Who is Paul Washer? (John Frye)

Who is Paul Washer? (John Frye) September 6, 2010

If you’ve been to a foreign country you may well have had an experience like the one John describes below. That country could well be — and often is — awash in controversies that have absolutely no hearing in the USA. Issues, persons, concerns, politics … it always varies. John tells the story of the influence of an American, Paul Washer, in the Ukraine.

What do you know of Paul Washer?

John Frye writes…

On my recent ministry trip to Lutsk, Ukraine, I was asked by some friends there what I thought of Paul Washer. My friends told me that Paul Washer is the subject of great discussion, even admiration by many Ukrainian Christians, especially the youth. I was a little taken back and I had to confess, “I’ve not heard of Paul Washer. I’ll ‘google’ him when I get to the States and let you know.” When I got home I did just that and 427,000 results popped up in 0.32 seconds. I also asked Scot McKnight if he knew anything about Paul. Scot had the same confession as mine.

What’s up with this—my Ukrainian friends are all abuzz about an American Christian leader that has not appeared on my radar screen? Not that my screen is all that big. Scot McKnight invited me to write a short post about Paul Washer for Jesus Creed.

You either really like him or you don’t. Paul Washer will compel you to take a stand. Are you with him or are you not? I listened to a number of his sermons and I can affirm that Paul Washer is a passionate, expressive, revivalistic speaker. If you like that style, you will like Paul. If you don’t, he will sound angry, even outright mean. Many commentors who liked Paul’s content stumbled over his demeanor, his take-no-prisoners, fire and brimstone spirit. This kind of passion attracts many people because it sounds bold, courageous and, therefore, true. Washer’s “it’s my way or the highway” stance polarizes. What is “truth” to some is “slander” and “malicious gossip” to others. Paul Washer is a polarizing man.

Paul Washer is a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist and a Southern Baptist itinerant minister. An anomaly? Not really in light of the flux in USAmerican evangelicalism and the Southern Baptist Convention’s surrender to strong neo-Reformed voices. Fully committed Arminians are quick to call Paul Washer a “false prophet.” They are the ones still all aghast at the doctrine “once saved, always saved.” Washer has no place for decisional regeneration and a lot of the theological rants about Washer labor over whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith. A lot of the free-will Arminians think Washer is preaching a false Gospel of works-righteousness. I think Paul is only (over)emphasizing, from his theological stance, that “works” (real, tangible evidence of a changed and changing life) issues from faith. His opponents think Paul Washer confuses the “fruit” of faith with the “root” of faith. I didn’t hear that, but I’m not that informed about all of Washer’s teachings.

Within the larger community of evangelicalism, Paul Washer is a strong-headed complementarian, almost chauvinistically so. He’s vehemently against a reduced Gospel activated by “the sinner’s prayer.” He’s alarmed by the capitulation of the church to the prevailing culture and rightly calls for a return to holiness and godliness in the church, especially among the youth. A recurring post in the google search concerns Paul’s “shocking message” to 5000 Baptist youth in 2002. Like many commentors, the shock factor depends on where you stand relative to Paul Washer. Some liken Washer to a mixture of John the Baptist—bold, fire-breathing prophet—and Keith Green—another  contemporary voice calling down judgment on the church.

Paul Washer was converted while in law school at the University of Texas. He earned a Master’s of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as missionary in Peru for 10 years. He now is the Director of HeartCry Missionary Society, a ministry caring for the needy in many countries.

You probably wonder where I stand regarding Paul Washer. From the number of sites I visited and teachings I heard, I think Paul Washer is passionate voice, if not a little off-key, crying out in the wilderness. I certainly don’t hold some of his more strident views, but that does not stop me from sensing (I could be wrong) that Paul is timely communicator needed by the church at large. I am not Paul’s judge. I am his brother.

You may verify most of all I’ve written by googling Paul Washer for yourself. I’d even be so bold to ask you to do so before you comment. Thanks.

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  • I have heard him when a Reformed social media friend put a link up on Facebook. He preaches what I would imagine a Jonathan Edwards sermon is like. What I appreciate about Washer is his emphasizing the holiness of God and the depravity of man. I grow with sermons and books that draw me to me knees in confession and worship and create in me a huge hunger for God’s Word and a love for Jesus Christ. I am glad there is a Paul Washer and will listen to him again.

  • To borrow a well worn phrase, I think your thoughts about Paul Washer is “fair and balanced”. I have listened to many of his messages online and have basically the same conclusion.

    Royce Ogle

  • Nairbel

    As an Orthodox Christian with ties to Ukraine, I’m always saddened when I hear of American evangelical Protestants proselytizing in Orthodox countries.

