The Great Awakening

The 2016 Men Who Rocked the World Conference was September 23–24, 2016 at Grace Community Church. Dr. Steve Lawson’s theme throughout was The God-Centered Pursuit of the Revivalists.

Session 1: The Great Awakening (Overview)

Session 1 – The Great Awakening from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Session 2: Jonathan Edwards (Part 1)

Session 2 – Jonathan Edwards I from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Session 3: Jonathan Edwards (Part 2)

Session 3 – Jonathan Edwards II from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Session 4: George Whitefield (Part 1)

Session 4 – George Whitefield I from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Session 5: George Whitefield (Part 2)

Session 5 – George Whitefield II from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Why Study Church History?

Article: Why Study Church History? by Jon Payne (original source you had better check your spiritual pulse. The sixteenth century alone provides a treasure of soul-stirring narratives. Think of Martin Luther’s bold and daring stand for the gospel against the destructive errors of Rome. Consider the faithful witness of the English martyrs who died singing psalms as they were consumed by flames. Or, how about the courageous life of John Knox, who while enslaved in the bowels of a French galley ship cried out, “Give me Scotland, or I die”?

The study of church history, however, is meant to provide more than just inspiration. Serious reflection on the past protects us from error, reminds us of God’s faithfulness, and motivates us to persevere.

Protection From Error

Irish philosopher Edmund Burke wisely remarked that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Indeed, without a basic knowledge of church history, individual Christians and churches are prone to repeat the same doctrinal errors and foolish mistakes of former days.

Familiarity with the history and theology of the early ecumenical councils of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451), for example, helps to protect individuals and churches from unwittingly believing ancient Trinitarian and christological heresies. Furthermore, careful reflection upon revivalistic movements such as the Second Great Awakening warns us not to abandon biblical ministry for manipulative methods and quick numerical growth. The study of church history, therefore, preserves both orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice).

In addition to safeguarding us from doctrinal error, the study of church history helps protect us from repeating the foolish mistakes of others. One example comes from the life and ministry of John Knox.

The fiery Scot wrote a polemical tract in 1558 titled “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women.” The work unapologetically condemns the rule of female monarchs. Against the better judgment of John Calvin and others, who were strategically working toward reform in Britain and on the Continent, Knox submitted his “First Blast” for publication. Though aimed chiefly at other lady monarchs, the tract inadvertently fell into the hands of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I. Unsurprisingly, the queen was highly displeased. Thereafter, Knox and everyone associated with the Genevan Reformation lost favor with Elizabeth, all because of an unnecessary tract on female sovereigns.

The Scottish Reformer’s unwise decision to publish “First Blast” teaches an important lesson. It instructs ministers and others to be more careful about the content and timing of their writings, especially in a day when self-publishing and instantaneous (and often unedited) posting on social media are so prevalent. Not every deep conviction or strong opinion is worthy of publication. Knowledge of events from the past, therefore, constructively informs our decisions in the present. It protects us from heresy and imprudence.

Reminder Of God’s Faithfulness

To study church history is to study God’s unbending faithfulness. Christians must regularly reflect upon this truth in a world where there is increasing persecution of the church and the future seems uncertain. Like the psalmist, we must “recount all of [God’s] wonderful deeds” to remind ourselves that He will never leave us or forsake us (Ps. 9:1; Heb. 13:5).

Scripture provides a wealth of history to remind us of God’s steadfast faithfulness. From the days of creation to the ministry of Christ to the establishment of the church, the Bible tells the story of the sovereign God who is faithful to His people. But it’s not only in redemptive history that God’s faithfulness is on display; it is also seen in the annals of church history.

Consider how God’s faithfulness is manifest in the preservation and expansion of the early church during the grisly persecutions of Roman Emperor Diocletian. Think of God’s fidelity in the recovery and rise of gospel proclamation during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation or the astonishing multiplication of believers in China since 1850. And there are thousands of individual stories within the larger ones that remind us that our heavenly Father can and should be trusted no matter what our circumstances.

