How should local churches engage with their communities? From his series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey examines the thinking of Carl Henry, a prominent Protestant leader in 1940s America.
In the late 1940s, a prominent Protestant leader began to argue that we really ought to revive the word “evangelical.” That leader was Carl Henry, a man who would have a very profound impact on conservative American Protestantism for a number of decades. He wrote in 1947 a book called The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Notice he still is using the phrase “fundamentalist” to describe himself. He is not embarrassed, but he says in this book, "I recognize now that the word 'fundamentalist' has taken on so negative connotations and maybe some of that negativity is deserved." He said, "It seems to me that we as fundamentalists have become too withdrawn from the nation, from the general cultural development of the period in which we live. We need to be more engaged." Secondly, he said, "I think we have become too individualistic in our approach to Christianity. We have so stressed the importance of individual conversion that we haven't really thought enough about the church and about the community of Christians." Thirdly, he said, "We have almost entirely backed away from concern about social issues and just talked about private morality." We talked in the previous series about how many social issues were addressed in rather progressive ways by conservative Protestants in the 19th century. As we come into the 20th century, there continued to be social concern early in the century. The last great battle was for prohibition; that was the great conservative Protestant cause. "If we can only get rid of demon rum, we will remake the country." It didn't work out so well, as it turned out, but that was a great moral crusade. It was a moral crusade not just in the name of individual piety, but it was a crusade in the name of social improvement for the poor who were spending too much on alcohol and so forth. Henry is saying we need to recapture some of that social vision as well as a church vision and engage with the world around us.
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We now stand in the twenty-first century, almost five hundred years removed from John Calvin's time, but we find ourselves in an equally critical hour of redemptive history. As the organized church was spiritually bankrupt at the outset of Calvin's day, so it is again in our time. Certainly, to judge by outward appearances, the evangelical church in this hour seems to be flourishing. Megachurches are springing up everywhere. Christian contemporary music and publishing houses seem to be booming. Men's rallies are packing large coliseums. Christian political groups are heard all the way to the White House. Yet the evangelical church is largely a whitewashed tomb. Tragically, her outward facade masks her true internal condition.
"We Want Again Calvins!"
What are we to do? We must do what Calvin and the Reformers did so long ago. There are no new remedies for old problems. We must come back to old paths. We must capture the centrality and pungency of biblical preaching once again. There must be a decisive return to preaching that is Word-driven, God-exalting, Christ-centered, and Spirit-empowered. We desperately need a new generation of expositors, men cut from the same bolt of cloth as Calvin. Pastors marked by compassion, humility, and kindness must once again "preach the Word." In short, we need Calvins again to stand in pulpits and boldly proclaim the Word of God.
Charles H. Spurgeon shall have the final word here. This great man witnessed firsthand the decline of dynamic preaching and issued this plea:
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen's ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land...
I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men's ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His churches.
May Spurgeon's heartfelt prayer be answered once again in this day. We do want Calvins again. We must have Calvins again. And, by God's grace, we shall see them raised up again in this hour. May the Head of the church give us again an army of biblical expositors, men of God sold out for a new reformation.
This excerpt is adapted from The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson.
It’s time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week’s resources include such topics as evangelism, the Psalms, grace, repentance, holiness, forgiveness, and more.
Plus, several bonus resources are also available for more than $5. These have been significantly discounted from their original price. This week’s bonus resources include:
- Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips, Hardcover Book $19 $9
- The Psalms, ESV, Hardcover Book $20 $10
- From God and Before God by Sugel Michelén, Hardcover Book (Spanish) $15 $11
- Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer, Blu-Ray $30 $15
- Hymns of Grace, Genuine Leather Book $80 $50
- Man Overboard! by Sinclair Ferguson, Paperback Book $12 $8
- Let’s Study James by Sinclair Ferguson, Paperback Book $14 $10
- The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul, Hardcover Book $20 $12
- Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee, Paperback Book $18 $10
- Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul, Paperback Book $16 $10
- Maturity: Growing Up and Going on in the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson, Paperback Book $17 $11
- Growing in Holiness by R.C. Sproul, Paperback Book $18 $9
- The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson, Audiobook CD $19 $12
- He Is Holy: 2019 National Conference, DVD $75 $15
- The Pagan Heart of Today’s Culture by Peter Jones, Paperback Book $5 $3
- How Should I Live in this World? by R.C. Sproul, Paperback Book (Spanish) $4 $2
- What Do Jesus’ Parables Mean? by R.C. Sproul, Paperback Book $2 $1
- September 2013 Tabletalk: The Thirteenth Century, Magazine $3 $1
- October Tabletalk: The Church and Israel, Magazine $3 $1
- December 2013 Tabletalk: The Millennium, Magazine $3 $1
Sale runs through 12:01 a.m.–11:59 p.m. Friday ET.
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