This week “Did You Know” is excerpted from a South Bend History professor’s latest book, Changed by Grace: The importance of the Oxford Group, was that they had rediscovered fundamental evangelical principles which had been laid out by Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley, and that they were the ones who first introduced the early A.A. people to these fundamental ideas. It was a particular version of these principles however which they had appropriated.
In the form which Edwards and Wesley had first introduced the evangelical preaching method in the early eighteenth century, it was designed primarily for preaching revivals to large groups of people. Even Wesley’s Aldersgate experience took place in a group context, as we can observe. In the next century, the nineteenth century, revivalists went west with the American frontier in a religious movement called the Second Great Awakening. Conducting camp meetings in the open air, mass meetings in schoolhouses and auditoriums, where hundreds or thousands of people would attend, and large numbers of people would come forward when an alter call was announced, and fall down on their knees and surrender their will and lives to God. For those who are interested in that era, Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), was one of the major early American leaders of this kind of mass revivalism during the early period; Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was the most famous revival preacher of that sort from the second half of that century.
The highly respected Scottish evangelical preacher and theologian, Henry Drummond (1851-1897) began his own career after Moody came to preach revivals in Scotland and England in the early 1870s, where Drummond heard him and was overwhelmed by the power of his message. The two men became closely associated. Drummond later came to speak at Moody’s Northfield Conferences in Massachusetts. Drummond gave a talk there in 1887 titled, “The Greatest Thing in the World” was a beautiful explanation of the concept of agape‚ love in Corinthians 13. Moody was so impressed when he heard it, that he immediately arranged for its publication. It was later to become one of the basic works on spirituality (along with Emit Fox’s Sermon on the Mount), which early A.A. people were encouraged to read when they first came into the program.
Drummond had already noted in 2873, that there was perhaps too much emphasis on preaching huge revivals as though that were the only way to do it. The world was changing, and the era of the great mass revivals was beginning to end. “We had to find a new way of doing things” Drummond said. We needed to go back to doing evangelism on individuals, just as they did in first century Christianity. Jesus may have preached sermons to large numbers of people on many occasions, but he collected his true disciples one by one. It was in the field of Protestant foreign missions that Drummond was first heard. Missionaries to countries like China and India could not operate successfully by trying to preach American and English-style mass revivals. They had to work on individuals one at a time over long periods in order to bring an individual from a non-Christian background to saving faith.
In the next generation, an American Methodist, John R. Mott (1865-1955), became a major supporter of this new idea of quiet one-on-one personal evangelism. Mott had a profound influence on all Christian denominations through his chairmanship of the First International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 (the modern ecumenical movement) and his work in helping found the World Council of Churches. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. To be continued…