Whitefield, Edwards & evangelicalism today...

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(Tim) Under the post, “Who’s kidding whom…,” Dr. Darryl Hart and Rev. David Gilleran commented, expressing support for Dr. Mark Noll’s criticism of leaders of the Great Awakening such as Whitefield and Edwards.

Dr. Hart wrote: My one quibble (with your post) concerns your reading of Noll and the First Great Awakening. It could be that the anti-formalism and subjectivity of revivalism has done more to undermine contemporary Presbyterian doctrinal and liturgical rigor than you allow.

Pastor Gilleran agreed: Those of us in the Reformed tradition seem to be unwilling to go back and give a sympathetic but critical evaluation of both the First and Second Great Awakenings. Are we afraid to say that our heroes in the faith may have over reacted to the problems of the day and have left us the heritage of subjective religion and revivalism?

Hatred for authority permeates our culture and has been one of the largest factors in the absence of any doctrine of the Church, as well as the insipid worship and preaching so characteristic of evangelicals today. So, sticking with the First Great Awakening, did Edwards, Whitefield, and the Tennents lay seeds that can be traced to this present unhinged subjectivism that is at the heart of the emotive and experiential marketing behemoth headquartered in Nashville, Colorado Springs, and Wheaton known as “evangelicalism?”

Sure, no question about it. And likely, I’d trace the seed path similarly to the way others have. But would I assign any similar proportion of blame to Whitefield, Edwards, or the Tennents?

No, I don’t think so. Reform has a cost that must be paid...

Look at the Reformation itself. At the time, Rome really was selling
salvation and almost completely given over to the very things the
Reformers opposed. But the minute Luther stood, along came the
Anabaptist wackos, including the Zwickau prophets and Thomas Muentzer.
Luther was horrified and spent much of the rest of his life working to
protect the nascent reformation church from Anabaptist errors.

So who was responsible for the Anabaptists turning the world upside
down and despising all authority? Luther? You know, if you asked the
Papists they’d give you a pretty quick answer. And to this day, many
Roman Catholics and Protestants will say that the big thing they can’t
stand about the Roman Catholic church is “the Pope.” Yet by that they
don’t mean the man, but the institution. And really, not the
institution, but rather the institution’s authority.

On the other hand, Luther considered the Pope’s authority and
preeminence a matter of such secondary importance that, in the latest
(1535) version of his commentary on Galatians, he said he’d be happy to
kiss the pope’s feet if the pope no longer opposed justification by
faith alone. Echoing Luther, I recently said in my pulpit, “I don’t
have a problem with the Pope (as it was then construed). My problem is
with the Roman Catholic church’s denial of the biblical doctrine of

My seminary friend, Scott Hahn—now a Romanist—has a series of tapes
that a group out of California sends out to evangelicals seeking to
convert them to the Roman faith. They sent me a thick packet and I
listened to the first tape in a Hahn series about thirteen years ago.
Right out of the gate, I was floored to hear Scott say the largest
problem evangelicals have with Rome is the papacy. I scratched my head
and thought to myself, “He doesn’t have the first clue, does he?”

So hatred for authority, including ecclesiastical authority, can be
traced through all history. What arbitrary point would we choose to
stop blaming reformers for its perpetual recrudescence? Just imagine
what the Sanhedrin had to say about our Lord or the Apostles Peter and

No, Luther and Calvin aren’t to blame for the Zwickau prophets or
Muentzer; Whitefield and Edwards aren’t to blame for James Davenport;
and Lloyd-Jones isn’t to blame for Billy Graham, Gordon Fee, Benny
Hinn, Roger Nicole, or Joel Osteen. Rather, it’s the Sanhedrin and Rome
and Charles Chauncey and all those across history who have been content
to eat their sheep, rather than guarding and protecting them from
Satan’s wiles, who bear significant responsibility for the despising of
authority endemic in church history.

What happens when the cow wakes up to the naked profiteering of his
farmer, and realizes his farmer is content to place him in the
stanchions day after day with the milking unit hanging from his udder
despite the udder being hard with clinical Mastitis—just so long as the
show goes on? It will be hard for the cow ever to trust any farmer

So what about the man who exposes the false farmer by telling all
the cows in the parlor that the whole point of a farmer is to watch
over his cows carefully, tending them conscientiously to the end that
they are heavy producers of milk with a good butterfat content? And
say, for instance, that this man sneaks into the parlor to warn the
cows when the bad farmer is out of the parlor checking on the bulk tank
or getting feed? And say, for instance, that this same man never
received an invitation from the bad farmer to warn his cows?

Is that man to blame for seeking to save the cows? Is he to blame
for telling the cows why they exist and what they’re made for? Is he to
blame if the cows soon exhibit the habit of stepping on the toes of
every man who tries to wash their udder or flip the milking unit on
their teats? Would it have been better for the cows to be left in their
ignorance than for some of them to have learned to revolt against good
farmers as well as bad?

