Theology Central

Theology Central exists as a place of conversation and information for faculty and friends of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Posts include seminary news, information, and opinion pieces about ministry, theology, and scholarship.

The beheading of Paige Patterson and the humiliation of the SBC

I need to choose my words carefully. In five or ten years, or even tomorrow, I and they might be the subject of public scrutiny. As a Baptist historian, I have been watching the unhappy affair at Southwestern unfold over the past month with great sadness. I am grieved that Paige said some things that could have been said better or that shouldn’t have been said at all. I am sad that Paige, for reasons beyond my comprehension, hasn’t as yet seen fit to sincerely recognize his wrong words. I cannot impugn his motives. That belongs to God. But I can consider his public words. He certainly appeared to say to a woman who was being physically abused to simply pray. He said that if she did, the abuse might get worse. She did and it did. I can understand why many find his “counsel” very bad.

I grant that this advice is twenty years old. However, could it not have been said better? Who of us hasn’t said things in the past that could have been said better? I for one am glad that not all of my past sermons were recorded (thought they were in heaven, but that is another matter). I wish that Paige had said simply and early on “what I said SOUNDS bad and should have been said better.” Would a simple admission such as this not nipped this whole controversy in the bud?

Then there was the comment about the teenager. He used, by his own words, comments about the girl that I wonder why a preacher of the gospel would need to use. Again, if he had simply said “I could have said this better.” Or better yet “this sounds bad and I am sorry for WHAT I SAID.” I wonder if the storm would have subsided. His failure to clearly acknowledge any wrong has fueled further investigation. Then this week there was the allegation that a rape on campus at SEBTS that was not reported to the proper authorities and that the woman was punished for her poor judgement in allowing the man into her apartment despite campus rules. The rape should have been reported.

Because of the public controversy and other matters, Paige was retired, apparently against his will, from the presidency of Southwestern. Sadly, Paige’s most recent comments to the students there really have not helped. “We are hurt, but we haven’t compromised.” Really, he seems to be saying, “I am being unjustly judged.” Really?

Sadly, some supporters of Paige have made things worse, but Paige seems to be his own worst enemy. He is not being persecuted. Some clear acknowledgment of wrong doing would go a long way to ending this controversy. I have not heard whether he will preach in June at Dallas. I wonder if he should. Others are more pronounced in their opinion. Will this create further criticism of the SBC? Many fear that if he preaches it will. As I am not a Southern Baptist, I don’t get to vote on this. If I did, whether I loved Paige or not and even if I thought him unjustly treated, I would still encourage him for the greater good to immediately withdraw his planned sermon.

But then there are the foes of Patterson. They want him decimated. This whole thing has become really pretty ugly. I do not take comfort in the fact that I am not a Southern Baptist. This is not happening to my group to be sure, but these men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ. For the record, I have a PhD from Southern, but I am not sitting back smugly saying, “well too bad for them.” In my opinion, we Baptists, all of us, look pretty bad. What is to be gained by Paige’s head on a pike?

Thankfully some in the SBC have seen that this is a watershed moment. Al Mohler, whom I greatly respect, wrote a very thoughtful piece. But then there was this response from Alan Rudnick. Wow!?!

Surely, this whole situation could have been handled better, at many levels. Paige, part of leadership is accepting the fallout from bad decisions. Is there nothing to say publicly? Still, some of what appears on the net is really unbecoming of a Christian. There seems to be a determined effort to destroy Paige Patterson. Can we not do better? God deliver us before we plunge into utter irrelevance!

There is a lost world watching our every move. Consider the case of David . . . Nathan suggested that David had given an occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Sam 12:14). [N.B. I know the specific sin was adultery on the king’s part. I am not suggesting that Paige has this kind of guilt.] Yet how did those enemies come to find out about David’s sin? From the prophet Nathan when he rebuked the king (2 Sam 12:7) at God’s instruction. God, through Nathan, exposed the very sin that would cause God’s enemies to blaspheme (2 Sam 12:1). Seems like God was more concerned with truth than appearances.

Lessons on Preaching from the Internet

This may seem like an odd title for a blog essay, but I hope you will agree that the topic is worth pondering. In the last couple of weeks, a prominent preacher had been challenged to step down from his current leadership position for things that he said decades ago. This seems really odd that a fragment of a sermon delivered nearly twenty years hence should resurface now and be causing turmoil. But it is and it has precipitated a discussion that threatens a rather glorious career.

The sermon itself included comments on a situation of domestic abuse in which the preacher was involved as a counselor. A woman sought out our brother for help on how to deal with an abusive husband. It seems that the abuse was physical. Like many believers today, the preacher held strongly to a “no-divorce-under-any-circumstances” position. Whether or not that is a biblical view is beside the point for this essay. The counsel the preacher says he gave to the woman was to submit to her husband, to stay in the marriage, and to pray for God to intervene. She did stay and the result was two black eyes, courtesy of her husband. The woman came to the preacher with her injuries. When she asked rhetorically whether he was happy, the preacher said yes, . . . ostensibly because the abusive husband had sought him out shortly before she came, repented of his sins, and received Christ. According to our preacher, the marriage was restored.

Frankly, even if the story is true—that the husband became a believer—(and I am not doubting it), the counsel seems bad, at best. No woman should be encouraged to stay in a physically abusive situation in an attempt to win her husband to Christ. It was bad advice when it was given. It sounded bad in the sermon. And it surely sounds bad today in a culture more attuned to domestic abuse than previous generations. Perhaps he did not wish to counsel divorce, but to return to the home and become a punching bag for the husband was simply bad counsel.

What will happen with this brother and his ministry has yet to be determined. His organization will have a board meeting soon to discuss the public outcry that has arisen with the calls for his resignation. Whether the brother will be able to continue in his current position is beyond my ability to predict. The whole situation is tragic.

