Pressing for Decisions

Pressing for Decisions January 30, 2012

American evangelicalism, and what I mean here is “revivalist” American evangelicalism, is shaped by and oriented toward decisions for Christ. What’s more, revivalist evangelicalism has a soterian gospel designed to precipitate decisions that can be used to measure who is “in” and who is “out.” Which is also to say that revivalist evangelicalism creates a “salvation” culture. (This is all sketched out in my The King Jesus Gospel.)

The most famous of the revivalists is Charles Grandison Finney, shown to the right, but he is not alone. There’s a long line of revivalists in the USA, from Finney all the way to such folks as Billy Graham, and one thinks here also of the common gospel tracts among us. Whether one likes it or not, revivalism has directly and massively shaped American evangelicalism. And at the heart of my “target” in The King Jesus Gospel is the adequacy and accuracy of the gospel as framed in revivalist evangelicalism.

Today I want to sketch the themes of revivalism that have impacted and infected evangelicalism; some of this is good and some of this is not so good. In fact, each of these themes can be said to be something good gone askew. I take these twelve themes from Gordon Smith’s fine book, Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation (BakerAcademic, 2010).

The questions for today include: How typical is this in your church? What are upsides and downsides of these these themes?

Now to the twelve ways revivalism’s theories of conversion have shaped and permeated evangelicalism:

1. Conversion is equated with salvation (Smith says salvation is the work of God; conversion is the human response).
2. There is an emphasis on human choice and decision. It’s about the will.
3. Conversion is seen as punctiliar, something that happens all at once, can be dated and marked and known.
4. Revivalism is ambivalent about the intellect and is often anti-intellectual.
5. Conversion becomes an individual transaction with God, apart from the faith community/church.
6. Revivalism is ambivalent about or even anti-sacramental. (Including baptism.)
7. For revivalism, conversion is easy and painless and certainly not costly. “Just accept Christ today.”

8. Among revivalists, evangelism is reduced to techniques.
9. Revivalism pushes that God has no grandchildren, but is ambivalent about second-generation Christian nurturance into conversion and faith.
10. Revivalism has at times struggled with connections between conversion, baptism and the Holy Spirit.
11. The church’s mission is to obtain conversions.
12. Revivalism focuses on the after-life with minimal reference and orientation to this world.

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  • Scot,
    This highlights so many of the problems that grated against me in my growing-up life as I watched people evangelize and worked at camps and other places that focused on these one-time decisions. It seemed to me, even then, that Jesus was calling us to something so much bigger and deeper than that. The biggest downside I saw I now see reflected in the conversations I have with those “outside” of the church–and that’s that a one-time decision apart from a faith community and ongoing relationship with God leads to a faith that doesn’t change our actions. This is the most common criticism I hear about faith from my friends. When we are not being transformed by the Holy Spirit, we cannot be the ambassadors of Christ that we were called to be…. Thanks for posting this.

  • Very helpful summary. I know this isn’t your intention, but you summarise the main points of books so well that it means we don’t have to read them all to get the main thing – a great service! And I think he’s right, too, especially about 6, 7 and 10.

  • Paul W

    I enjoy the book reviews best of all.

    These sorts of things are not common at all in my church culture. I dare say that for many of us this sort of revivalist” evangelicalism is akin to Christianity’s crazy uncle that we would prefer to keep hid in the basement.

    My wife had a conversation with in-laws just the other day. They present a model Christian faith as consisting of a punctiliar moment in time when a decision for Christ is made. For them having faith without making a decision was inconceivable.

    My wife and I were both raised in the faith. For us there was specific moment when we came to love God. We always had. Loving God was no more a choice than loving my mom or dad was. Underneath ordinary circumstances, who decides that they will love their families?

    I never had a punctiliar moment in time when I decided that I would love mom and dad. I was raised in that love. I never had a punctiliar moment in time when I decided to love God I was baptized into his son and raised in that love. “On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.”(Psalm 22:10)

  • Paul W

    Opps. Meant to say, “For us there was NO specific moment when we came to love God.”

