Dear Discouraged Christian: Here’s Some Gospel Encouragement

If you are feeling discouraged from events in recent days, you may need some encouragement. You have come to the right place, my friend. Two recent articles in secular media have offered surprising testimony to the vitality of Christianity in dark places.

The first, from the Guardian, is on the rise of Calvinism in Chinese churches. This is an astonishing story that I can only tease:

The most conservative estimates of the new converts to Christianity is 500,000; there is a new church built every month. Calvinist Christianity has a culture of phenomenal industry. Calvin himself, in his time in Geneva, preached every day and twice on Sundays: shorthand writers at the foot of his pulpit took down 108 volumes of his sermons, though most of these have been lost and his reputation rests on the books and pamphlets that he wrote himself. In China now, this kind of Christianity is seen as forward-looking, rational, intellectually serious, and favourable to making money.

“Very soon”, said Dr Tan, “Christians will become the majority of university students … that could happen.”

The second, from Slate, is on the efforts of evangelicals in New England to advance the gospel:

Stephen Um is pastor at Boston’s Citylife Presbyterian Church and a leader in the movement to re-evangelize the region. Born in Seoul but raised and educated mostly in Massachusetts, Um founded his church just over 10 years ago with a base group of 12 people. Citylife now meets in two locations in Boston, including a hotel conference center on Boston Common, and attracts between 700 and 800 people—a highly educated congregation that’s about one-half white and one-half Asian—every Sunday. Um calls what’s happening in New England a “quiet revival.” He speculates that since the drivers of the revival are small churches spread throughout a largely rural area, it doesn’t get the kind of media attention that megachurches attract.

Um is also the founder of the Center for Gospel Culture, which he calls a “catalyzing center” for mobilizing and recruiting Christian leaders in the region. The group hosted a regional conference in October with the Gospel Coalition. The event was designed “to encourage the development of this organic gospel movement.” The 1,200-person-capacity event space he reserved sold out by mid-September. The event drew representatives of about 270 different churches representatives from about 40 networks and denominations.

These articles show us that God is faithful. He is accomplishing his purposes, and doing so in surprising and unexpected places. He is altogether powerful. He is gracious and good. We can trust him. Even as America falters, robustly theological Christianity is soaring in China. No one can stop the gospel when God unleashes it. Nothing can thwart his will. When he goes after one sheep–or, flipping things, when he goes after 99!–Satan can do nothing but watch.

I just taught a course, Systematic Theology 3 (on salvation, church, and eschatology) for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. I can’t tell you how encouraged I was by the presence of over a dozen gospel-loving servants of God in my class. These guys were into the material. They sacrificed their free time and comfort to travel to an extension center to do nothing but learn the Word and its theology. They were a sign to me of what the Slate article reports. We were about 40 minutes from Northampton, where the ministry of Jonathan Edwards lit up the New England colonies like a comet. I am here to report from a firsthand, on-the-ground perspective that the gospel is still very much on the move in my native region. Praise God for his kindness to New England.

So my friends, let’s keep praying, and pray with knowledge. The gospel is going forth. The Great Commission is not stymied. God is on his throne. Sinners are being saved. We are secure, and eternity awaits.

  • http://www.IanDexterPalmer.com Gray Nomad

    Your article Dear Discouraged Christian reminded me of John Wesley, and his astonishing ministry. I was mightily impressed when researching a blog that I wrote about him. http://www.iandexterpalmer.com/?p=437. His ministry may have saved England from a revolution like the French had around that time. As an engineer, I was struck by the response that he got when preaching to hardened coalminers.

  • Joe Rigney

    Thanks, Owen. I’d heard about the Chinese church and Calvinism, but not the New England ‘revival.’ Reinforces my optimism about the future, despite the challenges ahead. Also, very appropriate here at Christmas, since “of the increase of his government there shall be no end…”


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