America was largely shaped by perfectionists with a solid-as-concrete agenda for developing society along the lines of a "Shining city on a hill".
The evangelism of the Puritan era was quite different from today. It contained the central belief that the world would be perfected by the Gospel one converted sinner at a time in one perfected village at a time in one perfected nation at a time like the spread of sunlight dawning on a landscape.
Just before C.T.Russell came along this Puritan perfectionism had met with setbacks that had eroded the self-confident attitude considerably. Various wars punctured the dream significantly. The Civil War had turned brother against brother, for one thing. The War of 1812 had smothered the enthusiam of optimistic perfectionists.
America went through violent upheaval that tested the Theology of many and found it wanting.
Programs for developing poverty stricken areas, for reforming drunks, for educating the ignorant, for getting women involved in politics and for various reform movements came and went without much success.
Religious people were at wit's end!
That is when they most became vulnerable to END TIMES speculations and William Miller's sermons about the imminent Armageddon event! Eagerly, believers hungry for something to happen SOON, seized the Adventist idea.
Baptist churches were split by Adventist certainty that Jesus would return and finish the "perfecting" job now! Then, slowly; other churches were split by the same innovative idea. Expectations rose rapidly.
The Great Disappointment fractured cohesive mainstream churches into splinter groups who were angry, disenfranchised and spoiling for confrontations. The "new thinkers" were licking their wounds; not ready to be proved wrong so easily. They became divisions, denominations, cults, etc.
NEW IDEAS were sought. NEW WAYS of thinking about the world became possible for the first time.
When Darwin's theory of Evolution appeared something happened that had never happened before!
Mainstream religionists who were at loggerheads with splinter denominations used Evolution as a battering ram. The local denominations, splinter groups and cults fought back by embracing NEW ideas like Evolution for an IN YOUR FACE rebuttal of sorts.
A wave of revolutionary ideas split the factions down the middle.
(The Scopes Monkey Trial gave a bifurcated public the spectacle of confrontation it craved. "Old Time Religion" was exposed as backward, hard-headed, ignorant, stiff-necked and over-confident. The battle lines were permanently drawn. Rational "modern" believers separated from Fundamentalists who wouldn't budge an inch.)
C.T.Russell was just one of many people who seized the day, as it were, to put 'FRESH' theology forward for consideration. This was easier than you might imagine.
It is like a vacuum cleaner salesman coming to your door and demonstrating how pitiful your broom is compared to new technology! The backward Perfectionist failures could not stand against NEW thinking!
When C.T.Russell met and married his wife, Maria; he was marrying a woman with NEW IDEAS as well. These two people formed an alliance of POWER COUPLE fierceness in putting forth the new theology.
Adopting aspects of first this and then that new idea was pretty much Russell's cherry-picking approach.
Incorporating Evolution, Pyramidology, Dispensationalism, 2nd Advent chronology, etc. was Russell's patchwork "improvement" on what was competing for the attention of the "Modern Man".
Remember, it was Maria who invented the doctrine of "faithful and discreet slave" as a "twain" (husband and wife) directed by God to feed the rank and file.
Russell was only different from other new-age thinkers and crackpots and innovators in one way: he had enough money to build an empire.
Russell was a kind of theological Bill Gates absorbing the ideas of others and making them his own.
If we look at society, theology and human psychology at the turn of the century (1899-1900) we see restless, disappointed ex-Puritan perfectionists ready for something/anything that would change the world more effectively than the old ideas of social reform.
Armageddon, 2nd Coming thinking fit that appetite nicely.
What worked for C.T.Russell also has worked for the subsequent Jehovah's Witness religion all along. To wit:
EXPLAIN EVERYTHING in revolutionary terms by redefining old ideas within a new context and turning it back on the previous instutions like turning a cannon around.
JW's blasted mainstream religion, politics, society, chronology and christian identity with REFORM by REdefinition.
If an idea wasn't astonishing, novel, weird, confrontational or bizarre; the Jehovah's Witness did not want anything to do with it!
When a time and a place and a readiness of mind come together historically nothing can stop the inevitability of it from happening.
Today, however; the Tim LaHaye LEFT BEHIND theology has co-opted the immediacy and storyline of JW's and has left them in the shadow of backward thinking. They are getting a taste of their own tactics in spades!