Who was Henry Alline?

First Great Awakening

As part of my orientation into the Baptist Church, I started doing some research on the early Baptists in Canada and rediscovered the importance of spiritual revivals.   Though Baptists had an even earlier history in Europe, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many early Baptists in  Canada and the American colonies had its beginnings in the revivals of the Great Awakenings.  God used and is still using spiritual revivals to call His people back to Himself.

Many Baptist churches in the Maritimes were established upon the foundation set by the leadership of one of the most influential preachers in early Canadian history, Henry Alline, who was central to spiritual revival in Nova Scotia.  Alline was regarded by his contemporaries as Nova Scotia’s George Whitefield—dynamic, eloquent, and uniquely spiritual.

Born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1748, Alline arrive to Nova Scotia with his parents and experienced a spiritual conversion in 1775 at the age of 27. Henry Alline began to preach in 1776 during the spiritual revival that swept the Maritimes, in which most, if not all, protestant churches were impacted.  Whether it was in Nova Scotia or New England, crowds flocked to hear him wherever he went.  His ministry lasted only eight years from 1776 until his premature death in February 1784 at the young age of thirty-five.  All though the timespan of his life and ministry was short, God used him powerfully, and later, his predecessors, to make a lasting impact in the evangelical and Baptist landscape in the Maritimes during this period of the First Great Awakening, 1778-1783.

Alline often spoke of this personal spiritual experience in terms of “New Light” and “New Birth”.  Today, we would probably speak of his New Light experience as equivalent to what we know as the “Spirit-filled” and “born again” experience, which is expressed in his words, “Attracted by the love and beauty I saw in the divine perfections, my whole soul was inexpressibly ravished with the blessed Redeemer . . . my whole soul seemed filled with the divine being”. Church historian George Rawlyk says: “Sometimes his preaching, ‘charged with emotionalism’ as it was, and delivered in a ‘fervent and eloquent manner’, in a resonating tenor voice, became superb poetry. Sometimes, the poetry was sung as a spiritual song and followed immediately by an almost frenzied outburst of words directed at specific [types of] people in his audience.”   For example, it might be directed it at young and old, at fisherman, community leaders and soldiers. Rawlyk says he probably did not have time to prepare his sermons.  He preached “as the Spirit moved him” and used words full of evocative and powerful imagery.  Between 1777 and 1783, in his trips crisscrossing Nova Scotia and the New England states, it is estimated that Henry Alline may have preached fifteen hundred sermons.

Between 1776 to 1784, Henry Alline established  five churches in Nova Scotia and two in New Brunswick that were known as New Light congregations.    These congregations did not start out Baptist in polity.  All but one of these New Light congregations eventually organized to become a part of Regular Baptist and Free Baptist denominations in Atlantic Canada. By 1810, there were about 28 Baptist churches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

What’s a Lutheran? Let a traditional Lutheran explain it

If you’re an Evangelical, have you ever wondered how a traditional-orthodox Lutheran might feel about him or herself?  Or how a traditional Lutheran pastor might feel about Evangelicals?

I just came across an interview posted at The Gospel Coalition blog titled “Those Dern Lutherans“.  Blogger and Reformed pastor, Rev. Kevin DeYoung (RCA), interviewed Rev. Paul T. McCain, an orthodox Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor (LCMS) who is the editor at Concordia Publishing House, and who blogs at Cyberbrethren.  Let me say that he sure can tell you what Lutheranism is about. I have been a reader of his blog for years.    I’m not a traditional born-and-bred Lutheran; I’m an evangelical transplanted into the Lutheran church–so I provide this disclaimer–“What I say about Lutheranism is not necessarily representative of most Lutherans”. In this interview, Pastor Paul says it well.

Question 9. “Anything else you think the world needs to know about Lutherans?”

Answer: “I would say this: I think Evangelicals often find themselves searching for something they feel might be a bit “missing” in their Christian walk, and think that Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy may fit the bill, while all the while Lutheranism is there, right around the corner. Often when they find a traditional Lutheran Church they are surprised to find a robust, rich worship life, rooted in the Scripture (which is what the liturgy is, in its entirety). They find a rich focus on Christ and the Gospel–Lutherans are adamant that Christ is the heart and center of everything, and they also find a tangible experience with God, not based simply on feelings or emotions, but on a concrete and objective experience with God’s grace through the sacraments. And all this is wrapped up in such a vibrant passionate love for Jesus. We Lutherans combine the best of what is Evangelical, with the best of what is truly catholic about the Church, with the rich heritage of the Lutheran Reformation. I think it is a winning combination, but of course, I’m kind of biased.” (…Read full interview)

I think he’s right in what he says about some Evangelicals–whether we admit it or not.  Evangelical theology has much to learn from Lutheran theology, albeit, the opposite is true too.  The same goes for worship-liturgy too.  If you’re Lutherans, sorry but the vice versa is true too.