  • I love Paul Washer! It’s rare to find someone who believes in “once saved always saved” and preaches holiness in the way that Washer does. We have different understandings of soteriology but for all intents and practical purposes I can agree with the vast majority of his messages.

  • Whit

    As a Wesleyan/Methodist who grew up in the revival tradition it might be a surprise that I find Paul off-key and offensive. My main concerns are found in that his message is not an invitation but an ultimatum. It does not have the feel of a Lukan Journey (Lk 9-19) but rather a “stop playing games” sort of message. There was only one John the Baptist and he must be the only one. We are to model Christ, not John. Devotionally I gravitate toward Eugene Peterson and Nouwen, so Washer seems to me to care about making tally mark’s on the side of his tank rather than leaning down and saying “I am willing,” desiring to heal as Jesus healed. I agree, though, that his affect is needed – moving people off the fence.

  • Wyatt Roberts

    I’m sure Paul Washer serves a function within the body of Christ, but it is all I can do just to listen to the guy. Very focused on sin…flagellation is the word that comes to mind.

  • I have found his anti-Arminian propaganda to be offensive and founded mostly on arrogant and ignorant “untruths”.

  • Scott Eaton

    Paul Washer strikes me as a very sincere and devoted man. It is apparent he truly loves God and follows Jesus Christ. And he has done things for the sake of Christ most of us will never do. But what concerns me about his message is the seeming lack of grace. He seems to be long on law and short on grace. After I listen to him I wonder if Christianity really is good news. Coming to Jesus sounds tedious and burdensome. There is much condemnation. For many years I lived under the pressure of this kind of message and it just about ruined me.

  • I once saw his famous ‘shocking message’, and I wasn’t very impressed even then; It’s not a gospel that would ever get a non-christian version of me interested in Jesus, but I suppose he does have his audience…

  • nathan

    It’s never impressive to me when a person opens their remarks in the pulpit with the basic claim that he knows he’s going to offend you in the next 30 minutes (i.e. intends to…) and he knows that he’ll never be asked back after he’s done, but it’s all because he’s the one burdened with “The Truth” and we’re all only offended because we basically ‘can’t handle the truth”…but he says it in the simpering, quiet whine as if he’s so burdened by what he’s “compelled to do”.

    I heard of this guy a few years ago and have been watching him, along with other movements in the churches, and his “fan base” is characterized by people that I would go out of my way to avoid being around. Who your fans are says a lot about what your ministry is.

    He just strikes me as a guy who preaches with a lot of presumption about the hearts and minds of his listeners.

    Just my nickel…

  • Hal Hall

    I have heard him compared to an earlier version of Keith Green. I’m sorry, but even with Keiths’ mixed up theology (he was very young and a brand new Christian), Keith inspired real passion in his relationship with Christ. This was true even with KGs “hard message.” Many things Washer says are true, no doubt. But there is a small group of folks today that seem to feed on this harsh, almost obsessive tone, always implying, if not outright stating that almost everyone else (but themselves)is a fraud. Nothing new here. This creeps up every few years. I wasn’t impressed by this during my youth in the 70s (though often scared) and I am not impressed now.

  • I don’t know John. From reading and listening to him a bit, he seems to come in a sophisticated, impressively sounding sort of way (I mean in the sense of sounding intellectual and learned) from the neo-Reformed group which is quick to jump on everything not in line with their stand. I have no doubt that he’s a servant of Christ and that God uses all such. But I also don’t doubt that given what I heard and from my perspective, that there could not be any real unity in ministry with such unless you’re on board with his/their critique of Christianity. His is not the kind which transcends theological differences Christians have. But we need more of that kind, and less of the other. While continuing to critically engage with our understanding of the faith.

  • I was fascinated by this guy as a neo-Reformed, Southern Baptist while in college. College students are always drawn to the radical – and he was radical, yet humble enough to come meet with just a few of us on my campus one night.

    His call to holiness is a must hear. But as I grow up, I also realize that a Christian can’t, simply can’t live on a steady diet of this guy.

    It took me years…years!…to recover from his message of an angry God who wants to squash me. It took me years to realize that I was attracted to Washer’s message because I WAS ANGRY.

    There are many things I think we need to hear from him (he is absolutely right about the sinners prayer and the need for holiness), but his presentation of God is disturbing and his polemical rhetoric divides rather than unites….but, of course, I think that’s his intention.

    I can’t stand listening to him. But I won’t dare say there’s not a place for him. Christendom can use his message, but I don’t know if post-Christendom will even understand why he’s ticked off…nor will the be patient enough to find out.

  • There seems to be some confusion about Brother Washer’s messages that are available on the internet. What we find most of are his admonitions to those who are already proclaiming the name of Christ, claiming to be followers of Jesus. There are a great many more to be found on the HeartCry website (when it is functional). The messages referd to hear are not his “evangelizing” messages, they are his call for the church to repent.

