A Diversity of Baptist Revival Theologies

Theologies of the American Revivalists
by Robert W. Caldwell III

“From the 1780s to the 1850s Baptists emerged as one of the largest denominational groupings within American evangelicalism. Like the Methodists, their growth was due in part to their zealous participation in evangelism and revivals. Unlike the Methodists, however, Baptists did not espouse a unified revival theology.

The reason for this is simple: their identity as Baptists did not arise primarily from their soteriology but rather from their ecclesiology.

In other words, ecclesiological issues–the church as a covenanting body of rightly baptized believers (according to believer’s baptism), the autonomy of the local congregation, and religious liberty–defined them more fundamentally than matters related to their revival theology.

Because of this, we find the full spectrum of revival theologies reflected in early American Baptists. Some were Arminian, some embraced Edwardsean revival theology, while others were traditional Calvinists of varying degrees. Thus this section will not explore the revival theology of early American Baptists for the plain reason that only one did not exist.

Instead we will sample selections from among multiple revival theologies advocated by different Baptist leaders of the period. In many ways, Baptists mirrored the diversity found among early American evangelicalism at large.

In what follows, we will sample, chronologically, the spectrum of revival theologies among early American Baptists. This topic is complex and largely unexamined.

Our first stop will be to examine the Baptists who welcomed the popular revivalism of the period and fanned its flames with zeal. The so-called Separate Baptists, who evangelized the Carolinas and rural South, as well as the Freewill Baptists, who articulated a Baptist version of Wesleyan soteriology throughout New England, will be treated.

Second, we will turn our attention to the long-forgotten proponents of Edwardsean revival theology among Baptists, such as Jonathan Maxcy and the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, William B. Johnson.

Last, we will examine the more traditional Calvinist views of Jesse Mercer, editor of the influential Christian Index, a Georgia Baptist periodical.

The goal here is not so much to show the unique Baptist revival theology but to demonstrate the diversity of revival theologies harbored historically in the Baptist tradition in the early decades of the United States.”

Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney

Robert W. Caldwell III
IVP Academic, 2017.

The Imperfect Disciple

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together
by Jared C. Wilson

“I think of the story (more than likely apocryphal) wherein G. K. Chesterton responded to an article in the London Times titled, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Apparently, Chesterton did not agree with their conclusions, because he allegedly wrote a letter to the paper in response:

Dear Sir:

Regarding your article “What’s Wrong with the World?”

I am.

Yours truly,

G. K. Chesterton

This is all very clever, see, but my man Gilbert Keith got it entirely wrong. He should have written the London Times to say, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world. That imbecile, Jared Wilson.” I am confident that if he knew me, he would not have so casually suggested himself as the source of all the world’s ills ….

It’s just that whenever I actually think about how I’m doing, it doesn’t seem as though I’m doing very well at all. In fact, most of the good that I’ve accomplished in my life and most of the good things that have happened in my life have come nowhere close to fixing what is really going on inside of me.

This is why I resonate with the apostle Paul when he’s driving down that Romans Road and decides to turn left on red into Romans chapter 7. I know some scholars argue that Romans 7 is not a description of the Christian life but rather is Paul describing his life before his conversion. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe, like Chesterton writing that letter to the London Times, they just aren’t aware of my existence. Because it sure seems like Paul’s got my number ….

Here’s a plainer way to put it: I do things that I know are bad and I avoid doing things that I know are good. This makes me imminently unqualified to write one of those awesome, take-the-next-hill, “be the change you want to see in the word” books on discipleship churned out ever-presently by the evangelical leadership-industrial complex.

But on the other hand, it makes me uniquely and distinctly qualified for the hope Paul offers in response to the crushing predicament bemoaned by Romans 7.

It turns out–and you need to read this closely, so I hereby advise you to actually pull this book closer to your face and get the following words right in front of your milky little corneas … well, not that close; you look like a weirdo.

Hold it up. Read it close. Drink it deep.

It turns out, actually, that–get this–.Jesus is looking specifically for people who can’t get their act together.

I know, right? I swear I am not making this up!

Paul’s sense of hopeless exasperation reaches a crescendo in verse 24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He feels caught, trapped, like the corpse of his old life is still hanging on to his ankle and he can’t move on. He’s tried pulling himself up by his bootstraps but he got them tangled around his neck and now he’s choking to death.

