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Spiritual Declension: Lessons From Early 18th Century Particular Baptists, Part 4-Negative Attitudes toward the Evangelical Revival: Reason #1

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  1. Amen.

    Thank you for this post, Brother.

    There are some great things that seem to be going on with the Pipers, Harrises and Driscolls of the world. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that just because they are not “Reformed Baptist” and don’t hold to our Confession that God is not working through them. God save us from being modern-day Pharisees.

    Andrew J. Nicewander

    January 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm

  2. Andrew,

    Glad the post was edifying. I agree with the connection you’ve drawn between the hyper-critical spirit some of our Particular Baptist forefathers expressed towards leaders like George Whitefield and the somewhat critical spirit some contemporary Reformed brethren express toward men like Piper, Mahaney, Keller, Driscoll, et al. May the Lord grant us the wisdom, grace, and humility to hold fast our distinctives without assuming that “we are the people and all wisdom resides with us.”

    Bob G.


    January 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

  3. Thanks Andrew.

    I do not intend my blog to be so much an accusation against RB’s as a caution against what I have felt has at times been a tendency in some or at least in me. We must also be careful that we don’t fall off the other side by allowing an uncharitable spirit toward brothers in our own circle. I must confess that I myself have been guilty at times of this very thing some of the early 18th century PB’s were. I feel inclined with reference to my own blog to say, “Woe is me”; “Oh wretched man that I am”.

    May God give us the grace to stand firm for truths we believe are very important and needed while maintaining a charitable and catholic spirit toward all who love and preach the gospel!!!

    Jeff Smith


    January 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

  4. So are we to think of Mark Driscol as a modern day Whitefield?

    As a cautious servant to my people, if I refuse to see validity in such a comparison, am I a Pharisee?

    It should be noted for the record that Dr. Sam Waldron has identified revivalism (along with inclusivism and Methodism) as one of the reasons for the decline of Particular Baptist in 18th century America.

    David Charles

    David Charles

    January 21, 2009 at 12:04 am

  5. David,

    First, I would not consider you a “pharisee” if you fail to see any connection between the hyper-critical spirit of some PBs toward Whitefield and a similar spirit expressed by some RBs toward men like Piper, Mahaney, and/or Driscoll. I don’t think you need to read Andrew’s comment or mine as a claim that Driscoll is a modern day Whitefield. There are certainly dissimilarities. But that fact doesn’t preclude the possibility of seeing some analogy in the way Reformed men of the 18th century responded to Whitefield’s ministry and the way 21st century Reformed men respond to the ministries of men like Piper, Mahaney, and Driscoll.

    Second, are you certain Dr. Waldron was referring to the evangelical Great Awakening when he referred to “revivalism”? Or does he, like Iain Murray, distinguish between genuine “Revival” and the kind of “Revivalism” promoted by men like Charles Finney? I suspect Dr. Waldron had “revivalism” in view as one of the reasons for the decline. It’s difficult for me to think of genuine revival as a cause for spiritual declension.

    Hope this is helpful.

    Your friend and brother,
    Bob Gonzales


    January 21, 2009 at 12:23 am

  6. David,

    As for me I’m afraid I really don’t know enough about Driscol, brother. My blog was not intended to be an endorsement of any particular ministry. I am cautious to commend or condemn him at present.

    Concerning your reference to revivalism. There is a distinction between “revivalism” and revival. I am no advocate of “revivalism”. Ian Murray in his book “Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism” traces out the distinction of which I speak. (by the way I’ve read R.S. Clark’s book and I don’t think he’s really fair to Edwards or Lloyd-Jones etc..though there are a number of things in his book I like. I hope to speak to this in some future blogs) If I recall I believe it is “revivalism” Waldron mentions as one of the contributors to the decline you refer to, as you say.

    By the way, brother, I do not consider you to be a Pharisee for giving cautions about Driscol. Even as I implied in my blog that there may be things we can learn from Wesley, at the same time I would certainly give serious cautions about dangerous errors that marked some of his teaching. The challenge is being discerning and helping our people be discerning while avoiding having, and cultivating in our people, a hyper-critical attitude that is overly quick to condmen out of hand men who, though perhaps off on some things, are genuine servants of Christ that God may be using. I think Whitefield could have learned some things from PB’s and also I think PB’s could have learned some things from Whitefield. Likewise I’m sure you would agree that while others may need to learn some things from RB’s, there may be some things we can learn from others who are not RB’s. What I wish to avoid in myself is the pride that would, as an RB, assume the posture of always being instructor and corrector of others who are not RB and never open to the possibility of learning something from such.

    Knowing you brother I think you agree.

    All the Best in Christ,

    Jeff Smith


    January 21, 2009 at 12:54 am

  7. David,

    Dean Gonzales is correct in his assessment of my statement regarding Driscoll.

