New voices and new tendencies

One does not have to be a skeptic to question the thesis that the dominant element in the founding of the American Republic was the Puritan tradition. By the time of the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress, under the impact of latitudinarianism, deism, and the Enlightenment, let alone the laws of spiritual atrophy, the witness of biblical Protestantism was on a pretty shaky footing among the articulate class of the new nation. The picture changed very greatly in the early decades of the nineteenth century, but this did not alter the spirit of ’76. And it is here, at the point of origin, that the contrast with Canada is great.

In 1867, when the four British North American provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia came together in a federal union, evangelical Protestantism was everywhere very much in evidence. The Methodists, since the turn of the century the dominant form of evangelicalism in British America, still retained this position. The impact of idealism, scientism, and biblical criticism had scarcely been felt, although the emergence of a fashionable and popular evangelicalism, which testified to the Church’s attempt to accommodate to growing urbanization, already disturbed the discerning. In Canadian Presbyterianism, as in Scotland and Ireland, the long reign of Moderatism was a thing of the past, and the churches associated with the dynamic evangelicalism of Chalmers and the Free Church were forging ahead. A similar situation prevailed among the Baptists. And, although evangelicalism had been fairly slow in gaining an effective Anglican foothold in the new world, by the 1860s the evangelicals were a force to be reckoned with in many key Anglican ...

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