The emergence of an American, capitalist ecclesiology in the independent Christian churches : an analysis of how the Stone-Campbell restoration movement created a new theological tradition based on Scottish common sense philosophy
This thesis identifies and describes the fundamental theological positions of the Independent Christian Churches, one of three main branches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, an upstart church that had its beginnings on the American frontier in the early nineteenth century. The Independent Christian Churches theology is dependent upon the particular hermeneutic method developed by the Movement's founders and this thesis explores the implications of the Independent Christian Churches hermeneutic. This hermeneutic is based on the epistemological assumptions of the philosophy of Scottish Common Sense Realism, and the theological positions of the Independent Christian Churches is a result of the amalgamation of this Common Sense hermeneutic, the experience of the Stone-Campbell Movement with the antebellum American landscape, the adaptation of core American values (individualism, equality, and freedom), the adoption of the widespread American expectation of a millennial dawn, and the embrace of American capitalism. The leaders of the Restoration Movement believed that they were not engaged in theological speculation, but were simply proclaiming the clear teaching of the "Bible alone". The result of this disregard of theology is that Independents produce few formal works of theology as such, and Independent theology is primarily advanced through histories of the Restoration Movement and through the developing beliefs and practices of an individual congregation. This thesis deals with the development of Independent Christian Churches theology from its inception in the early nineteenth century to the present day. In the theological formulations of the Independent Christian Churches, theology is subsumed under other discourses and, while theological language is retained, such language is actually a facade for the epistemology of Scottish Common Sense Realism, American ideals of individualism, equality, and freedom, and capitalist economics. As the intellectual foundations that undergird the Scottish Common Sense hermeneutic fragmented and the experience of the American frontier faded away, they left behind the theological formulations created in response to this philosophy and to this experience, leaving the impression among adherents of the Independent Christian Churches that their religion was actually based on "the Bible alone". Without recourse to either of these narratives, capitalist economics has provided a new metanarrative for the Independent Christian Churches which offers new options for faith and practice. Under the circumstances that the Independent Christian Churches have created for theological discourse, where the continuities with Christian history and Christian theology have been sundered, theology is dependent on secular discourses in order to proceed. Therefore, this is an interdisciplinary investigation that draws upon the discourses of theology, philosophy, hermeneutics, history, sociology, and economics; fundamentally its concern is theological, and it is more specifically concerned with ecclesiology.