When all is said and done, I can honestly say that every denomination, church, or tradition, e.g., Lutheran, Presbyterian, Evangelical, etc., we have much to learn from one another.

Evangelical disconnect between Jesus and Paul

In Scot McKnight’s article in the December issue of Christianity Today [ HatTip: TC ] I think he is really onto something big here.  He is bringing up an issue that is just on the cusp of really becoming a major issue within evangelical Christianity, especially amongst younger evangelicals.  People are finding that they can resonate more with Jesus’ kingdom vision rather than Paul’s message of justification.  For those who don’t think so, just wait and see.  Today, there is a disconnect between our inability to connect Jesus’ language about the “kingdom of God” with Paul’s language of justification, says McKnight. What McKnight wants us to see is that the two can be reconciled.

This article has caused me to become more self-aware of the change in my own theology.  In coming out of a Lutheran seminary two years ago. I have been more storied in the justice/kingdom language in the gospels of Jesus rather than the justification language of Paul’s epistles.  As a result, I have been preaching more from the gospels–actually more than double the number of sermons on Paul’s epistles.  Why?  Perhaps I just feel more comfortable with Jesus’ kingdom of God, and less comfortable with Paul’s justification.  I am an evangelical, but am I a typical evangelical?  Perhaps…perhaps not.  However, I think this may be representative of many recent seminary graduates, especially those coming out from more liberal seminaries where social justice is sometimes over-emphasized.

During my seminary days, I have heard far more sermons in chapel on the gospels of Jesus rather than on Paul’s epistles….in church too.  What will be a consequence of this change?  Our sermons will become more justice-oriented rather than justification-oriented.  Perhaps this may have contributed to the mainline denominations emphasis on justice in their theology. .  Perhaps I need to be re-storied in Paul’s language of justification rather than Jesus’ justice language on the kingdom of God?  Where is the balance in my life?  Perhaps this is why I’ve decided to take continue education classes at an evangelical seminary because I feel that I am missing out on an evangelical slant on Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

In our evangelical minds, we may like to think of ourselves as pro-justification and on the side of Paul, but our theology may actually be more in line with the justice of Jesus’ kingdom of God.  Regarding gospelling, McKnight says in the video interview, that we have moved into a persuasive rhetoric, whereas, we used to use declarative rhetoric.  Persuasive rhetoric is open to manipulation so we should be more declarative in our gospelling.  [ video here…]

In your church, are you hearing more sermons based on the gospel text? Or on Paul’s epistles?

Christians are leaving church in record numbers

Leaving Church series: Intro 1, Intro 2, Part 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, Pt 4, Pt 5, Pt 6, Pt 7.

Author and journalist, Julia Duin, says that people are leaving church in record numbers.  I believe this is true, especially in North America, and it has been happening for decades in Europe already. Duin, author of Quitting Church (Baker Books, 2008) said in an interview at Rutherford that:

People who are leaving have been in church for some time. They’ve been believers more than ten years and are burned out. They’re not getting anything new in their churches. They’re not seeing the three major things—decent preaching, good community and feeding. Full interview…

By feeding, she meant content and spirituality.  The whole seeker-sensitive movement is part of the problem, she says:

The seeker friendly movement started in the 1980s. It was the effort to dumb down a lot of church services, make them shorter, easier to grasp, cut the number of hymns, cut the preaching time and get it to a kind of package deal. The idea was to get nonbelievers interested in going to church because it would not take up too much of their time and wouldn’t challenge them too much. But what happened is that a lot of people who had been believers for some time suddenly found that the sermons were like milk instead of meat. They were so simplistic. Many were finding that what they were getting was pabulum.

Well, this problem is not only symptomatic of mainstream evangelical churches, but has also been a common symptom in most mainline churches for decades.  If the steep decline in attendance at mainline churches is any indication of the dangers of dumbing down content and spirituality, then mainstream evangelical churches better wake up and smell the coffee!

We are not teaching the important truths of the faith.  Neither are we forming real community.  Moreover, our churches seem to be doing a lousy job reaching out to people who are suffering or going through trials.

