Great Awakening Preachers and Evangelism

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As a young seminarian a man I admired encourage me to read a biography of a Christian leader each year for the rest of my life. I’ve followed this advice and have in particular read biographies of those involved in great awakenings (like George Whitefield pictured here). As I’ve done so one of the things I sought to learn is what common features marked the diverse personalities used of God in the past. Let’s face it; the preachers in the great revivals were as disparate as Jesus’s disciples. It’s been a helpful, educational, and devotional exercise.

This week I’m teaching a PhD seminar on the History and Theology of Awakenings with my pals Dwayne Milioni and Stephen Eccher.  Yesterday Dwayne noted the work of Methodist Homiletician Michael Pasquerello, who observed four common Features of Great Awakening preachers. I want to list these and add my own thoughts as to how they can inform the church today.

  1. Robust proclamation of the gospel: The message of the great awakening preachers was the gospel. Is that the message we talk about above all others? What if Christians actually talked more of Christ? Seems to me we are preoccupied with many things and have lost focus of the main thing. These preachers kept the main thing the main thing.
  2. Emphasis of repentance and conversion: How often do we in our daily lives call people to repent and believe? Do we do so regularly in our preaching? There was an urgency that seems lacking too often today.
  3. Enthusiastic testimony of the preacher’s and other’s conversions: Jonathan Edwards said the stories of revival did much to promote the work of the great awakening. How much do we share our testimony of salvation, and that of others? I was struck this week reading Acts 15, when the early church faced a significant controversy. In verses 3 and 4 we read of testimonies of conversion that brought joy to the hearers. Even facing controversy they emphasized the work of salvation. I think there may be a lesson in there somewhere. We don’t talk to others about Jesus much because we don’t talk about Jesus with one another! How often have our churches had stewardship testimonies but overlook the power of stories of conversion. I think of my friend Johnny Hunt, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Woodstock. Rarely have I heard him preach without sharing his own conversion testimony. He never got over it! May we share more of our stories of Gods work to encourage one another.
  4. Experience of spiritual and moral vitality: the hand of God was clearly on these preachers. They stood apart in their day. People we meet can tell three things about us: 1) If we care about them, 2) If we believe what we are talking about (and if we never talk about Jesus, we are saying we believe he is not a big deal), 3) If the hand of God is on our life.

There is something very powerful both in the church and in the world when we see a believer consumed with the wonder of salvation. It’s too rare, folks. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty fatigued of talk about politics, entertainment, and other topics that are either not really that important (like sports) or out of our lanes. I’m sure there will be much more talk about March Madness than the scandal of the cross by followers of Christ the next few weeks.

We do not do well, beloved, and joy–unlike what we read in Acts 15–seems too distant for too many. May we never get tired of talking about Jesus. Let’s refocus on sharing the good news to the glory of God!