Answered by Fire

The Cane Ridge Revival Reconsidered

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Pub Date 26 Jan 2021 | Archive Date 16 Aug 2022

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The Cane Ridge Revival of August 1801 has been called “America’s Pentecost.” It brought together in the backwoods of Kentucky many thousands of people who, despite their denominational differences, joined in fasting, prayer, singing, and preaching to seek renewal. 

Presiding over the six-day event was Barton Warren Stone, a Presbyterian minister. Stone said that he and others had prayed for a revival, and that God “answered by fire; for he poured out his spirit in ways almost miraculous.” Hundreds were converted, and thousands experienced visible, often dramatic manifestations of God’s presence. 

Stirred by the experience of Cane Ridge, a loose network of congregations formed, sometimes called “New Light,” more often simply “Christian.” The beginnings of modern-day Churches of Christ are rooted precisely here.

Drawing upon the most recent scholarship, this volume explores such questions as: 

• What was the British background to Cane Ridge?

• What were the controversial “exercises”?

• What was the role of women and blacks in the revival?

• How did the revival shape the new “Christian” movement?

• And what became of the revival theology with which it was born?

The Cane Ridge Revival of August 1801 has been called “America’s Pentecost.” It brought together in the backwoods of Kentucky many thousands of people who, despite their denominational differences...

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This book looks at the Cane Ridge Revival in three (3) parts, with three (3) chapters each:

I. Cane Ridge In Context
1. “Glorious Days of the Outpouring of the Spirit of God” The Second Great Awakening
2. The Champion of Christian Freedom and the Cane Ridge Revival
3. “Answered by Fire” What Really Happened at Cane Ridge?
II. Exploring Cane Ridge
4. Cane Ridge as a Communion Festival
5. Barton Stone, Cane Ridge, and Slavery
6. “The Reproof of a Weak Woman” Women Exhorters at Cane Ridge
III. Reconsidering Cane Ridge
7. Was Cane Ridge America’s Pentecost?
8. Revivalism, the Holy Spirit, and Unity
9. The Eclipse of Cane Ridge in the Restoration Movement

The Cane Ridge Revival can be placed withing the American Second Great Awaking that was characterized by large revival meetings focused on evangelization, spiritual renewal and charismatic experience in the early 19th century, from which a number of reformist/restorationist denominations were formed ... among them the LDS and Seventh-day Adventists churches from the "Burned-over" District in western NY as well as the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ ( Christian Churches of the the Stone-Campbell movement, which arguable tracks its beginning to 1801 in Cane Ridge KY. Although I grew-up as a preacher's kid in the Disciples tradition, there was a lot about our history that I never really paid much attention to until much later; so, this history has a specific appeal to be that some readers may not share.

The Context centers around what happened at Cane Ridge. In keeping with the American "frontier spirit," the revival built upon a "rugged individualism" that valued simple life and a utilitarian elimination of non-essentials that leads to a rejection of the elitism and clericalism found in the established Protestant denominations ... which is why it comes as a surprise to me to learn that the revival was nominally under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church with an ecumenical welcome to Methodists, Baptists and basically any who were open to a new birth in the Holy Spirit. Stone takes the lead here as he promotes individual freedom (from formal church dogma) along with a unity born out of a more simplified definition of who was Christian (allowing for divergent beliefs where there was no scriptural proscription). The ecstatic religious experience of the participants (called religious exercises that included 'falling,' 'dancing,' 'jerks' and other Pentecostal gift) convinced them of the support of the Holy Spirit ... enough so that this awakening is sometimes referred to as the American Pentecost.

Exploring Cane Ridge is a more intellectual survey of how the revival movement didn't just suddenly happen, but grew out of an existing tradition of communion festivals that ministered out in the countryside ... and I was completely unaware of what these were or how they were connected and probably enjoyed this part for than any other. The next two chapters detailed how expectations of racial and gender equality found support within the movement (or at least a move in that direction). "Authority to exhort rested in the individual’s conversion experience rather than their race, sex, age, or clerical status." To me, this had echos of St Paul's exhortation to the Galatians, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." One connection that I had never made before, was the impact of the American idea of the separation of church and state, which removed the authority of the state to dictate church affairs and gave tremendous power to the laity that resulted in a competitive religious marketplace where a diverse church could be explored.

Looking back today, the next part reviews the lasting impact Cane Ridge had on the Christian Church and shows how Stone's emotional, spirit based revival theology slowly lost ground to the more 'rational' exploration of salvation detailed in scripture (providing comfort and direction for those whom the "religious exercises" did not manifest). Campbell's message of "restoring" the primitive church based upon “ancient gospel and order of things” took the lead after Stone's "fire" cleared away the “creeds, councils, and human dogma” that only serve to separate us. Part III is this part of the story and brings us up to the where I am most familiar.

Over all, this was a great book explaining of how the Christian Church movement began and evolved on the American frontier to pursue the ideal of one Universal Church. I like to think that they paved the way for some of the reform that we have seen in the older traditions to be more connected and relevant to the rank and file laity so that we all can have a personal relationship with Christ.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
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