    The gist of my statement has to do with the fact that if there is a side on which we as Reformed Baptists tend to err it is on the side of being too Pharisaical. Doctrinal precision is great, and being careful of the latest and greatest fad is great, but we have to be very careful of theological “navel-gazing” such that we are so concerned about minor theological issues that we miss the bigger picture.

    Now, are the things that Driscol (or Piper or Dever or Ascol or Waldron or Mahaney) espouses “minor” issues? Some are, some aren’t. Scripture is our Standard, and thus we should never swallow any teaching without comparison to it, but at the same time, we must remember that we ourselves don’t have perfect theology and that perhaps, as these posts have stated, God is using someone else’s imperfections to accomplish his purposes, just like he uses ours.


    Andrew J. Nicewander

    January 21, 2009 at 2:24 am

  8. To charge any of the Reformed Baptist pastors I know as “Pharisaical” would be a clear violation of the 9th commandment!

    One of the nagging questions that I have is where is all the hyper-critical words about any of these men to be found? Can on of you men point your readers to the Reformed Baptist book or sermon that is imbalanced or unfair?


    David Charles

    January 21, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  9. David,

    The Pharisees were characterized by various aberrant beliefs and practices. The most serious error they affirmed and propounded was a kind of works salvation. No one here is accusing any RB pastor of confessing or teaching a works-based religion.

    The Pharisees were also guilty (to varying degrees) of traditionalism, legalism, sectarianism, and a hyper-critical spirit. The attribution of any of these imbalances to another person is, to some degree, a matter of one’s own perception.

    According to my perception, I have been guilty of each of the “Pharisaic” imbalances to some degree at some point in my ministry. I hope I am overcoming some of these imbalances by God’s grace.

    In my experience on at least three different discussion lists or boards, I have sometimes perceived (whether wrongly or rightly) a critical spirit towards men like Piper, Mahaney, and Driscoll that was imbalanced. But that’s just my opinion.

    I would never ask anyone to align their conscience with my opinions. In other words, no man should be required to wear a shoe that doesn’t really fit. But if the shoe does fit, may God give us the grace to acknowledge our need for greater balance in our critical stance towards those outside our denominational fold.

    Sincerely yours,
    Bob Gonzales


    January 21, 2009 at 10:48 pm

  10. David,

    Note what I said in my comment responding to Andrew above..

    “I do not intend my blog to be so much an accusation against RB’s as a caution against what I have felt has at times been a tendency in some or at least in me.”

    For the record I have never called RB’s Pharisaical that I can recall? I know I never did in the blog.

    I wouldn’t even call those early 18th century PB’s I was describing Pharisaical(I don’t think I did). They were hyper-critical and lacking in proper catholicity at times(perhaps the Pharisees did manifest the first one). This is how I would describe it. As for me personally, I’m ashamed to have to say that I have sometimes been all of the above…hypercritical, lacking healthy catholicity and pharisaical in numbers of ways.

    I think other brothers would probably agree that they have struggled with at least one or the other or all three at times too. Perhaps you never have and if so that’s great!! Maybe I’m the only one 🙂

    Again my blog accused no one. The spirit is simply “if the shoe fits wear it. If it doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.”

    However I do suspect that there is a measure of this spirit in all of us and this is why cautions of this nature (at least, I think) are healthy. Surely you would agree, David.

    Your Brother,
    Jeff Smith


    January 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm

  11. Jeff and Bob thank you for the clarifications.


    David Charles

    January 22, 2009 at 12:18 am

  12. This is another excellent post. I used to be hyper-critical of non-Reformed Baptists and was very rigid in my perspectives. However, if someone or some church thinks they have all their theological ducks in a row, have the most light, etc. then they ought to be the holiest, saltiest, most loving people in the place where God has put them. Unfortunately, I have found that not to be the case far too often.

    When I started reading widely outside of our circles I began to understand much better where other brethren were coming from. So I understand with greater perception the positions of those who disagree with me. Being theologically myopic is dangerous, and rarely leads to a healthy catholicity. We ought to be able to honestly confess areas of weakness and sin in relation to our tradition. To only defend RBs is blind party spirit.

    Reformed Baptists are only 1% of Christianity (probably less), but some of us act like we are really 99% of Christianity and there is only 1% left out there. May the Lord deliver us from such a narrow spirit…

    R. Delaney

    January 22, 2009 at 3:45 pm

  13. One further thing, we ought to rejoice in all the good men like Piper, Mahaney, Keller, etc. have done in getting the gospel out to the harvest field. Our criticisms, valid though they may be, ought to be respectful. I really appreciate these men.

