The Church in the Last Three Centuries
This is now the fourth and final episode in our 4 session series on Church History. Dr. Michael Haykin has graciously taken us through the The Patristic Era, The Medieval Period, and last week, The Reformation. This week Dr. Haykin digs into major events that impacted and shaped the church in the last 3 centuries. Learn about The Enlightenment, the Modern Missionary Movement, and the globalization of the church in this week’s show.
Who’s Our Guest?
Dr. Michael Haykin (ThD University of Toronto) is professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin also serves as the director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He’s authored and/or edited over twenty-five books, including 8 Women of Faith and Rediscovering the Church Fathers.
Check out The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Dr. Michael Haykin teaches).
Also, check out The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies (where Dr. Haykin serves as director).
The two books that Dr. Haykin mentioned that give a good summary of church history are listed beneath.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
Well with me today to finish our series on church history is Dr. Michael Haykin. He’s a professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Thanks for being with us today!
Great to be with you again.
If you’re new to indoubt and this is the first episode you’re listening to ever, or you’ve listened before and you’ve just happened to start listening to this episode now, I’d encourage you to go back to the first episodes in this series.
The story that Dr. Michael Haykin has been so incredibly telling us is just that: it’s a true story. But stories obviously need to be heard and understood in full and they morph and they change on top of each other, so we need to get it in its full.
But anyways, he took us through the Patristic Period, then we went into the Medieval Period (the dark ages – Bible illiteracy and things like that), and then last week we looked at The Reformation, another mountain top where people like John Calvin and Martin Luther explained some really important things – it was a Reformation of the gospel.
And now today we reach the globalization of the gospel, so why don’t you explain to us what you mean by that.
The globalization of the gospel is the way in which the gospel moved out of the European confines it had been in really for the best part of a thousand years. The fall of the Roman Empire and then the rise of Islam really bottled Christianity up into Europe. In the Roman Empire, their world was really a Mediterranean world – both sides of the Mediterranean were part of the Roman Empire. With the rise of Islam, North Africa falls under the sway of Islam and is lost during the late Medieval Period, to the church. And the church finds herself kind of bottled up in Europe.
And with the globalization of Christianity, we see the church breaking out of that. And preceding that break out, which comes at the end of the 18th Century with the thought of William Carey the Baptist pastor who has a global vision, but really before that took place there is a significant area of revitalization – what we call The Great Awakening, the revivals of the 18th Century.
When we talk about the 18th Century usually a number of images come to mind for many historians. One is definitely what we call The Enlightenment – the project that emerges as an intellectual project in the early modern period in the 1700s – they are trying to live life and envision life without God. Or let me qualify that, live life without divine revelation – making human reason supreme.
Most of the 18th Century thinkers were believers in God, but it was not the God of Scripture. They thought that their human reason could kind of understand reality.
And there’s massive advancements that take place over a wide range of subjects and fronts during the 18th and 19th centuries, from Neutonian physics all the way through to medical advances, advances in technology, etc.
For many of these men and women that were behind this there was this thinking that, human reason unfettered by external authorities like the Bible or church leadership, there are no bounds to what it could achieve. This kind of perspective which leads to the secularization of large parts of the European world is still with us, obviously.
But it’s also a period of great revival. Beginning in the 1730s with the conversion of men like George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, Howard Harris and Daniel Roland in Wales, the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in New England. There is significant spiritual awakening taking place.
In Wales, by the middle of the 19th Century, probably 80% of men and women were professing evangelicals. Or maybe, better to put it, they sat under the gospel week by week. These are astounding figures.
In New England between 1740-1742 out of a population of around 250,000, at a conservative estimate, we have around 50,000 conversions, a seventh of the population. If you think about that in Canada, if Canada’s around 33 million, let’s say 35 million to round it off to an easy figure for me, think about what our nation would be like if over the next three years a seventh of our population, which would be upwards of 5 million people, were converted?
There’s just this enormous revitalization of the church, and with the revitalization of the church, this sense of mission.
The mission ideas begin in the early 18th Century with people like the Moravians, who have German roots, and they begin in the 1730s to send missionaries to places like Greenland, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Then continuing through the 18th Century you have people like William Williams the great Welsh hymn writer – William Williams Pantycelyn he’s sometimes known for, Pantycelyn being the farm he grew up on. He’s got a great hymn called O’er the Gloomy Hills of Darkness. Two of the stanzas run this way:
Kingdoms wide that sit in darkness
Grant them, Lord, the glorious light
And from eastern coast to western
May the morning chase the night,
Freely Purchased win the day.
Fly abroad, thou mighty gospel
Win and conquer, never cease
May thy lasting, wide dominions
Multiply and still increase
Sway the sceptre,
Saviour, all the world around.
And as congregations sang songs like this in the 1770-80s, there began to be a recognition that the European scene had been remarkably favoured with gospel light, the Reformation, Puritanism, the Revivals, but what about the rest of the world?
