The colonists who launched the drive for American freedom in 1776 had no guarantee of success. Today, looking back, we tend to forget the uncertainties facing the patriot cause. Britain was powerful; the colonies not only were weak but had little sense of national identity and cooperation. Many colonists were opposed to defiance of royal authority, often on theological grounds. But in the providence of God a new, independent nation was launched, somewhat shakily to be sure, under the weak Articles of Confederation and with slavery and the widespread mistreatment of American Indians contradicting many of the lofty assertions of the Declaration of Independence.
From a biblical point of view, the birth of the republic left many questions unanswered. Although the Founding Fathers were greatly even if unwittingly influenced by their Protestant, and especially Puritan, heritage, most of them were at best theists. Unitarianism was soon to emerge as predominant in eastern Massachusetts, the erstwhile stronghold of Puritan orthodoxy. The Great Awakening had brought many converts into the body of Christ and contributed in various unintended ways to the political revolution of 1776. But the Awakening had climaxed a full generation before the Revolution. With the important but little noticed exception of certain frontier areas, revival fires had been considerably dampened by the fervor for independence and by the acceptance of Enlightenment skepticism about the truthfulness of biblical revelation.
But what Christians there were during the struggle for independence did not resign themselves to a dwindling minority status. They boldly preached Christ. Countless individuals in the backwoods evangelized, using various methods—some tightly ...1
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