David Adeney Lecture at Discipleship Training Centre, Singapore September 1998, Ajith Fernando
Presenting a lecture in honour of Dr. David Adeney is a great honour to me. When I was a university student Dr. Adeney stayed in our home, and he became one of my heroes. This giant of the faith took time to write to me often, and what an encouragement that was! Recently I read his inspiring biography Reaching for the Goal, and the Lord ministered to me in a most unusual way. I was struggling at the time with of some of my weaknesses and getting down on myself because of them. It was a great surprise to find out that this great man of God also had the same weaknesses. I sensed afresh that if God could use him despite these weaknesses, he could use me too.
In 1970 attended an IFES related conference in India where Dr. Adeney was the Bible teacher, and listening to him was very important in the growth of my convictions regarding the primacy of the Word in Christian ministry and the importance and glory of Bible exposition. I believe that ones attitude to the Word is closely linked to ones urgency over the gospel. Therefore it is a privilege to speak on the topic of Urgency in this David Adeney Lecture.
One of the many challenges the Christian witness faces in this postmodern era relates to the question of motivation to evangelism. Traditionally Christians have been motivated to evangelism through their belief that the gospel is absolutely true and is the only hope for salvation to people. The aptness of thinking in such categories as “absolutely true” and “only hope for salvation” is being questioned by today’s pluralistic thinking. The postmodern mood, then, is hostile to the idea of urgency as it is portrayed in the Bible. In this paper we will look into the meaning and causes of biblical urgency by examining the biblical texts describing urgency and also see how the postmodern mood challenges this approach to urgency.
“Hard Truths” that foster urgency
There are situations described in the Bible where God’s people were motivated to action through a realisation of what we may call “the hard truths of the gospel.” The realisation that people without God were lost and headed for judgement had a strong influence on them. Paul expresses this with great feeling as he ponders the lostness of the Jews in Romans 9:1-4. First he declares the urgency of what he is going to say: “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…” (v. 1). Then he expresses his feelings about the lostness of the Jews: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart…” (v. 2). Then he describes how this stark truth is able to motivate him to great heights of commitment: “For I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” (vv. 3-4a). In the next chapter he says how he desires the salvation of the Jews: “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (10:1). What we see here is a description of urgency derived from the fact of the lostness of the Jews. This becomes a direct motivation to evangelism. Jude describes evangelism as snatching people from the fire and saving them (Jude 23).
Some of the great leaders in the history of the church express a similar urgency derived from the fact of the lostness of persons apart from Christ. The seventeenth-century Scottish preacher, Samuel Rutherford, once told a person, “I would lay my dearest joys in the gap between you and eternal destruction.”1 Hudson Taylor said, “I would have never thought of going to China had I not believed that the Chinese were lost and needed Christ.” D. L. Moody told an audience in London, “If I believed there was no hell, I am sure I would be off tomorrow for America.” He said he would give up going from town to town spending day and night “urging men to escape the damnation of hell.”2 William Booth said he would wish that his Salvation Army workers might spend “one night in hell” in order to see the urgency of their evangelistic task.3
The reality of judgement, of course, adds urgency to our message. Several times in the Bible the prospect of judgement becomes a means of warning people so that they would turn to God. Peter Toon lists thirty-one different passages (not counting parallel passages) in the Gospels that contain warnings of hell.4 Often these warnings are given in evangelistic contexts (e.g. Mark 8:31-38).5
Judgement has never been a popular message, and that is so today. Religious pluralism is the dominant philosophy influencing religious life in both the East and the West. Pluralism emphasises the essential equality of religious systems and through that seeks to unify people of different faiths. The doctrine of judgement speaks of an eternal division of the human race into those who are saved and those who are lost.
Many who might perhaps think about the after-life prefer to think of heaven rather than of hell. Perhaps that is the reason why in the recorded statements of Christ there are more references to hell than there are to heaven. This also may be the reason why in the Bible there are more references to the wrath of God than there are to the love of God. It is so easy to lull us into forgetting these truths and “thinking positive” about our future destiny. A poll done for Newsweek magazine by the Gallup organisation in December 1988 found that 77% of Americans believe there is a heaven, and 76% think they have a good or excellent chance of getting there.6
One of the key features of postmodern era has been its emphasis on the subjective and on the experiential aspects of life. Many churches have, in response to this, majored on entertainment in their programming as part of their effort to reach people in this culture. In an environment where entertainment is a primary motivation in programming it is easy to neglect the hard truths of the gospel, as they are not usually attractive or entertaining. If one generation neglects a difficult doctrine, it is quite possible that the next generation will reject it. Having not been regularly exposed to this difficult truth, people will find it difficult to accommodate it in their worldview, their approach to life and religion. The result will be a loss of urgency in the church.