This brings me to the purpose of this essay. There are a number of important lessons to be learned as we watch this story unfold. We in ministry need to pay attention and be warned. This, theoretically, could happen to us if we do not walk circumspectly with regard to our pulpit ministry. I see at least four lessons.

First, we as preachers, are accountable for our words—the words we say today, the words we will say tomorrow, and the words we said yesterday. Any of us who have ministered in the pulpit for more than fifteen minutes knows that not everything comes out the way we intended. Sometimes what people hear is not what we intended to be heard. Occasionally a preacher will transpose a couple of choice words and the congregation will laugh. I once heard an older man ask God to forgive us of our “falling shorts.” I smile as I remember the gaff. At other times, we say things without measuring the effect or the weight of the words. We actually mean to say things a certain way, but upon reflection we come to realize that what we said could have a meaning beyond what we meant. Or worse, what we said was what we meant, but we did not measure the full impact of the words we would speak from the pulpit. We speak and cause hurt. If and when this happens, and sadly it does, we had better be quick to retract or correct a bad statement. If it was wrong, say so. Do not try to defend it. This will only make matters worse.

Second, we need to think long and hard before we say things from the pulpit. We are not called to be comedians but proclaimers of the life-giving Word of God. How sad it is when our pulpit speech detracts from the message we bear. I am not a fan of writing out sermons, though I have a friend who does this regularly. The great virtue of this sermon preparation technique is that it allows the preacher to carefully measure what is said and how. There is less occasion for a spontaneous, off-the-cuff remark that may go wide of the target. Whether one writes out his sermon or not, care needs to be exercised when addressing delicate matters. This is especially true when we use our own congregation as a sermon illustration. “I had a couple come into my office . . . “ and then we proceed to vaguely sketch the story. This is a dangerous thing to do. We may betray someone’s confidence in an effort to be helpful to others.

Third, never say anything in print or that is being recorded that you do not want to be published from the house-tops. I remember years ago a Canadian pastor who was teaching on child discipline. He used rhetoric that just sounded bad—something like “just beat them if they need it.” The sermon was recorded. A disgruntled attender passed the tape around and he had his children taken away by the province. Now Christians shouldn’t “beat” their children under any circumstances and pastors shouldn’t tell their people to do this, even if they think they are speaking rhetorically. When we get to sensitive topics, we need to choose our words very carefully. Our current brother is also being challenged for another sermon comment he made about a young lady and her aesthetic qualities. Some things just should not be said from the pulpit even if we are quoting someone else. There may be a need to address something obliquely. If so, caution must be used lest our words, however helpful they may be intended, become an unnecessary offense to some.

Fourth, I wonder if our brother could not have kept the debate from starting by simply showing a bit of recognition for the other people’s point of view. Maybe, just maybe, his gainsayers have a legitimate point. I wonder if a simple acknowledgement of “maybe I could have said this better” would not have kept the situation from becoming a conflagration. Or better yet, saying “I gave bad advice” or “I shouldn’t have said that.”

I am sad for the current situation of our brother. I am sad that the woman so long ago was given very bad counsel. I am sad that a teenager was spoken of in a way that suggests a less than respectful attitude on the part of a man of God. I hold our brother in high esteem for how has God used him. I hope that this situation will be used for the glory of God. I have no doubt that it will if we ponder the lessons to be learned. God can use this in our lives to make us better ministers now and in the future.

Descartes(’) Remains

I just finished a great book – Descartes Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. In it, NY Times best-selling author Russell Shorto retells the fascinating tale of Descartes’ remains and compares their history to the philosophical journey of modernity.

On a cold night, in the middle of the Swedish winter in 1650, the French humanist René Descartes died. Descartes was in Stockholm at the invitation of his friend and protégé, Pierre Chanut, to personally tutor the young queen Christina. Since Descartes was a staunch Catholic in a Protestant nation, his remains were quickly and quietly laid to rest in the frozen ground just outside of the capital. 16 years later, after entropy and modernity had begun, his decomposing remains were exhumed and taken to France on the authority of Louis XIV. Upon arrival in France, the skull and the right index finger were missing; the finger being a personal souvenir of the French ambassador to Sweden and the skull inexplicably gone, a literal dualism. In June of the following year, Descartes, sans head, was laid to rest for the second time after much ceremony in the churchyard of St. Geneviève in the center of Paris.

For more than a century, Descartes’ ideas evolved as his bones decayed. The philosophy of doubt lead to the politics of revolution. In 1793, after anti-Catholic and anti-royal mobs prevailed, the story of Descartes’ remains took another twist. By decree of the newly formed De La Convention Nationale, the patron saint of modernity was scheduled to be moved to lay in state in the new, hastily-conceived Pantheon. This decree, like the revolution, the idea of a French Pantheon, and the unfortunate lives of the French la noblesse, was short-lived. Alexandre Lenoir, a purveyor of French art, claimed that he transferred Descartes’ remains from a wooden box to an Egyptian-like sarcophagus. By this time the remains had become mere dust and shards. Lenoir’s collection was on display in the Museum of French Monuments. Many doubted (pun intended) Lenoir’s story and believed that Descartes’ bones were lost to either a desecrating revolutionary mob, the 1807 excavation of the church grounds for a new road, or the cold apathy of natural processes. In 1817, under Louis the XVIII’s authority, Descartes’ (supposed) remains were unearthed once more and ceremoniously reinterred, under the careful watch and honor of the French Academy of Science, just outside the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The tale takes another turn. In 1821, a Swedish chemist named Berzelius, produced a skull (without the jaw) that was had an ink-filled inscription that read, “The skull of Descartes, taken by J. Fr. Planström, the year 1666, at the time when the body was being returned to France.” The front of the skull also had an inscribed poem:

“This small skull once belonged to the great Cartesius,
The rest of his remains are hidden far away in the
land of France;
But all around the circle of the globe his genius
is praised,
And his spirit still rejoices in the sphere of heaven.”

