A Current Evangelical Awakening?

When John MacArthur spoke in chapel at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last year, he made a comment that struck me. Without wanting to misquote him or his intent, I remember that he said some thing to this effect: “We are in the midst of a religious awakening and we may not even know it!” He went on to describe the wonder of thousands of people downloading his sermons, including people in the rice patties of Thailand.

In 2012 Tim Challies wrote an article entitled, “Where Did the New Calvinists Come From?” In that article he cited Mark Dever who wrote on the same subject. The question being discussed was the issue of cause and effect. Both Dever and Challies looked at individuals, publishing houses, and organizations.

In 2014 Challies came back to the theme of his 2102 article, this time providing a chart with an expanded visual of the possible threads of the individuals, events, and organizations involved in giving rise to the “New Calvinism.” In 2014 the ten organizations is expanded into a very helpful 7-page chart.

Jason Allen, in his blog, considered the longevity of “New Calvinism” as a movement. Allen concluded that because of its focus on Scripture and its implications, the New Calvinism “leads one to classify it as a reformation in intent, temperament, and scope.”

As we ponder God’s working in history, it is hard to ignore the wind of God’s Holy Spirit drawing young people to desire God and to listen to His voice.

So I would recommend the modification of this chart to include the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. This resurgence was explained in a paper by Paige Patterson, “The Anatomy of a Reformation,” given at the Evangelical Theological Society.

However, this conservative resurgence did not limit itself to the confines of the SBC. Because of this resurgence, the SBC seminaries were transformed. And it was not long that via the halls of academia, U.S. Evangelicalism as a whole benefited. Those with conservative points of view were given a voice and a pen. Their writings were published and read. They were active first on YouTube, and then on social media. And for the minds of youth and students, those with a Reformed approach to doctrine seemed to win in the battle of ideas.

I personally felt the fault lines, being that I teach evangelism. Easy-believism was being shunned by many of my students, and they brought their ideas to my classes. My doctrinal positions were not very different than theirs. However, the salient issues were wrought out in the practice of evangelism.

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern is correct, New Calvinism is more than a fad. Because its feet are firmly planted in Scriptures its future is underwritten by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The popularity of the T4G conference last month in Louisville, Kentucky, attended by 7,900 participants, under the topic “Unashamed” [of the gospel], portrays the power of this grassroots Evangelical Awakening currently taking place. May the Lord continue His good work!

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A Gospel Presentation from Deuteronomy

Have you ever considered sharing the gospel from the Book of Deuteronomy? Being limited to one book of the Bible, especially an Old Testament Books, and further a Book from the Torah (five books of Moses), may provide a challenge. But this seems to be the challenge faced by the early church when they had primarily one scroll to use when it was handed to them in a synagogue.

While the Book of Isaiah may be more familiar for a gospel presentation, following the example of Philip in Acts 8, the Book of Deuteronomy also contains some interesting passages. The following provides an example of using the Book of Deuteronomy to introduce a person to concepts of the Pauline gospel (e.g. 1 Cor 15:1-5):

  • The fact of sin, Deut 25:16; 31:29
  • The provision for atonement, Deut 32:43
  • God’s role in regeneration, Deut 30:6

The person and work of Christ would need to be introduced from Deuteronomy with Scripture such as:

  • On the coming of another prophet like Moses, Deut 18:18
  • On Jesus becoming a curse for mankind on the cross, Deut 21:23
  • On the need for a decision, Deut 30:15

After these foundational principles, God raising up “another nation”—“a foolish nation”—is established in Deut 32:21. In other words, God making Himself known to those who were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God making them into “a nation” they that had “not been a nation.” That is, the church, which includes Gentiles, who came to God with a faith like that of Abraham, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ!

Is it possible to present the gospel from Deuteronomy? Yes, I think it is!

 

Election and Abraham’s Seed

It is interesting to note the complexities of election as regards Abraham’s seed, as noted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:6-13.

