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Posts Tagged ‘Ray Comfort’

Way of the Master (Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron) has a great approach to evangelism/witnessing. I think the crux of Comfort and Cameron’s approach is that they convince sinners of their sin before they offer Christ as their way out, their salvation from the eternal penalty for sin. To me this seems like a very biblical approach – vastly superior to starting out with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Oddly enough, many Christians nowadays (even many Independent Fundamentalist Baptists) are criticizing WOTM’s approach. They believe it is wrong to use the Law to bring people to Christ. Yet, Paul himself mentions this approach:

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24, KJV)

Bob Snyder, a Facebook Friend, wrote this 12/07/12 regarding WOTM:

“Dave Mosher I agree with what you are saying. I actually have taught,”The Way of the Master Basic Class” at our Church. I plan on teaching it again to our, “Young Adults” group…  I knew there was something wrong with using, “Christianese” on people. I knew when I was a kid I had no idea what they meant when they would say what they were saying. For instance; “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” “Is Jesus living in your heart?” “Do want Jesus to be your Saviour?” “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” It meant nothing to me. When I finally understood I was a sinner by reading the Bible I got it. I couldn’t explain it though and had failed to understand repentance properly. Only after finding Wretchedradio and hearing them use the WOTM method did I understand it in a way I could explain it to others.

I came across this excellent blog by Defending Contending. This blog quotes a number of godly men who, like WOTM, used this “law” approach to evangelism. Click here for the original source of this blog. Note: I have also reposted a number of the comments following the blog. Also, I have emphasized certain points by bolding, and inserted comments in [brackets].

Is Ray Comfort’s Idea Original?

Posted on October 15, 2009 by

Ray Comfort A lot of Christians are opposed to presenting the law before the gospel, and say Ray Comfort’s method is unbiblical. They generally say that his series of questions isn’t found in the Bible, and they would be right. However, no one has said that they were in the Bible, and there are many ways to present the law and the gospel without using Comfort’s spiel.

I really have no interest in defending Ray Comfort or Kirk Cameron. On the other hand, if someone wants to disagree with their method, they have their work cut out for them. Ray Comfort should get a lot of credit for popularizing biblical witnessing, but he didn’t make up “law to the proud, grace to the humble” by himself. Here are a few quotes about the law and its proper use:

  • Charles Spurgeon said, “The law serves a most necessary purpose. They [unbelievers] will never accept grace until they tremble before a just and holy Law.”
  • Martin Luther said, “So it is with the work-righteous and the proud unbelievers. Because they do not know the law of God, which is directed against them, it is impossible for them to know their sin.”
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The trouble with people who are not seeking for a Savior, and for salvation, is that they do not understand the nature of sin. It is the peculiar function of the law to bring such an understanding to a man’s mind and conscience.”
  • John Bunyan said, “In my preaching of the Word, I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where His Word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege that the curse of God, by the law doth belong to and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.”
  • Paris Reidhead said, “I would declare a moratorium on public preaching of the “the plan of salvation” in America for one to two years. Then, I would call on everyone who has use of the airwaves and the pulpits to preach the holiness of God, the righteousness of God, and the law of God, until sinners would cry out, “What must we do to be saved?” Then, I would take them off in a corner and whisper the gospel to them… Such drastic action is needed because we have gospel-hardened a generation of sinners by telling them how to be saved before they have any understanding why they need to be saved.”
  • John MacArthur said, “Grace means nothing to a person who does not know he is sinful and that such sinfulness means he is separated from God and damned. It is therefore pointless to preach grace until the impossible demands of the law and the reality of guilt before God are preached.”
  • Charles Spurgeon said, “I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law.”
  • John Wesley said, “Before I can preach love, mercy, and grace, I must preach sin, law and judgment.”
  • George Whitfield said, “That is the reason we have so many ‘mushroom’ converts, because their stony ground is not plowed up; they have not got a conviction of the law; they are stony-ground hearers.”
  • Martin Luther said, “Satan, the god of all dissension, stirreth up daily new sects, and last of all, which of all other I should never have foreseen or once suspected, he has raised up a sect such as teach…that men should not be terrified by the law, but gently exhorted by the preaching of the grace of Christ.”
  • Paris Reidhead said, “When 100 years ago earnest scholars decreed that the law had no relationship to the preaching of the gospel, they deprived the Holy Spirit in the area where their influence prevailed of the only instrument with which He had ever armed Himself to prepare sinners for grace.”
  • John R.W. Stott said, “We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there.” [I do not recommend Stott – in spite of this great quote, various discernment ministries have provided documentation that Stott was New Evangelical clear up until his passing – DM]
  • Dr. J Gresham Machen said, “A new and more powerful proclamation of [the] law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law.”
  • D.L. Moody said, “I can always tell a man who is near the kingdom of God; his mouth is stopped. This, then, is why God gives us the law. To show us ourselves in our true colors.”