When this skull arrived in France, the famous scientist/zoologist/creationist/devout Christian, Georges Cuvier, one of the premier member of the Academy of Science, embarked on a multi-year examination of the skull. The skull of the man that wrote Discourse on Method was thoroughly examined using quintessentially modern techniques. Interestingly, Cuvier’s method mostly employed the 19th cent. popular science of cranial phrenology and visual/dimensional comparisons and measurements based upon a (possibly fake) portrait by Dutch master Frans Hals. Cuvier was finally convinced and declared the skull authentic. Others, however, were unconvinced. The skull was exhibited in the Academy of Sciences for nearly another century. During that time, Descartes’ skull was repeatedly examined and deductions were repeatedly made. Ideas were inferred and propositions declared. In the end, in another twist of irony, the clarity of some and the skepticism of others boiled down to belief. The cranial examination of the father of modernity become a not-so-living embodiment of the tensions within modernity.

On the morning of January 21 1910, the city of Paris flooded. As the Seine swept into central Paris, the city, a beautiful temple to the accomplishments of man, was overtaken by the sheer power of nature. Much like the Great War a few years later, this event signaled the inevitable collapse of modernity. The philosophy of doubt began to be doubted as Descartes’ skull was nearly lost, once again, as relics and remains were haphazardly stacked and hastily evacuated.

Shorto appropriately ends with this:

“The Cartesian tendency of favoring mind over matter – mind over body- thus has a metaphorical cap. The skull – the representation of mind – having been subjected to repeated and increasingly sophisticated scientific study and judged to be authentic, sits enshrined in a science museum, le Musée de l’Homme . . . . Indeed, as I write, it is a part of a special exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme entitled Man Exposed, sitting beside a Cro-Magnum skull to demonstrate the breadth of human thought and accomplishment over the millennia, once again, serving as the very representation of ‘modern.’ As for the body, the trail ends abruptly, veering sharply into oblivion. And that perhaps as it should be. Dust to dust. In secular seculorum” (pg. 231). 

Modernity, like Descartes’ remains, remains enshrined yet decomposing. Its head, like Descartes’ ideas, is both certain and doubtful. Mankind tragically defines itself through itself. To doubt is to know and knowledge is undoubted. This cannot last. Modernity is veering sharply into oblivion. All men and their ideas come from dust and to the dust return . . . To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.

I highly recommend this book.

Lux in Tenebris

“The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Tonight, many liturgical and reformed churches will celebrate the medieval Tenebrae service, or service of darkness. Throughout this solemn event, candles are extinguished until only one is left. Darkness and shadows evoke sobriety, resembling the period of darkness during the crucifixion. Gospel readings, prayers, and meditations punctuate the service until the final candle is extinguished and the congregation erupts in a strepitus, a loud noise that represents the final cry of Jesus, ensuing earthquake, and tearing of the temple veil. After this cacophonous sound the congregation leaves in silence, reflecting on the terrible price of sin.

“The Crucifixion,” as painted by nineteenth-century Russian artist Nikolai Ge, depicts a graphic, non-stereotypical  version of the death of our Lord. Ge is one of my favorite realist precisely for that reason. This painting was banned from public display by imperial authorities on the grounds of blasphemy because Christ was shown as too human, too wretched. Ge was masterful with shadows and light and this painting represents a clear juxtaposition of the two. The ghostly Roman soldier, resembling the emptiness of rejecting Christ, disappears into the darkness, darkness that engulfs the painting, darkness that engulfed the entire land. A sign lies on the ground, perhaps falling as the earth shook. Against the black, however is a brilliant light. Its source is unclear and position confusing but its presence unmistakable. How can there be light in such darkness? The light covers the face of the penitent thief and illuminates Jesus. Human agony is on display as the God-Man cries his final cry. Jesus is the only bright figure. He is the man of light and the Light of men. Though the darkness weighs down the painting, light is undeniable.

My own tenebrae is quite similar. Tonight I will solemnly remember the darkness of that terrible day. The weight of darkness is the weight of my sin, crushing the spotless One. My strepitus is loud and dissonant. The crescendo of the climax of rebellion, the murder of the most innocent among us. I hated the light and loved the darkness. Yet, light remained. The dark cries of “crucify” only further illuminated the Light.

If only the soldier would turn away from the enveloping darkness and look at the Light.

“Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

“But while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and we loved darkness rather than light.





Getting Into Bach

If you didn’t know, yesterday was J. S. Bach’s birthday. I didn’t grow up listening to classical music–my clearest childhood recollections are of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Mahalia Jackson. Later on I became a fan of Elton John and of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. My sole impression of Bach was gained from his Toccata and Fuge in D Minor, a complex and heavy work that was (wrongly) played before the movie Thief in the Night to create a sinister atmosphere.

Now Bach is my favorite composer. Much of the credit for that change goes to Christopher Parkening, whose recordings of Bach’s music helped me to perceive its devotion, beauty, and joy. I can still remember listening astonished for the first time to Parkening’s rendition of Bach’s Praeludium, wondering how only one man with only ten fingers could play those notes so beautifully.

The last thing I want to do is to give you an assignment or to tell you that you “ought to listen to Bach.” Still, if you knew what to listen to, you might discover a beauty and joy that you have never elsewhere encountered. So let me suggest a couple of pathways into Bach’s music.

The first is the one that opened Bach for me, namely, Parkening’s guitar transcriptions. I’d specifically recommend three albums.

Parkening Plays Bach is a solo album that features a few other composers as well.

A Bach Celebration has Parkening playing with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Simple Gifts is an album of sacred music, including some Bach.

If you prefer a bolder sound, the Empire Brass has recorded A Bach Festival with Douglas Major playing the organ. If you’ve got a good stereo, you’re going to want to turn it all the way up to 11. The “Concerto and Alleluia” will shiver your timbers.