Abraham's Seed

Variance in Abraham’s Seed

Of the four direct offspring of Abraham, two are in the lineage of promise, and two are not. Because Romans 9:13 includes the quote, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” I have labeled their lot as “hatred.”

Paul’s argument is that not all descendants of Abraham are children of promise, which is obvious from this small chart. His further argument is that it is those who come to God by faith that are children of promise.

Exactly how or the means by which all people must volitionally come to God by faith is then clarified in Romans 10:9-10.

Analyzing Worldwide Evangelicalism’s Vulnerabilities

Several vulnerabilities are built into worldwide evangelicalism from a human point of view. One of them is a lack of sustained hierarchy by which decisions are made and mandates are passed down, especially when an initiative takes generations to accomplish.

The second vulnerability in evangelicalism is a lack of hierarchy to determine what is or what is not an orthodox message of the gospel. Statements of faith and various creeds provide a certain level of guidance. Leaders, schools, professors, and pastors may expound on ideas or concepts upon which individuals may choose to agree or disagree. But for the most part, there is a lack of hierarchy to determine what is or what is not acceptable which is built into the congregational system of church government.

We are left with only one foundation, the Bible. And it is truly in and through the Scriptures that Christ actually governs His church. Moreover, the Bible comes to each of us by way a mother tongue, translated by men from the original language texts also passed down by men.

So where may the vulnerabilities lie?

  • Disagreements and shifting consensus as to original language texts;
  • Increased drift in verbal inspiration as applied to philosophies and theories of translation;
  • Increased centralized control of Bible translations (an informal hierarchy by proxy); and
  • The recent shift to digitized Bibles (a sole source for available Bible translations).

In the sovereign game of chess, which is church history and in which all of humanity is “in play,” most will agree that the Protestant Reformation inaugurated a worldwide revolution in Bible study, Bible knowledge, and biblically based churches. In subsequent revival movements the Reformation’s emphasis on sola Scriptura found renewed energy. Such was the case for both the First Great Awakening (c. 1740) and the Second Great Awakening (c. 1800).

The Second Great Awakening gathered and propagated a number of simultaneous streams, including being the fountainhead of the Great Century of Protestant Missions. A parallel stream was the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) in 1803.

By 1820 the BFBS could report: “The Auxiliaries of the Society itself amount to 265, and the Branch Societies to 364; forming together a total as of last year, of 629.” Their model of unity was a “federal model.” E. Stanley Jones described the “federal model” in this way: “In a federation, the two entities uniting each retain its own identity. …their purpose of uniting is to achieve some mutually agreeable common purpose.” As long as they agreed on a mutual purpose, two entities in a “federal model” could cooperate by way of comity agreements. Numerous complex webs of written and unwritten comity agreements became the framework for the worldwide Protestant missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Early in the founding of the Bible Societies, their common text was the King James Bible, and their common original language text of the New Testament was the “Majority Text.” Although King James had made revisions to the English Geneva to suit his kingly biases, the resulting Authorized Translation was viewed as a Protestant text. Pius IX, the reigning pontiff during the early growth of the Bible Societies, harshly criticized the Bible Societies and condemned both their translations as well as their Bible colporteurs (door-to-door distributors).

The unity of the Bible Society Movement centered around its English origins and its use of the Majority Text of the New Testament Greek. So when Samuel Tregelles, a Plymouth Brethren, found deficiencies in the Majority Text of the Book of Revelation in 1844, the science of “textual criticism” found a conservative Protestant advocate. Tregelles studied an old Greek manuscript in Rome, perhaps the same one later published by Constantin von Tischendorff, and the battle began.

With the availability of conflicting original language texts, significant infighting began among Protestants. Some accepted only the text behind the King James Bible, while others accepted one or another of the critical edition texts. Yet on the mission fields of the world, the King James Bible and its original language remained the primary text used for worldwide Bible translation.