The Modern Missionary Movement
It’s in the 1790s that you find the Modern Missionary Movement beginning. Humble beginnings, 1792 October, a group of twelve men in a small room, 9 by 6 feet, in a place called Kettering in a widow’s home, in Kettering North Hampshire in England, pledged themselves to form a society which becomes the Baptist Missionary Society. It’s the first cross-cultural society that has the aim of sending missionaries abroad. They have very few resources, but they have enough to send William Carey to India in 1793. He will be there until his death in 1834 – he never leaves. And you get the beginning of what we call the Modern Missionary Movement.
A number of years ago, two or three years ago, some of us in the church history department at Southern (the seminary where I teach) were having a small debate on what the most significant event was since The Reformation in the history of the church. And one of my colleagues said, “Well it’s got to be the secularization of the church,” which we’ll talk about briefly in a minute, “and the rise of liberal theology.” And I thought, well, that’s only if you’re a Westerner. Surely if you’re thinking from the point of view from the rest of the world, Africa, Asia and Latin America,
it’s got to be the globalization of Christianity through the Modern Missionary Movement.
In the 1790s evangelical Christianity was really kind of limited to various parts of Europe, particularly Western Europe and the Atlantic seaboard – running from Georgia up to Nova Scotia, Florida was not yet part of the United States. 200 years later, the major centres of Christianity are now in places like Africa, in terms of numbers. Places like Latin America and South Korea and Asia, where 40% is evangelical, professedly. There’s just been a remarkable growth of gospel light through what we call the Modern Missionary Movement.
The Collapse of the Gospel in the West
Now the West, at the same time there’s this remarkable growth of missions around the world, there’s been a collapse of the gospel.
Some of that has come through The Enlightenment project with the exaltation of human reason over divine revelation. Men like Wesley and Jonathan Edwards never despised human reason, but they simply didn’t believe that it could be the main vehicle by which we knew God.
Simply because human reason is fallen and needs divine revelation to give it clarity.
The retreat to human reason by itself, shorn of divine revelation, meant invariably that intellectuals and leaders who travelled this path would lose the gospel.
Well it’s interesting you say that because when I read – I have a little book at home called “A Jonathan Edwards Reader,” a little book of snippets of different works and stuff, and different diary entries. And it’s interesting that he doesn’t lower reasoning at all or science, in fact, he was a marvelous philosopher and even scientist. For example, when he was a kid he was sitting in the backyard looking at spider and explaining how a spider makes its web in detail, but giving all the glory to God. It’s just amazing to see that.
Liberalism & Fundamentalism
Yeah, very much so. So reason as a handmaid to revelation has been the dominant biblical perspective down through the years. But obviously this rise of liberalism which technically speaking probably has its roots in reactions against Puritanism in the late 1600s in England, then takes root in philosophical circles in France and then in Germany. This leads to devastation in Europe in the 19th Century.
In Germany for example by the end of the 19th Century there are probably not one, as we would describe it, evangelical professor of systematic theology – there may have been one or two. But essentially, that area of Christian thought falls prey to what we call liberal theology.
During the course of the early 20th Century there is obviously a response to this, a reaction to this, we sometimes describe this the fundamentalist/modernist controversy. The word “fundamentalist” like the word Puritan, has a kind of negative overtone. Most of us wouldn’t want to be called a fundamentalist. But we owe a great debt to them. They fought for the gospel, sometimes fought in ways that we would later find problematic. Sometimes bitterness in their argument, very ad hominin attacks.
But they essentially knew that if the supernatural elements of the gospel which emphasizes, as the early church did, the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and again, as the early church did, the Lord Jesus Christ is fully God, that the God we meet in the gospel is fully Father, Son, Holy Spirit, if these things are lost, we have nothing, we don’t have a message to the world.
Certainly among North American denominations there are massive battles, massive splits. In Canada, particularly among the splits, particularly are evident among the Baptists. But they’re also there in some degree among the Presbyterians. I would argue that during the course of the 20th Century in Canada, the capitulation of what we call the United Church (the United Church formed in 1925 by a union of mostly Methodists with about two thirds of the Presbyterian denomination and I may be a bit off on that, it may have been about half) in the 1960s to liberal theology, loss of the gospel, has been devastating for the Canadian scene.
Two thirds of evangelicals in Canada, for instance, belonged to the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations. And when they united in 1925 and then subsequently in the 1960s began to move away from gospel fidelity, the impact has been appalling upon the Canadian scene.
If you have Canadian students, Michael, don’t let them stay down in the States, bring them back to Canada, please.
No, I agree. We actually have a thing called the Canada Club. There’s about 50-60 of us, we’re never all there at one time, but one of the themes in the Canada Club is to pray for Canada and to make sure that Canadian students can find their way back to the Canadian scene to labour here.
That’s so good.
Because the need here is great.
Yes, for sure. Now, just quickly, this might not have been part of your presentation, but I can’t help but bring up the fact that in the late 19th Century you have two of the biggest Christian cults, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, springing up. I think it was in the 19th Century. What was going on that allowed these two massive cults to grow?