Would you rather hear something orchestral? Then listen to one of Bach’s job applications, the Brandenburg Concerti. I’ve linked to a performance by the Consortium Musicum, but feel free to buy a different album. It’s hard to find a bad version of the Brandenburgs.


Douglas R. McLachlan, Thirsting for Authenticity

Douglas R. McLachlan. Thirsting for Authenticity: Calling the Church to Robust Christianity. St. Michael, MN: Reference Point Publishers, 2017. 394 pages.

Back in the 1990s Douglas McLachlan published a helpful critique of fundamentalism entitled Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism. Not everybody liked the book (Rolland McCune was particularly critical), but it had the effect of stabilizing a generation of younger fundamentalist leaders. McLachlan offered them a vision of fundamentalism and Christian ministry that captured their attention and gave them direction.

Now, more than a score of years later, McLachlan has published a second book, Thirsting for Authenticity. This book spends little time critiquing fundamentalism, though it does begin with a serious look at contemporary American Christianity and civilization. The book is essentially McLachlan’s philosophy of ministry, a call to be first-century Christians in a twenty-first century world.

Thirsting for Authenticity reads less like a work of research (though it has plenty of research behind it), and more like an extended sermon. As he articulates his vision of how Christ’s Church must confront modern decay, McLachlan explores text after text of the New Testament. He expounds the Scriptures with care, drawing out the implications for life and ministry. He offers more than abstract ideas. He was my pastor for a decade, and I watched him put the principles of this book to work in real ministry.

Readers who are looking for a salacious expose of all that is wrong with fundamentalism will be badly disappointed. Those who are searching for biblical principles that will help them to minister to a world that hates God, however, will find rich help. The book is worth reading. You can buy it here.

Billy Graham, Revivalism, and the City of Angels


Few deny that the modern American religious landscape has been shaped by revivalism. From Whitefield to Finney, Wesley to Sunday, revivalism has played a vital role in the formation of evangelicalism. In fact, one cannot understand North American evangelicalism without first understanding revivalism. Revivalism, like all religious phenomena, cannot be rightly examined outside its events and personalities. Indeed, one such event and one such man personally contextualizes 20th century revivalism more than most. The man: Billy Graham. The place: Los Angeles. This post will examine the Billy Graham Los Angeles Crusade of 1949 as a definitive event leading to a rebirth of revivalism in the mid 20th century. It will accomplish this by comparing certain distinctives of revivalism to the events that occurred in and the characteristics of the crusade.

The Crusade

A brief overview of the events of the crusade is necessary to begin this comparison. In early 1949, the executive committee of the “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” committee invited Graham to host revival meetings in Los Angeles.[1] This committee hosted annual revival meetings, and always invited a well-known fundamentalist preacher to gather a respectable crowd. The meetings were to be nightly, beginning on September 25 and continuing for three weeks.[2] Although Graham desired a large-scale event, he was faced with apathy and even pessimism. Many churches and pastors did not enthusiastically support the meetings. In one instance, Graham and an associate had visited a local Los Angeles church for the midweek service and, while the pastor cordially asked for prayer concerning the meetings, he closed by saying the possibility for a great revival in that area was, to the learned student, “a lot of nonsense.”[3]

This type of attitude did not deter the zealous Graham however, who sent another associate, Grady Wilson, to Los Angeles to organize a massive prayer effort. As a result, things began to take shape. William Martin states, “For the first time, a Billy Graham campaign began to assume what would eventually become its mature form. Nine months before the meetings began, he engaged veteran revivalists Edwin Orr and Armin Gesswein to conduct preparatory meetings throughout the Los Angeles area.”[4] Graham wanted to begin a grassroots organization that would set these meetings apart from any other. Graham pulled out all the stops by insisting that the Christ for Greater Los Angeles committee spend $25,000 for posters, billboards, and radio announcements. Graham recalls these media spots as having a three-fold purpose: “First, they were to try and broaden church support to include as many churches and denominations as possible. Second, they were to raise their budget from $7,000 to $25,000 in order to invest more in advertising and promotion. Third, they were to erect a much larger tent than they had planned.”[5] As a culmination of his efforts, he met with the Hollywood Christian Group to ask the actors and actresses to use their names and testimonies to influence the campaign.[6]

On the eve of the meetings, Graham was plagued with theological doubts and questions, the most important being the inerrancy of Scripture. After being counseled by friends and spending a night of reflection and introspection in the dry mountains outside Los Angeles, Graham came down refreshed and inspired. Like a modern-day Moses, Graham attacked the pulpit with energy of a zealous prophet. After a rousing musical performance and a plea for financial offerings, Graham opened the meetings with a sermon entitled “We Need Revival.” The thrust of his message was an attack upon the materialism, immorality, and paganism of contemporary America along with a plea for a return to “old time religion.”[7] His message was filled with fervor and his oration was that of an honest backwoods preacher, pleading with his fellow humans. In the end, it was apparent that the audience was spiritually moved, some even visibly shaken. Even so, after two weeks of nightly meetings, not much was happening. Initial press releases only received six inches of space on the back page of the next day’s paper.

Thus far, the meetings were not the success that Graham had hoped for. During the final week however, two events changed Graham’s outlook and the nation’s perception. First, media tycoon, William Randolph Hearst instructed his journalistic minions to “puff Graham,” commanding an army of editors to make Graham front-page news.[8] Instantly, hundreds of reporters and photographers swarmed the crusade, not only reporting nearly every word, but also describing in details the mood and response of the listeners. Overnight, Graham’s revival meetings were transformed into a media frenzy. The second event involved an unlikely ally from among Hollywood’s elite. Stuart Hamblen, a popular radio talk host and known gambler, announced on his radio show that Graham’s ministry had helped him become a Christian and was going to change his life around.[9] The combination of Hearst’s media empire and Hamblen’s popularity made Graham an instant celebrity, propelling him to the popular spotlight with stories in Time, Life, and the Associated Press.[10] After meeting with his team, Graham decided to extend the meetings from three to eight weeks. At the end of the crusade, all expectations and attendance records had been crushed. 350,000 people had attended the 70 meetings and a total of 2,703 made first time decisions for Christ.[11] The numbers, however could not include the thousands of families that were changed and the total spiritual fruition of the work. Graham’s crusade had been a resounding success.