How is it that all these men came to believe the same thing about the law? Because that is what the Bible teaches.

If you’ve never taken the time to listen to “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” [by Ray Comfort], you definitely should do so.

[Some of the] 19 Responses to Is Ray Comfort’s Idea Original?

  1. Jeff H says:

    How can we appreciate the cross without understanding the magnitude of our offense against a perfectly Holy GOD?

    The Law serves as a mirror… to show us how evil we really are.

    The Law serves as a schoolmaster…

    Galatians 3:24,
    “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

    – Jeff H

  2. Manfred says:

    Great post – excellent collection of solid quotes.

    Several years back, my wife returned from a prison ministry event with a cassette tape of “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and said “EVERYONE NEEDS TO HEAR THIS!”

    She was – as usual – right.

  3. BrettR says:

    I haven’t heard any objections to this method. Are there any objections other than “it’s not in the Bible”?

    I would like to see some thoughtful objections.

  4. [omitted]

  5. [omitted]
  6. Jeff H says:

    You know, this post reminded me of one of Joel Osteen’s “””””sermons””””” where, at what seemed like the speed of light, Joel said that Jesus died for our mistakes…

    mistakes?

    M I S T A K E S ?

    I remind my Sunday School students that a ‘mistake’ is when I spell Jeff with three f’s (ie Jefff).

    THAT is a mistake.

    THAT did not require the King of Kings and Lord of Lords… the One with Whom we have to do…
    to leave His throne of glory…
    to be born in a barn and sleep in an animal trough…
    to live as an itinerant, preaching a message hated by most…
    to be betrayed by a friend-so-called for money…
    to be denied and abandoned by His friends…
    to be spit on by His creation…
    to be mocked…
    to be beaten and whipped almost to death…
    to have His beard be plucked out…
    to die a horrific, agonizing death by being impaled on a cross…
    to be resurrected from the dead…
    … and to tell us to tell others what was required.

    I broke God’s perfect Laws… That is SIN !

    My sins… in the presence of a Holy God were as the stench of an open tomb, an abomination, a running sore!

    God was storing up wrath to pour out on me on the Day of Judgment.

    No ‘mistakes’ there!

    Would that He would only have struck me dead right there for my transgressions.

    Nope. Perfect Justice requires an infinite penalty for a crime against an infinitely Holy God.

    WOE TO ME! … except for the Grace of God.

    AT THAT POINT… when I understood my peril… I was then ready to hear the Good News.

    To those still in peril: remember, He is coming back for His own for us.

    But for you, He is not coming back as the Lamb… He is returning as the Lion of Judah, full of wrath… for YOU!

    Today is the day of salvation. Repent – turn from your sins and to God – and put your full trust, your FAITH in Jesus Christ that HE paid the penalty for YOUR sins… and God promises He will save you!

    Amen.

    Oh, and I agree with Manfred’s wife. I like most of Ray Comfort’s messages.

  7. Habakkuk says:

    I guess I was introduced to Livingwaters/Way of the Master around 2004. I am an Evangelism Explosion drop out and at one time was a trainer in the FAITH evangelism outline. I always felt uncomfortable and bound up by the FAITH outline. It sounded too memorized and really didn’t provide opportunity to have a heart level conversation with someone.

