Review of ‘God’s Super-Apostles’ and ‘A New Apostolic Reformation?’ by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec

Gods-Super-Apostles A-New-Apostolic-Reformation







Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, God Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement (Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014). Paperback | Kindle

Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, A New Apostolic Reformation: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement (Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014). Paperback | Kindle

In Christianity, every biblical truth has a corresponding distortion. For example, the apostle Paul writes, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). He immediately went on to deny, however, that believers should “go on sinning so that grace may increase” (6:1) in light of this truth. Antinomianism, in other words, is a distortion of grace, not its logical consequence.

Sorting out distortions of doctrine from their logical consequences is a matter of vital importance for the contemporary Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Those movements teach the biblical truth that the gifts of the Holy Spirit outlined in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12–14, and Ephesians 4, among other New Testament passages, did not cease to operate in the first century but continue to operate in the lives of believers today. That truth is capable of being distorted in many ways, for example new revelations that contradict Scripture, an overemphasis on the miraculous to the exclusion of the ordinary, and a use of gifts that inflates the pride of the gifted rather than enriching the lives of those to whom the gifts should be given. Just as Paul corrected the Corinthians’ distorted practice of spiritual gifts then, so Pentecostals and charismatics need to correct distortions of biblical truth that have traction in their movements now.

In two recent books, R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec provide a balanced biblical critique of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which is influential among some Pentecostals and charismatics. God’s Super-Apostles is a “basic introduction” to and critique of NAR, while A New Apostolic Reformation? goes into “much greater depth in evaluating NAR teachings and describing the global influence of the movement.” Both books are well written, fairly argued, and amply documented. I would recommend God’s Super-Apostles to interested laypeople for private reading or use in small groups. Parishioners and pastors who want to explore the topic in greater depth should read A New Apostolic Reformation? (Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this review are from God’s Super-Apostles.)

What is the New Apostolic Reformation, then, and why should it be critiqued?

What NAR Is

Regarding the first question, Geivett and Pivec identify five doctrines common to advocates of NAR: (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) strategic-level spiritual warfare, (4) apostolic unity, and (5) ordinary Christians as a miracle-working army. Both books outline the common NAR position on these doctrines, then compare and contrast the NAR position with a biblical understanding of the same topic. (A New Apostolic Reformation covers these doctrines at greater length and in greater depth. It also has additional material on the size, influence, and mainstreaming of NAR teaching among Pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical Christians.)

Regarding (1) and (2), NAR teaches that a biblically ordered church will be governed by apostles and prophets. “NAR apostles claim they hold a formal office in church government like the office of pastor or elder. Except the apostle’s office wields much more authority than those other offices because an apostle has jurisdiction over multiple churches, and not merely oversight of a single church. And an apostle’s authority can extend beyond churches to cities and workplaces, and among institutions that have no connection with the church.” They are like “generals” in an army. Prophets, on the other hand, are like “secret intelligence agents.” “They know God’s secret thoughts and plans and can guide churches based on their inside information.”

One way of countering NAR doctrine, on these and other points, is cessationism, which denies that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to operate today. This is the approach taken, for example, by John MacArthur in his book, Stranger Fire. This approach will not work for Pentecostals and charismatics who refuse to discard the kernel of the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit along with the chaff of NAR teaching.

Cessationism is also not the approach Geivett and Pivec take. Rather, they argue that “apostles” and “prophets” are spiritual gifts in the New Testament, not church offices such as “overseers,” “elders,” and “deacons.” They further distinguish “apostles of Christ” (e.g., the Twelve and Paul) and “apostles of the churches” (e.g., Barnabas, James, Andronicus and Junia, Jesus’ half-brothers, and Silas). While the latter are the modern-day equivalent of missionaries and church planters, the former are unique to the first century, having been commissioned personally by Jesus Christ to authoritatively proclaim and (in some cases) inscripturate the gospel. Regarding prophecy, Geivett and Pivec further argue that the authority NAR doctrine gives to prophets over the lives of individuals and churches is unbiblical and potentially dangerous.