About 100 years later serious translation question were raised by Eugene Nida. Nida was the Executive Secretary of Translations for the American Bible Society (ABS) for 35 years, beginning in 1946. His insider view of evangelicalism and his marketing savvy was exemplified by the translation theory used and marketing approach behind the New International Version.

Nida was in a position to move worldwide Bible translators away from using the King James Bible and Majority Text as the basis for their Bible translation. And he effectively did so. His lexicon was deemed preferable to Strong’s Concordance, and his dynamic equivalence theory of translation moved translators away from a word-for-word translation theory and toward a thought-for-thought approach. These were important steps if Protestant dominated translations of doctrinal concepts were to be replaced with more vanilla-fied terms.

Soon evangelical Bible translators were convinced that word-for-word translations were obsolete and a hindrance to properly communicating God’s intent.

For example, verbs like “justify” in the Book of Romans were considered “borrowed” from the Latin or English, and therefore ought to be replaced with phrases like “declare righteous.” Anyone familiar with the Protestant Reformation should know that “justification by faith” was very important for Martin Luther. Yet the recent “emergent church” adherence to “declarative righteousness” as an alternative to “imputed righteousness” ought to sufficiently show the deficiencies of using “declare righteous” to translate the Greek verb behind “justify” in Romans.

Simultaneously, centralized control of the Bible Society movement began in 1946 with the founding of the United Bible Society (UBS). At that time six Bible societies joined to found the UBS, the BFBS, the ABS, the National Bible Society of Scotland, the Netherlands Bible Society, and two other Bible societies.

With the founding of the UBS, a movement was initiated away from the “federal model” of unity and toward the “organic union model” of unity. Weisenbeck described the “organic union model” in this way: “The parts or members of the organism receive their identities from the principal entity, and their identities have no meaning except in reference to the principal.” No longer are groups united by common purpose, but they are united by common identity. A hierarchy was being put into place.

Along with this centralized model of unity, a cooperative agreement was signed by the UBS with the Roman Catholic Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (SPCU) in 1968. This agreement included provisions for Roman Catholic participation on every translation team of the Bible overseen by the UBS. Then, in its 1987 revision, Rome was made primary over every UBS translation team, thwarting any remaining resistance among various constituencies.

Centralization began in 1946, and its influence has only grown into the era of digitization.

In the 21st Century, Christians moved from the printed page to digitized Bibles. Likewise, evangelists worldwide are now being provided with audio Bibles to use for evangelizing in remote areas. While digitized Bibles can be changed with the click of a mouse, audio Bible translations cannot be easily studied or analyzed by scholars and pastors.

It appears that a very interesting play and counter-play has been going on since 2010. And it is very difficult to judge the future impact of these changes:

  • One centralized hub for all digitized Bibles worldwide (the ETEN [Every Tribe Every Nation] DBL [Digital Bible Database], controlled by the UBS) using proprietary software (Paratext, jointly developed by the UBS and SIL [Summer Institute of Linguistics]); and
  • The use of audio Bibles instead of printed Bibles (or even those in digitized forms).

The changes are in fact astounding. This author remembers a time when Evangelical Christians would look at the publisher of hymnals to be sure that Atonement language in familiar hymns had not been altered, modified, or removed by modernist publishers.

It is this author’s feeling that centralization and digitization provide possible vulnerabilities for the future of worldwide evangelicalism. The pastor and the theologian both use available mother tongue translations to formulate their preaching and theology. And it appears Christ has used and will continue to use the Bible in the mother tongue to rule over His church.

– – – – –

For the chart by which I began the conceptualization of these thoughts, please see: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/plays-and-counterplays-in-history-of-english-bible-translation.pdf.

Or for further reading, consider my paper “Virtualized Biblical Authority: A 50-Year Megashift from Biblical Inerrancy to Automated Translation Work” @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf.

