Nothing but Christ: Rufus Anderson and the Ideology of Protestant Foreign Missions

By Paul William Harris | Go to book overview
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6
THE ABOLITIONIST ATTACK

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A. B. C. F. M. ) was created in part to foster unity among New England evangelicals and to forge a sense of common purpose. During the years of the Second Great Awakening, that effort succeeded remarkably well and helped to give rise to a feeling of millennial optimism. Rufus Anderson shared fully in evangelical expectations that the dawning of the Kingdom of Christ might well be imminent. Yet the militant millennialism spawned by the Second Great Awakening also contributed to its disintegration, as forces largely of its own creation helped to pull it apart. The Presbyterian schism of 1837 both climaxed and epitomized that process for the evangelical constituency of the American Board.

Two chords struck by the Second Great Awakening played conspicuous parts in the Presbyterian schism. The first was a growing confidence in human agency, which arose from the successes of Finney, Beecher, and other revivalists. Many became convinced that conversions could be secured by deliberate effort, and Finney went so far as to openly espouse a belief in human perfectibility. Leaders of the “Old School” became convinced that “New School” Presbyterians were abandoning the doctrines of Calvinism; the heresy trials they initiated against Lyman Beecher and Albert Barnes were the immediate cause of the schism.

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