Riley Case

Faith and Fury Eli Farmer on the Frontier

This book was released on September 19, 2018 by the Indiana Historical Society. The Indiana Historical Society is known for its You Are There live interactive exhibits and from September, 2018 through Spring 2020 the exhibit will feature an incident out of the Eli Farmer book that took place in Danville, Indiana on May 14, 1839. It involves a great revival in which a Methodist (Eli Farmer) and the Methodists actually cooperated with Baptists and Presbyterians.

The book is actually Eli Farmer's autobiography and covers his life through 80 years. Much of that time he was a Methodist circuit rider who (by his statistics) took 5,000 members into the church. Much of the book covers the Western Revival, especially the years 1820- 1840.  During that time while the population of Indiana increased by over 3,000% Methodism grew by over 9,000%. Camp meetings were perhaps the biggest reason for the increase. The book explores how these camp meetings introduced some practices and emphases that helped redefine the word "evangelical" in the American context. Some of these include the introduction of the "altar," camp meeting music, the necessity of conversion for church membership and a movement toward sectarianism and individualism in American religion.

Of course Eli Farmer did other things besides ride the circuit and hold camp meetings.  He got into brawls; he was a state senator; he held his own evangelistic crusade among the slaves before the Civil War; he was in the army during he War of 1812; he tried to be in the army during the Civil War but was (obviously) too old so he became a volunteer chaplain; he was editor of a rabble-rousing newspaper.

Some excerpts

On preaching to the Indians: p. 80.  "My friends of the 'Creek Nation" were fond of attending church.  I could frequently tell when I entered their territory by the foot-prints leading off in the direction of the place of worship, the prints being made with moccasins."

On the religious culture of the West, p.70:  "But in the West, at least in the opening decades of the nineteenth century, there was no established religious culture and, therefore, no established standards to determine what constituted religious extremism.  Revivalism did not challenge the prevailing culture since there was nothing to challenge. Revivalism became part of and helped to create the religious culture on the frontier.  Thus, if revivalism stressed religious experience, religious experience became part of the religious culture.  If distinctions based on class or wealth or gender or race were blurred in revivalism, so, too, where they blurred in the religious culture.  If revivalism emphasized the importance of the individual as opposed to outside authorities and tradition, so developed a religious culture that lent itself to sectarianism, or the creation of numerous Christian denominations, each with specific doctrinal beliefs that separated them from other denominations or sects..."

On the introduction of the altar and its identification with the "invitation."  p. 44: "There is no precedent for anything like the revivalist's altar at any time or at any place or for any other group within Christendom before the first decade of the 1800's.  The American camp meeting introduced the use of the altar; it was not used by the Wesleys in England nor during the First Great Awakening in the North Atlantic states.  It was, in fact, not used even at Cane Ridge, nor in any of the camp meetings described before about 1807 to 1810."