This is exactly the kind of self-despair Jesus is listening for.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul says in verse 25, and you can almost hear him panting like a guy just pulled out of the water from drowning.

Every day, I wake up into Romans 7. Every dadgum day. My alarm goes off and I sit up in bed, my uncoffeed consciousness groggily gearing up for sins–both of omission and of commission. I’m engaged in the flesh before I even get my feet on the carpet.

And yet, right there beside me, laid out like the day’s outfit for school, are new mercies. Romans 8 lies right there, spooning Romans 7 in a full-size bed, no wiggle room.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. (Rom. 8:1-3) ….

It is the good news for all of us who can’t get our act together. We are exactly the kind of people God is using. We are exactly the kind of people God loves.”

The Imperfect Disciple

Jared C. Wilson
Baker Books, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Messy Beautiful Friendship

Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships
by Christine Hoover

“We want friends, all of us do, and not just any friends. We want relationships in which we know and are known at the deepest level. We want friendships that point us to grace and truth.

Curiously, however, we seem to be standing beside one another, holding identical longings yet resolutely believing we’re alone in them. But the truth is we aren’t actually wandering along and aimless in a desert; we’re practically tripping over each other as we grasp at our ideal dreams for friendship.

I’ve wondered at this. If we’re alike in our desires, what keeps us from turning to our left and to our right to cultivate friendship with those around us?

Well, it’s not that simple, you might say, as you point to your failed attempts, your open wounds, the boxes you’ve just unpacked in a new community, your insecurities and assumptions, or your overextended schedule.

Oh yes, I know all the reasons why it’s not so simple because I’ve given them myself, and I know all too well how quick we are to make those reasons into excuses and those excuses into thick walls. My wall has historically been built upon the excuse that I’m a pastor’s wife and women treat me differently because of it. I’ve rehearsed this excuse in my mind–while simultaneously taking the do-nothing, hope-for-the-best approach to friendship.

I have come to believe that our own excuses are one of our biggest obstacles to friendship, but I think there is one greater: we don’t have an understanding of what true friendship is or how God designed it. In the void, we’ve taken up a cultural definition that makes friendship unattainably idyllic and about self: Who is doing what for me? Ho do other people make me feel? Who is reaching out to me or including me? Who is honoring me?

Without a biblical understanding of friendship, we tend toward believing we’re unique and that everyone else must mold themselves around our personalities, our needs, and our schedules. As a result, we continually aspire to ideal friendship that is easy, comfortable, fun–and initiated by others. Perhaps this explains why we perpetually thirst in a desert.

As Christians, we must look to the Bible to inform our friendships. In this book you hold in your hands, we will look together to God, in his Word, for our definition and practice of friendship.

Spoiler alert: we’ll find that friendship is a by-product of being more concerned with others than ourselves.”

Messy Beautiful Friendship

Christine Hoover
Baker Books, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Defending Substitution According to the Scriptures

“Scholars have proposed a number of possible explanations for why Paul says Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day each take place ‘according to the Scriptures’ …. One of the most important ingredients for 1 Corinthians 15:3, however, is Isaiah 53.

As we shall see, Paul knows the passage, referring to it elsewhere. The suffering servant, as the only human instance of vicarious death ‘according to the Scriptures,’ is the closest model for Christ’s death. There are similarities in the structure of the formula as well as in the language of ‘death’ and ‘sins.’ […]

First chapter 53 must be read within the wider framework of the surrounding chapters in Isaiah. The people of Israel are hard-hearted and in a state of disobedience; they refuse to repent and be gathered to God [….]

Second, despite this, God undertakes to redeem them. he gives them words of comfort in chapter 40, he promises in chapter 44 (vs. 21) that he has not forgotten Israel, and he even insists that in the absence of repentance on Israel’s part, he will accomplish it himself (chap. 46).

Third, we see how this will happen. As these chapters (the 40s and 50s in Isaiah) go on, it becomes clearer that God is raising up a servant who is distinct within the nation: the servant is not just a way of talking about Israel as a whole but is an individual who is going to be instrumental in saving the people. This character is the one who suffers in chapter 53. He is cruelly forsaken by the nation as a whole, and yet the Israelites later come to realize that he had accomplished their salvation [….]