  • RJS

    Paul W,

    I agree – although manipulated (this word has a more negative sense than I want – but perhaps is correct) into ‘decisions’ at times in my childhood (especially at camps and special events), there was never really any singular specific moment of conversion that really had a lasting effect of any sort.

    I would say that the biggest decision was a conscious choice not to walk away from the faith I was raised in.

  • Rick

    I appreciate the fact that the moment of decision has become The Thing (even more than Christ) for many. Scot does a great job analyzing that in his new book.

    I also think “conversion” can be a quiet development for many.

    However, there are Scriptural passages that indicate a decision for commitment to Christ should be made, or at least one should consider where he/she stands.

    The question of “salvation” as a past event (the Cross), current, and future is also a question, but when does the blood of Christ become effectual for the salvation of the believer is still a factor.

  • scotmcknight

    Andrew, this is just one chp in a book that gets after some major themes in addition to these.

  • TDSutter

    Revivalist evangelism begins with the premise that we can force God’s hand in the matter of salvation. In other words, if I respond appropriately to the prod, “All ya gotta do is…” then God owes me salvation. Responding approriately may or may not initiate a conversion, but only God’s grace can initiate salvation.

  • scotmcknight


    Revivalism takes lots of hits in the chops, and deserves most of them because of so many egregious practical examples, but … as an example … Finney’s Reflections on Revival denies the very point you are making – and who is more revivalist than Finney? His opening “letters” are about the need to push deeper into depravity and to rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit. And he’s big on the necessity of God’s grace to initiate salvation.

  • Susan N.

    I was initiated into faith by the “moment of decision” conversion method…also baptized not long after at that same church. This same church also had a door-to-door “witnessing” program in our very small, rural town. The heck of it was, most of the people whose doors they knocked on were Catholic! Lord have mercy…so wrong!

    RJS (#5), I made the decision *to* walk away from this particular brand of faith as soon as I was living on my own dime (quite early, I might add.)

    It was the best decision I could have made. The fundamentalist doctrines into which I had been “baptized by fire” were, however, not so easy to shake. I have spent the better part of my life “deprogramming” and realigning my knowledge of God and the Bible. When the storms of life hit, as they inevitably will, I was so woefully ill-prepared, theologically, to stand strong. I have had a lingering distrust of church and religious “authorities.”

    What I despise, most of all, is #8 on the list. If I even smell manipulation in the name of evangelism, well, at best, I’m gone. To this day, that perversion of the gospel angers and saddens me.

    One reason I am happy to self-identify as an epic fail of an evangelist. At least as the term has been known and practiced in my lifetime among fundamentalists and ultra-conservative evangelicals. I go a little berserk if I am surrounded by too much of that flavor of Christianity; it does *not* inspire and encourage me to greater faith and obedience to God. It makes me kind of mean, I think. Which I really hate about that dynamic, needless to say…

  • J.L. Schafer

    I agree with all the points, especially # 5: “Conversion becomes an individual transaction with God, apart from the faith community/church.”

    But ironically, when the emphasis is placed on conversion of individuals apart from church/community, the individual person is devalued and objectified.

    I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood, a small Catholic enclave in an inner city. I recall “evangelists” from a large Baptist church outside the city who used to come into the neighborhood, combing the streets for people to convert. One day, a pair of them cornered me in an alleyway. The fact that I attended the Catholic parish down the street, went to Mass multiple times a week, served as an altar boy, etc. meant nothing to them. They told me that I needed to be saved. Appealing to Romans 10:3, they coerced me into praying a sinner’s prayer, and then they left, and I never saw them again. I suppose I was included in that day’s tally of converts, but as far as I can tell, that experience had no effect whatsoever on my life. And, as far as I can tell, these evangelists had little interest in me. They were engaged in a highly depersonalized production process.