    R. Delaney

    January 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm

  14. […] Smith, continuing his series of lessons from 18th century Particular Baptist history, points to Baptist negativity toward the 18th century revival because of their suspicions about […]

  15. RBS,

    I really enjoy the blog and am a regular reader of the articles and postings. However, I must take exception with at least one of the conclusions in this article:

    “We need to ask ourselves, if God raised up some men in our day full of the Holy Spirit; men who are preaching the gospel and whose preaching God is mightily blessing with every biblical evidence of true conversions (not merely decisions, but real conversions), and those men are Methodists or Episcopalians, or Assembly of God or some other denomination, or some other kind of Baptist, other than Reformed Baptist, could we rejoice in that and be thankful for it? Could we even consider those men as our friends and brothers and even work together with them insofar far as we can?”

    As a former Charismatic/Pentecostal peacher, I thank God each and every day that He gloriously delivered me out of the rank error and heresy of that movement.
    How can I now be asked by my Reformed Baptist Brethren to join hands with such things?

    If I follow this article’s exhortation, must I now be willing to preach side-by-side with an Arminian Pentecostal? Which ‘gospel’ will we preach? Shall we preach the man-centered or God-centered message? Shall we command wretched sinners to repent and believe as the Spirit convicts, or shall we tell the people that God has done all He can do and He now waits on them to do their part?

    Shall I then rejoice as the Pentecostal then leads the crowd in seeking to speak with other tongues? Am I to be satisfied and settled when those who are converted choose to attend the Arminian assembly instead of a solid Reformed church?

    Of what value is our Confession if it does not provide a reasonable guideline as to what constitutes good teaching and doctrine? Why even bother calling ourselves Reformed Baptists if the only test of fellowship with those who hold to false doctrine is some subjective standard like “real conversions.”

    If holding fast to the true Gospel of Free and Sovereign Grace will lead to anything, it will lead to life eternal! This can not be up for debate.

    How can we remain vibrant even while standing against blantant error? We can preach the glorious Gospel at every afforded opportunity. Let us preach His word. And, as Spurgeon said, “Calvinism IS the Gospel.”

    God bless and keep you in perfect peace!


    Jason Boothe

    February 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

  16. Dear Jason,

    There is much in your comment that I sympathize with However, brother, I think you are misunderstanding and perhaps misrepresenting what I was saying in my blog. I never advocated joining Charismatics or Methodists or other group IN THEIR FALSE TEACHINGS OR BY MERGING CHURCHES OR BY PARTICIPATING OURSELVES IN THEIR ERRORS. That’s not what I mean. I’m not advocating compromising any truth that we believe as RB’s. Furthermore when I said if God were to raise men from such groups who were truly preaching the gospel in converting power “could we even consider those men as our friends and brothers and even work together with them”, I immediately added “insofar far as we can?” By that I mean insofar as we can without compromising the gospel.

    You stated

    “If I follow this article’s exhortation, must I now be willing to preach side-by-side with an Arminian Pentecostal? Which ‘gospel’ will we preach? Shall we preach the man-centered or God-centered message?Shall we command wretched sinners to repent and believe as the Spirit convicts, or shall we tell the people that God has done all He can do and He now waits on them to do their part?”

    In your statement you are missing the assumption contained in the part of my blog that you quoted. I am not talking about people who preach a false gospel. You quoted my statement, for example,

    “We need to ask ourselves, if God raised up some men in our day full of the Holy Spirit; men who are preaching the gospel and whose preaching God is mightily blessing with every biblical evidence of true conversions (not merely decisions, but real conversions)..etc..”

    Note the assumption, I’m talking about people who are truly preaching the gospel not people who are not preaching the gospel.

    One point I’m simply seeking to make in the blog is that God can sometimes raise up men from unlikely places who are truly converted and are effectively preaching the gospel though in other areas of doctrine they may be off or very immature. Those men are our brothers in Christ. Luther began preaching the gospel while he was still in the Roman Catholic church and it took some time for him to work out all the connections and implications of what God was showing him. The same was true with Latimer and a number of the reformers. To deny that God sometimes does that is to me itself a denial of Calvinism and the sovereignty of God. The fact is that God did raise up men in the evangelical awakening who were out of the church of England, who were Anglican, but were filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the gospel with power and many souls were genuinely converted under their preaching. Men like Whitefield, Rowlands, Romaine, Grimshaw, and later John Newton just to name a few. Some of them remained in the Anglican church their whole ministries. Would you have rejected the work God did through those men and refused to have anything to do with them because their doctrine did not line up with everything we believe as RB’s. I don’t think that’s what you mean, brother. Well if you wouldn’t then the fact is you and I are in agreement. This is what I suspect. But If you would then I guess we do, in fact, disagree.

    Jeff Smith


    February 7, 2009 at 2:26 am

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