There is considerable debate in scholarly circles about whether there is a ‘center’ to Paul’s thought. Among those who think there is one, there is debate about what that center is …. We may not have a ‘center’ here in 1 Corinthians 15, but we do clearly have a statement that the gospel, consisting of Christ’s substitutionary death and his resurrection is primary in Paul’s proclamation.

This is what Paul means by saying that he passed it on to the Corinthians ‘first’ or ‘as of first importance’ in verse 3. It may be difficult to discover which concept occupied the center of a dead person’s brain, but Paul himself tells us that the gospel as summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 does have primacy in his preaching.

–Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker, 2015).

Dr. Gathercole’s Defending Substitution has received wide acclaim since its initial publication. Helpful reviews can be found at 9Marks, Reformation21, TGC, and in Themelios.

Also, Dr. Gathercole will be giving the Sizemore Lectures this week at Midwestern. You can learn more or find a link to the live stream here.

Christ In the State of Humiliation and Exaltation

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:9 ESV)

“The three offices of Christ, they have this order in regard of manifestation. First, he was a prophet to instruct and teach his in himself, and likewise by his ministry. And then a priest to die for those that are his, to make intercession now forever in heaven. And then a king.

First, a prophet, then a priest, and then a king.

He was all at once.

The very union invested him in all these, but in regard to manifestation he was first a prophet to instruct us of the end of his coming into the world; and then a priest to do that grand office that we have most comfort by; and then a king to rule us. He could not be otherwise, for if he had manifested himself a King and a Lord in his glory, where had been his abasement? If they had known him to be the Lord of glory, they would never have crucified him.

Only some sparkles of his Godhead and lordship and kingdom and royalty over all flesh break out in his miracles; yea, in his greatest abasement there were some sparkles, I say. Even when he lay in the manger, kings came to adore him. When he paid tribute, he had it out of a fish by a command, by majesty. When he was on the cross he converted the good thief. So somewhat brake out of him that he was a person more than ordinary, but that was for special ends.

Ordinarily he went on in a course of abasement, and all that he might perform the great work of redemption. Therefore he made a stop of his glory and kingly office, that he might not manifest himself in that relation and office; that he might do the office a priest to die for us. … So you see here Christ’s offices, the state and condition of his humiliation and of his exaltation, and the use and end of all, ‘ that he might be Lord of the dead and of the living.’

And if we be anything offended with that abasement, that God should die, look to his rising and reviving and lordship over all, both living and dead; and if we be dazzled with his glory, look back again to God in our flesh, and God in our flesh abased, even to the death of the cross.

Oh, it is a sweet meditation, beloved to think that our flesh is now in heaven, at the right hand of God; and that flesh that was born of the virgin, that was laid in the manger, that went up and down doing good, that was made a curse for us and humbled to death, and lay under the bondage of death three days; that this flesh is now glorious in heaven, that this person is Lord over the living and the dead. It is an excellent book to study this.

Beloved, study Christ in the state of humiliation and exaltation.”

— Richard Sibbes, Christ’s Exaltation Purchased by Humiliation (London, 1639).

The Resurrection is the Defeat of Death

“Of old, before the Savior made his divine sojourn on earth, all lamented the dead as though destruction awaited them, but now that in these latter days the Savior has raised his body, death is no longer fearful–rather, those who are in Christ trample it as a thing of no account and choose to die rather than deny their faith in Christ.

For they know that when they die they are not undone but live and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But as for the devil, he who of old exulted basely in death, his labor is now undone, and he is left as the only one who is truly dead. […]

When after night the sun rises, and the whole of the neighboring land is illumined by it, not the slightest doubt remains that the sun who sheds his light everywhere is also the one who drove away the darkness and illumined everything.

In just the same way, death was trampled and brought into contempt from the time when the Savior made his appearance in the body for our salvation, and the end of the Cross became manifest; this was enough to make plain that he himself was the Savior, the one who had trampled death, and was displaying the trophies of victory over it every day in his disciples.”

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 27.2-3; 29.3 in Mark J. Edwards, ed., We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord(IVP, 2009), 147-150.

 

H2O and the Imagination of God

“Is oxygen-and-hydrogen the divine idea of water? Or has God put the two together only that man might separate and find them out? He allows His child to pull his toys to pieces: but were they made that he might pull them to pieces? He were a child not to be envied for whom his inglorious father would make toys to such an end! A school-examiner might seem therein the best use of a toy, but not a father!