We need to begin to raise the bar and give people what they are looking for when they enter our churches: content and spirituality!

Leaving Church series: Intro 1, Intro 2, Part 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, Pt 4, Pt 5, Pt 6, Pt 7.

What if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

I was just reading a very interesting blog post on Parchment and Pen (HT: TC & Joel) posted by Daniel Wallace (a dispensationalist at Dallas Theological Seminary) where there’s an excellent exchange of ideas and views.  Wallace’s beef is with liberal theologians who regard themselves as open-minded but their behavior is less than open-minded when it comes to how they treat evangelical students. His statement is a little disheartening:

Many of the mainline liberal schools routinely reject applications to their doctoral programs from evangelical students who are more qualified than their liberal counterparts—solely because they’re evangelicals. And Dallas Seminary students especially have a tough time getting into primo institutes because of the stigma of coming from, yes, I’ll say it again—a dispensational school. One of my interns was earning his second master’s degree at a mainline school, even taking doctoral courses. He was head and shoulders above most of the doctoral students there. But when he applied for the PhD at the same school, he was rejected. His Dallas Seminary degree eliminated him.

This can be very infuriating to evangelicals. I agree, I think there is still a lot of prejudice at some or many liberal seminaries; and faculty do make it harder for evangelicals to get through a program at their seminaries. At the same time, there are many liberals who are not prejudiced against evangelicals. In fact, they like the evangelical perspective because it’s fresh and new to them. Evangelicals are able to hold to orthodox theology while being open to  a critical view of biblical scholarship; while some liberals seem to have lost all their theological bearings and thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Think about Bart Ehrman for a minute. What if his application to Princeton Theo. Seminary was rejected?  Bart Ehrman was a hardcore evangelical who did his theological degree at Moody Bible Institute but later did his PhD at Princeton. Princeton was where his view of the bible changed 180 degrees. He no longer considers himself a Christian. That’s scary. I’ve always wondered what if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Mary and the evangelical mind

In the November 2009 edition of First Things, a Roman Catholic journal on religion, culture, and public life, the Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) article: “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life” addressed the issue of Mary, which is an important to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.   It was very balanced and well thought out in my opinion. Previously, I have heard the defense for Mary from a Catholic point-of-view but what stands out most in this article was the evangelical admission of ignorance of doctrinal beliefs held by Catholics regarding Mary.

Despite all this common ground, however, both Marian dogma and Marian devotion remain contentious issues. Evangelicals understand that the Catholic Church does not equate adoration of God (latria) and veneration for Mary (hyperdoulia). It seems to many Evangelicals, however, that the devotion of some Catholics to Mary can obscure the preeminence, unique sinlessness, and sole salvific sufficiency of Jesus Christ as well as the common pneumatological ground of worship for all Christians who pray “through Christ in the Spirit.”

Emphasis on Mary’s intercessory role, coupled with prayers to Mary, can create confusion between adoration and veneration—and risks leading people away from, rather than to, the Savior. This is especially true in contexts where devotion to Mary is a deeply ingrained part of cultural identity. We do not think this is the intention of Catholic teaching as expressed in Lumen Gentium, and Catholic members of ECT have addressed in helpful ways exaggerations of Marian piety. In an age of syncretism and radical pluralism, the recent statements by Pope Benedict XVI declaring Jesus Christ the one and only Savior are an encouragement to all faithful Christians. We acknowledge that there is little Evangelical reflection on any of these Marian themes, certainly nothing commensurate with the vast Catholic literature in the field. This stems from Protestant neglect of Mary, born of a conviction that the Catholic portrait of Mary exceeds its biblical warrants. Full article…

The mysterious claims of apparitions of Mary at Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe have occasionally caught my attention, hence, the mystique behind Mary.  However, deep inside, I admit that I have secretly held Marian teaching with a slight contempt, simply because it seems like Mary’s humanity should be so obvious to us as Christians.  We regard her as a person not without sin, therefore, the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is unnatural to the evangelical mind.  I have read and heard many Catholics address her as The Blessed Virgin Mary.  To address her as such gives us evangelicals a funny feeling inside because the concept of her being so blessed would almost stand on the verge of idolatry.  That is why evangelicals do not even go there.

We ask ourselves: “Is Mary really that blessed that she should deserve the title The Blessed Virgin Mary?…and why Mary, and not Peter, Paul, James and John?”  Sure Mary was blessed to give birth to Jesus the Christ but she was still only a human being.  However, the more I think about this, I don’t think I would have any problem with this title of honor.  However, what seems to give us evangelicals problems concerning Mary is the adoration and veneration given to her; herein lies the underlying fear.

