It took two novels for Casey Kuipers to pull off a conversion. He wrote three of them, mid-Depression, "mission post novels," he called them. Nobody "got saved" in the first one; no one got baptized. But someone does in the second. An old Zuni man who suffered tribal shunning after being accused of witchcraft, an old man who dies soon after asking for baptism, turns his life over to the Lord.
The circumstances for his conversion are worth mentioning because Kuipers carefully engineers it. The missionaries at Zuni pueblo come up with an idea: they ask some Hopi Christians to come by for a revival of sorts, even though, quite frankly, there's no one there to revive.
The Hopi evangelists come but some of them are frauds, and the Zuni people see it, even though the missionaries don't. It's not pretty. The Hopis leave, the missionaries try to pick up the pieces, and lo and behold an old man who heard the Hopis preach says what they said from the pulpit convinced him to accept Jesus into his life. The frauds did God's work--that's the story.
In the last few days, Bill Gothard resigned from the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a long-time para-church ministry which, some say, helped thousands upon thousands. Gothard's "Basic Life Principles Seminar" was the first real Christian fad I'd ever experienced, even though I never attended. Years and years ago, a three-ring binder full of BLP righteousness was considered by some people I knew as essential for the Christian life as the Apostles Creed.
Through the years, many Basic Life Principles graduates had to have been helped by Gothard's weekend seminars, even if its founder and guru couldn't keep his hands off young girls. It's altogether likely he was so convinced of his own sanctification that he didn't recognize the horror in his hands. Gothard is a tragic figure--a man with considerable strengths who goes into a tail spin he doesn't see even though he's at the controls, even when his own brother was long ago shown the door after sexual abuse with several office staff. Still, a couple days ago Christianity Today published a note from one of his broken-hearted followers who claimed his life was changed by BLP. I don't doubt that's true.
Some of the excesses of the Second Great Awakening are not only silly but reprehensible. Revivalists used the imminence of the Second Coming to terrorize, preached the possibility of human perfectionism, and railed against any fellowship didn't fall into lockstep emotionalism. It stampeded people into religious frenzy, into horrific divisiveness, may well have created an entire denomination--the Mormons.
No single name is as central to the movement than Charles G. Finney, the man some call "the father of revivalism," the man who originally called the northern New York region where he conducted initial revivals, "the burned-over district." "Toast" is essentially what successive revivals created in the neighborhood of the Erie Canal.
Finney's own enthusiasms eventually melded into something less frenetic when it attached itself to social issues like temperance. All that wild itinerant ranting got him to Oberlin College, which became the seed bed for anti-slavery sentiment in this country, and the first institution of higher learning to admit women and African-Americans. Oberlin missionaries--good and bad--left for Native tribes across the face of the continent.
All three are amazing stories, whose plot lines are repeated time and time again among the highly spiritual. Somehow God almighty uses filthy rags to spin his quilts. Somehow, He grows beauty in a thousand cracked pots.
Not a bad thought for Lent.