American Originals: The Nineteenth Century's New Christianities

Sources: Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (Simon & Schuster, 1992); Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Eerdmans, 1992); Brian Moynahan, The Faith (Doubleday, 2000).

Reading: 1 John 4.

Protestant movements proliferate that claim to restore a "fallen away" Church
Yet these too arise both out of and against their American cultural contexts
Harold Bloom: American religion envisions individual human likeness to a favorable God

"You are gods" (Ps. 82:6, John 10:34): Latter-Day Saints
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young uncover and continue a lost American history of Israel
Mormons endure American persecution, adjust to his new visions, wander through wilderness, conquer a new Zion, build a hierarchical and priestly theocracy
Adoptionist theology (Lorenzo Snow: "as man is, God once was; as God is, man may become")
Film parable: The Truman Show
After 1890 Mormons deemphasize earlier features (esp. polygamy), rejoin the USA, patriotize
Missions and large families grow the movement to 11 million (?) worldwide in 2000
Covert or mainstream? How many Mormons believe historical Mormon doctrines?

Mind over Matter: Christian Scientists, Unity Church
Phineas Quimby, ex-mesmerist, heals injured and frail Mary Baker Eddy in 1862
A second fall after Quimby's death sparks Eddy's discovery that the world of suffering is unreal
Church incorporation in 1879 restores Christianity's original feature of healing
Docetic theology: one wills knowledge against "Malicious Animal Magnetism" (cf. Mesmer)
Christian science pits transcendentalism against empiricism, idealism against nature
Film parable: The Matrix
Class-bound and troubled by its members' unremitting deaths, it has declined to 1.5 million (?)

Like It's 1999: Adventists
William Miller calculates the millennial return of Jesus in 10/22/1843, then 10/22/1844
Ellen White's visions begin months after the Millerite "Great Disappointment"
This is taken as the date Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary (cf. Dan. 8:14)
White's visions and teachings are idiosyncratic and theologically authoritative
Borderline orthodox theology (but Satan, not Jesus, bears the world's sins!)
Visions move from apocalypticism to health consciousness (diet, cleanliness, health care)
Critique of American worldliness ironically fuels an ethic that enriches, mainstreams Adventists
(but not all: David Koresh's Branch Davidians reclaim original Adventist dynamics)
Growth spreads Adventism to 12 million (?), ~10% in America
Film parable: The Rapture

The Un-Americans: Jehovah's Witnesses
Millerite Charles Taze Russell leaves Adventists, announces 1878 as end of the world
Then 1881, 1914; then successor Rutherford predicts 1925; then human existence ends 1975
Arian theology: Jesus is the archangel Michael; the world is destined for destruction
Witnesses gather 144,000 Elect, then multitudes of "Jonadabs" ("sheep"); others are "goats"
Witnesses exult in factual, historicist chronologies of biblical apocalyptic (cf. Left Behind )
Otherworldliness leaves Witnesses out of military, government, education, big business
Witnesses' tireless missions grow the movement to 15 million worldwide

Twentieth Century Innovations: Pentecostals, Nation of Islam, The New Age, Oprah ...
American Christianities and "parachristianities" continue to draw on cultural themes:
ndividualism, optimism, eschatologies of Israel, apocalypticism, restorationism, modernism, Christological and Trinitarian revisionism, Transcendentalism or materialism
Which of these communities are still churches? Whose story are they telling?