Discovering an Evangelical Heritage

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Author: Donald Dayton
Review Summary: Kerry L. Skinner


*This book is a product of the author’s struggle to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable heritage in his own experience: the Evangelical heritage in which he was reared and values bequeathed him by the student movements of the 1960’s.

Though the author writes through his own struggles, the book gives great history of revival movements. Worth the read.

*Dayton believed that the Evangelicals of the 1960’s completely missed the point of rightness from the aspect of reformation.

*Cut loose from Evangelicalism, I threw myself into the secular education of Columbia University and went to Yale Divinity School, seeking a theological reconstruction that could bring my intellectual world back together.

Chapter 1
Jonathan Blanchard: The Radical Founder of Wheaton College

The author is seeking to find reformers among evangelicals who will help him gain confidence in his heritage. His beginning thoughts are very negative.

*He believes that Wheaton College is a single symbol of modern Evangelicalism. This is positive for the author because his beliefs affirm Blanchard’s statement at Oberlin college that stated, “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.”

Blanchard’s greatest position that affirms what Dayton wants to find is summed up by this statement, “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

Chapter 2
Reform in the Life and Thought of Evangelist Charles G. Finney

Finney was to practice law but in studying the Bible to understand Mosaic legislation had a profound conversion. The next morning he said to a client, “Deacon, I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours.”

His message was primarily to the church.
Finney believed reform was not to be substituted for revival but revival should produce reforms. He also believed that a great resistance to reform was one of the greatest “hindrances of revival.”

He spoke strongly to the church and the issue of slavery. Finney said that if the church fails to speak against slavery, “she is perjured, and the spirit of God departs from her.”

Finney believed that revival was primary but not without the ministers and churches making bold approaches of reform toward society.

Chapter 3
Theodore Weld: Evangelical Reformer

Theodore Weld was one of the foremost antislavery worker, “converted under the ministry of Finney and for a while the evangelist’s assistant.”

Yet, he tried to remain in obscurity. He refused professorship of Theology at Oberlin, declined speaking at convention, and published his works anonymously.

“Weld was a major force in pushing Finney toward one of his controversial “new measures”–that of allowing women to speak in “promiscuous” or mixed assemblies.”

HE used revival tactics to preach on abolition. He would start in a local church, a riot would begin, he would have to move to another place, and then usually leave behind a few converts.

Weld lost his voice and retired from lecturing to write “Bible Argument against Slavery.”

Chapter 4
The Lane Rebellion and the Founding of Oberlin College

“Many of today’s Christian colleges were founded to be ‘little Oberlins.’”
“But Oberlin and its supporters also made major contributions to feminism, the peace movement, the doctrine of civil disobedience, temperance, and other reforms of the area.”
Lyman Beecher had become president at the urging of Finney.
The Oberlin covenant contained twelve items that made the distinctness [pp. 37-38].
“Oberlinism” was a complex ideology. Finney insisted that Oberlin ‘make the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of Christians the paramount work and subordinate to this all the educational operations.”

“But Oberlin would have nothing to do with the Christian faith unrelated to reform and boasted the Oberlin college has been greatly successful in making her students intelligent and vigorous reformers.”

“The Oberlin Church passed a resolution that “as Slavery is a Sin no person shall be invited to preach or Minister to this church, or any Br. be invited to commune who is a slaveholder.”

Oberlin was the first co-educational college in the world.

“Oberlin was deeply permeated by the health food movement of that time. Shipherd, Stewart, Mahan, Weld, and Finney, were all disciples of Sylvester Graham, inventor of the ‘Graham Cracker.’”

Chapter 5
Civil Disobedience and the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Case

“The college was one of the most important ‘stations,’ and hundreds of escaped slaves passed through Oberlin.”

“The college maintained a Fund for Fugitives, and expenses were often paid out of the public funds.”

Finney even introduced a resolution for the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. The federal governments passing of a Federal Slave Law of 1850 offended Finney and Oberlin. Finney’s response was, “We are bound in all cases to disobey, when human legislation contravenes moral law, or invades the rights of conscience.”

Both students and faculty practiced civil disobedience.

Two people were put in prison for helping slaves escape. Out of this came an elaborate work of rescuing them, called the Oberlin-Wellington rescue case.

Chapter 6
Arthur and Lewis Tappan: The Businessman As Reformer

“The major financial backing and organizational leadership behind the abolitionist crusade derived from the man who founded Dun and Bradstreet.”

“The Tappans lived there[Northampton] for a time in the old house of Jonathan Edwards”

“In New York the Tappan brothers later became the major financial supporters of evangelist Charles G. Finney.”