    I have found great freedom in using the law. It becomes a dialog. Keep probing with the law and you will finally touch a nerve that will speak out in self righteousness and self justification. Using the Ten Commandments in witnessing has also made me meditate more on God’s law and how the gospel interacts with it. The inky black background of the law and sin makes the diamond of grace and redemption sparkle all the more.

    I always have some of Ray’s tracts in my pocket to pass out. I am very appreciative of his ministry for opening my eyes to an effective method of sharing with the lost that was not mechanical.

    🙂 Hab

  8. I agree with Manfred’s wife, as well! LOL

    When we were in England, I was introduced to Ray Comfort through someone giving us several dvd’s. I had heard of him and we even had his book but I never really read it or watched the dvd’s until England. These have had an impact on our lives and ministry. I’m surprised anyone could say that it isn’t biblical.

    Rom 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

    Rom 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

    Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

    Rom 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

    Rom 7:9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

    Rom 7:10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

    Rom 7:11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

    Rom 7:12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

    Rom 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

    Rom 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

  9. Bill says:

    Hi BrettR,

    There are quite a few Christians who object to Way of the Master (even in my own church). I think the three big objections are:
    1. It’s mean to talk about sin
    2. We shouldn’t walk up to people and talk to them
    3. What if someone gets saved? They will need to be discipled.

    So I’ve heard plenty of objections, but none have been very thoughtful.

    If you want to see objections to Way of the Master approach your pastor with the idea of putting on a WOTM course in your church and invite people to come. Unless you go to a really great church, you’ll hear plenty of objections.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  10. i have a very deep appreciation of the way ray comfort and kirk cameron carry the gospel of JESUS CHRIST. they are truly dedicated to the cause of christ i believe. in addition they are a rare breed when it comes to witnessing to the lost, no punches pulled. they preach the cross, the precious blood of CHRIST AND THEY CERTAINLY PREACH ABOUT HELL. there are a lot of cowardly ministers in these last days, but thank GOD for those that tell it like it is. we must preach against homosexuality,abortion, feelgood religions and the many heresies that have permeated the modern day church.

  11. theoldadam says:

    I’m just not a fan of the ‘canned’ way that the law is presented.

    ‘Have you ever stolen a paperclip?’ ‘Have you ever told a lie?’ etc.

    The law is also every demand that our existence places upon us. And death and dying are the ultimate expressions of law and I believe are much more effective uses of the law in evagelization efforts.

    To me, there is no substitute for getting to know someone a little bit, and finding out where they are being had by the law (we all are, in some way).

  12. Jeff H says:

    Adam,

    I’m pretty familiar with Ray Comfort, Kirk, and Todd Friel (all the way back to ‘Talk the Walk’ radio in MN).

    The first distinction to be made is between open air preaching and one-on-one witnessing.

    In open air preaching, I think that making a clear presentation of the Law – right from the start – is appropriate. It quickly speaks to everyone conscience. It can also make some in the crowd very angry… it should.

    If, on the other hand, one is witnessing to a single person, Ray’s “Way of the Master” approach is to converse with the person first… beginning in the physical world, and then moving on to spiritual matters.

    I have done this many times myself… for example on an airplane. I have been able to present the Gospel message by first drawing myself into the 10 commandments… how wicked I was (and still am!). But, then God forgave me and gave me a new heart with new desires.

    I don’t view this method as gimicky at all… I think it is an appropriate way to prepare oneself for the witnessing encounter, by giving some structure to the process.

    I view this in the same vein as 1 Peter 3:15

    “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

    Ray dubs his process ‘The Way of the Master’ because Jesus’ encounters with others had a pattern… The Lord began with the physical world:

    When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

    The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) John 4:7, 9

    Then Jesus moved to the spiritual issues (where the real problems festered).

    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

    I think Ray addresses your concern of:

    To me, there is no substitute for getting to know someone a little bit…

    But at some point, we know enough and can present the Law to the proud… and Grace to the humble.

    Blessings,
    – Jeff H

  13. I have/had been actively involved in the WOTM ministry down here for a little while now.

    I believe it is an excellent way to share the gospel.

    By by passing the intellect and hitting at the conscience, it is a great way to share with people from all faiths and manners of life.

    However, I have seen it used incorrectly. I have heard people sound very much like robots as they reel of the questions.

