This series of posts reflects on evangelism and preaching the gospel, comparing the days of George Whitefield (mid 1700’s) to today.
February 2 we looked at a passage in George Whitefield’s life where he saw God at work beyond the denominational boundaries. Are people really so different today? Is the power and the potential of the gospel sufficient for evangelism today?
In a previous post I had referred to Thom Rainer’s “10 Areas Where Pastors Need Training For The 21st Century.” Is there a place where the two “Tom’s” meet? Is there common ground between Kidd’s take on George Whitefield and Rainer’s take on modern pastoral training?
I think there is. I think they do not disagree. Finding disagreement was never the point of these posts. What struck me as I went between the two worlds is the enduring power of the gospel. The gospel was as counter-cultural in Whitefield’s day as it is today in mine. After all, the gospel is only 275 years older today than Whitefield preached it.
(Please bear with my following foolishness.)
I did the “math.” 275 years separate Whitefield’s gospel proclamation and my gospel proclamation today. 275 years set against the history of the gospel proclamation from its very first day. I’m 54. Compared to a percentage of my own life, 275 years of gospel proclamation would be about seven and a half years. I’m 54. Am I all that different at 54 than I was at 47? No, not really. Most adults and a whole lot of adolescents can easily remember seven and half years. In the last 275 years … spiritually … have people radically changed? I don’t think so.
The fundamental assumption of my “math” was that the gospel message was first proclaimed in the year 33 A.D.. I believe my assumption is fundamentally wrong. The gospel was not invented on the first Pentecost Day after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus came proclaiming the gospel. The gospel was the product of God’s sovereign purpose at work all the way from Adam’s Fall. The gospel was in the heart of God before the earth’s foundation was laid. By that kind of eternal reckoning the 275 years between Whitefield’s day and mine is not even the skip of a heart (if that!). Are sin and salvation different in the time it takes for the heart to beat once? I don’t think so. No, not really.
We do live a world vastly different from Whitefield’s. No doubt about it. But God has not changed. Sinners now are neither no more nor less ‘sinner‘ than sinners from a million previous yesterdays. The gospel is the same. The need is ever-urgent. The promise burns just as bright.
In the last post of this series – February 6 – I will suggest that something has changed. No, not the human heart. Certainly not the gospel. But something.