Methodist revival in USA 1839, watercolor from 1839 Second Great Awakening
The definition of “conversion” that seemed to gain currency during the Great Awakening also must be condemned. Biblical conversion is not having an emotional high that changes behavior for a certain matter of time, even a lifetime. Neither is it having some mystical experience of God or Christ. Rather, it is the work of God in a person such that he comes to have true beliefs concerning Christ and Christ’s work of redemption on his behalf, and responds in loving gratitude by obedience to the Ten Commandments. These are the meanings of the terms ‘faith’ and ‘repentance’ in scripture, and it is faith and repentance that marks the elect of God. Part of the obedience that God requires of his elect is a striving after a correct understanding of what God prescribes, not a depreciation of the importance of doctrinal issues. Furthermore, such a work of conversion can happen in the ordinary course of a person’s experience such that they are unaware of any specific “conversion experience”, as it did in the lives of many believers in scripture. Christ never put the emphasis on some conversion experience, but rather the emphasis was upon belief in the truth and grateful obedience (i.e., faith and repentance). But if reformed churches grant that a ‘conversion experience’, as it came to be improperly understood by many during and after the Great Awakening, is the sine qua non of Christianity, then such churches should write their last will and testament, stipulating the Arminians as the beneficiary of the estate. It should come as no surprise that Arminian Methodists and Baptists rose in the decades following the Great Awakening, even as adherence to the historic reformed faith declined. Biblical faith and repentance is perhaps less ‘thrilling’ and ‘glamorous’ than the emotional charge of a revival meeting, but it is infinitely more valuable.
~ J. Parnell McCarter, AN ESSAY ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE GREAT AWAKENING