    Jesus Christ died to save people, not to generate decisions/conversions.

  • Fred

    Susan N

    I like your third paragraph. Pretty much fits my experience to a “T.” And, like J.L. Schafer, I experienced no change (I guess I did quit cussin’ for a couple months…still workin’ on that one). Two years later I entered a small Bible institute and finally had to read the Bible in its entirety. I realized I had been duped all along. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional but when conversions take priority over knowing God…

    I lost touch with the fundamentalist pastor who led me through the prayer but recently found he was retired and is living in my town (after a forty year separation). I have visited him several times in the last few months but find it difficult to converse with him. He wants more out our relationship. I don’t because I can’t be honest with him (my wife is Catholic, I enjoy beer, and I frequent the internet).

  • Robin

    Susan N.,

    I am a bit confused as to why you think your former church shouldn’t have been evangelizing Catholics. I was raised Catholic, served as an altar boy and lector, my mother is currently a lector and serves communion, and she still doesn’t understand the gospel. The think attending mass will get her into heaven, and that missing mass is a mortal sin that will leave her in hell if she dies without confessing it.

    I could offer countless other examples where leaders in my local Catholic church couldn’t explain the most important aspects of why Jesus’ death was important or what repentance and belief truly looked like…I just found it odd that you would imply none of the Catholics in an entire community needed to hear the gospel.]

  • Robin

    The think=She thinks

  • Pat Pope

    #7 is a big one. Add to it, “Just pray about it”, “You need to forgive”, etc., ad nauseum. As though there aren’t real issues that need to be wrestled with. To me it devalues the gospel when we reduce it to a “take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning” type of remedy.

    Anti-intellectualism is another biggie. It’s as if to talk about the faith and to delve into the details and ask questions is to somehow call the faith into question. But I think it often shows just how tenuous one’s grasp of the faith is when they feel threatened by questions and answers that could possibly lead them in a different direction.

  • EricW

    @Robin 13.:


  • T


    This is a helpful list to look at. I may have to read this and your work on conversion (and losing faith) sometime. I’m curious about how you came to accept the “conversions” of those who, like RJS and Paul W, for instance, grew up as Christians without a precise moment of conversion, AND how you give significant weight to the creeds and the rule of faith developed in the first few centuries of the Church, AND see ‘the gospel’ in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (as opposed to an understanding and acknowledgement of an atonement or justification theory) BUT still are opposed to baptizing infants. I’m not totally sold on it myself, but I’m much more open than I used to be. My question (from an anabaptist perspective) is this: if children of disciples of Jesus aren’t also disciples of Jesus, whose disciples are they? Is it anabaptism’s concerns or revivalism’s concerns that is driving the bus for you, as far as you can tell?

  • DanS

    The list describes the worst fringes of the movement but is not representative of the whole. Yes, for many of the proponents of “revivalism”, salvation has a starting point – a decision. But no, that does not mean there was not the work of the Holy Spirit leading up to, nor does it mean there is no concern for “discipleship: (another word as problematic as conversion) after conversion. And no, it is not a monolithic view that only the afterlife matters and nothing in this world is important.

    I’ve witnessed some pretty manipulative and shallow things over the years and am no fan of revivalism, but I’ve also known enough people who were genuine, mature, who thought deeply and lived a full-orbed faith that I hate to see them dismissed by lists that only present a caricature.

    And one aside, if “sacrament” is an outward sign of an inward grace, to some extent he “altar-call” became something of an evangelical sacrament. That is only an observation, not a slam.

  • TJJ


    So what exactly is the implication here? Billy Graham type evangelistic decisions are what…not valid, flawed, will not last and will lead to backsliders, is destoying the church……. what exactly?

    What is the “better” model of doing evangelism that one sees being done or taught in the New Testament? Is it all criticism, or is there a better, more effective way to bring our friends, family, stangers, into the kingdom of God?