I know the ECT article addressed this, but protestants, in general, do still get the impression from Roman Catholics that Mary is so highly regarded as a saint that the veneration of her as a saint could lead one to worship her, and pray to her as a secondary mediator after Jesus.  Evangelicals and protestants do not pray to Mary, let alone to any other saint.  In the evangelical mind, it would be on the verge of idolatry to pray to anyone else but to God Himself.  As evangelicals, we have always been taught that the only mediator and intercessor between humans and God is Jesus Christ himself.

I have no trouble with Mary’s virgin birth.  In fact, Mary’s virginal concept is an orthodox doctrine that evangelicals cherish.   It is actually seen as a bellwether test of orthodoxy, and it is usually included in many of our statements of beliefs.  However, this doctrine of Mary’s virgin birth is not on the forefront of the evangelical mind.  Should it be?

All Saints Day: any saints today deserving of recognition?

In the earliest days, St. John the Baptist and the early martyrs were honoured by a special day. The earliest day was traced back to Sunday after Pentecost. During the persecution under Diocletian’s rule there were a great number of Christians martyred so this common day was appointed by theRoman Catholic Church (RCC). Gradually, more saints were added to the list of saints including patron saints recognized by the RCC, plus saints like Luther and Calvin added by protestant churches.

I found out how a person becomes a Catholic saint according to the RCC:

1) The person must have exhibited heroic virtues in life;
2) There must have been a confirmed miracle attributed to the person; and
3) There must be another miracle attributed to his/her intercession.

If a person meets these three requirements, then he/she is canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint.

Today, there are almost as many saints as there are days in the year. But why stop now? Today, I think many more saints of the Lord who are not Roman Catholic but are evangelicals. Protestants, evangelicals, and charismatics who claim numerous uncountable miracles are not as big on celebrating saints like the RCC but who are, nevertheless, deserving of the same commemoration as martyrs.

Why not open All Saints’ Day to all deserving candidates? Are there any lesser-known saints you know of who deserves to be recognized by us today?

New book: “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church”

I’ve been blogging about the evangelical church recently. Here’s a related post.

Tim Challies recently commented on the new book (see his post here): A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.  It might be a good book we should pay more attention to because it offers constructive criticism and advice for those who have been disenchanted with the evangelical church. Challies states:

This book comes from a man who has been an insider, an evangelical, for several decades. And it comes from a man who loves the church, not one who wants to phase it out or move on to the next thing. He spends the bulk of this book diagnosing problems within evangelicalism saying that once we are able to name a problem, we are equipped to deal with it. He begins by dismantling evangelical myths (bigger is better, being the foremost of these) and then turns to his description of The New Provincialism. This is a term he coined to describe evangelicalism’s obsession with now at the expense of the past and the future.

The evangelical church in the UK is on the rise

In mainline Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian churches, we are seeing a constant and continual drop in church attendance.  Something has got to change!

But when we look at evangelical churches, attendance tend either remain stable or are flourishing.  What is the difference?  What are evangelical churches doing that is different?

In relation to my previous post “Will evangelicalism decline or continue to expand?“, I noticed from an article from the UK newspaper  “The Independent” that the evangelical church in the UK is now growing.  [HatTip: Rachel Marszalek ]

“Church of England pews may be empty, but the fields of Somerset are rocking with a series of evangelical festivals this summer….. As the leaders of Britain’s more mainstream denominations scratch their heads and debate how to revitalise their congregations, evangelical Christianity in Britain is going from strength to strength. The number of evangelical churches in Britain has risen from 2047 to 2,719 since 1998 and their followers now make up 34 per cent of Anglicans, figures show.”

News like this in the UK is very encouraging. I can still remember constantly hearing about how the church in the UK was on the verge of dying but it has seemed to resurrected due to a revival in the evangelical/charismatic movement.  For this, I’d like to say: “Praise God! God is on the move in the UK.”

Some might ponder if it’s just some gimmick.  I have no doubt that there is no gimmick.   I think mainline churches have a lot to learn from evangelical churches.  Evangelical churches are simply more in tune with God’s clear sense of mission and evangelism than mainline churches.  Evangelicals are clear in encouraging that every disciple should engage in personal evangelism.  How evangelism is engaged may vary widely.  Worship may also vary widely.  Not all evangelical congregations use drums or electric guitars. Some are still in the stone age using organs, but the commonality is in the attitude of the believer: everyone is encouraged in the teaching and preaching to have a mindset of fulfilling God’s mission on earth.  For some of you reading this, this is pretty old hat and may seem strange I’m talking about this like as if it was exciting and cutting-edge missional stuff. But for the old church world, evangelism is  like a bad word.

