Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wesley and Campbell: A Study in Contrasts

Interestingly, our theology affects our preaching styles. For example, because John Wesley believed that the Holy Spirit must act in a special way to save people, he allowed for emotionalism when he preached. Wesley believed that faith is more than intellectual assent, and he believed the Holy Spirit affects all of a person, including the emotions. In contrast, because Alexander Campbell believed that the Holy Spirit does not act in a special way to save people, he did not allow for emotionalism when he preached. Campbell believed that faith is simply intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel. Wesley was one of the first preachers of the First Great Awakening to see emotional responses in his audiences, and Methodist preachers became the leaders of the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening. Campbell was critical of the emotional preaching and the emotional responses to that preaching that he saw during the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening in America.

The Moravians influenced Wesley to a great extent. Mark Noll mentioned their influence on Wesley in America:

“While in Georgia, Wesley was taken aback during an interview with the Moravian leader, Spangenberg, in which the latter asked if Wesley had the witness of the Spirit of God in himself.”

Mark A. Noll, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (April-June 1975): 165.

Bonamy Dobree said that Wesley’s theology changed after a Moravian, Peter Böhler, helped him understand that conversions were instantaneous acts of God:

“How could faith be given in a moment, how could a man be turned at once from darkness to light, from sin and misery to righteousness and joy? ‘Look at the Bible,’ Böhler said; and to his astonishment Wesley found that nearly all the conversions recorded there were instantaneous. . . . Wesley promptly declared his new belief in this faith.”

Bonamy Dobree, John Wesley (London: Duckworth, 1933), 62-63.

Dobree said that Wesley came to understand that faith is more than the intellectual assent that his mother had endorsed:

“Faith had been an assent, even if an assent to what God had revealed because He had revealed it; but this, now, was a sensation, a warming of the heart; it felt like a physical embrace.”

Dobree, 65.

This belief affected his preaching. Wesley understood that preaching should be more than a rational presentation of the facts. He came to the conclusion that preachers should make allowance for a special act of the Holy Spirit on the hearers of the sermon.

A group of people in Scotland known as the Sandemanians (also known as the Glassites) influenced Campbell’s theology. Samuel Rogal discussed the Sandemanians’ origin and John Wesley’s evaluation of the group’s theology:

“Wesley preached in the town on Wednesday, 2 June 1779, to nearly ‘as large a congregation as at Dundee [on June 1], but nothing so serious. The poor Glassites here, pleading for a merely notional faith, greatly hinder either the beginning or the progress of any real work of God’ (Journal, 6:236). John Glass . . . published, in 1729, a tract . . . in which he attempted to prove that the civil establishment of religion is inconsistent with the Gospel. . . . As a result, the Church of Scotland expelled him, and those who rallied to his cause were termed Glassites. Glass’s son-in-law Robert Sandeman (1718-1771), carried on the founder’s work in London and in America, where the group became known as Sandemanians.”

Samuel J. Rogal, John Wesley’s Mission to Scotland, 1751-1790, vol. 3 in Studies in the History of Missions (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988), 185-186.

William Whitsitt explained that Greville Ewing, a Sandemanian, was influential in causing Campbell to theologically depart from Presbyterianism:

“He renounced Presbyterianism forever. . . . The conquest of Greville Ewing and of his particular type of Sandemanianism was then first firmly established.”

William H. Whitsitt, Origin of the Disciples of Christ (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1888), 60.

According to Whitsitt, young Campbell eventually accepted Greville’s notion that faith is mere intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel:

“Alexander rejected, for a while, the conceit of Ewing and the Sandemanians, that faith is nothing other than mere belief, which is preceded by testimony alone. . . . But the period was near at hand when he should accede to the notion of his master.”

Ibid., 74.

According to Granville Walker, Campbell’s theological view of faith affected his view of preaching:

“He defined preaching by an appeal to what he regarded as the New Testament conception of faith: simple belief in the testimony of credible witnesses.”