    To say, “There was only one John the Baptist and he must be the only one,” is to ignore the strong warnings of Peter, Paul, and James – as well as all those God has called and anointed to proclaim the massage of repentance to the church since those ancient times.

    Realize, too, that his “anger” does not have a personal component to it – he is not angry because a wrong has been done to him or someone close to him. People are mistaken when they believe that anger is wrong all the time. The fundamental difference between righteous and human anger is the presence or lack of a personal component. Righteous anger seeks to correct a wrong done – like the anti-slavery movement, or the movement that established child labor laws, or the movements that called the church to repentance and revival resulted.

    Brother Washer says, “I know I am going to offend” because he has done so – yet he still feels convicted and compelled to speak the message to the church that God has given him to speak to the church. Can he, really, do otherwise?

    You may not like or agree with his delivery system – but what matters is, is it the truth? His heart is motivated my love; love for God, love for the lost, and love for the deceived within the Body of Christ.

  • @Nairbel: as a follower of Christ it saddens me when churches which define themselves in ethnic or geographic terms lay claim to a geographic territory and criticize other Christians for “proselytizing” when they themselves are far from actually converting, catechizing and discipling those they claim by virtue of ethnicity or geography.

    I’m willing to listen to claims about “Orthodox” countries or “Catholic” countries when at least 80% of the people living there show evidence of a living faith in Christ. I don’t know of any country where that is even close to the situation.

  • I’ve been listening to Washer for a while now, but I agree that listening to him alone will not sustain a person. He has a single message, and he preaches it well. That said, I think there is something to be said for the prophetic voice in the church. If you were a missionary in Peru for 10 years where your primary goal was to bring people to faith who thought they were saved because they were baptized as infants, and then return to your home only to find the exact same thing being preached, only it”s the sinner’s prayer instead of infant baptism, then I think you would be pissed too. Washer’s critique is timely and necessary.

    One of Washer’s strengths, I think, is to boil down the crucial aspect of his theology not to an aspect of Calvinism, but to the doctrine of regeneration. In one of his sermons he is preaching to a group of Calvinist pastors who are too afraid of this doctrine to preach it, and yet raises up Leonard Ravenhill, an arminian, as an example of true preaching. He says Edwards can have communion with Wesley because both preached regeneration as the necessary result of salvation.

    Some would argue that Washer exemplifies Truth without being tempered by Grace, but I think that depends on who his intended audience is. His audience is not the unsaved, nor is his audience those who are living and preaching regeneration, but it is those who water down Christianity to mere “decisional salvation.” I would compare his message to the message preached in scripture to similar venues. Consider Amos’ critique of Israel or, even closer, Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees. I have heard sermons of his preached to the unsaved, and I have also heard sermons preached to those who are robust Christians, and the tone in each is vastly different. I think someone posted in a comment above mine about a link to his sermons on the heartcry website. It truly is a wonderful resource.

    Certainly Washer’s message is not the sort of thing that needs to be preached on Sunday mornings in vibrant Churches, nor is it designed to be. His is a voice crying in the wilderness, and he certainly has his place in Christendom.

  • Sean

    Some of the most loving …yes, loving … messages I’ve heard have been from Paul Washer. The man loves. He’s known for his radical, harsh, wake-up messages. But look up his messages on the love of God for the believer. He will stir your heart, and make you understand how God has his eyes on us and loves us.

    Also look up some Q&A’s he’s done, that’s where you get more of “real life” Washer. He seems to be a fun and funny guy. He loves the heck out of his wife and kids. He says things like “take your ministry very seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously at all.

    I agree with others; do NOT live on a steady diet of Washer. Let him wake you up to the urgency of the Gospel, and his call to live for Christ alone. Just don’t turn into *that guy.* And listen to a diversity of his messages.