    I see many things happening in the Book of Acts that looks more like evangelical decision/conversion. What do these examples in Acts teach us about people coming into the kingdom of God.

    Is Matt. 28:19-20 the first and primary task of the church, or is there another? If it is, name for me another non evangelical movement or church group right now that is effectively doing and Matt. 28:19-20. If what Billy Graham and those like him were incorrect and ineffective, name for me an non evangelical who is being used of God in the right way and is using the gift of evangelism effectively and correctly?

  • James Petticrew

    While I have a certain sympathy with his general point I wonder in the specifics of his points he has not created “strawmen revivalists” Certainly in the UK we would call it “revivalist” but not all preaching for a “decision” would be anti intellectual or overly individualistic.

  • DRT

    TJJ#19, I think you need to get out more often.

    “The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world’s largest Christian church, with over a billion members.[1] Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ,[2] administering its sacraments[3] and exercising charity.”


    Total church membership (both lay and clerical) in 2007 was 1.147 billion people,[40] increasing from the 1950 figure of 437 million[41] and the 1970 figure of 654 million.[42] On 31 December 2008, membership was 1.166 billion, an increase of 11.54% over the same date in 2000, only slightly greater than the rate of increase of the world population (10.77%). The increase was 33.02% in Africa, but only 1.17% in Europe. It was 15.91% in Asia, 11.39% in Oceania, and 10.93% in the Americas. As a result, Catholics were 17.77% of the total population in Africa, 63.10% in the Americas, 3.05% in Asia, 39.97% in Europe, 26.21% in Oceania, and 17.40% of the world population.

  • DRT

    Like many others here I never had a conversion moment, I believe I have always been a disciple.

    It used to be that companies in the US would sell via high pressure sales tactics and that was effective. As western society becomes more sophisticated, high pressure sales tactics no longer work for a large segment of the population. The best sales people practice consultative sales. I come beside you and walk with you to our mutual benefit.

    That’s not to say that high pressure sales is totally ineffective, it is effective, but to a smaller segment of the population. Additionally, one runs the risk of alienating parts of your target audience by engaging in high pressure sales tactics because many people are consciously aware of the manipulative nature of those tactics and are opposed to organizations that use them.

  • DRT

    Robin#13, what part of the gospel do you think Catholics don’t get? FWIW, I too did not fully appreciate the gospel until I left the RCC, but I would not have found it in any Protestant church at that time either. And very few today.

    I do believe that it is grossly arrogant for folks to feel that they should evangelize Catholics. While their understanding and culture may be different, I don’t believe most evangelical churches have a better one. Particularly Calvinists.

  • Susan N.

    Robin (#13) – I have known many Catholics (since then) who have a deeply devoted faith in Jesus Christ. Are you saying that (most) Catholics have not heard and/or do not believe the Gospel?

    I would turn your argument around and ask you how many of those evangelical evangelists might not have truly “heard” the true gospel message? I’ve always found it interesting that while fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives preach against a works-based faith, isn’t that in a sense exactly what they are practicing?

    All that effort to protect and defend the “purity” of the Gospel (e.g., judging that those of other branches of Christianity aren’t “doing it right.”)

    I’m so grateful for the Catholic friends whom I have had the opportunity to know more recently in my life. I would go toe-to-toe with anyone who thought to disparage them or their faith.

  • J.L. Schafer

    I strongly agree with Susan N (#24). As a Roman Catholic-turned evangelical, I spent a great deal of my adult life believing that Catholics don’t really believe the gospel, etc. If one equates “the gospel” with certain tenets of Protestant soteriology then, by definition, Catholics don’t believe the gospel. But if we understand “the gospel” as the message of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit and future Second Coming, then the Catholics-don’t-believe-the-gospel notion is hogwash. Having lived on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide and seen both up close, I have seen the the presence of Christ on both sides, and ignorance/naivete/misinformation on both sides. Theological differences are nontrivial and ought to be discussed with mutual respect and quest for understanding. But wholesale denunciations and caricatures (e.g. “they believe that going to Mass gets you into heaven”) are inaccurate and unhelpful.

