Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Donald Dayton: Discovering An Evangelical HeritageDonald W. Dayton. 2005.  Discovering An Evangelical Heritage (Orig. Pub. 1976). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I heard Dayton speak in September 2006 at Wesley Theology Seminary here in Washington DC. Dayton was the guest speaker at chapel (something about a 30-year anniversary of the book and an award from the seminary). His address focused on the many faces of John Wesley—something new and interesting to me. His talk prompted me to buy the book, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and another of his books, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism.

The book is interested me because he dials back to the period of Charles Finney during the second Great Awakening. Finney was the Billy Graham of his day. Unlike Graham, Finney was both a great revivalist and a social reformer. Apparently, early evangelicals were at the forefront of the campaigns to abolish slavery, promote woman’s rights, and advocating temperance. While I knew some of the history of this reforms, I did not specifically associate these reforms with 19th-century evangelicals and the Second Great Awakening until reading Dayton.

Dayton’s historical review includes chapters on abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and temperance. Key personalities and financial supporters of these movements were discussed. The roles of Oberlin College and different seminaries (Princeton, Gordon-Conwell, and others) in social reforms (or not) of the 19th century were especially interesting to me.

So why did American Evangelicals come to focus on evangelism and less on social reform? Dayton explains the difference in evangelical attitudes about social reform to a number of things. Among these were disillusionment following the Civil War, a less optimistic view of the impact of sin, and a switch from post-millennial to pre-millennial eschatological views. According to Dayton, if you believe that Christians will be raptured the moment Christ returns rather than after a thousand years of Christ’s rule, then evangelism takes a higher priority and social reform goes down in priority.

I found Dayton’s analyses of these events credible, informative, and insightful—much like his talk. I can see why Wesley Theological Seminary presented him with an award.


Donald W. Dayton.  2004.  Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen NJ:  Hendrickson Publishers (Review:

Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Also see:

Dayton: Remembering the Story of Pentecostalism

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:


Continue Reading

Living Testimony

Life_in_Tension_web“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them,
nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared
to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope
that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
(1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament is full of a allusions to persecution which are mostly edited out when passages are cited in worship services and other uses.

For example, the citation above is normally cited entirely out of context as: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The snipet is entirely upbeat and usually cited as the reason to argue apologetically for the faith. At least three things are missing when this is done. First, there is no recognition of the context of persecution. Second, there is no recognition of Peter’s admonition to speak “with gentleness and respect”. Finally, the verbal defend often highlighted entirely misses the point that the entire letter focuses on “lifestyle evangelism”—living out the faith, not talking about the faith, and only that one phrase mentions a verbal defend.

In fact, one could argue that practicing for a verbal defense is contrary to scripture, because Jesus says:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV)

The tension that we feel with others over our faith is expected because of the work and power of the Holy Spirit manifested in our lives. Notice the order of events in this admonition:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us that leads us to become witnesses.

Because it is the power the Holy Spirit that leads us into this tension, it is neither our propensity to be vocal nor a desire to take risks that leads us to witness for Christ. The opposite is also true. It is neither our shyness in front of people nor our risk aversion that holds us back in witnessing for Christ—in our joy in salvation we want to tell the whole world! However, fear can quelch the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Barthel and Edling (2012, 101) note:

“When individuals in groups are motivated by fear of the opinion of other people (what others personally think about them) more than the fear of God, their hearts grow cold to the Spirit of God. Lacking God-consciousness, there is no restraining the motivation of the heart; only world passions and popularity with crowd control. This is common in church conflicts. Defensiveness, self-righteousness, and pride rule the day when people vien in to the fear of man.”

It is interesting that where we frequently pray for protection the early church prayed for boldness in their witness [1]. The problem facing the church of Laodicea, so common today, seems to have come later. As the Apostle John prophesied:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV)

Finney (1982,74-76) lists six consequences of quelching the Holy Spirit in our lives:

  1. Darkness of mind—the truth makes no useful impression.
  2. Coldness towards religion.
  3. Holding various errors in religion.
  4. Disbelief.
  5. Delusion regarding one’s spiritual state.
  6. Attempts to justify wrongdoing.

In this list we observe problems of tension with ourselves, with others, and with God. Fear of others, particularly persecution, leads us to abandon our faith both in God and in ourselves in a kind of downward spiral. Is it any wonder than in our times of timid faith, many are are burdened daily with debilitating anxiety and treated for depression even on sunny days? One wonders if increasing persecution is less about other people than it is about our own weakness and doubt—like a feeding frenzy observed among wounded fish.

Barthel and Edling (2012, 89) observe churches in conflict snapping to their senses when leaders are reminded of the need to remain God-centered and to reframe conflict around well-choice questions for reflection. Of course, this rings a bit like sound pastoral advice for us as individuals as well.

What is your favorite scripture passage?

[1] “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)


Barthel, Tara Klena and David V. Edling. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Finney, Charles. 1982. The Spirit-Filled Life (Orig pub 1845-61). New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Continue Reading