Regarding (3): “Strategic-level spiritual warfare,” as NAR doctrine defines it, “is the act of confronting powerful evil spirits that are believed to rule specific regions of the world. These spirits are called territorial spirits because they control different territories, like cities and nations.” NAR leaders cite Daniel 10 and Ephesians 3:10, among other passages, in support of their understanding of spiritual warfare. Specific practices associated with strategic-level spiritual warfare are “spiritual mapping,” “prayerwalking,” and “the Seven Mountain Mandate,” whereby “the church must take control of the seven most influential societal institutions.”

Geivett and Pivec do not necessarily deny the existence of territorial spirits; nor do they deny the contemporary relevance of the ministry of exorcism. What they point out, however, is that Scripture nowhere teaches believers (by precedent or by commandment) to confront territorial spirits. In Daniel 10, that job is left to Michael the Archangel. Consequently, “the Bible does not support the NAR teaching that territorial spirits must be cast out of cities and nations before God’s kingdom can be advanced.”

Regarding (4), NAR teaches that “apostolic unity occurs when the Christians in a given city unite under the leadership of apostles to transform their city.” “The Call” is a popular NAR event that attempts to do precisely that. The problem here, as Geivett and Pivec point out, is that NAR teachers slight doctrinal unity in favor of personal unity, where the uniting personality is an NAR apostle, even if some of that person’s doctrines are heretical. (According to C. Peter Wagner, an NAR pioneer, some NAR leaders deny the doctrine of the Trinity). NAR’s form of unity, then, “requires allowance of teachings that are completely absent from the Bible—teachings unique to NAR. It is troubling to witness attempts at unity that minimize core Christian beliefs while demanding acceptance of doctrines with no Christian pedigree.”

Finally, regarding (5), “Many in NAR believe they will work miracles, like prophesying and healing the sick. They also believe they will be part of an army that will work greater miracles than the original apostles and prophets and even Jesus. This army is called by various names, including the Manifest Sons of God and Joel’s Army.” Again, the biblical problem with such a position is straightforward. The Bible does not teach that every Christian is given every spiritual gift. As a classical Pentecostal, I’d nitpick this a bit by noting that Acts seems to teach that tongues is the initial physical sign of Spirit baptism, but otherwise, I’d agree with Geivett and Pivec’s point based on 1 Corinthians 12:27–31.

Why NAR Should Be Critiqued

Obviously, if someone claims that the Bible teaches X, but the Bible does not, in fact, teach X, that claim should be critiqued and declared false. I think that is the case with NAR’s distinctive doctrines.

But it needs to be remembered that the vast majority of NAR leaders and followers are fellow Christians. Indeed, as Geivett and Pivec write in A New Apostolic Reformation?, “We assume that the leading NAR figures are believers and genuine disciples of Jesus, and that their intention is to do the will of God in their lives and in the world.” They believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Trinity (with a few Oneness exceptions), the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Like classical Pentecostals and charismatics, they believe that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to operate today. NAR distinctive doctrines are not traditional evangelical doctrines, let alone classical Pentecostal doctrines. It is in error, from those viewpoints, but not all errors rise to the level of heresy. So why bother critiquing them?

Geivett and Pivec answer this question by making four points:

  1. “[P]eople will become overly dependent on apostles and prophets who exert unhealthy and unbiblical control over their lives.”
  2. “[P]eople will embrace NAR teachings and practices that are not supported by Scripture. At the very least, these teachings and practices are a distraction from true biblical teachings and practices and will stunt the spiritual maturity of those who embrace them.”
  3. “When promises made by NAR leaders don’t pan out…many people grow disillusioned.”
  4. “NAR beliefs also divide, as church-goers and family members are forced to make painful choices between maintaining peace and adhering to Scripture as their solid base of common ground and authoritative source of knowledge.”

In other words, NAR doctrine should be critiqued because it breeds dependency, results in distraction and diminished spiritual growth, invites disillusionment, and fosters division.


Every biblical truth has a corresponding distortion. As a classical Pentecostal, I see brothers and sisters among leaders and followers of the New Apostolic Reformation. Chances are, you, your family, or your church has heard of NAR’s doctrines or have been influenced by them. With R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, however, I believe that NAR doctrines are not true because not biblical and unhelpful because untrue.