Go ahead and poke holes in the analogy—I know it stinks. But God has
appointed me a shepherd of his flock and it’s never been more clear to
me than it is today, at the age of fifty-three, that the world is
filled with unfaithful shepherds, and that not one of us is more than a
hands-breath away from being rebuked in the same way that Peter was
publicly rebuked by Paul. Yes, these rebukes are scandalous to the
sheep, but that’s good because then their faith is driven off the
shepherd to the Shepherd, off man to God. There’s a good bit of
self-interest in each of us, pastors as well as scholars, and God will
not stand for us hiding or stealing His Own glory even though we may
proclaim that we have nothing but the highest motives. After all, faith
is the thing—not structures and denominations and ceremonies, much as
our flesh needs them.

My reading of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit throughout
salvation history leads me to say that both those who make every verse
of the Bible into John 3:16 and are content with their sinner’s prayer
sacrament, as well as those who turn every verse of the Bible into
1Peter 3:21 or Hebrews 13:17 and are content with ceremonies and
dutiful congregants—take your pick—are destroyers of souls. The one
every bit as much as the other.

There really is such a thing as dead orthodoxy. And yes, it really
is deadly—not just in this life, but throughout eternity. Jesus
couldn’t have been clearer when he told the Old Lighter (if you will),
Nicodemus, that a man must be born again. The Apostle Paul couldn’t
have been clearer when he told the Galatians, “neither is circumcision
anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Luther couldn’t have
been clearer when he warned against ceremonies and false church
authority. To take just one of innumberable examples, consider these
excerpts from his Treatise on Christian Liberty:

On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the
wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word.…
Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that
of the Word. Moreover, the entire spiritual estate — all the apostles,
bishops, and priests — has been called and instituted only for the
ministry of the Word.…
* * *
Should you ask how it happens that
faith alone justifies and offers us such a treasure of great benefits
without works, in view of the fact that so many works, ceremonies, and
laws are prescribed in the Scriptures, I answer: …remember what has
been said, namely, that faith alone, without works, justifies, frees,
and saves;
* * *
Hence the Christian must take a middle course
and face those two classes of men. He will meet first the unyielding,
stubborn ceremonialists who like deaf adders are not willing to hear
the truth of liberty but, having no faith, boast of, prescribe, and
insist upon their ceremonies as means of justification.… These he must
resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their
impious views they drag many with them into error.…

…The other class of men whom a Christian will meet are
simple-minded, ignorant men, weak in the faith.… It is not by their
fault that they are weak, but by that of their pastors who have taken
them captive with the snares of their traditions and have wickedly used
these traditions as rods with which to beat them. They should have been
delivered from these pastors by the teachings of faith and freedom.…

Here Luther warns against the perpetual spiritual danger of
religious leaders, “pastors” even, who make much of their authority and
lead the souls under their care to place their faith in cowls,
buildings, fasts, circumcision, ceremonies, the baptismal font,
traditions, masses, and every other external apparatus of divinity—what
he calls “ceremonialists’ ceremonies.” Faithful pastors will deliver
souls from this bondage by teaching and preaching “faith and freedom.”
Wasn’t this radical program that Luther followed also at the very heart
of the work that Whitefield, Edwards, and the Tennents did for reform
of the church of their time?

So yes, brothers, I can see and partly affirm the point Noll makes.
Te work of reforms is always susceptible to being perverted into a
justification for revolution. But if we come to the conclusion that
reform is too costly, what will become of true religion? Of living

There really are such things as so-called churches where the right
preaching of the word of God and the right administration of the
sacraments are absent; there really are burnt offerings and grain
offerings the Lord will not accept; the noise of songs and the sounds
of harps that God refuses and says “Away with them;” there really are
uncircumsised, unbaptized hearts; every one of us has experienced
lethal formalism, sterile liturgy, unfaithful elders, dead orthodoxy,
and pastors who are whitewashed sepulchers who must be obeyed but not
followed. In fact, many of us have no need to look back into history,
or even across denominational lines or congregational boundaries, to
see graceless men in the pulpit; a mirror would suffice, God help us.

And knowing my own soul and how constantly across history the sheep
have surrounded themselves with shepherds who are content to scratch
(and milk) itching ears, I’ll take the risks inherent in Amos and Jesus
and Peter and Paul and Peter Waldo and Luther and Knox and Whitefield
and Edwards and Lloyd-Jones. These men loved God and were faithful
shepherds, constantly seeking after heart religion which they (and I)
call true living faith. Not subjectivism or immediatism. But living
faith in the Word of God and the efficacy of the Sacraments thereby

Lord, make us hunger and thirst after righteousness that we may be satisfied.