[quote=LtTony]I’m aware of what Scripture says regarding born again. I’m more interested in the origins of the modern movement.
As I now understand it, this genre of believers – often dismissed as fundamentalists, born agains, Bible thumpers – got their start from a 19th century American preacher. That the “born again” concept (as most of us Catholics understand it) wasn’t really common among protestants until then.
Can anyone identify this preacher? Links to him or a history of the movement? I have already Googled fundmentalism and got enough info to work with, but not this possible offshoot of the fundies.
That’s not really true. This kind of experiental language goes back to at least the 17th century. The Puritans spoke of being born again in an experiental sense (read Bunyan, for instance), and about the same time the Lutheran Pietists began using this language. In the 18th century there were widespread “Evangelical Revivals,” especially in Britain and North America, in which people experienced a conversion which they identified with regeneration. You probably have in mind Charles Finney, an important evangelist of the early 19th century, in what was called the “Second Great Awakening” (the first one being in the 18th century). You’re right inasmuch as Finney was the one who really emphasized personal decision-making–he rejected Calvinism (well, he claimed he just modified it, but he actually went further than the Methodists in throwing it overboard–and the whole Catholic conception of grace with it), and taught that accepting salvation was fully within the scope of people’s free will. Grace, according to Finney, was simply a form of persuasion by the Holy Spirit (contradicting pretty much the entire previous Christian tradition, Catholic and Protestant). People responded to the offer of salvation by natural ability, aided (rather than enabled, as in the Augustinian tradition) by grace. So in that sense a lot of what modern evangelicals/fundamentalists mean by being “born again” does stem from Finney. But his theology is often not understood or fully accepted, even when his methods are used. And many people who speak of being born again (Calvinists, for instance) loathe Finney and all his works. I think the Puritans and Pietists are more central to the tradition than Finney is. But it’s a matter of definition.
One other note–evangelicalism, or the “born again” tradition, does not derive from fundamentalism, but the other way round. Fundamentalism is the conservative wing of the older 19th-century evangelicalism. Modern evangelicals (or “neo-evangelicals”) are a derivative of fundamentalism who see themselves as recapturing older emphases and rejecting the rigidness and anti-intellectualism of modern fundamentalism.
I recommend anything by George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, or Mark Noll. These three guys have done a great deal to illuminate the history of evangelicalism.