    There must be grace and no ‘sneek attacks’.

    A good blend of “being normal” and the WOTM method can, and does result in honest, open and Spirit led witnessing encounters.

    Get on it and don’t cast your pearls before swine!

  14. Rob says:

    I got saved through Ray’s ministry. I immediately felt a call as an evangelist, and having plodding along ever since. I think the best application of the WOTM stuff is that it is a simple stepping stone toward getting the gospel out. It’s a simple and biblical method that get’s people out of their comfort zone and out on the streets, and through time each person begins to get their own feel, their own style, and their own approach toward witnessing, with the biblical core of law to the proud and grace to the humble. Can it sound canned and rehearsed at the beginning? Sure. But that’s no reason to NOT share the gospel. Ultimately, God will be glorified and sinners will be saved.

  15. shane says:

    Our church is planning on doing local evangelism beginning in the new year. The Sunday school class that my wife and I are in is planning on doing the same thing.

    I brought some WOM tracts to our Sunday school teacher and a copy of the Hell’s best kept secret and True and false conversion sermons. We had a discussion this morning about what we wanted to do. They are wanting to order some materials on evangelism training.

    Our Sunday school teacher is seeing the problems with the way that modern evangelism is being performed. He made the coment that if we were a business we would be failing because what we are doing is not working. All of the gimmicks and what not are definitely not working.

    Hopefully they will like the WOM materials. If they do I might have to try and turn them on to Paul Washer, John Macarthur, ect…

    I am praying that whatever our church does they will adopt a Biblical aproach to evangelism. I don’t think I could get involved if they want me to do the Billy Graham method. I had some materials from his foundation from when I vollunteered to be a councellor at an event. I can’t go by that method anymore.

  16. WmMaurice says:

    I had an opportunity recently to spend some time with a homeless gentleman at a coffee shop. My heart went out to him as I watched him from my car for a while. When I went in, I simply offered to buy him a $3 breakfast.

    It was obvious he knew his eternal “fate” and was deeply humbled by what life had become for him… or was he.

    I started the morning by simply showing the love of Christ through buying him breakfast, and he knew I didn’t judge him.

    As we talked, he began to actually brag about his daily consumption of a quart of vodka. Further, he showed the depth of his pride and actual arrogance! What, a homeless man has arrogance? Yes.

    I knew at that point it was time to transition into the “Law” portion of the gospel and let the simple Biblical model do it’s work.

    In a short period of time, after surgical assertion of the law as represented by Paul all through the first 11 chapters of Romans, he broke… really broke, under the weight of HIS OWN sin and pride. The ground was broken and ready for the seed.

    You see, we have a responsibility to carry out the Biblical gospel no matter how offensive we may think it is, and let God give the increase.

    I knew he needed love in the form of compassion first, then he needed love in the form of confrontation after I had gained his attention and earned his trust.

    Whether the gospel is presented “Law” first or “Grace” is shown first, it’s all part of the gospel and IT’S ALL IN LOVE.

  17. Manfred says:

    WmMaurice,

    What a testimony of God’s grace! Blessings on you for being obedient to love someone in word and deed (even though it was deed then word :-). The post-modern man-pleasers would NEVER have thought to move to the law, having seen the man’s arrogance. But that is the prescription of the Great Physician. Let no man boast in the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting or regenerating a man!

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In recent years we have heard much about Lordship salvation vs. “easy believism” (also called “easy prayerism”). This debate has been especially fierce among Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. For example, Bro. David Cloud has been accused (falsely) of extreme Lordship salvation, because he opposes Jack Hyles’ emphasis on easy believism/easy prayerism.

Bro. Cloud has written a number of articles on this subject. Click here for one of these articles, entitled “WHAT’S WRONG WITH MOST SOUL WINNING COURSES?”

I was pleasantly surprised today, when a Facebook Friend recommended the article reposted below. The article emphasizes many of the same points as Bro. Cloud’s article. Click here for the original site of the following repost.

Revival and Revivalism – A Review by Bobby Jamieson

 

‘How did we get here?’ is a question that is always relevant and often illuminating. Yet contemporary evangelicals don’t ask it as often as they should.

