Awakening To The Theology

by Dr. James Willingham

The ground work or foundation for awakening prayer as well as for the visitation that we call an awakening is to be found in the theology we find linked to the First and Second Great Awakenings and the Launching of the Great Century of Missions as the late historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette called it or the Modern Missionary Movement as it is called today.  That theology with few exceptions must be described as Sovereign Grace or Calvinism.  The latter term actually diverts attention from the reality that Sovereign Grace is taught in Holy Scripture, and the very term is predicated on the use of the word, “reign,” used in Romans 5:21: “That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Reign or rule, of course, suggests the very idea of sovereignty, the authority and power to demand that things be done with a certainty.  Sin abounds.  Grace superabounds.  The enemy comes in like a flood, and God raises up a standard against him, a counter flood, a greater flood.  Like Noah’s flood of old which covered the whole earth, the deluge of grace shall fill the whole earth with His knowledge and glory.  The stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth.

Interestingly enough, all of this is to be accomplished not by force but by persuasion  Which brings us to the statement from a work which began my journey toward this understanding of God’s design.  In his Introduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first textbook in theology used at Harvard, so I understand), Dr. John Eusden stated; “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….”  That statement was like a light turned on in my mind and heart.  I began to think of texts that were so hard that people avoided them.  My first message involving such approach was on the subject, “The Hardest Text in The Bible,” and the text was Romans 9:13, “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”  I treated the text as an invitation to salvation, an invitation to be saved, to come on God’s terms, difficult as they seemed to be with a saying like that.  Hopefully, I might present that sermon on this blog someday, God willing.  I would also look at the other doctrines of grace as invitations to salvation, the truths of total depravity/total inability, unconditional election, limited atonement/particular redemption, irresistible grace, perseverance/preservation of the saints, reprobation, and even an unconditional prophecy of judgment without the slightest indication of mercy attached to it.

These truths are those preached by so many during the period under consideration.  I refer, of course, to 1720-1820, a period in which the Protestant/Baptist Faith underwent a profound change, moving from a compulsive, contentious, state-enforced religion like the Romanists of old to an outgoing, persuasive, “I will win you without trickery, chicanery or force,” kind of faith, a definite improvement  on the approach that had been used, one that is clearly more Christ like.

What we are talking about is the use of what some call paradoxes and others call antinomies and still more use other terms in trying to identify this phenomena.  It is, indeed, a mystery, a reality which we need to understand and comprehend.  As the Pilgrims Pastor is said to have put it long ago: “Who knows what new light is getting ready to break forth from God’s word.”


About dr. james willingham

B.S. Ed. Lincoln Univ., Mo., '67; M.A. (American Social and Intellectual History) (GPA 3.7) Morehead State Univ., Ky. '71; work toward a Ph.D. in American and Black History, 6 hrs. Univ. of South Carolina and 12 at Columbia Univ., NY, Spring and Summer of '71 respectively; M.Div. '74; D. Min. '76 Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC; M.A. '88 Liberty Univ., Va, (counseling). Honors: Phi Alpha theta - the International Honor Society of Historians; Pi Gamma Mu - The National Honor Society of Social Scientists Graduate Assistant, Morehead State, '69-70; Lecture: The Stanley Elkins Thesis: A Critique. Summer Afternoon Lecture Series Columbia University, Summer '71; Instructor, South Carolina State College, 1970-72 (taught 4-5 sections in American History. taught one course in Philosophy, Spring of '71), Adjunct faculty" Richmond Community College, Rockingham, NC 1985, taught two quarters of Political Science. Thesis for M.A. in American Social & Intellectual History: "The Baptists & Ministerial Qualifications:1750-1850." Prospectus for Doctoral Dissertation at Columbia University, Summer of '71, "The Baptists and Slavery." Instructor Seminary Extension: Greater Gaston Baptist Association, Gastonia, NC, 2002-2004. Taught Systematic Theology, Baptist History, Church History, Preaching, Isaiah, Hebrews Introduction to New Testament Theology. Pastorates: Pilot Knob Baptist Church, Belle, Mo., '62-64; Elston Baptist Church, Elston, Mo., '65-66; Gum Springs Baptist Church, Moncure, NC., '72-83; Heritage Baptist Church, Rockingham, NC, '84-96; Interim, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Casar, NC, 1/2001-3/2001. Chairman, Historical Committee, Sandy Creek Baptist Association, '77=81; Chairman, Historical Committee, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, '85-86. Annual Sermon, Sandy Creek Association, 1981 Lecture: "The Genius of Orthodoxy: Eldresses." BSCNC. Delivered as Chairman of the Committee Fall of '85. Play: The Mirror of Our Past. Visual History of Jersey Baptist Church
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5 Responses to Awakening To The Theology

  1. Christiane says:

    when I saw these words: ” and even an unconditional prophecy of judgment without the slightest indication of mercy attached to it”
    I thought of this from the Book of St. James 2:13:
    “For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

  2. Christiane says:

    This was an interesting phrase: “The enemy comes in like a flood, and God raises up a standard against him, a counter flood, a greater flood.” We have in my Church a prayer: ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ and it is said because we will face many difficulties in our time here on Earth, and we need to hold to Christ’s providential care for us in the midst of trouble. We are given His holy peace by which to endure our trials. This truth reminds me of an old talmudic story of a man who trusted that God would care for him, even in ways unforeseen. Enjoy:

    “Once while traveling in a strange country Rabbi Akiba took with him a donkey, a rooster and a lamp.
    “When night approached, he sought shelter in a village, but it was refused. “Everything is for the best,” said he, so he
    went into the forest and prepared to spend the night as best he could. However, the strong wind extinguished the lamp when he endeavored to light it. Even though he had to make his preparations for the night in darkness he cheerfully said, “Everything is for the best.”
    “When he awoke, he found that both his rooster and his donkey had been eaten by wild beasts during the night. “Everything is for the best,” said he, without complaining.
    The next day he found that an enemy army had passed through the forest, attacked the village and captured it. Had he obtained lodging in the village, he would have been captured, or had the donkey brayed or the rooster crowed or had his lamp burned so the soldiers could have seen it, he would have been taken captive and possibly put to death. Thereupon he felt very thankful that he had been denied shelter in the city, that he had been without his light and that he had lost his donkey and rooster because it strengthened his conviction that one should not complain, regardless of what happens, because “Everything is for the best.”

  3. Dear Christiane: I had written an answer earlier, but the power kept going off (we have about 8 inches of snow) and I lost it. So I will try again. It involved the case of a Japanese father and his son taking a load of produce to market in a near by city, but the father was dilatory in getting started, seemed to waste time to turn aside and visit friends, stopped to help travelers with problems. This occurred so much that they had to camp out, so I understand, and the next day they saw a great flash of light on the other side of the mountain which they had to cross in order to get the city’s market for farmers. When they got to the top of the mountain, they beheld the devestation of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki (I forget which), and the son who had been very angry with his father apologized. God is sovereign, and, contrary to popular opinion, when He calls us to change spiritually, He calls us to do the impossible. We find such in John 5:25 concerning the dead hearing His voice and living. Speaking to the spiritual dead is like speaking to the physically dead; it demands the impossible, and et our Lord said such a demand has a saving purpose (Jn.5:25, 34)

  4. Christiane says:

    that is a wonderful story about God’s providential care . . . and I especially liked the ways in which the father seemed to ‘waste’ his time . . . that you mentioned how God calls us to do the impossible and I was thinking today, this: that the ability to do the impossible is one way to describe the gift of ‘grace’ . . . thanks for the reply, I always learn from what you write.

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