The Compulsion of Truth
The Message is Compelling.
Often in the Bible we see urgency arising from the fact that what is being proclaimed is the truth that God has given to humanity. This is seen vividly in the prophets who were compelled by what may be called “the burden of the Lord.” Amos cried, “The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken—who can but prophesy?” Just as fear is the anticipated response to the roaring of a lion, prophesying is the anticipated response to the speaking of the Lord.
The compulsion of the message is illustrated well in Jeremiah’s complaint to God after he had been humiliated by the chief officer of the temple. He had been beaten and kept in the stocks overnight. Following his release, he accuses God of having deceived him and describes his humiliation (Jer. 20:7-8). Then he ponders the possibility of abandoning his ministry: He says, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot” (v. 9). The truth had begun to burn and holding it in had become a burden. Truth has a way of burning in our hearts, as the disciples who met Christ on the road to Emmaus found out. They exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (Luke 42:32). This is knowledge on fire, and it produces an urgency that expresses itself in the proclamation of the gospel.
A major reason for this knowledge to be on fire and thus produce urgency is the conviction that it is the truth. In Romans 1:14-16, which is another urgency passage, Paul describes his sense of indebtedness to proclaim the gospel to all people that results in an eagerness to preach the gospel in Rome (vv. 14, 15). Then he gives his reason for this eagerness: “[For] (gar, which is not translated in the NIV) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (v. 16). A conviction of the power of the gospel has given rise to urgency.
A report in the London Daily Mail during one of Billy Graham’s early campaigns in England explains this urgency that comes from a conviction that the gospel is the truth. It said, “He has no magnetism; he has no appeal to the emotions. His power—and power he has—is the indivisible conviction that he knows the right way of life.”7
Some months ago, when I was travelling by train to a Buddhist village where we were having a ministry, I sat next to a Buddhist government officer. When he realised that I, a Christian worker, was travelling to a Buddhist village, he asked me a question that is in the minds of many Buddhists in Sri Lanka: “Why do you Christians want to convert Buddhists to Christianity? This is causing so much disruption to our society today. Can’t you help them to be better Buddhists, while you attempt to be better Christians?” I told him that we believe this world was created by a supreme God, and that, seeing the mess the world was in, this God has provided an answer to the world’s problems. Then I told him that we have found out what this answer is, and after finding it out we must share it with the people of our land. I said that we would be selfish if we did not do that. He may not have been happy with my response, but I think he at least understood why we preach the gospel to non-Christians.
Postmodernism’s Loss of Confidence in the Value of Objective Truth
A basic feature of postmodernism militates against what we have said about urgency coming out of the objective truthfulness of the gospel as God’s unique answer to the human dilemma. People say that truth is subjective and personal, not objective and absolute. Therefore, they would say, “You have your truth, and I have mine. Don’t be arrogant and say that your truth is the only truth for me.” In such an environment there would be no urgency to proclaim the message to the whole world. Those committed to evangelism with conversion in view would be considered hopelessly out of step with the way society is moving.
This is a vast topic, and it requires a separate treatment. Let me say here that, while people may not be interested in objective truth, they are not incapable of thinking in objective categories. The ability to respond to and appreciate objective truth is part of our human nature, and while we may suppress it for a time, sooner or later, we will realise its value. In fact when people realise the chaos that results from living without objective, unchanging foundations they may start looking afresh for the certainty that comes from building ones life on a firm foundation. Recently there are indications of a world-wide reaction to the uncertainty of pluralism and to the subjective approach to truth. Examples of this trend are the growth of Islam in the West, the growth of Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism in the East and the growth of groups like the Mormons and of Christian churches that emphasise strict adherence to principles, like the Boston Church of Christ. The church, then, is faced with the great challenge of demonstrating to Christians and the world that objective truth is still relevant, attractive and indispensable.