In his book Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism, 1750-1858,1 Iain Murray tells a story that helps explain how evangelicals — Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and more — got to where we are today.

FROM REVIVAL . . .

The book’s title tells the whole story in a nutshell. Over the one hundred and nine years Murray examines, from 1750 to 1858, American evangelicals’ understanding and experience of evangelism morphed from ‘revival’ to ‘revivalism.’

Background: The First Great Awakening

Not that what came before 1750 wasn’t important. From about 1735 to 1740, under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others, the American colonies experienced a massive spiritual enlivening which came to be known as the First Great Awakening. This phenomenon was driven by preaching that emphasized the biblical truths of the holiness of God, the gravity of sin, man’s enslavement to sin, and the need for the Holy Spirit to give new birth so that people might repent, believe, and be saved.

Though superficial responses to such preaching inevitably got mixed up with the true, contemporaries of these events regarded them as a genuine revival. They believed this spiritual movement had been caused by God’s sovereign choice to pour out his Spirit in a profound and unusual way, thus causing the ordinary, biblically appointed means of evangelism to bear extraordinary fruit.

Heirs of Edwards and Whitefield

Murray’s story, then, begins with the heirs of the First Great Awakening who ministered from New England to Virginia, men such as Samuel Davies and Alexander McWhorter (Chs. 1-4). These pastors held to the same theology that drove Edwards’ and Whitefield’s preaching, and they had been personally impacted by the events of 1735-1740. Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, these men and the ministers who followed them periodically experienced the blessing of God on their ministries in ways that also merited the label ‘revival.’

Revival: Gift of God, not Guaranteed Result

Like their predecessors, these pastors knew that revivals were the sovereign work of God and could not be explained in any other way. Therefore, they preached the gospel, pleaded with sinners, and prayed for fruit like they had for years; and for reasons known only to God, he sometimes blessed these labours remarkably, and sometimes he didn’t. These revivals, in other words, were neither planned by men nor achieved by men. They did not involve any unusual or novel evangelistic techniques. They were understood, therefore, to be gifts of God.

. . . TO REVIVALISM

Then, beginning around 1800, revival began to break out on a greater scale across the young nation, from the northeast to the western states of Kentucky and Tennessee. And what’s truly remarkable is that this large-scale revival continued in one form or another for about thirty years, rightly earning it the title of the Second Great Awakening.

The Second Great Awakening

In the beginning, this revival was understood in the same terms as previous ones. Yet over time, theological and practical shifts began to occur that amounted to a revolution by the revival’s end. (For this part of the story, see chapters 5 through 12.)

For example, in 1800 in Cane Ridge, Kentucky the Presbyterians’ outdoor ‘communion seasons’ (which followed a traditional Scottish practice) became the flashpoint for what looked like a major movement of the Spirit. The meetings grew quickly. Ministers from other denominations, such as the Methodists, shared in the preaching. Large numbers of people who were unaffiliated with any church travelled great distances to come and hear. Many people responded to the preaching and singing, sometimes in disruptively dramatic ways.

Eventually, the leaders divided over how to respond to excessive displays of emotion in these meetings. Some — most of the Presbyterians — thought such displays should be permitted or rebuked depending on the case, while others — the Methodists — tended to treat all of them as proof of the work of God’s Spirit.

From this point, the Methodist leaders of this work in Kentucky took a strategy that was originally a response to revival — namely, protracted outdoor meetings — and made it a key component of their efforts to bring about revival. Further, these Methodists and some others, undergirded by a radically different doctrine of conversion, began to focus their efforts on inducing outward, immediate responses to the gospel.

Two Major Shifts

The story runs along similar lines elsewhere. By the 1820s and 1830s, two major shifts had occurred throughout American evangelicalism.

The first was a doctrinal shift regarding conversion. Up to 1800, evangelicals almost universally believed and preached that God must sovereignly give someone a new nature to enable him or her to repent and believe. By the 1830s, this was widely replaced by an understanding of conversion in which the decision to repent and believe lay entirely within an individual’s own power.