To examine the Los Angeles Crusade in light of normative revivalism, one must first set up parameters to define revivalism. Russell Richey, in his article, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” clearly defined and described revivalism in its American context. [12] Richey proposes that the study of revivalism is not necessarily a portrayal or screen, but a constellation of ingredients. These ingredients form a cohesive unity of characteristics, providing a backdrop on which to examine certain religious phenomena, such as the Los Angeles Crusade.

Richey’s first characteristic of revivalism is that it is founded upon Pietism. He states, “The association of revivalism with Pietism is so close that one can hardly appropriately ask whether revivalism has existed or can exist apart from Pietism. Certainly, we can argue that a pietist-like ethos seems vital.”[13] Pietism’s emphasis upon spiritual expression and experience acts as a direct adhesive to the personal aspect of revivalism. Communal revivalism cannot occur divorced from personal devotion, responsibility before God, and the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.[14] The Los Angeles Crusade was characterized by a “pietist-like ethos.” For example, in his first sermon, Graham outlined the steps needed for revival to occur in Los Angeles. He said, “First, realization of a need and desire for revival. The second condition for revival is repentance. Do you know what repentance is? Repentance is confession of sin, . . . sorrow for sin, . . . [and] renouncing sin. And then the third is to pray.”[15] It is certainly no stretch to clearly see the emphasis on a deeply personally and spiritual endeavor.

The second characteristic of revivalism is a theology and practice that is conducive to aggressive proselytism.[16] McDow and Reid are quoted as saying, “Every revival in history has produced significant numbers of conversions.”[17] The Los Angeles Crusade was the most significant mass evangelistic event since Billy Sunday’s revivals. The numbers were staggering. Thousands of people eagerly waited on the corner of Washington Blvd. and Hill St. each afternoon to hear the preacher in the “Canvas Cathedral.” Graham even wrote to his friend Luverne Gustavson, “If you could have seen the great tent packed yesterday afternoon with 6,100 people and several hundred turned away, and even scores of people walking down the aisles from every direction accepting Christ as personal Savior . . . .”[18] As stated before, attendance estimates surpassed 350,000 people, and with over 2,000 salvation decisions, the Los Angeles Crusade certainly qualifies as a major revival.

This crowd phenomena produces more than mere numbers, it produces a visible sign that engraves itself into the psyche of a generation. Richey states, “Revivalism proper, . . . does not refer to change that happens piecemeal over time and that might be discernable only after the fact. It is a visible event, a visible happening, and a species of crowd behavior. Revivalism happens. It happens to crowds.”[19] The Los Angeles Crusade was not an unusual causal event in a chain reaction that produced slow growth; it was an explosive event that captured the area by storm. One could hardly ride a Los Angeles cab in late October of 1949 or sit in a beauty parlor without overhearing a rousing conversation about Graham. Harold J. Ockenga later said of Graham concerning a New England revival, “For two hundred years there has been no such movement in New England. George Whitefield was the last man who stirred New England in such a way.”[20] Indeed, all of America opened newspapers and tuned to frequencies to hear news of Graham’s revival. This aggressive proselytism and immediate popular phenomena that characterized revivalism prior to the mid 20th century was now suddenly evident in Los Angeles.

The next characteristic of revivalism to examine as it pertains to Graham’s crusade is its tendency to assume societal and cultural declension.[21] Russell states, “It would perhaps be more accurate to say that revivalism assumes a worldview in which declension is premised – nature is pitted against grace.”[22] He demonstrates that there are two aspects to this characteristic. First, revivalism holds the major premise of a sort of theological entropy; the world will wax worse and worse. The minor premise is assumed that God has judged, is judging, and will judge societal evil on a massive scale. The conclusion; because the world is waxing worse, and God will certainly judge societal evil, then the recipients of the sermon – partakers in the evilness of society – are to repent lest terrible judgment fall upon them.[23] This type of societal damnation preaching had existed well before Graham and is truly indicative of revivalism. Charles Finney is said to have once preached in a small town where he was unknown. During the singing, he noticed that the audience was filled with “wild-looking” men, many in their shirtsleeves. Finney immediately stood up and quoted from Genesis saying, “Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city.”[24] He subsequently referred to that particular town as “Sodom.”[25] Leonard Ravenhill, in his passionate plea for revival said, “How right Edwards was! What obligations has God to a people like us whose aggregate sin as a nation in one day is more than the sin of Sodom and her sister city, Gomorrah, in one year?[26]

In a homiletical sense, Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade was classic Finney. In his opening sermon, “We need revival,” Graham began by reading Isaiah 1:1-20. He then immediately posed a choice to the audience, “Remember, the verse we just read, ‘Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom….’”[27] He wasted no time in tearing into the audience by using examples from his recent visit to Europe to tell of the devastation and absolute wreckage that humanity can cause. He stated that the only reason why America escaped such wreckage is because of godly people. However, America would not escape for long! He delved into the topics of moral corruption, crime, sexual promiscuity, gambling, teen-age delinquency, and alcoholism, giving statistics with every subject. He climaxed by disclosing the ever-popular war between Western culture and Communism.

Communism is not only an economic interpretation of life – Communism is a religion that is inspired, directed and motivated by the Devil himself…. Now for the first time in the history of the world we have the weapon with which to destroy ourselves – the atomic bomb. I am persuaded that time is desperately short! Three months ago, in the House of Parliament, a British statesman told me that the British government feels we have only five to ten years and our civilization will be ended.[28]

Certainly, Graham used pre-tested and evidently successful revivalist techniques in his homilies. The presence of direct societal declension and impending judgment were crucial to Graham’s plea.

