This will be my final post on Revival & Revivalism, I think. Although this is a very long book, clocking in at about 400 pages, it is a very good book that blends historical narrative and theology to tell the story of a major shift in American Evangelicalism. It was more than a pragmatic shift, but a theological shift. Iain Murray also notes some of the cultural shifts that paved the way for the other shifts. Christianity is not isolated from the surrounding culture, but often begins to echo it, sometimes in very negative ways.
In the 12th chapter Murray follows the Baptists in Transition. Their experience was quite different from that of the Presbyterians and Methodists. The Presbyterians experienced some difficulties and conflict with the new measures and new theology. But many of those for the new measures and theology ended up leaving for a less confessional expression of the church. The Methodists easily embraced the new measures and didn’t agree with the old theology from the get go. The Baptists prior to this time were largely Calvinistic. This transition left Baptists in America largely Arminian and often supportive of the new measures popularized by Finney.
One of the things that struck me about the early American Baptists was there “catholicity of spirit”. They emphasized common ground with other Christians, rather than the differences. Murray notes that a Presbyterian minister preached at Richard Furman’s funeral, and no one batted an eye. Or that J.P. Boyce wasn’t attacked for calling the Westminster Confession “our confession”.
The thing that shouldn’t surprise any of us is that they arguments used against Calvinism then are the same as those used to argue against the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC today.
1. Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism were confused and considered as one.
2. Calvinism was viewed something that stifled evangelism and revival.
The first is a sign of either ignorance or an uncharitable spirit. The ‘strawman’ argument is unloving to the brother with whom you disagree. The second argument is clearly disproved by history, as Murray repeately shows in his book.
With regard to the new measures, the conflict was not regarding the use of means, but which means. The old theology, largely Calvinistic, argued that God appointed the means to evangelism and revival in His Word. We are to use those means and trust Him to fulfill His purposes in our generation. The effectiveness of those means is under His control, not our. The new theology, supporting the new measures, placed the efficacy of means under our control, not His. The new measures also used new means that are not mandated by Scripture. There is nothing inherently wrong with many of those practices, but to mandate them, or use them as the signposts of revival is wrong. To rely on them rather than God to produce revival (or treat them like magic, God will send it if we do these things) is wrong.
These new measures led to some other new practices from which Baptistic groups like the SBC today have been unable to entangle themselves despite the best efforts of their Calvinistic contingent. They took a low view of membership, often baptizing people immediately upon walking the aisle. People were not well instructed and examined to see the validity of their profession of faith. Many soon wandered away after the excitment was gone. It is not uncommon today to find SBC churches (and some Presbyterian churches too, to be fair) with rolls that far exceed attendence. Low expectations of membership runs rampant today. These are human problems, not Baptist problems. But they find a welcome home in many Baptist churches because of this transition in both theology and practice.