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Review of ‘The Psalms, ESV’

the-psalms-esvThe Psalms, ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014). Hardcover

The Psalter is the prayerbook of Israel and the Church. Unfortunately, many American evangelicals do not make regular use of it in their personal and corporate worship. Some years ago, I began using it for morning and evening prayer, and I have found my faith in God enriched through the practice.

A few months ago, I discovered that Crossway had published The Psalms, using its English Standard Version. The ESV is a good translation, though it is not the translation I use most regularly. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the beauty and utility of The Psalms and decided to use it for personal worship.

What makes The Psalms helpful?

First, it presents the psalms in a single column, removes explanatory subheads and notes, and moves the chapter and verse numbers to the side so that they do not intrude on the reader’s vision. This has the effect of emphasizing the poetic structure of the individual psalms and concentrating the reader’s attention on their words. The Psalms is a beautiful presentation of the Psalter’s beautiful prayers.

Second, The Psalms is well constructed, with a leather-like cover over hard board. (A top-grain leather edition is also available, as well as a standard hardcover edition.) Its pages are thick–unlike the onion paper of most Bibles–and hence durable for daily use. Finally, it fits easily into the hand, large enough to accommodate pages with a good-size font (11 point, in fact), but not so large that it is unwieldy. This is a prayer book-sized Psalter, easy to hold and small enough to fit into a suit pocket or purse.

Finally, though the ESV is not my preferred translation, as noted above, I find its translation of the psalms very helpful. The word-for-word (or formally equivalent translation) retains much of the language of the King James Version (and its English successor translations) without being antiquarian.

Obviously, if you don’t use the Psalter daily, there is no special need to purchase The Psalms in any translation–let alone the ESV–when you can simply read them in your Bible. On the other hand, if you do use the Psalter as a daily prayer book, The Psalms is an option that you should look into.

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Review of ‘George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father’ by Thomas S. Kidd

George-Whitefield Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, CT: Yale, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

George Whitefield is not well known by Americans today, including American evangelical Christians, his spiritual heirs. In the eighteenth century, however, Whitefield was well known not only in America, but also in his native England—well known, well loved, and widely criticized. Thomas S. Kidd outlines the life of this influential evangelist in George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father.

Whitefield was born in a Gloucester inn on December 16, 1714, to hardworking though not particularly religious parents. He secured a work-scholarship to Oxford University, where he fell under the spiritual influence of John and Charles Wesley and entered ministry in the Church of England. Together with the Wesley brothers, Whitefield led the trans-Atlantic evangelical revival that came to be known as the Great Awakening through ceaseless itinerant evangelism, innovative use of print media, and development of personal and institutional relationships across denominations.

“[Whitefield’s] colleague and frequent rival John Wesley left a greater organizational legacy,” Kidd writes, “and his ally Jonathan Edwards made a more significant theological contribution. But Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of evangelical Christianity.” Kidd concludes: “Whitefield was the first great preacher in a modern evangelical movement that has seen many. Perhaps he was the greatest evangelical preacher the world has ever seen.”

Reading Kidd’s biography of Whitefield—which will be the standard work for years to come—I was struck by several similarities with contemporary American evangelicalism that are worth noting, both positive and negative.

The first is Whitefield’s blend of principle and pragmatism. Whitefield was an ordained priest in the Church of England and a convinced Calvinist. This did not prevent him from working with English Dissenters and Arminians (at least of the Wesleyan variety), Scottish Presbyterians, or American Congregationalists, however. Rather, with them, he emphasized the experience of the “new birth”—that is, being born again—and the doctrine of justification by faith. These expressed the essence of the gospel.

To proclaim that gospel, Whitefield pragmatically utilized a variety of innovative techniques. These included itinerant evangelism, field preaching, personal discipleship (the hallmark of Methodism), and the use of newspapers to promote the ministry. The result was a trans-Atlantic revival united by a powerful spiritual encounter and a theology that explained it, far more than by ecclesiology or denominational distinctives.