  • Finney had a deep influence on Welsh revivalism – especially the revival of 1858-60. I tell some of the story here

  • Robin


    I don’t know what part of the country you grew up in or what the local Catholics around you believe. What I do know is that all men and women need to hear a gospel that includes that following (1) core facts about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2) the message that because of Jesus’ life and death, there is no longer any penalty to be paid by those who put their faith and trust in Christ [or repent of their sins and believe the gospel if you wish to use that language](3) That “doing church things” like attending mass (or church), confessing to a priest, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, and singing really loudly don’t make God love you more and failing to do them doesn’t make God love you less (4) That what God wants from us it to (a) love him (b) love others.

    I could go on…here is what my mom, and 95% of other Catholics I have known believe.

    (1) They’ve got the stuff down about the historical facts
    (2) My salvation depends on my relationship to the church. If I do the things the church asks me to do (go on Sundays, confess, don’t get an abortion, etc.) then I will go to heaven. I don’t need a “personal relationship with Christ”, or to read the bible, or to pray (outside of the prayers at church, daily written prayers to the saints, and the occasional haily mary, or Lords’s prayer required for penance).

    (3) Then there is a whole new liberal wing of the church that was growing as I was leaving that is just plain universalist. I don’t know what to make of them just yet.

  • Robin

    One more thing…the real shock behind my comment comes (1) not from the fact that I think Catholics need to be evangelized but (2) I think all kinds of people need to be evangelized.

    I live in the bible-belt and grew up Catholic in a county that is 97% baptist and methodist. Not only do I think that my entire catholic congregation needed to hear the gospel, I think almost of the protestant ones needed to hear it too.

    People understand the Jesus story…they don’t understand that it means their own personal lives need to reflect a lifestyle of repentance and constant belief in Jesus. In my experience Catholics think they are going to heaven “mostly” because they were baptized and still attend mass and revivalists think they are going to heaven “mostly” because they walked an aisle when they were 8. Both are insufficient understandings of the gospel and both groups need to be evangelized.

    I just cannot believe that you would assume such a large swath of the population (all Catholics) had been sufficiently evangelized that they no longer needed to hear the gospel.

  • Bob

    As a Catholic turned Evangelical I’ve seen what Robin says many times over. The situation is better today than 20 years ago. I’ve tried returning to Catholicism over the years and always found less than 5 folks that would want to pray or have any kind small group fellowship or bible study outside the regular mass times. That is out of a parishes of 2000 or more. I’ve asked Catholic folks why should they be admitted to heaven and most say I’ve never cheated on my wife, taxes or robbed a bank. No inner or personal experience to reference. Many lack an inner awakening or a born again experience that is first step in a God aware life. Outside of parish life at a local monastery or retreat center the spiritual life is very vibrant. I’ve always struggled with that disconnect. Things are improving though.

  • DRT

    Robin, as someone who’s entire family, except me, is Catholic, I can tell you that you are mistaken. You seem to be believing a stereotype and/or limited sample. Sorry that you are so jaded.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin and DRT,

    An attempt at some clarification on my part.

    I have examined why Catholics become evangelicals and why evangelicals become Catholics (Finding Faith, Losing Faith). The numbers are wildly in one direction (toward evangelicalism). The numbers are big enough, especially in South and Central America, that RCC has shown concern. I’ve heard the successful World Youth Day was partly started to counter conversions into evangelicalism.

    These are facts.

    Second observation: the universal and overwhelming story by converts to evangelicalism is that they weren’t taught the gospel, which means personal salvation and personal relationship and salvation by grace.

    This, too, is a fact rooted in research.