 

Our Awesome Unity with Christ in Evangelism

The amazing unity of the herald of the gospel with Christ and even with the Father is an unfathomable New Testament teaching. This principle is taught in several contexts.

First, it is taught in the context of persecution specifically because of Christ:

Matt 5:10-11, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Luke 6:22-23, “Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.”

Second, it is taught in regards to communicating the gospel itself, as found in the context of Jesus training His disciples for evangelism:

Matt 10:40, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

This incredible union with Christ concerns not only our own lives, but also the response of the recipient of the gospel, that is their reception or rejection of the message!

This same idea is communicated to His disciples by Jesus in the upper room discourse:

John 13:20, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

Jesus continued later in the discourse:

John 15:20-21, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

This unity with Christ in sharing the gospel makes the evangelist a fellow-worker with Christ. Paul echoed the theme of cooperating with Christ in evangelism as exemplified in his own evangelism:

2 Cor 5:20-6:2, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Although we cannot fully understand it, when a Christian is evangelizing, he has an unusual level of unity with Christ. This unity with Christ extends to the point of his representing the gospel, Christ, and even God Himself in a person’s acceptance or rejection of the gospel.

Paul exclaimed the grandeur of this concept as he discussed the gospel being simultaneously the aroma of life and of death:

2 Cor 2:15-17, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.”

Rather than lead us to be arrogant or boastful, our unity with Christ in evangelism should drive us to greater humility and true sincerity.

For further information on these concepts, see: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/evangelizology/evangelizology-2014-chapter-20.pdf.

 

Persecution in Calvin’s world

Romans 8:36 includes a very unexpected quote, amid the triumphant language of some of the prior verses:

Rom 8:36, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'”

When I thought about the many thousands of Christians being persecuted and put to death in countries all across the world, this verse still rings true today. However, when thinking about the context of the Protestant Reformation, and the capital punishment that they saw and heard about on a regular basis, this regular death toll taught them experiential lessons about the depravity of man and false salvation. Without wanting to fall into the fallacy ad antiquitam (because it is old it is better), the theology of the Reformers was fleshed out in a gritty context where living for Jesus had a price. To see a paper I wrote on the 67 named martyrs from Geneva who were executed in France and other places for the gospel, please consider “Calvin’s Evangelistic Zeal as Exemplified in Crespin’s Martyrology” (available @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/Crespin.pdf).

Rev 12:11, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death”

Rethinking Church History One

When was evangelism removed from the discussion points in church history prior to the Reformation? When did the fulfillment of the Great Commission (including church planting) become a part of the “History of Missions,” and not a part of “Church History” proper?

When was a particular atonement dropped from the theology of the Church of Rome? When did taking or doing certain sacraments become the accepted approach to salvation, rather than salvation through hearing the gospel, repenting and believing in Jesus, and all by the grace of God alone?

These questions and many more may be asked of the early church. It seems like their true answer is clouded in vagaries and couched in evasion.

But there actually was a time in the early church when some of its manifestations were Evangelical. And throughout the history of the churches, there have been some who have maintained a gospel witness.

This fact was brought to my attention when I read the 1999 French book called “The Gospel and Evangelism in the 12th and 13th Centuries” (see cover @  evangile et evangelisme2). I was shocked that this subject was even a matter of discussion for these French University professors. But the content of the book radically reoriented my view of both the Middle Ages and the Early Church.

In fact, I wrote a paper on my preliminary findings based on this book titled, “Dying for the Great Commisssion: A 13th Century Struggle over Definition” (available @ http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/dgc-text9_w_cover.pdf).

Yet, while there are many unanswered questions in early church history, from God’s vantage point, one thing is clear: God has never left Himself without a witness in the church age, and this in three ways:

  • He maintains His witness to all men through creation (Acts 14:17);
  • He preserves His witness through His Holy Word (Psa 12:6-7);
  • He extends His witness through His blood-bought church (Matt 16:18).