The source of this mindset or attitude, I think, is the experience of God’s love.  When believers experience the love of God in their lives in a spiritual way and also in a tangible way within the congregation, the Holy Spirit transforms the believer into a Christ-loving individual.  When the individual loves the Lord God, one will understand the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others around them.  This might translate into an engagement in some type of evangelistic activity, either on a personal level or congregational level.  That’s how the gospel transforms people and an entire society.

Will evangelicalism decline or continue to expand?

Phil Johnson at the Pyromaniacs blog has a recent post called Whither Evangelicals. He says that:

“The average evangelical today couldn’t even tell you what the original doctrinal distinctives of classic evangelicalism were.  In fact, post-modern evangelicals don’t really have any clear doctrinal identity.”

I would agree with this.  But this is so because it is so diverse–not that it doesn’t have any identity.  Most evangelical churches do not have common creedal confessions like Reformed and Lutheran churches.  However, evangelical churches do have a basic doctrinal belief and it tends to be traditionally orthodox.  Phil goes on to say:

“… I’d be inclined to say that the singular characteristic that stands out most among contemporary evangelicals is their distaste for drawing any clear lines between truth and error. They don’t like to handle doctrine in a polemical fashion. They especially don’t want to be thought “negative” when it comes to declaring their doctrinal convictions. They don’t want anyone to think they are “against” what someone else teaches. (What a gauche, fundamentalist attitude that would be!) Almost everything is negotiable within the broad evangelical movement of today.”

I do not agree with his assessment because this may be true of some evangelicals but not the majority of evangelicals. The majority of evangelicals would fight tooth and nail to defend what they believe to be truth. I would even beg to differ in saying that evangelicals are the protectorates of orthodox Christian beliefs.  But each evangelical would differ in how they defend it and why the defend it.

Why? It’s because evangelicalism is a very wide/broad movement that cannot be narrowed down to simply a narrow movement.  It is so broad and diverse that no one can characterize all evangelicals in a certain way. They are not only diverse but are also identified by so many denominations. It’s probably the most diverse in terms of denominations. And because of this denominational diversity that the evangelical movement will not just lay down and die or fade away like what the iMonk would like to suggest.

Some Calvinists like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James M. Boice, or Arthur Pink have predicted its demise and that it would just fade away into oblivion. It won’t. I think evangelicalism may perhaps morph into something else.  Just as Wesleyanism morphed into the United Methodist Church and other Methodist denominations, I predict evangelicalism may merge into fewer denominations in the very distant future but it won’t simply fade away like Puritanism did. In fact, evangelicalism is becoming even more diverse as we speak as an ever-increasing number of churches and denominations come into being.  Phil also states:

“The evangelical movement that our grandparents and great-grandparents knew is dead. Evangelical principles live on here and there, but the label has been commandeered by people who have no right to it. It has been bartered away by those who promised to be the movement’s guardians and mouthpieces—Christianity Today and the National Association of evangelicals being among the chief culprits. But rank-and-file evangelicals are to blame as well, because they were content to abandon their own heritage and run after cheap amusements. The average American today thinks evangelicalism is a political position or a religious ghetto rather than a set of biblical beliefs.”

Phil is right on here.  Moreover, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and Christianity Today are merely mouth pieces but I would like to add that what they express do not even reflect 10% of evangelicalism. We may prefer to put evangelicalism into a box and characterize what evangelicals believe, but this doesn’t work. It is simply too diverse, and it may always remain so. We have to look at evangelicalism by breaking it down to its denominations and look at a specific church’s denominational belief. Painting the evangelical movement as with one broad stroke gives a false description of what it is. It just shows that we do not understand what it is.

If I may draw an analogy, I might compare to the nature of the internet. The internet cannot be controlled or regulated because it is just too big and diverse and delocalized. So it is with evangelicalism. It is too big and diverse to even be stereotyped as being politically conservative or a religious ghetto (as Phil calls it).

Despite saying all of this. I do concur with Phil and the iMonk that evangelicalism does have its apparent weaknesses. But its weaknesses are only what we perceive as weaknesses. To evangelicals, these may actually be its strengths; and these strengths may help evangelicalism to grow into the next century.