Evangelism & My Canon of Theologians

January 25, 2006

I was struck not too long ago by an account I read of the worst kind of well-intended but poorly done work for God.  In his 1940 autobiography, The Big Sea, Langston Hughes (d. 1967) recounted his "salvation" experience:   “I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this: There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed’s church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting . . . . Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder’s son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper, ‘. . . . I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved.’ So he got up and was saved. Then I was left all alone on the mourner’s bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and songs swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans . . . . God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I’d better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved. So I got up. Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. . . . I couldn’t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn’t seen Jesus, and that now I didn’t believe there was a Jesus any more . . . .” 

I assume that many of those people speaking to Hughes were genuine Christians.  And I have no doubt that many people have been saved through such experiences.  I regret all the millions of people whom, I fear, have wrongly taken an assurance of God’s having forgiven their sins because of such an experience in church.  Not that Mr. Hughes had any such illusions; nor, it seems, any idea that there was such a God who would judge him at some point for his own sins. 

One sweet aspect of fellowship is to see the lasting, continuing, enduring nature of true gospel work.  Evangelism done faithfully and carefully brings not merely relief by escaping a meeting, but a life changed and changing from that point on.

Being here in England, wandering around Cambridge yesterday with some friends, having dinner with the Chapman’s & seeing a whole host of people at the Riddington’s last night, I was reminded of the continuing grace of God in the lives of those that I’ve known and loved.  Foretastes of heaven.  Encouragements to evangelism.

I also saw my 3 friends at the fish & chips shop near our house.  There they were, all 3 still there, just as they had been when we left Cambridge 12 years ago.  I invited them to church this coming Sunday at Eden (where I’m preaching).  I pray they’ll come.

Now, CJ, as to your question about reading schedule.  It is true that I have what I call my "canon of theologians".  These are a group of writers from the past, from which I try to do at least a little misc. reading each month, specifically so that I’m not just talking to people from now about what I’m interested in.  Instead, I want to make sure that I get some people from "then" about what they’re "interested in."   

Should I say more?