This led to (or, in some cases, followed) a shift in evangelistic practice. Many evangelicals adopted practices that sought to bring about an immediate decision. The ‘anxious bench,’ the altar call, singling people out personally in public prayer, warning hearers to respond immediately or else lose their chance to repent — all these practices and more grew out of the new belief that conversion was something within a person’s power to achieve, or even to effect in others.

The Result: Revivalism

The result of these two shifts was that church leaders began to regard revival as something that could be infallibly secured through the use of proper means — ‘proper’ being whatever would induce an immediate decision or external token of decision. This understanding was most vigorously promoted by Charles Finney, but by the end of the Second Great Awakening it had become a given among a strong majority of American evangelicals. Historian William McLoughlin even went so far as to say that by the mid-nineteenth century, this new system was the national religion of the United States (277).

Thus, revivalism was born. To be sure, revivalism grew up in the soil of genuine revival. But this new practice of revivalism radically differed from the previous understanding of revival it so quickly supplanted. A ‘revival’ became synonymous with a meeting designed to promote revival. Unlike previous generations, evangelicals after 1830 gained the ability, so to speak, to put a revival on the calendar months in advance.

The goal of such revivals was to secure as many immediate decisions for Christ as possible. As such, awareness of the possibility of false conversion seemed to simply vanish from the evangelical consciousness. Few asked whether their new measures just might create as many false converts as true disciples

SEVEN LESSONS FOR PASTORS

At the risk of stating the obvious, it doesn’t take too much effort to see how we got from the 1830s to the evangelistic practices that many of us take for granted today. That holds true whether we’re thinking of stadium-based crusades or churches which seek to recreate that atmosphere every Sunday.

Yet, as Murray rightly argues in the book’s final chapter, this type of revivalism and the theology that supports it represent a serious departure from both a biblical doctrine of conversion and a biblical practice of evangelism. Therefore, Revival and Revivalism should inspire us to reflect critically and carefully about our churches and our evangelistic practices.

Toward that end, here are seven lessons from the book that should be especially relevant for pastors.

1. Don’t Confuse an External Act with Inward Change.

First, don’t confuse an external act with inward change. Murray writes about the beginnings of the altar call, Nobody, at first, claimed to regard it as a means of conversion. But very soon, and inevitably, answering the call to the altar came to be confused with being converted. People heard preachers plead for them to come forward with the same urgency with which they pleaded for them to repent and believe (186; see also 366).

It’s possible to walk an aisle, pray a ‘sinner’s prayer,’ and do any number of other activities without being converted. And it’s possible to be converted without taking any of those particular outward steps (though of course conversion will always manifest itself in visible fruit).

Therefore, pastors should not speak about any external action as if it were identical with conversion. And they should be wary of evangelism techniques which seem to equate the two.

2. Beware of Producing False Converts.

Second, beware of producing false converts. Of course it’s inevitable that some people who initially profess faith will later prove unrepentant, but pastors can evangelize in a way that either minimizes or multiplies false converts. For instance, Murray cites Samuel Miller to the effect that the anxious seat (precursor to the altar call) promotes ‘the rapid multiplication of superficial, ignorant, untrained professors of religion’ — that is, false converts (366).

3. Be Cautious about Giving Immediate Assurance of Salvation.

Third, be cautious about giving immediate assurance of salvation. Perseverance, as the New Hampshire Confession says, is the grand mark of a true Christian (Heb. 3:6, 14). Faith makes itself known by its fruits — whether good or bad, true or false (Matt.7:15-27). Yet Murray points out that the new revivalistic methods were actually founded on the promise of immediate assurance:

But the anxious-seat evangelism wanted to do away with any doubts in those who made the public response. The whole strength of its appeal . . . lay in its suggestion that a response would ensure salvation. To have conceded that there was no sure connection between answering a public appeal and being converted would have been to undermine the whole system. (368)

In other words, the whole point of the new methods was that a response guaranteed salvation. And on that basis, preachers assured people of their salvation immediately and unreservedly simply for coming forward at the end of the service.

Assurance of salvation is possible for the youngest and weakest Christian, but it should always be grounded in the objective work of Christ and corroborated by the fruit of a transformed life.

So pastors, be cautious about giving immediate assurance of salvation. And be careful not to give it on the wrong basis.

