Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

5
The Tradition Expanded The Great Awakening

Some great things seem to be upon the anvil, some big prophecy at the birth.

-- Josiah Smith in George Howe, History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina

N THE MIDDLE years of the eighteenth century, a powerful evangelical movement swept across western Europe, Britain, and the British North American colonies. On the European continent this movement took the form of Pietism, in Britain it centered around the Wesleys and their revivals, and in North America it was called the Great Awakening. In the Carolina low country, it would have an important influence in shaping the composition, world view, and intellectual life of the Reformed community for years to come.

What all these movements had in common was a new and intense piety. A restless longing of the human heart for a warm and personal relationship with God had, of course, deep roots in the Christian faith. But the new piety, expressed in distinct religious movements, emerged out of the tumultuous years of the late 1600s.1 Many people yearned for a deeper religious life and reacted against the coldness and institutionalization that had captured much of Protestant orthodoxy. This new piety, while not indifferent to orthodoxy, was more interested in what a person felt than in what one believed, was more concerned with the living of a holy life than with the formalities of church organization. Theological orthodoxy, after all, had not prevented the terrors of the wars of religion; indeed, it had helped to intensify them. Rather than splitting theological hairs, or engaging in scholastic debates about theological points, the new piety wanted to encourage a warm, inward spirituality, a missionary zeal, and a concern for charitable activity. Those who were touched by this piety thought it was important for ministers to know theology but believed it was infinitely more important that they know God and that their ministries be shaped by a warm-hearted relationship to Christ. They insisted that the laity be more than observers of religion, that they be committed to the life of the

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