The Origin of Cults
Well, part of it has got to do, actually, with the revivals. It’s called the Second Great Awakening – the first Great Awakening is the 1740s through to about the 1770s, the Second Great Awakening begins in the 1790s and runs to about the 1830s, and it’s a much more extensive, deeper awakening in terms of numbers of converted and geographical extent.
Now in the way of that, revivals sometimes can have negative consequences and one of the negative consequences in the wake of the revival was an emphasis on emotion. Sometimes unbiblical methods of evangelism. It’s interesting that in the wake of the revivals, particularly the Second Great Awakening in the state of New York, you have the emergence of a variety of cults: Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, Christodelphians, which is intriguing, and then later in the 19th Century Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The reality is this, is that the church has always been beset, we talked about this right in the first talk when we talked about the church’s struggle against heresy, and this is simply one of the challenges that the church has. These struggles of, not simply schism, but of inward falling away from the faith.
People within the church ultimately falling away from the gospel.
So the church finds herself in baffled down through the years. We talk about the church militant. And her battle is against outward forces, things like The Enlightenment. But also against inward forces, the emergence of these cults and then also obviously liberal theology. And it could be the case that some of these cults may have been a response to the growing liberalism in the late 19th Century.
This Present Day – The Good & the Bad
And so the last, probably 20-25 years I’ve seen again, I think a time of encouragement. There’s been a rediscovery of some of the great riches of The Reformation, Puritanism, The Great Awakening. And it’s evident in various conferences today like Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Shepherd’s Conference which takes place out in California, the Ligonier conferences; publishing houses churning out significant amounts of Christian literature, solid Christian literature – places like Crossway, Banner of Truth, etc, and podcasts like this! All of this is very, very encouraging.
There’s a lot to discourage us – significant challenges like Islam, the ongoing persecution of the church through communist and Muslim regimes, post-modernity in the West, the massive moral relativism, the rejection of reason – reason had been a dominant mode of knowing, it’s now been rejected and has led us down into a quagmire of post-modernity.
But in all of this, God is building His church – there’s much to encourage us.
Yeah, that’s great. After looking at the Patristic Era to today, you as a church historian and just an historian in general, you sort of have this advantage of knowing the details of what has gone on. What do we as the Canadian church need today to grasp and fight for?
What Does Today’s Church Need?
Well I think, let me go back all the way to the early church. I think the Trinity is critical. That God is Triune. This is particularly the case we’re facing with Islam. It’s also particularly the case we’re facing with many in our culture. Obviously there’s what we call the New Atheism. The New Atheism is really just a blip from the past, it’s an emphasis on human reason to the exclusion of revelation.
But I think increasingly we live in a world of people who are “spiritual.” They all love Jesus, but is He the Jesus of Scripture? Is He the divine, second person of the Godhead who has become incarnate and died, and raised again and exalted to the position of Lord?
So I think that’s one critical thing.
A second is the canon of Scripture – a body of divine revelation that we have to stand on when talking about God.
Thirdly, to continue in the whole area of the mission that has begun, obviously way back there in the book of Acts, but in more recent years, the Modern Missionary Movement. There’s still much to do. There’s still about 2,000 language groups in the world who don’t have the Scriptures and they need them. And the re-evangelization of areas in the world like Europe. We tend to think, “Okay, the gospel was there once, we don’t need to go back there again, even if they rejected it,” but I really think the time is critical to be thinking about planting the gospel afresh in European countries – these countries that still have enormous influence monetarily, politically in the world.
We need gospel witness and gospel presence in these countries.
And then that old challenge of Islam. We saw this in the second of our four talks, in which we saw the rise of Islam, and Islam has gone through a period of resurgence and it’s still a great challenge to us and we need to be a people who know how to reach across this divide with the gospel to Muslims.
Many of us are afraid of Muslims because of terrorism. But these men and women need the gospel, they need to know that the Jesus they honour as a prophet is much more than a prophet – He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, Lord and God, and He rightly deserves our worship and adoration.
Yes, that’s so good. Are there any books you recommend that dig more into church history?
Two Books on Church History
Yeah. There is a one-volume book written by Jeremy Jackson – it may well be out of print but you can probably get it online – it’s called No Other Foundation. It’s just a great one-volume history of the church. The book that I tend to use as a textbook is Timothy Dowely’s An Introduction to the History of Christianity. It’s published by Fortress Press. It’s a great book because he’s the editor, and he’s gathered together various historians who are able to contribute in their areas of strengths. It’s replete with timelines, sidebars, photographs, maps, which are all very important in the learning and understanding of Christianity.
That’s great, well perfect. Michael, it’s been such a pleasure for these past four conversations to hear from you and just to hear your passion for church history. It’s exciting and encouraging. I so appreciate your time and your wisdom to really bring us through the years from Acts pretty much to this present day. I just want to give you a huge thanks, and our listeners I’m sure are very thankful for your time that you’ve spent with us. And I hope to have you back on the show again soon!
That would be great. Thank you very, very much.