Being Evangelical in a Post-Christian Culture: the Biblical Advice of J. Wilbur Chapman, Part One

J Wilbur ChapmanRecently I read a book in which the author, after noting the failure to reach the next generation for Christ, the presence of increasing socio-economic difficulties, and the theological confusion and turmoil among Christians, said that “The need is great today, possibly greater than ever.  [And] the number of people turning from Christ, or at least indifferent to Him, seems to be on the increase.”  Although these words could have been written today, they were written just over one hundred years ago by the Presbyterian evangelist and hymn writer J. Wilbur Chapman.[1]

This will be the first of four posts in which Chapman offers four different instructions for how we as Christians, whether vocationally ministering or serving as lay men and women, can best conduct ourselves when, as he describes it, “the skies are overcast, the air becomes heavy and oppressive, the birds hush their songs, and the cattle seek a refuge.”[2]

Stop Being Too Critical!

In the preface to his work, Chapman makes it clear that he sees the willingness we have to be critical of other ministers and of the Church generally to be a great hindrance to the progress of the gospel.

“My plea is for the best and highest type of evangelism.  I am not writing with any disposition to criticize other workers whose methods may differ from my own.  I am glad for all who work, and I rejoice with all whose ministry is honored and blessed of God.  I think the time is too serious, the difficulties confronting us too many, and the burdens we bear too heavy to permit the wasting in criticism of energy which might be used in blessing and helping humanity…  We have too glibly criticized the Church in the past and we are today reaping the harvest.  We have too many times censured the ministry, and today we are seeing the effects of our criticism.”[3]

Chapman, though he certainly had his weaknesses and faults like the rest of us, understood something that it sometimes seems we have forgotten.  Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they should not censure those who were casting out demons in his name (Mark 9:38-41).  Paul models ‘rejoicing’ over the ministry of others – even those who preach from “false” motives (Philippians 1:15-18).  Do we tend more to censure and suspicion than to affirmation and joy with regard to others whose ministries are either merely different, or more significantly, may be motivated by questionable values?

Even within a community as small as a single congregation, folks can become incredibly agitated over the fact that someone four pews up thinks a different VBS would be more effective, or doesn’t think the latest evangelistic outreach is effective enough…  And we can spend more time disagreeing with one another than we do working together.  No doubt, disagreements will arise and must be debated.  But there comes a time when we must simply acknowledge with Jesus that demons are being cast out and with Paul that the gospel is being preached.

Take some time and evaluate the extent of your personal contributions to either helping humanity through the spread of the gospel or impeding the church through unnecessary conflict.  Please note that some conflict is necessary – but this post is not about that!  Only be sure that when all is said and done, you are spending more of your precious time and energy actively sharing the good news of what God has done for us in Christ than you are in discussions about the best way to do it.

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas


[1] J. Wilbur Chapman, The Problem of the Work (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1911), p. 59.  The two hymns for which he is best known are “One Day He’s Coming,” and “Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!”

[2] Ibid., p. 56.

[3] Ibid., pp. vii-ix.


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