The next characteristic of revivalism is communication network. Richey defines this as “a means by which the Spirit’s working becomes known, a way by which a specific episode or series of conversions are claimed by the larger community.”[29] There are three aspects to this characteristic: pre-revival communication networking, continuous communication during a revival, and post-revival effect. The pre-revival communication is absolutely essential to the success of revivalism. Originally, pre-revival planning was made up of mainly prayer. A.T. Pierson said, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin with prayer.”[30] In 1859, D. L. Moody established a group of prayer warriors known as the “Illinois Band” to pray before and during any board or revival meetings.[31] Preparation also included some form of logistical plan. Focusing on laymen and committee involvement, as well as advertisements were prevalent.[32] Graham took this ideology to an extreme. In late summer of 1949, the Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee shifted the crusade planning into high gear. They were able to get some 250 Protestant churches involved – almost a quarter of the Protestant churches in Los Angeles.[33] As stated previously, Graham insisted that the advertising budget be raised to an unprecedented $25,000. Celebrity endorsement, the full support from a Youth for Christ-style campaign, and even public endorsement from the mayor all helped to spread the message. Prayer teams from churches and para-church organizations were released en masse. This pre-revival communication and advertisement network dwarfed all previous.

Though the turning point did not come until during the crusade – Stuart Hamblen’s radio address and media mogul Randolph Hearst’s simple command to perpetuate Graham propelled the crusade to new heights. These two key events changed the outcome of the crusade and would leave an indelible mark on pre-revival networks for years to come.

Even after the crusade ended, the effects of the pre-revival preparations and the events during the revival itself reverberated throughout the country. This reverberation was carried along on the backs of modern media. The full effects of Hearst’s blessing were now being felt. Newspapers throughout the country ran full-length articles on the “Old Time Religion That Sweeps Los Angeles.”[34] Graham concluded his thoughts on the effect of the revival by saying

When we [Graham and his wife] got to Minneapolis, the press was again there to interview us… Until then it had not fully registered with me how far-reaching the impact of the Los Angeles campaign had been. I would learn over the next few weeks that the phenomenon of that Los Angeles tent Campaign at Washington and Hill Streets would forever change the face of my ministry and my life. Overnight we had gone from being a little evangelistic team, … to what appeared to many to be the hope for national and international revival.[35] 

Another key aspect in recognizing true revivalism is its distinct liturgy. While individual liturgical forms may vary in relation to their respective geographical locations and cultures, there is still always a definite ritualistic form that each revival will take.[36] For example, the well-known revivalist Charles Finney introduced the “altar call” during the Cane Ridge Revival.[37] Though people would often rush forward after a service as the result of revival, Finney made this emotional phenomenon normative by issuing an “explicit invitation to come down the aisle as a response to the gospel, a move that was quite effective in bringing about the desired results.”[38] Another example would be Finney’s “anxious seat.” He arranged several pews in the front of church to “assist” people who wanted to get right with God.[39] Emotional appeals and psychological manipulations created an experiential liturgy, which continued to defined revivalism.[40]

Graham’s preaching and invitation style resembled this liturgical form. Dazzling performances, massive banners, emotional pleas, and spellbinding soloists were all part of Graham’s repeated repertoire. [41]  Instead of “dry” orthodox church surroundings, Graham’s crusade was held in a massive “Canvas Cathedral” complete with sawdust floor, thousands of seats, and plenty of aisle room for the invitation.[42] Graham not only typified revival liturgy but also set an undeniable precedent. Almost every crusade that followed was patterned after the style and practice of the Los Angeles Crusade.[43]

The final aspect of revivalism is charisma. Revivals tend to center around a charismatic leader or preacher. Richey states, “Specifically, they [revivals] depend upon charismatic leadership. It is the leader, the revivalist, around whom the drama of a revival unfolds. So critical have been the revivalists to the phenomenon that we tend to conflate the two, revivalist and revival.”[44] Often the success or failure of the revival rests squarely upon the shoulders and talents of said individual. This charisma is manifested in several different ways. First, physical language plays a vital role in charismatic leadership. Powerful sentiments and stirring oration are indispensable to the revivalist. C. H. Spurgeon once said of Whitefield’s sermons – after only reading them “In these sermons one perceives the coals of Jupiter and hot thunderbolts, which mark him out to be a true Boanerges (son of thunder).”[45] Another type of language, not merely body language, but also excitement, severity, and action is just as necessary. The famed evangelist Billy Sunday was said to be a “physical sermon.” Describing Sunday, William Ellis said “The intensity of his physical exertions – gestures is hardly an adequate word – certainly enhances the effect of the preacher’s earnestness. Some of the platform activities of Sunday make spectators gasp. He races to and fro across the platform. One hand smites the other. His foot stamps the floor as if to destroy it.”[46]

Though Graham was not an acrobat or “son of thunder” per se, he embodied the physical and oratory excitement necessary for leading a revivalistic event. Stanley High, another early biographer, described Graham’s oral and physical delivery by saying “The way he preached was pretty much in the tradition of the ‘Hot Gospeller.’ His voice was strident. He was inclined to rant. The same sound effects in politics would, in most places, be called demagoguery.”[47]  McLoughlin adds, “The drama of Graham’s delivery is heightened by the way he acts out his words. As he retells the old Biblical stories of heroes, villains, and saints, he imitates their voices, assumes their postures, struts, gesticulates, crouches, and sways to play each part.”[48] Graham described his own feelings when he preached the Los Angeles Crusade saying, “I felt as though I had a rapier in my hand and, through the power of the Bible, was slashing deeply into men’s consciences, leading them to surrender to God.”[49] During the Los Angeles Crusade, Graham’s preaching seemed to come alive with fervor. His charisma engulfed his whole body and his physical communication struck every soul. His preaching certainly followed in the steps of past revivalists.