The Loss of the Value of Words in Church and Society
As we with urgency pursue the ministry of the Word in this postmodern generation, we are faced with a new problem that is related to postmodernism’s loss of confidence in the value of truth. This is the fact that words have lost their value in both the church and society. Carl F. H. Henry begins his massive six-volume work on God, Revelation and Authority with a chapter entitled, “The Crisis of Truth and Word.” In it he says, “The breakdown of confidence in verbal communication is a feature of our times.” He points out that “preference for the nonviable is especially conspicuous among the younger generation who increasingly surmise that words are a cover-up rather than a revelation of truth; that is, words are used to conceal, distort and deceive.”8 This trend has reached its apex in the postmodern hermeneutic known as deconstructionism which is associated with names like Jacques Derrida,9 where “absolute relativism prevails [and] objective truth is intolerable and non-existent.”10
Many factors have contributed to this devaluing of verbal communication. One is, of course, the whole trend away from objectivity that is a key feature of postmodernism. Another is that people have used words wrongly in both church and society. In the church we often find preachers stretching truth beyond its boundaries by exaggerating in order to make a point effectively. The point may get through, but the long-term effect is that words lose their value. The same thing happens when those who preach do not practice what they preach. Sometimes we find preachers being dogmatic about non-essentials or things that are not clearly taught in the Scriptures, such as the applying of teachings of the end times to today’s situation. Perhaps, because of the confusion and uncertainty that has characterised the revolt away from the authority of Scripture, some Christian leaders have felt that they must always present what they proclaim with utmost authority. But we must remember that our commitment is to truth and not to a given system of belief. If we are not certain about the truth on a given issue we are not afraid to admit to our uncertainty. If we have communicated something which we later find to be untrue, our passionate commitment to truth is such that we are willing to publicly stand corrected.
We can see how a generation that has seen the misuse of words in the church and its devastating effects could shy away from urgent proclamation of the truth. This shows us how important it is to be so committed to truth that we live our lives according to the truth and acknowledge our failure to do so before those affected by our lapses.
In society too there is a devaluing of words. In advertising we have seen people passionately proclaiming the praises of trivial things like used cars. We have used superlatives like “the greatest” and “amazing” so loosely that they have lost their value. The word “awesome,” once used primarily for God, is now used for trivial things like ice cream and clothes. Evil but powerful leaders, like Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones, have through the passionate use of words, caused people to do things that they are now so ashamed of. Is it any wonder, then, that there is a fear of urgency, especially urgency that is expressed in words?
In such an environment we face the intellectual challenge of addressing the philosophical basis of the subjectivism that characterises postmodernism and undermines the place of language. We need evangelists and apologists for objective truth. But, because this is a generation that is more impressed by experience than by rational arguments, we have the equally important challenge of restoring the value of words by demonstrating it in our lives and ministries. We need proclamation that is faithful to the Scriptures and also attractive, relevant and convincing. But such proclamation must not try to elicit a response by the unethical use of imposition, manipulation or any other such unworthy forms of communication.11 The right message must be communicated in the right way. We need communicators of truth who practice what they preach both at home and at church. In short, we need to help restore in people’s minds a respect for language by demonstrating that it could be a reliable, essential, relevant and desirable form of communication if used in the proper way.
Truth and the Contemporary Pursuit of Pleasure
The emphasis on truth can be attractive to our pleasure-seeking generation too. Biblical Christians who are committed to truth have been caricatured as dour people whose commitment to orthodoxy makes them so serious and scrupulous about doctrinal details that they are not fun to be with and thus are unattractive to this generation. According to the Bible, however, truth is capable of producing great pleasure. So the psalmists spoke often about delighting in the Word of God or the law.12 C. S. Lewis reflects on this phenomenon of the Psalmists delighting in the law in his book Reflections on the Psalms. After looking at different reasons for such delight, he concludes, “Their delight in the Law is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.”13 A similar thing happens today when people find the truth in Jesus after having struggled with the confusion caused by the array of competing voices in the pluralistic supermarket of faiths.
Gordon Haddon Clark describes this joy of truth in a statement which his student at Wheaton College, Carl F. H. Henry, heard him say in class: “A satisfactory religion must satisfy. But satisfy what and why? The Greek mysteries satisfied the emotions; brute force can satisfy the will; but Christianity satisfies the intellect because it is true, and truth is the only everlasting satisfaction.”14
The idea that objective truth is pleasurable may be alien to the postmodern mind that seeks satisfaction through subjective experiences and through liberation from the constraints caused by submission to objective truth. Owing to the strong influences of our sensate culture upon us, our minds are often unable to even understand how truth could be pleasurable. But this is so, and we are challenged to demonstrate this to our generation through the proper handling and use of the truth.