4. Tether your Ministry to What God Requires in his Word.

Fourth, tether your ministry to what God requires in his Word. In some ways, the crucial turning point in Murray’s narrative comes when the early nineteenth-century Methodists came to regard certain novel, extra-biblical practices — long-duration outdoor camp meetings, techniques to secure immediate decisions, and so on — as the crucial keys to producing conversions (184).

Certainly, Christians are free to pursue evangelism in ways that are not directly exampled in Scripture. If Paul could rent the hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), why shouldn’t modern evangelicals evangelize in stadiums? But the catch is that these new methods became mandates. They became magic bullets. And they became the givens without which people could not imagine anyone getting saved.

Instead, place your confidence in what God has required you to do — preach the Word. Trust that God has given you, in his Word, what you need to be a faithful pastor. Labour with the tools he’s given, and trust that he will cause your work to bear fruit.

5. Make Sure your Theology Drives your Practice, not Vice Versa.

Fifth, make sure your theology drives your practice, not vice versa. Murray writes about the spread of the altar call among Baptists, who in the early 19th century were almost unanimously reformed in their soteriology:

It had not captured anything like the majority of the churches in the 1830s but there can be no doubt that, with the Baptists also, it was the alleged success of the new evangelism which hastened both its adoption and the gradual doctrinal shift to justify it. (325-326)

In this case the practical tail wagged the theological dog. The logic of the new evangelism worked its way into their theological system and re-wrote the DNA. Without realizing it, huge numbers of Baptists adopted an evangelistic method that was not only at odds with their theological commitments, but eventually undid them.

6. Don’t Equate Outward Success with a Divine Endorsement.

Sixth, don’t equate outward success with a divine endorsement. During the conflicts Murray chronicles between the old guard and the new, the revivalists often played the trump card of outward success (282). As one contemporary pastor has famously put it, ‘Never criticize what God is blessing.’

The first problem with the argument from success is that ‘success’ is not always success. Murray writes,

What was indisputable was that making ‘conversion’ a matter of instant, public decision, with ascertainable numbers immediately announced in the religious press, produced a display of repeated ‘successes’ on a scale never before witnessed (283).

But how many of these ‘decisions’ represented genuine conversions? How many were baptized, joined churches, and began new lives? If the numbers back then match the numbers generated through similar methods today, the likely answer is, ‘Not many.’

The second problem with the argument from success is that, in one way or another, God is always blessing us in spite of ourselves. Every time God uses a pastor’s preaching to convert people, he’s blessing that man’s work in spite of that man’s sins and errors. So how can you be sure that God is blessing a ministry because of some new method rather than in spite of it?

Certainly we should expect God to bless preaching and practices that are in line with his Word. But we can’t reduce his workings to the mechanics of ‘most faithful’ = ‘most blessing.’ Nor can we work backwards from apparent success to discern what must be correct theology and practice.

7. Celebrate the Normal.

Murray writes of the earlier generation of ministers who regarded revival as a gift from God, ‘The men of the Old School, while believing in revival as fervently as they did . . . nevertheless knew no biblical reason to be cast down by the normal’ (385). These men knew that most of the time, ministry is slow and plodding work. They knew that some sow and others reap. They ‘believed that God would grant his blessing in the measure that was appropriate — whether in its heightened form . . . or in quieter ways’ (385).

So, finally, don’t be discouraged by slow-ripening fruit. Instead, rely on God to work through the regular means of grace. Celebrate the normal.

GOOD REASONS WHY IT’S ALREADY BECOMING A CLASSIC

As I hope this review has proved, there are many good reasons why Revival and Revivalism is already becoming a classic. It’s long, dense, and somewhat rambling, but it more than repays the time and effort it takes to get through it. I commend it to all present and aspiring church leaders, and to any Christian who likes to ask, ‘How did we get here?’



Note:

1. Revival and Revivalism
Iain H. Murray
480 pages, clothbound
£15.00, $33.00
ISBN 978 0 85151 660 8

Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks, author of the 9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides (Crossway, forthcoming 2012), MDiv student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church. This review article is taken from 9Marks Journal, March/April 2012.

 

By Bobby Jamieson

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