Extraits du compte-rendu de Bobby Jamieson de l’ouvrage de Ian Murray, Revival and Revivalism : The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism (1750-1858), Banner of Truth, 1994, 480 p. On apprend qu’au sein du protestantisme américain, le passage du calvinisme à l’arminianisme s’est surtout opéré avec le Second Grand Réveil (première moitié du XIXe siècle). On voit par là que les « réveils » ne sont pas toujours bénéfiques pour l’Église. Connaître ces développements historiques nous aide à comprendre l’état de l’Église aujourd’hui.
Like their predecessors, these pastors [of the First Great Awakening, 1735-1750] knew that revivals were the sovereign work of God and could not be explained in any other way. Therefore, they preached the gospel, pleaded with sinners, and prayed for fruit like they had for years; and for reasons known only to God, he sometimes blessed these labours remarkably, and sometimes he didn’t. These revivals, in other words, were neither planned by men nor achieved by men. They did not involve any unusual or novel evangelistic techniques. They were understood, therefore, to be gifts of God.
Then, beginning around 1800, revival began to break out on a greater scale across the young nation, from the northeast to the western states of Kentucky and Tennessee. And what’s truly remarkable is that this large-scale revival continued in one form or another for about thirty years, rightly earning it the title of the Second Great Awakening.
[In the large outdoor multi-denominational meetings], many people responded to the preaching and singing, sometimes in disruptively dramatic ways. Eventually, the leaders divided over how to respond to excessive displays of emotion in these meetings. Some – most of the Presbyterians – thought such displays should be permitted or rebuked depending on the case, while others – the Methodists – tended to treat all of them as proof of the work of God’s Spirit.
From this point, the Methodist leaders of this work in Kentucky took a strategy that was originally a response to revival – namely, protracted outdoor meetings – and made it a key component of their efforts to bring about revival. Further, these Methodists and some others, undergirded by a radically different doctrine of conversion, began to focus their efforts on inducing outward, immediate responses to the gospel.
By the 1820s and 1830s, two major shifts had occurred throughout American evangelicalism. The first was a doctrinal shift regarding conversion. Up to 1800, evangelicals almost universally believed and preached that God must sovereignly give someone a new nature to enable him or her to repent and believe. By the 1830s, this was widely replaced by an understanding of conversion in which the decision to repent and believe lay entirely within an individual’s own power.
This led to (or, in some cases, followed) a shift in evangelistic practice. Many evangelicals adopted practices that sought to bring about an immediate decision. The ‘anxious bench,’ the altar call, singling people out personally in public prayer, warning hearers to respond immediately or else lose their chance to repent – all these practices and more grew out of the new belief that conversion was something within a person’s power to achieve, or even to effect in others.
The result of these two shifts was that church leaders began to regard revival as something that could be infallibly secured through the use of proper means – ‘proper’ being whatever would induce an immediate decision or external token of decision. This understanding was most vigorously promoted by Charles Finney, but by the end of the Second Great Awakening it had become a given among a strong majority of American evangelicals. Historian William McLoughlin even went so far as to say that by the mid-nineteenth century, this new system was the national religion of the United States.
Thus, revivalism was born. To be sure, revivalism grew up in the soil of genuine revival. But this new practice of revivalism radically differed from the previous understanding of revival it so quickly supplanted. A ‘revival’ became synonymous with a meeting designed to promote revival. Unlike previous generations, evangelicals after 1830 gained the ability, so to speak, to put a revival on the calendar months in advance.
The goal of such revivals was to secure as many immediate decisions for Christ as possible. As such, awareness of the possibility of false conversion seemed to simply vanish from the evangelical consciousness. Few asked whether their new measures just might create as many false converts as true disciples.