Motivation To Persevere

Every believer knows that he desperately needs divine grace, motivation, and encouragement to carry on. Of course, Christ and His ordained means of Word, sacrament, and prayer are the essential means and motivation for perseverance (Heb. 12:2). Even so, we can find motivation to persevere in the study of church history.

Considering that “great cloud of witnesses,” the godly lives of believers from the past, can motivate and inspire us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely . . . [and to] run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Are you feeling spiritually weary? Are you ready to give up? Throw yourself into the arms of Christ and also into the pages of church history. Spend time reflecting upon the faithful lives and godly voices of the past, on those whose faith motivates you to keep running. Take up and read a biography of Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, or Elisabeth Elliott. Explore an overview of the Reformation or a survey of the modern missionary movement. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once asserted that every “Christian should learn from history . . . it is his duty to do so.” He was right. Therefore, dear believer, let us study, learn, and enjoy the history of the church.

Gospel-Centered Theology Before the Reformation

Article: Gavin Ortlund – Searching for Gospel-Centered Theology Before the Reformation (at and orthodox without becoming Orthodox. As we promote “gospel-centered ministry for the next generation, side effects ” we must make clear there’s nothing inconsistent with being both evangelical and ancient, “gospel centered” and “historically rooted.” The reason is simple: gospel-centeredness is itself historically rooted. In fact, it’s as ancient as the gospel itself.”

Substitutionary Atonement in the Early Church

Bread-and-FishMichael J. Kruger is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder. In an article at The Gospel Coalition he writes:

Skeptics commonly criticize core Christian beliefs by claiming that they were not really held by the earliest Christians. Instead, we are told, these beliefs were invented post facto by the institutional church.

The classic example of such an argument has to do with the divinity of Jesus. The earliest followers of Jesus didn’t really believe that Jesus was divine, this argument goes; it was only the later institutional church, under political pressure from Emperor Constantine, that insisted Jesus must have divine status. Thus, some argue, the belief that Jesus is God is not really, well, Christian.

Substitutionary Atonement

This same sort of argument has also been applied to other doctrines, particularly the substitutionary nature of the atonement. Critical scholars, led by the classic work of Gustaf Aulén, have long argued that the earliest Christians did not believe that Christ died as a substitute for sinners. Instead, they say, these Christians believed what is known as the “Christus victor” view of the atonement—the idea that Jesus’s death on the cross (and resurrection) conquered the Devil and other forces that held people in bondage. On this view, Christ did not die in place of rebellious sinners but instead rescued victims from a fallen world.

If Aulén is correct, then when did the substitutionary view of the atonement arise? Peter Carnley embodies the typical critical approach when he says that the substitutionary view “was not known before Anselm’s time.” Thus, Carnley claims, it was not until the Middle Ages, when Anselm wrote Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?), that Christians began to believe Christ died in place of sinners.

No doubt these sorts of scholarly arguments can explain why alternative theories of the atonement have gained popularity in recent years, while the substitutionary view continues to be vilified as un-Christian. Rob Bell does precisely this in his book Love Wins, where he roundly rejects the substitutionary view in favor of other options.

But is it really true that the substitutionary view of the atonement was not found before the Middle Ages? Not at all. Such a claim can be readily refuted merely by examining the writings of the New Testament itself—particularly the letters of Paul. However, it is also worth noting that key elements of the substitutionary view were held by some of the earliest Christian writers. One example is the author of the Epistle to Diognetus from the early second century. The Epistle to Diognetus was written by an unknown Greek author as an apology for Christianity. Below are some excerpts from the author that affirm key aspects of substitutionary atonement. Continue reading

Historical Theology

A major resource:

and issues which have played significant roles in the history of the church. The courses are constructed around three major periods: (1) Pre-reformation, A.D. 33–1500; (2) The Reformation period, A.D.1500–1648; and (3) The Modern Age, A.D. 1648 to the present. Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Church Councils, Anabaptism, Catholicism, the Reformation, the Puritans, and the Great Awakening, are examples of the subjects discussed. The last period is devoted to a survey of American Christianity.”