Granville T. Walker, Preaching in the Thought of Alexander Campbell (St. Louis: The Bethany Press, 1954), 28.

The lesson to be derived is obvious. We should understand the tremendous influence of our theology on our preaching. Conversely, we should understand the tremendous influence of our preaching on the theology of our hearers. We should be good stewards of the opportunities God has given us to both learn and teach correct theology.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Graduation Day for My Older Son

Here we are: from the left is my younger son, Paul (a freshman engineering major at Union), my older son, Andy (a graduate of Union as of today), my wife, Grace, and yours truly. Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, is a great school. I highly recommend it. I must admit that I feel a bit older today after watching my son graduate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

George Whitefield and His Eventual Influence on Southern Baptist Preaching

In New England during the decades immediately prior to the First Great Awakening, many preachers read their sermon manuscripts from the pulpit. During the First Great Awakening in New England, Whitefield’s successful preaching was a catalyst for change in the preaching style of many other preachers. His influence also extended to the South where Separate Baptists multiplied exceedingly by utilizing his preaching style.

John Sparks stated that the preachers in New England who were supportive of the First Great Awakening imitated Whitefield’s preaching style, which came to be known as the “New England Holy Tone”:

“The New England New Light preachers labored on, and although few if any could match Whitefield’s dramatic flair, they compensated by developing a distinctive cadence based largely on Whitefield’s own emotive style and embellished by a singsong, almost hypnotic chant.”

John Sparks, The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001), 27.

Alan Heimert also described Whitefield’s preaching and its effect:

“Both admirers and critics noted how Whitefield employed changes in tone and dramatic, though controlled, gestures. From Whitefield’s example was derived a radical redefinition of the nature and character of ‘evangelical preaching.’”

Alan Heimert and Perry Miller, eds., The Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1967), xxvi.

Five of Whitefield’s critics in Connecticut in a 1744 letter described his imitators and their preaching:

“Mr. Whitefield, passing through this land, condemning all but his adherents, and his followers and imitators, by their insufferable enthusiastick [sic] whims and extemporaneous jargon, brought in such a flood of confusion among us, that we became sensible of the unscriptural method we had always been accustomed to take in our worship.”

Henry Cook, Barnaby Ford, Isaac Castel, John How, and Thomas Claselee, in The Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences, 397.

Thus, many New England preachers imitated Whitefield’s preaching in terms of both its extemporaneous nature and its dramatic aspects, such as tones and gestures.

Whitefield’s preaching greatly affected Shubal Stearns, the founding pastor of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in North Carolina, the mother church for Separate Baptists in the South. Southern Baptist Convention historians have traced the denomination’s roots to both the Separate Baptists of the Sandy Creek tradition and the Regular Baptists of the Charleston tradition. Sparks described the effect of Whitefield’s preaching on Stearns when Stearns was in New England in 1740:

“He had been overpowered by Whitefield’s preaching along with many of his relatives and neighbors—including his parents—and had experienced an ecstatic New Birth in Christ.” (Sparks, 29)

Stearns imitated Whitefield’s preaching style, and his preaching was very effective after he moved to the backcountry of the South, according to Sparks:

“His family’s regard for him would only have furthered the wild adulation with which his musical, emotive New England Holy Tone preaching had been accepted on the backcountry frontier.” (Ibid., 93)

Sparks quoted Morgan Edwards, a minister of the Philadelphia Baptist Association who heard Stearns preach a year before Stearns’ death, to indicate that all Separate Baptist ministers copied Stearns’ preaching style. (Ibid., 65)

The preaching style utilized by Whitefield and Stearns emphasized the conversion experience, which most Southern Baptist preachers also typically emphasize. Heimert explained that Whitefield and his followers measured success by conversions:

“Success, in turn, was measured by what Whitefield and his fellow workers termed the ‘New Birth.’ Not the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, but the existential fact of the conversion experience, became the ‘principal hinge’ of what Edwards called ‘the evangelical scheme.’” (Heimert, xxvii)

Most Southern Baptist preachers frequently utilize a lively, extemporaneous preaching style, which is somewhat similar to that utilized by Whitefield and Stearns. God can still utilize this type of preaching to win many souls to Christ.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Similarities and Differences Between Hybels and Warren

I have looked on with admiration and wonder as God has used Bill Hybels and Rick Warren to build churches that have effectively evangelized many people. Both churches are averaging about 20,000 on weekends at the present time. Interestingly, there are both similarities and differences in their philosophies.


