and culture. While a Crisis elevates the group and reinvents public space, an Awakening elevates the individual and reinvents private space." (46) If a crisis is the bitter winter through which a culture must go, then an awakening is the hot sticky summer. Just as the Crises run on an 80-100 year cycle, so do awakenings -- only offset by 40-45 years. So, roughly 40 years after the start of a crisis period, we can expect to enter a new awakening period.

True to form, Strauss and Howe lay out a map of the great Awakenings that have occured in Anglo-American history since the Reformation:

The Protestant Reformation (1517-1542) In addition to the continental effects, the Reformation transformed England from a bastion of Catholic Loyalists to a Protestant stalwart.

The Puritan Awakening (1621-1649) A golden era of reformed theology that led to a renewed emphasis on Christ's lordship over all aspects of life. The postmillenial hope that puritans held fired their imaginations to seek out the New World and build a city shining on a hill.

The Great Awakening (1727-1746) After settled colonists hardened into rigid european class distinctions, this great season of revival shaped the revolutionary generation, stamping them with a passionate individualistic faith.

The Transcendental Awakening (1822-1844) A season of renewed spiritual interest that led to the abolition movement, and to the creation of new sects (many of the heretical -- like the Jehovah's witnesses and the Mormons)

The Third Great Awakening (1886-1908) A season of reform, utopianism and birth of the social gospel.

The Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984) The time in which new age movement, modern charismatic movement, and the New evangelical movement all came into their own as shapers of American culture.

Now a few things bear noting. One is that the renewed interest in spiritual things, as Howe and Strauss talk about it, is but a sociological phenomena -- this says nothing about the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves as it will. There are examples of Spiritual movements that occur outside the bounds of these Awakenings (consider the 1859 prayer revival in New York, or the 100 year prayer vigil held by the Moravians). What Strauss and Howe identify are simply cultural indicators of broad interest in spiritual things.

Also note that the culture tends to be pretty indiscriminate about the spiritual offerings -- witness the proliferation of heterodox offerings during the "consciousness revolution" and the "Transcendental Awakening". The criteria for public receptivity seems to be what is scratching the itch that the current structure isn't meeting. For instance, the calcified and cold faith of the early 1800s, while doctrinally correct, left an opening for heterodox thinkers who emphasized the heart.

Now if Strauss and Howe are correct, then we're not due for another Awakening until around 2040 or so. However this doesn't mean that there aren't things we can't do to prepare. It seems the best thing to do is to develop an authentic Christianity that is balanced between heart and head. We can prepare by living the spiritual disciplines out in our communities -- the whole counsel of God proclaimed will challenge us to live out just that balance. We can minister to the poor, the needy, and the hurting -- for that is not only our calling, but it is often what fires the imaginations of the masses in an Awakening.

Most of all, we can pray --for as I said earlier, an Awakening is only a time of public interest. We must pray that the Spirit would grant a renewal to the church so that the church might be prepared for the Crisis ahead and the coming Awakening beyond. We can pray that the church would be strong and ready to respond, rather than a decadent institution tottering on the need of reform (which is what gave heat to the Reformation and the Puritan awakenings).

I look forward to your thoughts -- Be back with you on Monday

Soli Deo Gloria


Index to the Fourth Turning Series
First post
Concepts of Time
Crises of American History

Supplemental Articles
Kruse Kronicle: Index on Generations
American Thinker article: "Parkinson's War" (thanks Chris Larimer)