    But I would contend that there is a new day among Roman Catholics. I don’t know how pervasive but there is a growth of an evangelical-kind of RC faith (and I don’t mean evangelical in theology but evangelical in experience) and it is growing among younger adults.

    One more observation: many evangelicals equate their experience with true Christian faith and so consider Catholics not Christian, and part of what they are experiencing is that Catholics aren’t evangelicals or don’t have an evangelical experience. A Roman Catholic kind of genuine faith simply doesn’t look like what is typical for many evangelicals.

  • Susan N.

    I would echo J.L. Schafer’s thoughts in #25. Key concepts: “mutual respect and quest for understanding.”

    @Robin (#27 and 28):

    First, any form of evangelizing that isn’t going to risk doing more harm and offending the “other” certainly should be precluded by cultivating a mutually-respectful relationship. A “dialogue” of caring and genuine friendship will really go far, if you want my unprofessional (evangelist) opinion.

    Second, understand your own faith well. I see that you are working all that out in your long corrective reply to me. That’s O:K, I really don’t mind listening. I do that too — wrestle through my beliefs and doctrinal presuppositions, and sound off in comments here. What I have been learning as I get older, and my faith is deepening and getting stronger, is that the faith of others is a *very* sacred thing. And it is to be approached in conversation very gently and reverently.

    Third, door-to-door: I hope that is becoming, largely, a thing of the past. Who (in above comments) pointed out the objectifying nature of it? So degrading (not to mention intrusive).

    Fourth – Compassion and caring, the “will to embrace” — necessitates coming close and being “with” the other, rather than standing above or in a position of superiority. That fruit of the Spirit, which is real Christlike love, speaks volumes for the Gospel.

  • Robin


    My entire family is Catholic too. My brother is Catholic, my mom, sister, nephew, all of my mom’s extended family, my dad’s extended family including all cousins, nephews, and nieces.

    All of them could be characterized as pre-vatican 2 Catholics. They all grew up with the Latin mass (with the exceptions of the ones younger than 40 or so) and none of them, that I know of, would be universalists. The Glenmary sisters have started spreading that around locally, but I don’t think it has taken root in any of their congregations.

    My mom is the primary lector in her local church and does all of the catechism work for that church. If any child has a Sunday school class my mom is his teacher.

    If is fair to say though that my experience is limited to Kentucky. I have been in churches throughout Kentucky, but have no real experience outside of it.

    I was an altarboy and a lector in our church for 4 or 5 years. It is also safe to say that my total annual bible reading (outside of reading public in the mass) was less than 20 minutes per year prior to leaving the Catholic Church. I’m sure we read a bible story or two when I was a baby, but during my entire 18 years living at home it is safe to say that we spent less than 1 or 2 hours total in 18 years reading scripture, discussing scripture, praying together or doing anything else.

    We had 1 prayer that was said in our house “Bless us Oh Lord, for these thy gifts, which we are about to receive through your bountiful hands, in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit, amen” and that was it.

    That was typical for all of the Catholic families that I knew. It is still typical for all the Catholic families I know personally.

    If you have a different experience with your family then be thankful that your family is very much outside of the status quo Catholicism I grew up with. I have heard of Catholic congregations emphasizing a personal, evangelical faith…I had a friend in college whose parents belonged to such a church, but I have yet to see it in real life.

  • Jerry

    Years ago I visited a catholic church in NJ that had a Friday night bible study attended by100+ eac week. I also used to see my father in law kneel in prayer at night. The prayers were formal but very personal.

  • DRT

    Thanks Scot.


    I too found it impossible to form a relationship with god in the RCC but believe that there are parts of the population that don’t experience that issue. I think evangelicalism is better equipted to do that, for most people.

    I wish I could go back to the majesty and sensory experience I had as a youth. It seems that roman catholicism is more set up to get those who already have the experience a deeper experience, and less able to get folks the initial invitation.