One of the answers to the crisis caused by the loss of belief in the pleasurability of truth is for the church to demonstrate this pleasurability. But we seem to have been influenced by the postmodern mood so much that we are afraid to focus too much on truth in the church’s program. Instead we seek to entertain people through the subjective factors that the world says are pleasurable. I would go so far as to say that entertainment has replaced urgency as a primary means of attracting people to the gospel. Urgency, as we have pointed out, comes from the truth of the gospel. Therefore we do not grapple to let the truth shine forth in all its glory which is an enterprise that calls for dedication and hard work. Instead the hard work goes to producing an entertaining program. We often find that Christian worship is characterised by an entertaining and technically excellent program of music, drama, worship and sharing followed by a ministry of the Word which is comparatively inferior and unimaginative. As music, drama and sharing are done to the glory of God, it should be done well. But we must do so also with the ministry of the Word.
A result of this focus on entertainment is that people come for worship looking to have an entertaining time. Songs and stories and humour are chosen that the people might be entertained. In the process truth is subordinated to an inferior position. So today, when many Christians ask about the value of a worship service, they may ask, “Did you enjoy the worship there?” But what they mean is, “Did you get an emotional lift from the spiritual entertainment provided there?”
I need to explain that I am not against the use of entertainment in Christian programming. I work for Youth for Christ, and entertainment forms an important part of our programming. But entertainment is always a servant of truth. It may be used to win a hearing for the truth by attracting people to the church. It may be used to communicate truth. But it must never overthrow truth from its supreme place in the Christian agenda. So when we plan a worship service, we may consider the entertainment value of a given item, but the deciding factor on whether to use it or not is how it agrees with and/or communicates the truth. In this way we preserve the primacy of truth and maintain an environment conducive to fostering the urgency that springs from the truth.
SUBJECTIVE TRIGGERS OF URGENCY
We know that, when it comes to religion, postmodernists place much stress on subjective experience. The subjective has a high place in biblical religion too. In fact, there is a subjective side to biblical urgency too.
Urgency through Experiencing the Truth
One subjective trigger of urgency is our experience of the truth. Peter and John are examples of this when they tell the Sanhedrin after they are commanded not to speak to anyone in the name of Jesus: “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:17). The woman of Samaria expresses this when she tells the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). In fact this is implied in the use of the word “witness” to describe evangelism. What we share is what we have personally witnessed to be true. And one of the ways we know is to experience it in our lives. Hebrews 2:3 and 4 give several factors that attest the truth of the gospel:
The preaching of Jesus: “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord…
The confirmation of eyewitnesses: “was confirmed to us by those who heard him.”
Miraculous signs: “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles…”
The experience of gifts: “God also testified to it by… gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
The last two of these evidences are experiential in nature. Certainly the first two are more basic, for they give the objective realities on which the experience is based. But the experience does lend weight to our case and adds to our urgency.
E. Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India, tells the story of a young preacher who said, “I’ve been perjuring myself. I’ve been preaching things not operative within me. I’m through with this unreality. I’ll give God till Sunday to do something for me. And if he doesn’t do something for me before Sunday, someone else can preach. I won’t.” He took Saturday off as a day of retreat. God met him. He went into the pulpit a new man. That Sunday the congregation got the shock of their lives. They had a new minister! The congregation found themselves seeking what their young minister had found.15 A contagious urgency had been triggered by an experience of the truth he proclaimed.
Urgency through Igniting by the Holy Spirit
Another subjective trigger of urgency is the igniting of the truth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit so that this truth is transformed into knowledge on fire. Then we become like Stephen whose opponents “could not stand up against the wisdom or the spirit by whom he spoke” (Acts 6:10). In another of his urgency statements, Paul says, “…for Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Elsewhere, Paul had said that this love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). The word translated “compels” (sunechö) in 2 Corinthians 5:14 basically means “to press together, constrain” As Colin Kruse explains, “It is the pressure applied not so much to control as to cause action. It is motivational rather than directional force.”16 So urgency comes to us through love which, in turn, is an endowment by the Holy Spirit.
We often forget what follows Paul’s statement about being compelled by love in 2 Corinthians 5:14 even though it is part of the same sentence and the same verse in our Bibles. Paul goes on to say, “…because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” The expression “because we are convinced” is the translation of one word, (krinantas), an aorist participle which means “having judged.” The main verb is “compels” (sunechei) and this participle modifies that. This shows that the compulsion of love is intimately associated with our conviction regarding the gospel. We know the gospel is true. The next verse gives the implication of believing that Christ died for all: “And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (v. 15). What Christ has done must be experienced by all. The love of Christ in us combines with the conviction that what Christ did is efficacious and necessary for all people, and it produces an urgency that motivates us to ministry.