Another aspect to charismatic leadership is popularity. Every era in revivalism can be readily identified with either one individual or a small group of individuals. While this is broadly true for all Christian eras, it is especially apropos for revivalism. Popularity, power of message, and organizational abilities can all contribute to revivalist leadership. Benjamin Franklin once described Whitefield as a leader “who could at any time and anywhere, collect in the open air, an audience of many thousands, with out offering a single heretical novelty.”[50] It is no stretch to think that if Franklin were impressed with the abilities of Whitefield during that era of revivalism, he would be obliged to recognize Graham’s during the Los Angeles Crusade. It was said that, “it would seem to be God’s purpose to choose a man who will sum up in himself the yearnings of his time – a man divinely gifted and empowered.”[51] Graham clearly fit the bill. Not only did Graham precipitate the resurrection of revivalism, he also became its new identity. Popular Graham biographer, James Kilgore even claimed that Graham should “be counted in the company of Charles G. Finney, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, and Billy Sunday.”[52] Revivalism had been reborn and rebranded.


The Los Angeles Crusade of 1949 was more than a mere revival; it was the rebirth of revivalism in the mid 20th century. The characteristics of revivalism were all clearly present in Graham. The crusade clearly created a pietistic-like ethos and Graham’s messages were founded in an evangelism that was conducive to aggressive proselytism. Thousands and thousands were emotionally charged and spiritually changed. His message proclaimed cultural digression and impending societal doom. Graham planned the crusade with an aggressive communication network that exploded with growth during the crusade and continued with ramifications well after. The style and practice of the crusade directly emulated the liturgical past of revivalism. Graham began to embody important leadership abilities during this crusade that would soon propel him to international fame and define him as the undisputed guru of modern revivalism.

[1]William G. McLoughlin, Billy Graham, Revivalist in a Secular Age (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1960), 45.


[3]Good News in Bad Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1953), 155.

[4]William Martin, A Prophet with Honor (New York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1991), 113.

[5]Billy Graham, Just as I am (San Francisco: Zondervan, 1997), 144.

[6] Martin, A Prophet with Honor, 113.

[7] McLoughlin, Billy Graham, Revivalist in a Secular Age, 47.


[9]Fred Hoffman, Revival Times in America (Boston: W.A. Wilde Company, 1956), 173.

[10]Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again (New York: Oxford Press, 1997), 226.

[11]Orr, Good News In Bad Times, 161.

[12]Wall Street Journal 28 (1993): 166. In this article, Richey explores ten distinctives of revivalism and describes their relationship to historical events. All ten need not be explored because several are subsets of one another.

[13]Ibid., 167.

[14]D. Martin Lloyd-Jones describes these in his chapter on the characteristics of revival. He directly ties personal pietism as foundational to corporate revival. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1987), 105-117.

[15]Billy Graham, Revival in Our Time (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1950), 59.

[16] Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 285.

[17]Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid, Firefall (Nashville: Broadman & Holman 1997), 21.

[18]John Pollock, Crusades: 20 Years with Billy Graham (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1969), 59.

[19] Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 169.

[20] McDow and Reid, Firefall, 304. This is pertinent because the Los Angeles Crusade of 1949 was the model for nearly every following revival until 1960.

[21] Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 168.

[22] Ibid.

[23]Graham once said, “Just one wrong move by some of our diplomats could plunge us all into eternity by intercontinental missiles and hydrogen bombs. Come and give your life to Christ while there is still time.” Charlotte Observer (Charlotte), 16 October 1958.

[24]John Shearer, Old Time Revivals (Philadelphia: The Million Testaments Campaign, 1932), 57.


[26]Leonard Ravenhill, Sodom had no Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1971), 27.

[27]Graham, Revival in Our Time, 53.


[29] Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 171.

[30] McDow and Reid, Firefall, 117.

[31]Ibid., 119.

[32]W. A. Tyson, The Revival (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925), 60-62.

[33]Carpenter, Revive Us Again, 222.

[34]Billy Graham, Just as I am, 144. This was a November headline for an Indiana newspaper. After such phenomena, Graham said, “Reporters were comparing me with Billy Sunday, church leaders were quoted as saying that the Campaign was ‘the greatest religious revival in the history of Southern California,” 151.

[35]Ibid., 158.

[36]Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 170. “Revivals are revivals and are recognizable as revivals because they have definite ritual form.”

[37]Douglas Porter and Elmer Towns, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 2000), 102.



[40]See Raymond Edman, Finney Lives On (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1951). The chapter “The Pattern of Revival: The Pew and the Pulpit.” Edman describes Finney’s reasoning for his preaching and service forms.

[41]See Robert J. Wells, “Music and the Revival,” ed. How to Have a Revival (Wheaton: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1946).

[42]William Martin, A Prophet with Honor, 112.

[43]See Pollock, Crusades: 20 Years with Billy Graham.

[44] Richey, “Revivalism: In Search of a Definition,” 171.

[45]Mack Caldwell, George Whitefield, Preacher to Millions (Anderson, Ind.: The Warner Press, 1929), 112.

[46]William Ellis, “Billy” Sunday, The Man and His Message (n.p., L. T. Myers, 1914), 138. One chapter in this book is entitled “Acrobatic Preacher” which includes a fanciful caricature chart of Sunday’s postures and expressions.

[47]Stanley High, Billy Graham (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1956), 86.

[48] McLoughlin, Billy Graham, Revivalist in a Secular Age, 125.

[49]Billy Graham, “Biblical Authority in Evangelism,” Christianity Today 1 (1956): 6.

[50] Caldwell, George Whitefield, Preacher to Millions, 112.

[51]James Kilgore, Billy Graham the Preacher (New York: Exposition Press, 1968), 25. Kilgore is quoting Charles Cook in reference to Graham.

[52]Ibid., 16.

It Can Never Happen!