Arthur Tappan accomplishments:

  • Founder of the Journal of Commerce in 1827
  • Authored a pamphlet entitled Is It Right to Be Rich? (1869)
  • Major contributor to the American Bible Society; American Tract Society
  • Founded a Magdalen Society to fight prostitution
  • Committed to the Temperance Movement
  • Active in the General Union for Promoting the Observance of the Christian Sabbath
  • Supported the “free church” where pews were open to all regardless of class or wealth
  • Pledged entire one year salary (100,000) to Oberlin
  • Had a bounty on his head by southern officials for supporting the abolitionist

Chapter 7
Orange Scott, Luther Lee, and the Wesleyan Methodists

“Within Methodism, however, the antislavery struggle produced a new antislavery denomination, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America.”

“Scott studied the Liberator of William Lloyd Garrison…then spent one hundred dollars of his own money (no small amount in that time for a Methodist preacher!) to subscribe to the Liberator for three months in the name of one hundred ministers of the New England Conference.”

“Luther Lee preached the ordination sermon for Antoinette Brown, apparently the first woman in history to be fully ordained to the Christian ministry.”

Scott and Lee believed their duty was to attack and condemn all wrong and proclaim righteousness.

Chapter 8
The Evangelical Roots of Feminism

“By and large, today’s Evangelicals have been dead set against the recent movement of women’s liberation.”

Oberlin was a major contributor.
“Lucy Stone, Oberlin class of 1847, refused to take her husband’s name in marriage and was known as “Mrs. Stone.”

“…in the 1830s abolitionism spawned the women’s rights movements.”

“In the next decade (the 1860s) some Wesleyan Methodists began to ordain women, nearly a century in advance of the Methodist Episcopal Church.””

“Baptist A. J. Gordon provides an interesting variation on these themes. Gordon was the major figure behind what was developed into Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, the major Evangelical educational institutions in New England. His son and biographer indicates that Gordon had ‘been bred in the strictest sect of the abolitionists’ and with regard to women ‘advocated their complete enfranchisement and their entrance into every political and social privilege enjoyed by men.”

“…in an essay on “The Ministry of Women” in the Missionary Review of the Word (1894)…he argued that ‘in every great spiritual awakening in the history of Protestantism the impulse for Christian women to pray and witness for Christ in the public assembly has been found irrepressible.’”

“In the early years of the Evangelical Free church…a widely distributed pamphlet entitled ‘The Prophesying Daughters,’ Fredrick Franson, an early leader of the movement and founder of the Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), defended the right of women to preach.”

The Salvation Army (Catherine Booth) made the most progress with women preachers.

“A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, rejected the idea that Christ’s incarnation was as a male.”

“Hannah Whitall Smith, author of the widely read religious classic The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life” includes a Bible study titled, “God As Our Mother.”

Chapter 9
Anointed to Preach the Gospel to the Poor

The Civil War was a major transition point in the Evangelical social consciousness.

1860 there were “tensions in upstate New York” leading to the “founding of the Free Methodist Church. The word free stood for a number of things, including abolitionism and the principle of the ‘free pews.’”
“Phineas F. Bresee felt called in the 1890s into ministry to the poor of inner-city Los Angeles. In 1895 he began the Church of the Nazarene.

“The name Church of the Nazarene was chose to symbolize ‘the toiling, lowly mission of Christ’ by taking a ‘name which was used in derision of Him by His enemies.’”


  • Ex-convict Jerry McAuley began the most famous rescue mission, Water Street Mission
  • Salvation Army came to America about 1880

Chapter 10
Whatever Happened to Evangelicalism?

  1. First is the difficulty of maintaining for a long period of time any movement with the intensity of, for example, the Oberlin commitment to the antislavery struggle.
  2. The Civil War impacted the movement. For example prior to the Civil War revivalists started liberal arts colleges and after the war established Bible schools.
  3. There was a reversal of theology by many as they moved from the movement of Finney (Oberlin) to the Princeton theology.
  4. “Though Baptist, Gordon stood very much in the tradition of Finney and, as such, was often the subject of sharp polemics of Benjamin B. Warfield, the major exponent of the Princeton Theology at the turn of the century. Yet more recently Gordon-Conwell has become one of the major advocacy centers of the Princeton Theology mediated through Westminister Theological Seminary. Similar shifts occurred at Congregationalist Wheaton College, and by the 1950s even the Wesleyan Methodists were advocating certain formulations of the Princeton Theology.”
  5. Dayton believed that this theology was too conservative to produce new social reform.
  6. Dayton believes that this new theology sets itself against the American Revivalism that produced reforms. Though, from my observation, today’s theology does produce reform.
  7. Dayton believed that this difference would lead evangelicalism to move more toward doctrine than social reform.
  8. Biblical criticism was probably the nail in the coffin on the Oberlin theology.


“The modern type of Evangelicalism with its roots in Princeton places a premium on ‘right doctrine’ and the preservation of a particular brand of ‘orthodoxy.’ Eighteenth and nineteenth century Evangelicalism, on the other hand, was more concerned with the personal appropriation of grace—with conversion and the ‘new life’ that follows the ‘new birth.’”