In our preparation for ministry, then, we would seek to ensure that we have both the conviction of truth and the fullness of the Spirit from which love comes. Prayer is what enables us to get in tune with God and thereby open ourselves to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. An Afro-American preacher described his preparation for the pulpit in three steps. He said he “read himself full,” and “thought himself clear” and “prayed himself hot.”17
God’s servant would grapple with God until there is a conviction that God’s Spirit has filled him or her with an anointing for the ministry to be discharged. This desire for God’s fullness is illustrated in a story that Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones liked to tell. An old preacher in Wales was invited to preach at a Christian convention in a little town. The people had assembled but the preacher had not come. The leaders sent a maid back to the house where the preacher was staying to tell him that they were waiting for him and that everything was ready. The girl went and came back saying, “I did not like to disturb him. He was talking to somebody.” They said, “That is rather strange, because everybody is here. Go back and tell him that it is after time and that he must come. So the girl went back, and again she reported, “He is talking to somebody.” “How do you know that,” they asked. She answered: “I heard him say to this other person who is with him, ‘I will not go and preach to these people if you will not come with me.” The leaders responded saying, “Oh, it is all right. We had better wait.”18
THE TYRANNY OF TECHNOLOGY
The final challenge to biblical urgency that we will examine is what we might call the tyranny of technology. While technology is not evil in and of itself, it could so entangle people that they will find it difficult to switch to the sphere of the Spirit and truth from which urgency comes. Technology can make us technicians, but it will not make us Spirit-filled theologians. In fact unrestrained absorption in technology could hinder us from becoming Spirit-filled people with knowledge on fire. Let us see how this happens.
Through the marvels of technology, the Christian publishing industry has been able to serve the church with an amazing variety of Bible study aids and study Bibles in printed form and in the form of computer software. These tools are advertised as being able to take the sweat out of Bible study. But when it comes to handling the word of God, sweat can be thrilling! As we grapple with God’s truth and prayerfully meditate on it, we will find ourselves encountering the God of the Bible. The resulting enrichment gives rise to urgency.
This is not to say that technology is unhelpful. We can use it to save time so that we are freed to think and meditate and pray. But it is possible to linger with technology without giving ourselves to diligent study, thinking and prayer. We could go on and on “playing at the computer or surfing the Internet” without switching off from the technology mode and entering into the theology mode. This is one of the commonest examples of the tyranny of technology today, and it fits in with an aspect of our fallenness—the aspect which makes us prefer to fill up the void in our lives with human activity (work) rather than through waiting upon God in humble submission.
When we enter the theology mode we would be still active, but it is the activity of one who has humbly submitted to God. Here we seek to understand the truth, meditate on it and apply it reverently, obediently and prayerfully to our lives and to the lives of those we serve. In this way we graduate from being technicians to being theologians. The result is a vibrant relationship with God and his truth. The truth grips us and passion returns so that we are filled with urgency over the gospel. We must then develop the art and the discipline of switching off amidst the rush of life and the potential tyranny of technology so that we could linger prayerfully and meditatively with the truth.
Today’s minister finds it very difficult to separate long segments of time for study. I am so grateful to a piece of advice that I heard when I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary. John Stott was visiting the Seminary and a time was arranged for the students to ask him questions. Someone asked him about his study habits. He replied that the minister in earlier times was able to separate the whole morning for study, but that this is difficult to do in today’s society. Therefore he had learned to use whatever short times he could find, at different times of the day, for study. We need first to believe in the priority of truth in the life of the minister. Then out of that conviction we start looking for opportunities to give ourselves to the study of the Word. It is amazing how opportunities will present themselves to the one who looks diligently.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in an ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. There is a militant group, the Tamil Tigers, whose cadres strike often in the city of Colombo with bombings and other devises aimed at disrupting the life of the city. Because of this Tamil youth are often arrested by the security forces on suspicion of being terrorists. Among those arrested are Youth for Christ volunteers and staff. As a Sinhalese I go to the Police station often to vouch for them and secure their release. The process may take as much as five to six hours, and I always take my books along. One day, following a bombing, I was in a Police station seeking the release of two of our volunteers. I was studying the book of Galatians. Beside me was a person who had been injured in the bomb blast and another who had come to complain about her husband who had assaulted her. As I studied Galatians I suddenly realised that the Police station may be a better place to theologise than even my study room at home. I was surrounded by people whose experience vividly demonstrated needs that the gospel must meet. My point is that if we wait for the ideal time for study, it may never come. We must develop the discipline of using whatever time we can find for this priority activity.