Just last week, another high profile pastor admitted to a “sexual incident” when he was a youth pastor twenty years ago. He admitted his indiscretion publicly after which his church gave him a standing ovation for his transparency. He said the relationship was consensual. He was 20 and she was 17. He was in a position of spiritual leadership as a youth leader. She was a youth group member.

One thing needs to be repeated again and again. A pastor or a youth pastor CANNOT have a consensual relationship with a church member! When you are in a positional of spiritual leadership over another person, that relationship makes any sexual encounter an abuse of trust, a taking advantage of someone who is vulnerable. It cannot be “consensual.” Period!

God help us to repent of our tolerance of sin. Thanks to Ed Stetzer for speaking out!

Defining Culture

South African pastor (and Central Seminary alumnus) David DeBruyn continues his series on “Ten Mangled Words.” Now he’s turning his attention to the word culture.

Jackhammers are not the ideal tool for mixing cake batter. Some mess will almost certainly result. Evangelical Christians using the word ‘culture’ often remind one of a baker with a such a power tool. When most Evangelicals begin writing or speaking on culture, one winces. A migraine is certainly on its way.

Dr. Paul Hartog Speaking at 2018 MacDonald Lectures

Every winter, Central Seminary conducts the MacDonald Lectures Series in Bible and Theology. This year, Paul Hartog, professor at Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary, will present lectures on early Christianity’s relationship with Roman culture.

Dr. Hartog is a churchman, published scholar, and a recognized expert on the early Christian father, Polycarp. He is a frequent speaker and presenter at academic conferences.

Christianity did not begin in a vacuum. As the church began, it was forced to interact with the world in which it was conceived. In doing so, the early church had to deal with many questions. Is the church to separate from culture? Did God call the church to transform culture? To what extent should Christians participate in culture? Answers to these questions remain as pertinent today as two millenia ago. Join us as Dr. Hartog explores the early church and Roman culture.


8:00a-8:30 Registration / Greet
8:30-9:30 – Session I
9:30-9:50 – Coffee / Pastry break
9:50-10:50 – Session II (Central Women’s Fellowship will have a sessions for the ladies during this time)
10:50-11:00 – Break
11:00-12:00 – Session III
12:00 – 1:00 – Lunch
1:00-2:30 – Session IV

Purchase tickets here.

Lunch will be be included with purchase of ticket.

Email info@centralseminary with any questions.

Eugene Green, non posse peccare

Eugene Green, 1997 DMin alumnus.

Pastor Gene pastored several churches in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin over the years. Upon retirement from full-time ministry, he served as the Executive Director of Baptists for Life of Wisconsin from 2001 – 2012, traveling throughout the state, speaking in churches and schools, and advocating for the rights of the Unborn.

His obituary is here.

Why Is Christmas on December 25th?

Everyone knows it’s because synchretistic Christians swiped the Roman Saturnalia, right? Guess again. William J. Tighe deals with “Calculating Christmas” for Touchstone Magazine. You don’t have to accept everything in the article to find it interesting.

[T]he pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians.

Do Conservatives Face a Dilemma?

Howard Merken at The Imaginative Conservative thinks so. It’s a quirky article, but worth a read. Merken focuses specifically on a Bob Jones University graduate and on Jerry Falwell.

A conservative can do what he wants in a free country, and that includes supporting conservative causes. But should he think, speak, write, and act in ways that show an intense knowledge of interactions, or should he parrot the slogans of other conservatives without understanding the details and the truths which are often two-sided coins or even multifaceted gems? That is the conservative’s dilemma.

Welcome back, Theology Central blog!

Our blog has been on a hiatus in recent weeks as our website has been retooled. The new site launched yesterday and with it our new blog! We are grateful for the opportunity to keep moving forward. One bit of seminary news of interest to our readers. With our adoption of synchronized classroom instruction, we are now able to service students far and wide. As the registrar, I get to “meet” new students in advice of the rest of the faculty. I am pleased to state that our student body next semester will include students from three countries on two continents, all in our regular seminary program. This will mean that good men who cannot move to Minneapolis, especially international students, can still get the same quality education as our on campus students. As of today, we have six incoming international students for next semester. We anticipate that we will be able to take theological education to the world through our Global Initiative and our online instruction. Looking for a place to study? Contact Dan Johnson at to start a conversation.

Bertrand Russell on Math and Epistemology

Now suppose that I am looking at a bright red patch. I may say ‘this is my present percept’; I may also say my present percept exists’; but I must also say ‘this exists,’ because the word ‘exists’ is only significant when applied to a description as opposed to a name. This disposes of existence as one of the things that the mind is aware in objects.

I come now to understanding of numbers. Here there are two very different things to be considered: on the one hand, the propositions or arithmetic, and on the other hand, empirical propositions of enumeration. ‘2+2=4’ is of the former kind; ‘I have ten fingers’ is of the latter.

I should agree with Plato that arithmetic, and pure mathematics generally, is not derived from perception. Pure mathematics consists of tautologies, analogous to ‘men are men,’ but usually more complicated. To know that a mathematical proposition is correct, we do not have to study the world, but only the meanings of symbols; and the symbols, when we dispense with definitions) of which the purpose is merely abbreviation) are found to be such words as ‘or’ and ‘not,’ and ‘all’ and ‘some,’ which do not, like ‘Socrates,’ denote anything in the actual world. A mathematical equation asserts that two groups of symbols have the same meaning; and so long as we confine ourselves to pure mathematics, this meaning must be one that can be understood without knowing anything about what can be perceived. Mathematical truth, therefore, is, as Plato contends, independent of perception; but it is truth of a very peculiar sort, and is concerned with only symbols.

The History of Western Philosophy (1972 ed.), 155.

I may have to pay more taxes! Yikes!

Again a WI judge has struck down the Clergyman’s Residency deduction. It was reversed on appeal before. If it takes affect, it only impacts Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. But who knows . . . it might change things for all clergymen in time. We’ll see what the Seventh Court of Appeals say this time. Stay tuned.