Historical Theology II: 27 Lectures

William Tyndale, the Prince of Translators

as Dr. Steven Lawson explains in a blog article at Ligonier:

William Tyndale (ca. 1494–1536) made an enormous contribution to the Reformation in England. Many would say that he made the contribution by translating the Bible into English and overseeing its publication. One biographer, Brian Edwards, states that not only was Tyndale “the heart of the Reformation in England,” he “was the Reformation in England” (Edwards, God’s Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale and the English Bible [Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1999], 170). Because of his powerful use of the English language in his Bible, this Reformer has been called “the father of modern English” (N. R. Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation [London: Grace Publications, 2004], 379).

John Foxe went so far as to call him “the Apostle of England” (John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000], 114). There is no doubt that by his monumental work, Tyndale changed the course of English history and Western civilization.

Tyndale was born sometime in the early 1490s, most likely in 1494, in Gloucestershire, in rural western England. The Tyndales were an industrious and important family of well-to-do yeoman farmers, having the means to send William to Oxford University. In 1506, William, age twelve, entered Magdalen School, the equivalent of a preparatory grammar school located inside Magdalen College at Oxford. After two years at Magdalen School, Tyndale entered Magdalen College, where he learned grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric, logic, and philosophy. He also made rapid progress in languages under the finest classical scholars in England. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1512 and a master’s degree in 1515. Before leaving Oxford, Tyndale was ordained into the priesthood.

Cambridge and the White Horse Inn

Tyndale next went to study at Cambridge University, where it is believed he took a degree. Many of Martin Luther’s works were being circulated among the instructors and students, creating great excitement on the campus. In this environment, Tyndale embraced the core truths of the Protestant movement. Continue reading

Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer

Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, the most important early Reformer was Ulrich Zwingli. A first-generation Reformer, he is regarded as the founder of Swiss Protestantism. Furthermore, history remembers him as the first Reformed theologian. Though Calvin would later surpass Zwingli as a theologian, he would stand squarely on Zwingli’s broad shoulders.

Less than two months after Luther came into the world, Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484, in Wildhaus, a small village in the eastern part of modern-day Switzerland, forty miles from Zurich. His father, Ulrich Sr., had risen from peasant stock to become an upper-middle-class man of means, a successful farmer and shepherd, as well as the chief magistrate for the district. This prosperity allowed him to provide his son with an excellent education. He presided over a home where typical Swiss values were inculcated in young Ulrich: sturdy independence, strong patriotism, zeal for religion, and real interest in scholarship.

The elder Ulrich early recognized the intellectual abilities of his son and sent him to his uncle, a former priest, to learn reading and writing. Thanks to his prosperity, Zwingli’s father was able to provide his son with further education. In 1494, he sent the ten-year-old Ulrich to the equivalent of high school at Basel, where he studied Latin, dialectic, and music. He made such rapid progress that his father transferred him to Berne in 1496 or 1497, where he continued his studies under a noted humanist, Heinrich Woeflin. Here Zwingli was given significant exposure to the ideas and Scholastic methods of the Renaissance. His talents were noted by the Dominican monks, who tried to recruit him to their order, but Zwingli’s father did not want his son to become a friar.

Universities of Vienna and Basel

In 1498, Zwingli’s father sent him to the University of Vienna, which had become a center of classical learning as Scholasticism was displaced by humanist studies. There he studied philosophy, astronomy, physics, and ancient classics. In 1502, he enrolled at the University of Basel and received a fine humanist education. In class, he came under the influence of Thomas Wyttenbach, professor of theology, and began to be aware of abuses in the church. He also taught Latin as he pursued further classical studies. He received his bachelor’s (1504) and master’s (1506) degrees from the school. Continue reading