The second is Whitefield’s emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, both as the One who brings about regeneration (the technical term for the new birth) and the One who empowers ministers to proclaim the gospel. Wesley’s journals are filled with descriptions of people experiencing the throes of spiritual conviction, not to mention the experience of breaking through to the peace of conversion. He also routinely speaks of the Spirit prompting his actions and words. Kidd even notes a handful of occasions where Whitefield, his colleagues, or his followers may have spoken in tongues. Ironically, in light of the cessationist theology that characterized evangelical Calvinism in the early twentieth century, Kidd points out that the revivalists believed in the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit—though not as Pentecostals do today—while their non-evangelical critics were the ones who were cessationists, believing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased in the Apostolic Era.

This emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit was often a help to the emerging evangelical movement, rooting God’s work in the heart and not merely the head, but it was also occasionally a hindrance. Critics routinely accused Whitefield and his followers of “enthusiasm,” a mindless religious ecstasy detached from good theology, good taste, and good sense. Sometimes, they were right. In turn, under what Whitefield assumed to be the prompting of the Spirit, he often criticized non-evangelical ministers for being “unconverted,” that is, not even Christian. This won him few friends among that group. As Whitefield and his followers matured, they learned to distinguish the fire of genuine revival from “wild-fire.”

The third is the paradoxical combination of unity and division. As noted above, the Anglican Whitefield partnered with ministers of other Protestant denominations to promote revival. This is true of evangelicalism to the present day. But just as there are sharp theological disputes today between Calvinist and Arminian evangelicals, there were sharp theological disputes between the same two groups in the eighteenth century. Whitefield was a staunch Calvinist, as was the Welsh evangelist Howell Harris. The Wesley brothers, on the other hand, were equally staunch Arminians. The theological debates between those four individuals, and their respective followers, were intense and often nasty. Nevertheless, throughout his ministry, Whitefield found his way toward cooperation with the Wesley’s in gospel ministry.

The fourth is the confusion of the gospel and patriotism. Whitefield came to prominence during Protestant England’s seemingly endless wars with Catholic powers. Like other Protestants in his age, he viewed the Reformation dispute with Rome as both theological (How are we saved?) and political (Who will rule us?) in nature. During the War of Jenkins’ Ear with Spain and the Seven Years War with France, Whitefield preached pro-English, anti-Spanish, anti-French, and anti-Catholic sermons that are embarrassing to read today. My guess is that in two hundred years, the patriotic sermons of today’s evangelicals will cause readers to blush too.

It has been said that the past is a foreign country. Reading Whitefield’s biography reminds us that his age was vastly different from our own. Like many in America in the eighteenth century, Whitefield owned slaves, a fact for which he can (and should) be criticized. (His marriage was also nothing to write home about.)

On the other hand, the past is not so foreign that it is unable to teach us lessons about our own time. This is especially true of contemporary American evangelicalism. The trans-Atlantic evangelical revival of the eighteenth century initiated patterns of spiritual experience, theological doctrine, and ministry methodology that are still recognizable among American and British evangelicals today, for better and for worse.

As evangelicals move forward in the twenty-first century, it is thus reasonable to ask: Who will be our Edwards, to teach us in this postmodern intellectual milieu? Who will be our Wesley, to organize, network, and disciple us? And who will be our Whitefield—the evangelist whose preaching of the gospel will draw men and women, boys and girls to Christ? Kidd notes that Whitefield was perhaps “the greatest evangelical preacher the world has ever seen.” I would add only five words: though hopefully not the last.

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Review of ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition’ by C. S. Lewis

The-Pilgrims-Regress-WadeC. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition, ed. David C. Downing (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014). Hardcover

First published in 1933, The Pilgrim’s Regress by C. S. Lewis is “an allegorical apology for Christianity, reason, and romanticism” (in the words of the subtitle). It was Lewis’s first Christian book, written over the course of two weeks (August 15–29, 1932) while Lewis stayed in Belfast with his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves. Lewis had converted—or perhaps, reconverted—to Christianity in either 1929 or 1930 (the date is disputed by Lewis scholars) after a long intellectual sojourn through various intellectual points of view. Elements of that sojourn find their way into the book, though readers should not assume that the book is strictly autobiographical.