    I know this does not carry weight with most protestants, but the best (most holy, devout, good, righteous etc) people whom I have known have been catholic. I do believe there is a place for that, and not just for I have been saved by grace.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (Robin, and others following the evangelical / catholic discussion) – I have recently given considerable thought to my inability to “make it” in an evangelical (specifically, the conservative type) religious culture. And, as well, sought to make sense of my early fundamentalist experiences.

    I have concluded that, as in parent-child bonding, there is a real aspect of “goodness of fit” for individuals in choosing a faith community.

    Some would manage to thrive in a Catholic faith tradition that was more ritualistic and less “evangelical”, while others would languish. Conversely, some (myself included) would be spiritually devastated by fundamentalist or ultra-conservative doctrine, while it may be (though I truly have an almost impossible time fathoming this — my “bad”, I know) just what another person needs to grow in faith.

    This realization has caused me to become more accepting of different ways of worshiping and articulating one’s faith.

    I still have a hard time being calm and gracious when I’m approached with an in-your-face form of evangelism. I suspect that it will be one of the greatest tests of my faith to overcome in order to grow in, not just knowledge, but more importantly the *grace* of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    When I am interacting with a Catholic, or a Hindu, or a Jew (all real examples of inter-faith relationships I’m involved in), I try to honor their personhood, which includes their religious identity, and try to learn about their beliefs and practices. Then, I can express my faith in Christ in a way that they can relate to.

    For example, around Christmastime, my son and his Jewish friend were playing, and hurt the feelings of a third neighbor boy, whose father came out guns blazing at my son and his friend. In talking through the situation with the two boys, I shared what our Christian faith is, in that, when there is a disagreement or offense, Jesus taught that we should “walk the extra mile” to understand the other and try, if at all possible, to reconcile; make peace, and NOT to take revenge. In these ways, without shoving our Christian faith down our beloved Jewish neighbor-friends’ throats, we are helping them to know what we believe and why we faithfully follow Jesus Christ. That’s the best I know to lovingly “evangelize” (be a bearer of good news) to the world, in our little corner. And, I might add, that without scolding or shaming the boys, but rather talking to them about being kind and willing to ask for forgiveness, they handled this on their own with their offended neighbor-friend. That is my way of evangelizing. Call me a liberal heretic (and I have been called already, believe me! 🙂


  • DanS

    I was raised Catholic. Learned the 10 Commandments, the Nicene Creed and other things I am forever grateful for. On the other hand I resonate with some of the concerns. I clearly remember my mom worrying over the soul of my sister who was killed in an accident while I was a child. A priest had told her that she had died with a mortal sin on her soul because she had missed mass. I grew up with a massive fear of death and hell as a result.

    It was the “decision” based gospel and an evangelical perspective on the finished work of Christ that led me to a conversion experience and though I have no doubt the Holy Spirit was active prior to that decision, there was something supernatural about that event.

    I am not anti-Catholic and I do have issues with some aspects of revivalism. But the reformation happened for a reason – and that reason was focused around excesses in medieval sacramentalism and I fully understand why evangelicals do not assume someone raised in that tradition are in the faith. I’ve known plenty of Catholics who recite the Creed every week but don’t believe a word of it and others who I believe are very much genuine believers.

    But there is a point to saying one must believe as an individual – that sacramental rituals apart from faith and understanding are not salvific. Evangelical wariness of aspects or Catholicism, particularly related to sufficient grace, personal faith and the Roman Mass as a sacrifice for sins are not rooted in bigotry, but in deep theological reflection.

  • Jordan Doty

    Although I can understand and appreciate the viewpoints and experiences of those who have grown up with the extreme caricature of revivalist evangelicalism, I hope that you will understand that there are many who grew up the opposite way, in the extreme caricatures of mainline protestantism, catholicism, Pentecostalism, etc.