URGENCY AND INCONVENIENCE
Let me mention briefly that urgency is what propels us to bold ventures beyond what we would call our comfort zone. In 1 Corinthians 9:16 Paul expressed his urgency with great intensity: “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Shortly after that he talks of the way he deprives himself of his rights and becomes a slave to all, so that more people will come to Christ (vv. 19-23). In this passage is found the statement, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (v. 22b). Earlier he had said how he becomes like a Jew, like a Gentile and even like a weak person so that he may reach those types of people (vv. 20-22a). Such was his commitment to the gospel.
And fostering commitment that is willing to pay the price is one of the results of urgency. We realise that the gospel cause is so important that we are willing to pay a price on account of it. One of the characteristics of postmodernism is the unwillingness to pay the price of commitment to causes outside of us. A church that focuses primarily on entertaining its people will have large numbers of people who come primarily in search of entertainment. When, on the other hand, the majestic truthfulness of the gospel is given due place in the programme of the church, it will produce the type of urgency that issues in costly commitment.
URGENCY AND FRESHNESS
Urgency, then, is intimately connected to the fact that the gospel is true. When we accept this fact and add to that a vibrant experience of Christ and an intimate tie with the Holy Spirit, we will find that the truth begins to burn within us and cry out for release. This fire will help us persevere in ministry amidst all the problems we face. Perseverance in ministry is an important subject given the fact that burnout in the ministry and dropping-out of the ministry has reached epidemic proportions today. I am convinced that one who is fed with the Word and filled with love from the Holy Spirit could go on and on ministering with freshness and urgency. Did not the Psalmist say, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psa. 19:7a)?
A pastor left the ministry so burnt out and discouraged that he even left his library behind in his last church. When his successor at the church went through this library he found that, while many of the books the former pastors had acquired at the start of his ministry were on Bible and theology, his later books were mostly on practical topics. Had he retrogressed from the “theologian mode” to the “technician mode?” It could be that he had neglected feeding his soul, and thus had lost the fire that would keep him persevering in ministry. Susan Pearlman, a leader in Jews for Jesus, once told me, “Burnout takes place when the wick and not the oil is burning.” The oil that propels Christian ministry is the Word of truth and the love that comes from the Spirit.
The British preacher, Gypsy Smith, preached the gospel from the age of 17 years until he died at sea at 87 years on his way to America for a preaching mission. Someone asked him the secret of his freshness and vigour even in his old age. Smith replied, “I never lost the wonder.” When we are filled with a perception and an experience of the wonder of the gospel, urgency will be our hallmark.
1 Frank E. Gabelein, ed., The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Chicago: Moody Press, reprint 1980), p. 22.
2 Cited in Stanley N. Gundry, Love Them In: the Life and Theology of D. L. Moody (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), pp. 97-98.
3 For a fuller discussion, see the chapter, “Lostness as a Motivation for Evangelism,” in my Crucial Questions about Hell (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), chapter 13.
4 Peter Toon, Heaven and Hell (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), pp. 29-46.
5 For a fuller discussion, see the chapter, “Why Should We Talk about Judgment?” in my Crucial Questions about Hell, chapter 12.
6 Cited in Newsweek, (April l3, 1989), p. 43.
7 Quoted in Sherwood E. Wirt, Billy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), p. 47.
8 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 1, God Who Speaks and Shows: Preliminary Considerations (Waco: Word Books, 1976), p. 24.
9 For evangelical descriptions of this, see Millard J. Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), pp. 102-104, 110-114; D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), pp. 72-79.
10 This is Carl F. H. Henry’s description in “Postmodernism: The New Spectre?” The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, David S. Dockery ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), p. 38.
11 See my article on “the Uniqueness of Christ,” elsewhere in this volume.
12 See especially Psalm 119 where the word delight appears nine times in connection with the Word of God.
13 C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1958), p. 62.
14 Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco: Word Books, 1986), p. 67 (italics Henry’s).
15E. Stanley Jones, The Word Became Flesh (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1963), 149.
16 Colin Kruse, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p. 122.
17 Cited in W. E. Sangster, Power in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976 reprint of 1958 edition), p. 90.
18 D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Authority (London: Inter Varsity Fellowship, 1958), p. 88