The Pilgrim’s Regress is an allegory, self-consciously modeled after The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. In broad outline, it traces the journey of John from Puritania to the Grand Canyon, along the canyon to the North and the South, and then across the canyon with the help of Mother Kirk so that, after he retraces his earlier steps, he comes to the Landlord’s Castle at long last. Puritania is a legalistic and judgmental form of Christianity. The Grand Canyon is Peccatum Adae, the “sin of Adam,” which separates humans from God. The North symbolized arid rationalism, while the South symbolized undisciplined emotionalism. Mother Kirk is what Lewis would later call “mere Christianity”—as opposed to the doctrine of a specific denomination, the Landlord is God, and the castle is union with God.

As in Bunyan’s work, much of the action in The Pilgrim’s Regress revolves around John’s conversations with the proponents of various worldviews. In an Afterword to book’s third edition, Lewis wrote, “my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ [i.e., naturalistic materialism] to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.” Broadly speaking, these isms mark John’s conversation partners throughout the book.

In that same Afterword, Lewis owned that the book’s “chief faults” were “needless obscurity” and “an uncharitable temper.” (Lewis wrote less of this latter fault than the former, so I’ll pass over his remarks about it here.) The obscurity arises, in part, from the intellectual currents of the early twentieth century that Lewis interacted with, many of which—such as Idealism—had already ebbed within a few years of the book’s publication. (By contrast, Lewis’s critiques of Nazism and Marxism were timely and prophetic.) It also arises in part from the way Lewis defined the word romanticism. For Lewis, the word referred to the experience of “intense longing,” where the “the sense of want is acute and even painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.” Further, he adds, “there is a peculiar mystery about the object of this Desire.”

In later works, Lewis would use the German term Sehnsucht and the English word joy to describe this longing. (Hence, he titled his memoir, Surprised by Joy). He spelled out the logic of this longing in a famous sentence from Mere Christianity: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” It is this desire that propels John along the journey and which sustains him as the various worldviews attempt to explain away or subvert it. For Lewis, we should not oppose “desire” (romanticism) and “explanation” (reason) to one another, for they work together to bring the pilgrim to God. That is the whole point of his “allegorical apology” for them both.

Despite the clarity of Lewis’s basic insight regarding desire and reason, the obscurity of his references makes The Pilgrim’s Regress one of his most difficult books to read. That is why the Wade Annotated Edition of the book is such a boon to Lewis scholars and fans alike. Lewis himself annotated a 1935 printing of the book for a student named Richard Thornton Hewitt. That copy is one of the holdings of the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and the basis for this edition of the book. In addition to Lewis’s own annotations, David C. Downing has added “nearly five hundred page notes, including definition of unusual terms, translations from a half-dozen foreign languages, identifications of key characters, and cross-references to other works by C. S. Lewis,” as well as selected bibliographies of works by and about Lewis. I would not recommend reading any other edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress than this one, so helpful is it. Indeed, as I read the Wade Annotated Edition, I was astonished to see the many ways in which Lewis’s Christian rational romanticism was already formed at such an early stage. Downing consistently points out how Lewis expanded on themes first mentioned here.

Who, then, should read this book? As noted above, certainly Lewis scholars and fans. If you have read widely in Lewis but have not read this book, it repays careful study. It is Lewis in seed-form. Ideas present here will come to flower in his later books, whether apologetic, fictional, or biographical. The one group I would not recommend to read The Pilgrim’s Regress is people who have not read, or have not read widely in Lewis already. For them, it is better to start with the flower than the seed. Only after they see the full bloom will they have appreciation for the potential of the early germ.

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Review of ‘From This Day Forward’ by Craig and Amy Groeschel

From-This-Day-Forward Craig and Amy Groeschel, From This Day Forward: Five Commitments to Fail-Proof Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014). Paperback / Kindle

Marriage is delightful. It is also difficult, however. While the divorce rate may not be the oft-quoted 50 percent, it is still significant.[1] The relevant question, then, for Christians getting married or already wed is this: What can a couple do to make sure their marriage thrives?

Craig and Amy Groeschel offer an answer to this question in their new book, From This Day Forward. Craig is the founding senior pastor of, an innovative multisite church best known for its Bible app, YouVersion. Amy leads’s women’s ministry and homeschools the Groeschel children. Craig wrote most of the book, but Amy adds her unique “angle” at the end of each chapter.