    I grew up in an episcopal church for years, going to Sunday school, serving as an acolyte, singing in the choir, etc. and never understood anything about knowing God personally outside of historical creeds, hymns, and liturgical recesitation. I came to faith at 25 years of age through friends in a baptist church and have since found a home in baptist land. I did go back to my original episcopal church for a while, served at a big non-denominational mega church, and now serve in a medium sized baptist church. Having gotten my undergraduate degree and masters in a baptist seminary, and studying church history and practice on my own, I am fully aware of the various extremes of the Christian faith (all around), and would hope that we can see that an extreme caricature on any side is not helpful.

    I for one was thrilled to finally hear about the evangelical understanding of personal salvation, one time decision, and eternity later. It goes well with the other charicatures: community salvation, lifelong growth, and mission now. Put all those all extremes together and you have a well rounded salvation: individual salvation with God and community relationship with God’s people, one time decision and lifelong transformation, eternity later and mission now. I believe it’s referred to as the Kingdom of God. It appears that the grass is always greener on the other side, but I hope that we can appreciate when people find helpful aspects in the very thing that others were running away from.

    I was glad to take the stregnths of the faith I grew up with (understood later, of course) and combine them with the strengths of the faith I am in now, and throw out the extreme caricatures of both. And by the way, it should be noted that many of the points listed in this story that shaped revivalism would be found right at home in the book of Acts as crucially important to the gospel, just as the other aspects of salvation promted in other denominations of the church would be as well.

  • Sam

    What I find interesting, as a philosopher, is how point 4 fits with the other points. I say that because while the other points fit together as either being mutually reinforcing or elaborating on a central view, 4 is on the surface unconnected.

  • Sam

    What I find interesting, as a philosopher, is how point 4 fits with the other points. I say that because while the other points fit together as either being mutually reinforcing or elaborating on a central view, 4 is on the surface unconnected.
    I am inclined to think that it is only contingently related to the other points

  • TJJ

    While we live in a secular democracy like western europe, we not not yet live in an overwhelmingly secular/non-church society like western europe. That is largly the result of the First and Second Great Awakenings in the country. Those were led by such preachers as Whitfield, Wesley, Asbury, and later the likes of Moody, Sunday, Finney, Graham. None were perfect. Revivalism is/was not perfect. Evangelicalism was/is not perfect, parachurch evangelism was/is not perfect.

    There can be fault finding to fill many a book or blog. But IMHO nothing has done more than these movements to create and preserve a Christian underpinning of faith, values, basic knowlege of bible teachng, and church creaton and church attendance in this country in the past 150 years than these movements and traditions.

    Not all experiences are good. Not all want to be part of that. Not all are comfortable with those traditions. But lets acknowledge God has used such men and such movements to do some very significant spiritual things not the least of which is some very significant kingdom building and kingdom work in this country: churches that were formd, colleges and universities that were founded, hospitals, seminaries, mission organizations, YMCA and Sunday schools, relief organizaions, rescue missions in the inner cities.

    Even prohibition and the amending of the US Consitution, though that bit of revivalism/saw dust trail over reach failed, it illustrates the impact it had on the nation and our entire society.

  • AT

    I have an interesting question in light of the criticism of some of the different evangelism methods from a whole range of movements. I am presently serving in Africa within a church and school. The other day when I was at the hairdresser, the man cutting my hair, out of the blue told me that he wanted to become ‘born again’ (his words not mine)…I approached it (and continue to approach it with this man) the way that I personally believe is biblical and relevant…but I’m interested – How would you approach this simply?

  • Larry S

    I think I’d ask what he means by ‘born again.’
    I’d try to understand what worldview he is operating within and what his motivations are.

    Interestingly, a few Sunday’s ago the sermon was on the jailer who runs up to Paul/Silas after the earthquaking jail break and asks, ‘what must i do to be saved.’

    Listening to the sermon and thinking about the text, I wondered about the jailer’s frame of reference/world-view. But Paul moves in for the ‘close’ without missing a beat.

    (blessings on your ministry in Africa)