Find for us what in the constitution of the two gases makes them fit and capable to be thus honoured in forming the lovely thing, and you will give us a revelation about more than water, namely about the God who made oxygen and hydrogen. There is no water in oxygen, no water in hydrogen; it comes bubbling fresh from the imagination of the living God, rushing from under the great white throne of the glacier.

They very thought of it makes one gasp with an elemental joy no metaphysician can analyse. The water itself, that dances and sings, and slakes wonderful thirst–symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus–this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace–this living thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, yea, babbling along my table–this water is its own self its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.

Let him who would know the truth of the Maker, be come sorely athirst, and drink of the brook by the way–then lift up his heart–not at that moment to the Maker of oxygen and hydrogen, but to the Inventor and Mediator of thirst and water, that man might foresee a little of what his soul may find in God.”

–George Macdonald in C. S. Lewis, George Macdonald: An Anthology (New York, 1947), 81.

Seventy years ago, C. S. Lewis published in the USA his anthology of selections from the works of George Macdonald (1824-1905).

Lewis said, “My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help–sometimes indispensable help towards the very acceptance of the Christian faith …. In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him” (18, 20).

Machen on Reformation Fire

“It is not true at all, then, that modern liberalism is based upon the authority of Jesus. It is obliged to reject a vast deal that is absolutely essential in Jesus’ example and teaching – notably His consciousness of being the heavenly Messiah. The real authority, for liberalism, can only be ‘the Christian consciousness’ or ‘Christian experience.’ … Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded as only that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth.

The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.

It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”

–J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923), 66-67.

Reviving New England

Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America
by Nate Pickowicz

“I firmly believe New England to be a region in desperate need of new churches. Here are just a few reasons:

First, the number of gospel-preaching churches is very small. It may be hard to believe, but there are whole towns and regions where there are no churches who actively preach the gospel. […]

Second, the number of Bible-teaching churches is very small. Even if a church may present the gospel once in awhile, it is exceedingly rare to find a ministry that teaches the whole counsel of God. […]

Third, new churches can reach people not reached by existing churches. Historically, New England is the oldest region in America, and there are many churches in the Northeast that are several hundred years old. Over time, a church may lose its witness and the locals simply aren’t keen to listen. A new church may appeal to those curious, and may be zealous and evangelistic enough to work harder to win people over to Christ.

Fourth, new churches are needed to help saturate the region. In my humble estimation, each town needs 3-5 new churches simply to match population density. With Bible-believing Christians making up only 2-3% of New England, there are simply not enough churches and resources to accommodate the large numbers of people should the Spirit work and add them to the church. […]

Fifth, new churches bring a level of excitement and vitality to a spiritually cold region …. This excitement can be contagious, and we need more strong believers with deep affections for Christ who will maintain a fervent witness. Again, some communities have never experienced a vibrant church full of believers who are in love with Jesus Christ.

Sixth, more churches means less travel for churchgoers and more opportunity for community involvement …. If believers could worship and serve in a body in their own town or area, their commitment would naturally increase and ministry would become more effective. […]

With such a large amount of territory and so many unsaved people, how does one even begin this work? Before any sermon can be preached, or any church planted, the work must begin on our knees.”

Reviving New England

Nate Pickowicz
Entreating Favor, 2017.

 

 

Would you like to see New England first hand? Travel with Midwestern Seminary professors to explore this unique mission field this May 17-24. We’ll walk where Edwards and Whitefield walked, visit everywhere from Yale to Harvard and coastal Maine to rural Vermont, meet with local pastors and church planters, and even take in a Red Sox game. Students can earn up to 6hrs of course credit. Learn more at www.mbts.edu/NewEngland17

 

Writing Theology for the Church

“The responsibility of making theology applicable to the church rests both with the theologian and the church.

Theology must be understandable to the church. Too often what theologians write is unintelligible for many church members. As someone has observed, our best minds are sometimes siphoned off to seminaries and graduate schools where they are expected to write highly technical research works for the limited number of people in the world who can understand what they are talking about.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I think that kind of scholarship should continue, especially at Baptist seminaries, but that cannot be the end of the theological enterprise. In the past, theologians of the church wrote so that literate people could understand, and it must be acknowledged that Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley are often much easier to read than many contemporary theologians.

Today we need theologians who can write in ways that are both accessible to and engaging of the church and the cultures.”

–David S. Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H Academic, 2008), 159.