Drawing on the Bible and their own twenty-plus years of marriage, the Groeschels identify five practices that contribute to marital wellbeing:

  1. Seek God.
  2. Fight fair.
  3. Have fun.
  4. Stay pure.
  5. Never give up.

Can marital wellbeing really be that simple? Based on my nearly 10 years of marriage, I would say both yes and no. Or better, I would say that marital wellbeing is easy to analyze but difficult to practice. A couple which strove to put these five practices to work in their marriage would significantly improve both the quality and durability of their union.

From This Day Forward is written in an easy, conversational tone that makes for a quick read. It doesn’t—thankfully!—get bogged down in exegetically driven discussions of gender roles (i.e., male headship, female submission), though it occasionally it reflects gender stereotypes (e.g., men prefer physical intimacy, women prefer emotional intimacy). I would have liked to see more discussion of topics such as finance, childrearing, and traumatic stressors (e.g., illness or death in the family), though the Groeschel’s five practices probably cover those concerns, at least in principle.

Who, then, should read this book? Those about to get married, for sure, and those already married (especially if they’re in their early years together). Zondervan has produced a DVD-based small group curriculum based on the book, making the book and/or the curriculum ideal for use in a church’s engaged couples seminar, small groups, or Sunday school classes.

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[1] Unfortunately, the Groeschels cite the 50 percent figure throughout the book. For a thorough debunking of and other marriage myths, see Shuanti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead, The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014).

Review of ‘Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage,’ 2nd ed., by Donald W. Dayton

 Rediscovering-an-Evangelical-HeritageDonald W. Dayton with Douglas M. Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage: A Tradition and Trajectory of Integrating Piety and Justice, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014). Paperback / Kindle

In 1973, some North American church leaders asked Billy Graham to use his influence with President Richard Nixon to try to stop the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. Graham replied in the pages of Christianity Today by saying, in part, “I am convinced that God has called me to be a New Testament evangelist, not an Old Testament prophet! An evangelist is a proclaimer of the message of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ and of the necessity of repentance and faith.” The distinction between evangelism and social concern, with the prioritization of the former over the latter, was typical of mid- to late-twentieth-century evangelicalism.

As Donald W. Dayton shows in Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage, however, it was not typical of nineteenth-century evangelicals. “[W]hile Billy Graham sometimes uses the language of repentance and faith to avoid questions of social responsibility,” he writes, “earlier generations of evangelicals understood that repentance involved turning from apathy into the heart of struggles for social reform. While Billy Graham contrasts the ‘New Testament evangelist’ and the ‘Old Testament prophet,’ earlier evangelicals combined these roles.” Dayton shows this by profiling a number of nineteenth-century evangelicals, as well as the institutions they led. The profiles make for fascinating reading.

Take, for example, the chapter on Jonathan Blanchard, the first president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois—sometimes referred to as “the evangelical Harvard.” “I came to Wheaton in 1860,” Blanchard wrote, “still seeking a perfect state of society’ and a college ‘for Christ and his Kingdom.’” The latter phrase is well known, since it is Wheaton’s motto. The former phrase—“a perfect state of society”—is less well known, though it perfectly encapsulates Blanchard’s philosophy of social reform. It is the title of a commencement address Blanchard delivered at Oberlin College in 1839. In that address, Blanchard said, “Society is Perfect where what is right in theory exists in fact; where Practice coincides with Principle, and the Law of God is the Law of the Land.” The perfect state of society is nothing less than the kingdom of God. Just as Jesus preached the perfect state of society, so must every Christian minister: “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.”

The particular evil that Blanchard is best known for working to reform is slavery, though it was not the only one. Indeed, when the founders of Wheaton College advertised for a president, they looked for someone to uphold “the testimony of God’s word against slave-holding, secret societies and their spurious worships, against intemperance, human inventions in church government, war, and whatever else shall clearly appear to contravene the kingdom and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Blanchard fit the bill and then some. He seems to have had feminist leanings as well, at one point arguing that “the first alteration which Christianity made in the polity of Judaism was to abrogate this oppressive distinction of sexes,” which taught “women had almost no rights; they were menials to their husbands and parents.”