Both churches have attempted to contextualize their message without compromising it so that seekers will hear it presented clearly and effectively. Hybels emphasized this important principle:

“We believe that the church should be culturally relevant, while remaining doctrinally pure.”

Lynne and Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 187.

Warren also stressed that Jesus’ disciples “were to adapt to local customs and culture when it didn’t violate a biblical principle.”

Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 195.

Michael Hamilton gave a description of growing churches that could be applied to both Saddleback Community Church and Willow Creek Community Church:

“History seems to show that dynamic, growing churches require a combination of spiritual wisdom, cultural discernment, visionary leadership, talented management, favorable demographics, and adequate financial resources.”

Michael S. Hamilton, “Willow Creek’s Place in History,” Christianity Today 44, no. 13 (November 13, 2000): 68.


Hybels disagrees with two of the key principles of the classic church growth movement as espoused by Donald McGavran, while Warren agrees with both. McGavran defined the homogeneous unit principle:

“People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”

Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, third edition, revised and edited by C. Peter Wagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 163.

In an interview with Bill Hybels in 1994, Michael Maudlin and Edward Gilbreath asked, “Do you endorse the idea called the ‘homogeneous unit principle’ in church-growth circles?” Hybels answered, “I never have. I think a church ought to reflect its neighborhood. If the neighborhood is diverse, I hope the church would be. If the neighborhood is not diverse, it’s pretty hard for a church to be.”

Michael G. Maudlin and Edward Gilbreath, “Selling Out the House of God?” Christianity Today 38, no. 8 (July 18, 1994): 24.

In a forum held in 2005 and moderated by Edward Gilbreath and Mark Galli, however, Hybels said that at one point in his life he thought the homogeneous unit principle was true:

“It was the homogeneous unit principle of church growth. And I remember as a young pastor thinking, That’s true. . . . I marvel at how naïve and pragmatic I was 30 years ago” (emphasis in original).

Noel Castellanos, Bill Hybels, Soong-Chan Rah, Frank Reid, Mark Galli, and Edward Gilbreath, “Harder than Anyone Can Imagine,” Christianity Today 49, no. 4 (April 2005): 38.

In contrast, Warren endorsed the homogeneous unit principle as he discussed the evangelization of people who were like those in his church:

“The people your church is most likely to reach are those who match the existing culture of your church. . . . Whatever type of people you already have in your congregation is the same type you are likely to attract more of.”

Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 174.

McGavran defined the receptivity principle: “Evangelism can be and ought to be directed to responsive persons, groups, and segments of society.”

McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 187.

Rather than trying to evangelize responsive non-Christians, Willow Creek Community Church has emphasized evangelizing any non-Christians that are in the sphere of influence of Christians. Verne Becker emphasized that the church evangelistically targets particular groups for reasons other than responsiveness:

“Men are targeted, according to associate pastor Don Cousins, only because they are harder to reach.”

Verne Becker, “A Church for Bored Boomers,” Christianity Today 33, no. 14 (October 6, 1989): 25.

In contrast, Warren clearly endorsed the receptivity principle as he explained his strategy for reaching a community:

“Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower and the Soils (see Matt. 13:3-23) that spiritual receptivity varies widely. . . . For evangelism to have maximum effectiveness, we need to plant our seed in the good soil—the soil that produces a hundredfold harvest. . . . We need to be strategic in reaching the world, focusing our efforts where they will make the greatest difference.”

Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 181.