‘The scene to me was new and passing strange,” wrote Presbyterian pastor Barton Stone as he witnessed a revival in Kentucky in the spring of 1801. “Many, very many fell down, as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state—sometimes for a few moments reviving, and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan, or piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy most fervently uttered.”

Small revivals like this kindled that bonfire we call the Cane Ridge Revival, what historian Paul Conkin said is “arguably … the most important religious gathering in all of American history.”

One witness described the scene as events at Cane Ridge reached their climax: “Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convoluted. Professors [believers] praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress for sinners, or in raptures of joy! Some singing, some shouting, clapping their hands, hugging and even kissing, laughing; others talking to the distressed, to one another, or to opposers of the work, and all this at once.”

So affecting was this event, that in the decades that followed, the prayer of camp meetings across the land was “Lord, make it like Cane Ridge.”

Revivals like Cane Ridge are the most dramatic illustration of the point made in the first essay in this series. Historian Perry Miller called Puritan faith a version of Augustinian piety, a piety that is found in the best of American evangelicalism. As Miller put it in talking about the Puritans:

As long as it remained alive, its real being was not in doctrines but behind them; the impetus came from an urgent sense of man’s predicament, ...
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Evangelical Distinctives
Christianity Today's editor in chief considers what it means to be an evangelical Christian today, drawing on the movement's history, theology, and spirituality.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is former editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
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