A pivotal point in evangelism

26 May

Just recently I visited a blog site that listed some of the Asahel Nettletonmost recent messages they had listened to. One of those most recent messages was by one of the pastors (Erik Raymond) of my home church, Omaha Bible Church. The message was about Ashael Nettleton and was part of a series of messages called “Giants of the Faith” done by the pastors, elders and some lay leaders of our church. The audio can be heard here. I was curious because I don’t remember hearing that particular message so I listened to it.

Asahel Nettleton was indeed a giant among many of the faith. He lived at a time in history that had seen a great awakening in spiritual revival based on the truth of the scriptures. Nettleton was an evangelist who had great impact in the churches he was invited to speak in. Those churches encountered many conversions. In fact it has been reported that he was responsible for leading over 30,000 folks to Christ in a time when the population of the entire nation was only about 9 million. The uniqueness of those conversions was the large number who remained faithful to Christ. Asahel Nettleton never pastored a church or authored a book, and yet he was certainly been regarded as one of the most successful preachers in history. Nettleton held to the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God in all things.

His effectiveness as a preacher can only be attributed to the working of the Holy Spirit and without any of the methods that modern evangelicals believe to be so essential in evangelism. Nettleton never once did an “alter call” but regarded the Holy Spirit as the instrument to guide men to think about what they had heard in his messages. The conversions that occurred were solid conversions.  

Nettleton is mostly forgotten and overshadowed because he also lived in a time where great revival in spiritual pragmatics was occurring. This revival was being lead by a man named Charles Finney who is well known in evangelical circles to this day. According to a contemporary to Finney and Nettleton, pastor Bennett Tyler “Finney’s revivals came in like a tornado, sweep through a community, and leave behind desolations behind them”. Finney used manipulative emotional methods to entice folks to be saved. He appointed new converts to lead revivals which flys in the face of what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:16. Finney also denounced those ministers who did not use his “new measures” methods. I would definitely charge that Finney is indeed the reason why we have so many forms and methods of evangelism in churches today. But for the most part the methods are basically the same. They manipulate based on emotions to entice folks to make a decision for Christ.

It is a shame that Asahel Nettleton has been overshadowed and a bit forgotten in this age because according to many articles and texts he made a major impact for Christ in the lives of folks in his day. He is forgotten in modernity because his methods of evangelism focused on God doing the work contrasted by Finney’s methods that focused on a man-centered, pragmatic, number gathering form of “winning souls” for Jesus Christ. Nettleton recognized that the greatest danger of Finney’s methods might not be to his generation but to the succeeding ones that would assume that all successful evangelism based their success on measured statistics. Many generations have passed and the prominent method for evangelism in this generation is one that is so focused on numbers that it has totally ignored theology.


It was good to read the recent article in Christianity Today about the resurgence of young folks seeking more solid theology and moving away from the seeker sensitive way of doing church.  I am encouraged by this. It is our duty as believers to hold fast to the doctrines we have been taught from scripture. (Rev. 2:25, 3:11) Knowing this, that God will draw to himself whom He has predetermined to be saved. Not by any “new measures” we, His creation can come up with.


5 responses to “A pivotal point in evangelism

  1. Seth McBee

    May 26, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    nettleton is definitely a pillar of our faith and much overlooked by a dangerous heretic in Finney.

    We need to keep writing about Nettleton so that many more understand the importance of not giving into new methods of evangelism that waters down the Gospel or uses the methods of persuasion instead of the ever abiding word of faith.

    good post brother.

  2. Don White

    June 1, 2007 at 12:45 am


    Thanks for the link to Erik’s message about Asahel Nettleton. I must admit that I would not have known who he was before reading your blog and listening to Erik’s message. I am trying to find some additional information on him.
    On a bit of a side note, I am baffled by how many “evangelicals” (I don’t think this word means much any more)hold Charles Finney up as an example of how to evangelize and bring about revival. As Erik brought out in his message, in earlier years he would would have been labeled as a heretic.

  3. Barry

    June 1, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    I appreciate your comment. As I was talking to Pastor Pat about Finney this past Sunday, he mentioned that Finney spoke late in his life that many of his converts were unfaithful. They just did not remain in the faith. This is in stark contrast to Nettleton. It has been said that the majority of his converts were very faithful.
    If you want to listen to more audio about more men like Nettleton. You should listen to the series the OBC leadership did called “Giants of the Faith”. (link provided)

  4. Mike

    July 16, 2007 at 9:25 am

    I am always amazed that an apparent heritic like Finney is held up today as a great champion of the faith.
    In his theological writings (which I have read), he denies just about every major pillar of the faith.
    Here is a list of some of the biblical docrine he denied:
    1. The substitutionary death of Christ. To him the cross was just a moral example of God’s love.
    2. That God’s wrath was satisfied at the cross.
    3. The doctrine of original sin.
    4. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer. Here he sides with Rome and calls this doctrine a “legal fiction.”
    How can a person deny these things and still be considered a Christian, much less a pillar of the faith, I do not understand.
    It a shame to the modern American church that we have forgoten true heroes of the faith like Asahel Nettleton and have held up men like Finney as champions of the faith.
    I do praise God that he is raising up a new generation of believers who are find “the docrines of grace” as a joyous gift from the Lord. He is truly sovereign.


  5. barrydean

    July 16, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Mike, and welcome to my blog site. Thanks for the encouraging comment.

    Amen. As I mentioned in the article those who were converted under the preaching of Asahel Nettleton remained commited to the faith. The easy believism that Finney made so popular, and amazingly is still used today, is all about numbers and not a true belief. I was a member of a church that did evangelism much like this. For years I would go out on a Monday evening with another brother and visit folks. The goal was to try and persude them to accept Christ by saying a prayer. As if we were doing the converting. I am ever thankful that God directed me and my family to a church that teaches the doctrines of grace. By God’s grace I understand that the pressure is off me to convert them. I just need to present the gospel, and let the Spirit of God do the rest.


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