Sunday, July 09, 2006

Further Comments on Revival Evangelicalism

Thank you to Sam and Tim for your comments on my posting Am I a Revival Evangelical? I started to respond in a further comment, but decided that this would work best as a new posting.

Sam, the post for which you gave me a link certainly helps me to understand where you are coming from. My own experience has been somewhat different, coming through what you would call fundamentalism, e.g. the Christian Union at the other university ;-). I have not rejected this while seeing it transformed by an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit which includes some of the kind of mysticism which you have experienced. And then following that I studied theology, worked for ten years on the mission field, and came home spiritually dry. Especially in the last year I have come back towards that close relationship with God which is at the heart of mysticism, although I know that I still have a long way to go. At some time I hope to post more about this here.

I too am deeply suspicious of too much emphasis on decisions. While on the mission field I did some work with a church whose idea of evangelism was to speak to people on the streets about Christ - so far so good - and then to encourage them to make an immediate decision to become a Christian. In that situation, quite a lot of people were prepared to do that, for example to say the prayer they were presented with. They were also invited to the church and attempts were made to follow them up, but these were often fruitless. But it was the teaching of this church that these people were saved eternally because they had once prayed that prayer. I don't entirely reject that teaching. But I do have serious doubts about this as a proper evangelistic strategy. And for similar reasons I would not support "revival meeting" style evangelism, detached from a local church, without proper follow-up arrangements. But then at least here in Britain that is not common. When I was a counsellor for a Billy Graham mission some years ago we were all taught how important it was to get proper follow up details for anyone who came forward. I am sure that most responsible evangelists continue to do this.

So, Sam, I would agree with the following from your posting on evangelism, even though I would not completely accept the parts of this paragraph which I omit.
I believe that it means allowing God space to work his grace in our lives and in the lives of those whom we care for. There is a particular neurosis attached to Revival evangelicalism whereby the gospel becomes a burden not a liberation - which is odd, for Christ set us free for freedom. ... Our calling is to be faithful, to dwell in grace, and to give thanks.
I would also agree with Tim and I think Sam that Sunday worship ought to be for Christians and not turned into an evangelistic event. So I would not endorse the strategies of certain American mega-churches which do just that. However, surely if for one reason or another a significant number of non-Christians turn up to a Sunday worship service, it is surely proper to present them with the basics of the Gospel. And, where much of the congregation is made up of people who consider themselves Christians but do not seem to be making progress in the Christian faith, surely it is a good thing to challenge such people in the context of the service and encourage them to do what they should do as Christians.

But then, if Sunday worship is not to be evangelistic, and the church is to do the work of evangelism, and this is to be a corporate rather than an individual activity, then surely evangelism must take place in some kind of meeting rather like those which Finney pioneered, as described in the article which Sam quoted:
the "evangelistic meeting" that takes place apart from the normal preaching and sacramental ministry of the local church.
So, Sam, if you don't like evangelism being done in Sunday worship, and you apparently don't like special evangelistic meetings, how do you think the church ought to reach those who need to hear the Christian message?

I don't mean here to suggest a normative evangelistic strategy, only to get away from any ideas that certain strategies are invalid. For surely it is for each church to decide its own strategy, within the rather broad limits of what is considered orthodox Christianity as presented in the Bible.

Meanwhile I am glad that Sam is distancing himself from the doctrine of double predestination, which I consider immoral as well as unbiblical. I clearly didn't understand Sam's meaning at this point. I agree that human will and decision should not be exalted as a work of righteousness. There is a fine line to be drawn here, but we are not at all far apart.

I would also like to define "revival" in a very different way, not as human evangelistic enterprise but as a move of the Holy Spirit. But that is a subject for another posting, and another time. So I will leave this one for now.

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