  • Leo

    I’m from Holland. The kind of superficial, non-Biblical, worldly ”evangelical” ”Christianity” Paul Washer often preaches against has been imported into Holland as well especially through American books used by Dutch preachers. Personally, I find this really scary and even a sign of the end-times and coming of the Antichrist. In the average mainstream evangelical church it is possible to sit in church for years, hear a hundred sermons, sing a thousand sentimental songs and yet still live exactly like the world, still feel highly offended when someone cites a verse from the Bible or reads what the Biblical Jesus has said while at the same time, be convinced that one is a true believer. If it weren’t so sad and disturbing, it would seem like a sick joke to me. However, I believe that many Christians who have come straight out of the ”the world” (atheist families, etc) and who have experienced the transforming power of the Biblical gospel in their lives, feel very confused and alone in church nowadays because these American-Evangelical type of Christians, being the majority, feel offended by their passion and critical questions. Also, as these truly converted Christians go through trials in life, they may be tempted by man-made religion such as: ”Oh God loves you and does not care about this or that sin” ”Oh no you don’t have to take the Bible so seriously, the letter kills but the Spirit gives live, you know…” Truly converted Christians need a church where they are confronted with truth, even if it hurts a little, because ultimately, its the lie that really hurts! Since the only alternative to American Evangelicalism in Holland are traditional churches trusting more in tradition than in Scripture, seemingly dead or dying in a spiritual sense, there is no place to go. For this reason, I do not at all understand why someone feels they need to recover from Paul Washer’s ”angry God”. God is who He is and we all have to deal with it now or later. Dealing with God’s wrath is a good thing, it’s part of genuine conversion! I was terrified when I realized that what I used to call ”mistakes” was actually sin against a Holy God. My realization came from watching ”the Passion of the Christ” (which nevers speaks about God’s wrath by the way). One cannot comprehend God’s grace if one does not understand the holiness of God who cannot tolerate sinners. And if one does not understand the grace of God, there is no joy of salvation and no indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So if you lack joy and power to overcome sin, maybe it’s because you hold on to a fake, cheap grace. You then need to realize what you deserve so that you may grasp the grace of God and desperately and eagerly receive it! Its really foolish to hate truth just because it hurts a little, read Proverbs.

  • Caleb

    Agree with Sean and Leo above. I don’t listen to 100% diet of Paul Washer but when I do he continues to spur me on towards a passionate relationship with Christ -something I find very much lacking in a lot of other material. One of his Grace sermon’s is probably the most profound I’ve heard. Living in a church culture of “easy-believism” and a social culture that is influencing the church into widespread lethargy -I believe his message is needed now more than ever.

    I should also say that one of my friends who is living more “sold out for Jesus” than myself or anyone I know -is his biggest fan. It is my experience that; for those who have ears to hear, his messages will help set your heart on fire.

  • I have listened to Brother Paul off and on for several years now and want to share my take on his preaching and ministry.
    As someone has said above, I believe that Paul truly does love people. He has spent, I think, more than 12 years studying the Person of Christ. Is it any wonder that he has such a vehement hatred of what is false and unholy? Can we see why he is so determined to awaken people from their slumber? He loves those he speaks to enough to give them some heat before they end up in everlasting burnings.
    I have wept for joy on several occasions when listening to his lectures called “The Son’s Glory.” I have been challenged by his hard preaching and I believe I have been changed for the better.
    He has said before that when he travels he is often sharp. BUT when he is in his home church, he preaches about the love of God and builds up his members. Hypocrisy? Two faced? No.
    Anyone with much discernment can see that our nation is filled with false conversions and therefore false assurance of salvation.
    I believe he is following Christ’s example. Jesus only did what He saw His Father do. The Father resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So we see Jesus showing mercy to the truly broken and teachable and we see Him resisting and rebuking the proud.
    Paul Washer seems to have a similar approach and has basically said as much in one of his talks. When he is away from home, in lukewarm churches, he preaches a harder, sharper message. When he is with people that he knows are seeking to be obedient (such as his home church), he is more gracious. This is the way that Jesus and his apostles would treat people.
    American “Christians” needs such a thundering call to awaken them from their slumber! We may not always completely agree with Paul’s presentation, but we need men who, like John the Baptist, will call men to an ultimatum, men who call other men to repentance or judgment. “Choose this day.”
    Only one John the Baptist? Really? Yes, perhaps in the sense that there is only one John who was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb and only one John the Baptist who wears camels hair and eats locusts and wild honey.
    But John the Baptist was walking in the spirit of prophecy. That is not to be done away with or demonstrated in only one man. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
    So, we need more men like this who expose the lie and boldly call men to repentance.
    I read somewhere above that he is not one to invite people but calls them to stop playing games and get with it? Here is a link that I think shows him giving an invitation and I imagine that he does this more than we realize.

    Are we judging him and his ministry by his sharp preaching to spiritually slumbering people or can we realize the context of each preaching engagement. Here is another link where in his own words he shares the background for his “Shocking Message.” I hope you can see why such a strong message was needed for his audience that day.

    We need to see his preaching in context.
    I’m sorry this is rather lengthy.

  • Terry OTerry

    I think your comment is “spot on.”

  • Terry OTerry

    Listen to Tim Keller. His presentation is a breath of fresh air compared to Washer. How could we get Washer to listen to Keller? 🙂

  • Scott Eaton

    The more I have heard this man the more I regret my comment above. It seems people have a tendency to put his “harder” sermons online. But I have since heard interviews with Paul Washer and other sermons he has preached and I have found him to be a humble servant of Christ, filled with grace and love for God, other believers and the lost. As others have said, listen to his sermons on the love of God and you will see a tender-hearted brother. I deeply appreciate this brother.