Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Edwards, Whitefield, Finney and Love

Most folks reading these essays here at Spirit in the Wild Wood will recognize the name of Jonathan Edwards in connection with the Great Awakening of the 18th century. Add to his name that of George Whitefield and eighty years after these two, the name of Charles Finney. Together these three largely shaped the heritage and practice of evangelism prevailing in the 20th century American church.

Through Jonathan Edwards’s ministry, the emoting of deep repentance as response to a message of fire and brimstone, including noticeable physical affectations like “swooning,” reached levels of such common renown that the established church of the day repudiated him. George Whitefield increased the numbers attending meetings in amounts greater than many of today’s mega churches. Ben Franklin once verified mathematically that Whitefield was vocally reaching audiences with his natural voice numbering in the tens of thousands. Finney developed a place for those affected by his preaching and interested in becoming Christians encouraging these move to the front and wait on the “the anxious bench.”

In reading the histories of these three, detailed references regarding their “passion” either at conversion or in the ministry are frequent. Each had theological specifics that differentiated them one from the other, but nonetheless the common denominator of passion cannot be mistaken. From this period of time, two very significant American Christian standards of the 20th century are unmistakably rooted. These are the large evangelical meeting intended to produce large numbers of converts known variously as revivals, crusades or harvest meetings, and the sinner’ prayer at conversion. That this conversion experience is associated with a strong emotional response to one’s condition of sin and need for saving grace is a situation which we have all witnessed. Certainly most of us will admit having seen in various degrees a direct attempt of appeal to emotion as part of the ambience and rhetoric of the altar call.

The passion of these three historical leaders are cause for debate even today, largely because we as a broad body of believers do not share perspectives on the appropriateness, efficacy, or authenticity of emotion in the experiences of conversion and the Christian walk. I could possibly expound on my thoughts concerning each of these men and their ministries, but that is not my purpose.

Rather I simply submit one can neither separate passion from the human experience generally nor from the Christian walk singularly. We are a passionate race despite individuals known and highly regarded for being dispassionate.

Further the gospel calls us to love. Because Christ first loved us and He died for us (known euphemistically as His passion), we love Him in return. Extending this concept, we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love others as we love ourselves. These two commandments fulfill the entire law! How can we honestly teach anyone that walking in the truth of Christ is about getting one’s doctrine straight according to a prescribed list of what is and is not correct doctrine?

Why do we shy away from attempting to teach about a heart experience with Christ and elevate an intellectually based theology instead? I suspect this is because the rational approach is both quantifiable and easily reduced to a check list of who should be perceived as “in” and who is “out”. Maybe we need the quantifiable approach, because along the way we believed from experience that the best ministries reached tens of thousands of people at the time. These needed to be rapidly processed through a justifiable means--the sinner’s prayer—enabling a peace of mind that the emotional responses generating conversions were not just emotional. Thus we grew the church. Now in the 21st century, the standard denominational church is fighting to keep membership from being solely gray-haired and those not attending are stating a desire to know God not ritual.

The Christian experience is a human experience involving love. If we do not embrace the emotional level of this reality, we fail the convert in equipping him or her to walk in the newness of life; we fail one another in the substance of the shared experience; we fail ourselves in never understanding our true potential; and we will fail God in our lack of faith. Or so it appears to me in the Wild Wood.


Steve Sensenig said...

I don't think I have anything to say except: I agree!!! Wow. You nailed so many different things in this post that it almost gave me chills reading it.

How is it that we missed the depth of true "life in Christ" for so long? I can only rest in the knowledge that my Father specializes in making up for lost time and restoring the years that have been wasted.

Alan Knox said...

When we quantify that which by nature is unquantifiable, we end up with something that appears to be authentic, but lacks life. Thus, we can make robots that look human, but are not human. We can make food that looks edible, but tastes awful. We can make disciples that know all of the correct answers, but lack the Spirit. Discipleship starts with new life in Christ - new LIFE, not new concepts and knowledge. If we do not start with life, we do not end up with life.


ded said...


Thanks for your comment. I appreciate our exchange "in the spirit" over the last two years very much. I think many have always found the depth of the life in Christ, but their voices are easily overlooked in the midst of all the shouting, debates and swooning.


Thank you for your comment, as well. You have stated clearly the simple truth. Would anyone go out and buy something weeks old, preserved chemically then shrink-wrapped and call it a feast, when a home cooked meal from whole fresh foods was sitting on the table?

Terry said...

I think back to a day when you taught about there being a place where we could actually be one in the spirit with each other—yet hold different ideas about things scriptural—a unity in diversity so to speak.

Without being arrogant we need to teach a gospel that releases the power in us to overcome the obstacles that keep us from fully loving and forgiving one another.

Some of what you wrote about might explain why many are waning when indeed they should be waxing deep into the faith—myself included.

It is really all about the foundation we build upon.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Charles Powell said...

We once took a can of "Easy Cheese" to Dublin Ireland. The believers we were gathering with there could not comprehend that anything called "cheese" could come from a can. Many were reluctant to even try any. However, some took a step (I think they were just accommodating the visitors.) and discovered that it wasn't such a bad experience. We then began to describe the variety of applications available with Easy Cheese and the fun began. It is clear that there was room in their lives for a block of fine aged cheddar as well as cans of sharp cheddar easy cheese (the best version by the way).

The interesting aspect of this story is that it all took place in a church that was serving as the home of a raucous pentecostal church that had just hosted a packed out Third Day concert and the night prior we had joined together for an amazing time of worship prayer and healing for the surrounding community of homeless and high society. This same building centuries earlier had been home to a more staid methodist church frequently preached in by John Wesley.

I think there is plenty of room for cheese carefully sliced as well as cheese propelled under pressure.

ded said...

The Charles Powell, former ASU SGA president of the late 70's?

If so, wow, it's great to hear from you!!

How did you get holt of my blog?

and I agree. I love cheese in all shapes, sizes, tastes and modes of consumption!

Charles Powell said...

yep, its me... I also responded to earlier post with comments related to the Lost Colony but since it was my first time I was uncertain of the process. I found your blog through Terry's.

Besides some work, and good family time, most of my energy is directed towards a bunch of high school students here in Concord which led to the easy cheese example always a hit with that demographic.

Look forward to more on your blog and I'll comment as time, thought, and energy allow.

Charles Powell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Iris said...

What an outstandingly balanced post! Thank you. I have been studying and pondering what the Lord was talking about in His Word when it is translated "Behold."
I have come to the conclusion, that it involves an interior "seeing" of what He says. If so, then we cannot "Behold," if we do not engage our emotions, as true "beholding" involves our using our emotional ability as well as our mental. To "see" in Spirit is to engage the totality of a person. Just some thoughts.
Anyway -- keep writing. You bless all who read.

Craig V. said...

Great post ded!

I taught a Bible study last week where I had a group walk through a passage in I John asking the question "Is John describing something objective or something subjective?" For example, is love, as John describes it, subjective or objective? After very little coaching on my part, everyone soon saw that answering with just one or the other would weaken and distort John's message.

ded said...


Thanks for the encouragement! Paul tells in Eph. 1:18 he prays
"...that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened..." I completely concur with your insight on the use of "behold".


Always glad to your name in the comments! I would have enjoyed being in your class. I would that we would all more fully understand the all encompassing nature of love which is ours in Him.