Today, few would use the word evangelical inclusively with words like civil rights advocate, feminist, and peace advocate. For many nineteenth-century evangelicals, however, the words fit together perfectly. I have highlighted Jonathan Blanchard because he was the first president of my alma mater, but his profile bears striking resemblance to others Dayton profiles, such as Charles G. Finney (evangelist and president of Oberlin College), Theodore Weld (author of Slaver As It Is, which Harriet Beecher Stowe reportedly kept under her pillow as she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Arthur and Lewis Tappan (Manhattan businessmen who funded abolitionist causes), and Orange Scott and Luther Lee (founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which was founded on abolitionist principles). The words also fit together perfectly at Oberlin College, which was a central hub of reformed-minded—even radical—evangelicalism.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the term evangelicalism no longer described American Christians who worked toward “integrating piety and justice,” as the words of the book’s subtitle puts it. Instead, evangelicals—or neo-evangelicals—were conservative supporters of the American status quo. They opposed the Civil Rights Movement. They taught that the complementarity of the sexes required distinct gender roles that disallowed women preaching. They supported the Cold War generally and the Vietnam war specifically. “In the fundamentalist/modernist controversy [of the early twentieth century], and in succeeding decades,” Dayton writes, “the sociological, theological, and historical currents produced a movement that in many ways stood for the opposite of what an earlier generation of evangelicals had affirmed.”

Why had this happened? Part of the answer was sociological. Sustaining a high degree of commitment to piety and justice is not easy. The tendency of institutions is to move from sectarian radicalism to the respectable status quo, which was true of some of the institutions mentioned here, such as Wheaton College and the Wesleyan Church. Part of the answer was theological. In the late nineteenth century, evangelicals increasingly turned from postmillennialism to premillennialism. Whereas mid-nineteenth-century evangelicals worked to reform society in order to set the stage for Christ’s return, late-nineteenth-century evangelicals desired Christ’s return as the necessary precursor for “the perfect state of society” or kingdom of God. And another part of the answer was historiographical. Whereas mid- nineteenth-century evangelicals were theological Arminians and practitioners of Finney’s “New Measures” in evangelism, mid-twentieth-century neo-evangelicals were heirs of “Old Princeton” Calvinists such as Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield, who were leading critics in their time of Finney’s “New Measures.” The neo-evangelicals simply didn’t see the previous century’s evangelicals as their kind of people.

Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage is an important book, nearly forty years after its first publication, because it delivers on the title. Evangelicals with left-leaning politics will find in its pages a “usable history” to underwrite their efforts. Though my political predilections lean rightward, I still found Dayton’s argument an engrossing read. Part of this is because my own tradition of Pentecostalism itself is a late outgrowth of mid-nineteenth-century evangelicalism. (See Dayton’s Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, for example.) I share the earlier evangelicalism’s egalitarian tendencies, for example, as well as its revivalism and Arminian theology. But another part is my empathy with its social location. Nineteenth-century evangelicals stood outside of social systems they deemed immoral and unjust and worked to reform them. I feel similarly today about my own social location.

Empathy for nineteenth-century radical evangelicals doesn’t mean we can’t learn from their mistakes. We can see in some a movement from social radicalism to theological heterodoxy. (I’m thinking here of Theodore Weld in particular, who moved form evangelicalism to Unitarianism.) We can see in others a move toward theological rationales for violence. The Oberlin community’s abolitionism, for example, traced a trajectory from “moral suasion” (persuading slaveholders voluntarily to release their slaves) to “moral government” (electing legislatures and passing laws that banned slavery) to civil disobedience (especially with regard to the federal Fugitive Slave Act) to insurrection (when John Brown was executed for his leadership of the attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Oberlin’s chapel bell tolled for an hour in sympathy). Others too closely connected Christianity with a specific political platform (first the Liberty Party’s, then the Republican’s). And, finally, some evangelicals assumed the right to tell others how to live on a host of issues that others felt was none of their business (temperance, most obviously, and Sabbath laws). America has become a far more diverse society than it was in the nineteenth century. Those who claim to be heirs to that century’s evangelicals need to remember that we do not have the common Protestant culture that they did, and adjust our arguments and attitudes accordingly.

Nevertheless, an evangelicalism that integrates piety and justice is the great need of contemporary American Christianity. Not either/or, but both/and. This is the heritage we need to rediscover and practice anew.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.


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