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The Restoration Movement (4) The Influence of the Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment had a significant influence on the Campbell movement. Thomas Campbell was also a student of the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. While he did not explicitly use the term “essentials” in the Declaration and Address, Thomas proposed the same solution to religious division as had been advanced earlier by Herbert and Locke: “[R]educe religion to a set of essentials upon which all reasonable persons might agree.” The essentials he identified were those practices for which the Bible provided: “a ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ either in express terms or by approved precedent.” Unlike Locke, who considered the earlier efforts by Puritans to be inherently divisive, Thomas argued for “a complete restoration of apostolic Christianity.” Thomas believed that creeds served to divide Christians. He also believed that the Bible was clear enough that anyone could understand it and, thus, creeds were unnecessary. It was Thomas Campbell who stated, “We will speak where the Scriptures speak, and remain silent where they are silent.”

Alexander Campbell was also deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking, as introduced in the Scottish School of Common Sense of Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart. This group believed that the Bible related concrete facts rather than abstract truths and advocated a scientific or “Baconian” approach to interpreting the Bible. It would begin with those facts, arrange the ones applicable to a given topic, and draw conclusions from them in a way that has been described as “nothing less than the scientific method applied to the Bible.” Alexander reflected this Baconian approach when he repeatedly argued that “the Bible is a book of facts, not of opinions, theories, abstract generalities, nor of verbal definitions.” Just as a reliance on facts provides the basis for agreement among scientists, Alexander believed that if Christians limited themselves to the facts found in the Bible they would necessarily come to agreement. He believed that those facts, approached in a rational and scientific manner, provided a blueprint or constitution for the church. Alexander was attracted to this scientific approach to the Bible because it offered a reliable basis for Christian unity.

Characteristics of the Campbell movement

Thomas Campbell combined the Enlightenment approach to unity with the Reformed and Puritan traditions of restoration. The Enlightenment affected the Campbell movement in two ways. First, it provided the idea that Christian unity could be achieved by finding a set of essentials that all reasonable people could agree on. Second, it also provided the concept of a rational faith that was formulated and defended based on facts derived from the Bible. Campbell’s solution to achieve Christian unity combined forsaking the creeds and traditions, which he believed had divided Christians, and recovering the primitive Christianity, found in scripture, that was common for all Christians.

Alexander Campbell’s millennialism was more optimistic than Stone’s. He had more confidence in the potential for human progress and believed that Christians could unite to transform the world and initiate a millennial age. Campbell’s conceptions were postmillennial, as he anticipated that the progress of the church and society would lead to an age of peace and righteousness before the return of Christ. This optimistic approach meant that, in addition to his commitment to primitivism, he had a progressive strand in his thinking.

(This was edited and adapted from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia listing on Christian Restoration. The copies of portraits, photographs, references, sources, and sections on future issues along with some charts are not included. You are encouraged to read the full posting at

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