Gospel Advance: Trevin Wax Interviews Alvin Reid

  gospel-advance-600pxPart history book and part instruction manual, Alvin Reid’s Gospel Advance: Leading a Movement That Changes the World describes the history of evangelical awakenings and prescribes a way forward for 21st century believers.

Reading this book from the professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is like sitting down across from him and hearing his passion and heart for Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.

Recently, I was able to catch up with Dr. Reid and ask about his latest book, the movement that impacted him personally, what Jesus’ prevalence for choosing outcasts should say to us today, and how our definition of success should be altered.

Trevin: You encourage believers to recapture the sense of Christianity as a movement of gospel advance. One of the problems you see is that followers of Christ lose their vision for advancing a movement and instead become focused on maintaining an institution. How can we take our institutions (churches, seminaries, etc.) and leverage their influence to help fan the flame of a movement?

Alvin: Institutions in and of themselves are not the problem. God gave us such institutions as the home, the local church, and the state. But leaders of institutions must be aware of the pull toward maintenance and the tendency over time to go from visualize (a movement) to institutionalize to fossilize! Leaders of institutions must always be asking how to advance the gospel in our specific time, resisting the urge to confuse tools or preferences with the gospel itself.

Further, regularly bringing new voices into the leadership team to challenge the status quo helps to keep all the leaders thinking about advancing versus maintaining. Also, as Jonathan Edwards noted, the power of testimonies to continue the awakening in New England in his day, sharing stories of those who are busy in gospel advance serves to encourage the institution to do the same.

Trevin: You’ve spent your life studying movements, and you’ve written about how the Jesus Movement changed your life. Can you give us a brief history of the Jesus Movement, how the churches responded, and what you believe to be the lasting fruit from this movement?

Alvin: The Jesus movement refers to a spiritual renewal among (mostly) young adults in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As is often the case in history a tumultuous time among the younger population (think Kent State, college sit ins, controversy surrounding Vietnam, the rise of the drug culture, Woodstock, etc.) had a parallel spiritual movement, in this case involving countercultural youth who met Christ in places like Haight Ashbury and Los Angeles, evangelical youth through such movements as the Asbury College Revival in 1970 and Explo 72, a massive gathering of youth sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, and Charismatic renewal in many traditions.

The Jesus Movement’s weakness was its lack of focus on doctrine, but it was marked by two key tenets: that Jesus is the only way (hence the “One Way” cry so common in that day), and the soon coming of Jesus, spurred on by books like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth.

I would argue that we would not have movements today like Passion had there not first been a Jesus Movement. The changes in music and worship were the most lasting features of the Jesus Movement for established church traditions. In addition, youth ministry exploded in churches (with good and bad results) out of this movement.

Many leaders today who have shaped evangelicalism from Billy Graham to the late Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement (which produced Greg Laurie, to name one of many) were connected closely to the Jesus Movement. For my tradition of Southern Baptists, our greatest years of evangelism in our history were 1971-1975. We reached close to double the number of teens in 1972 that we reached in 2012, although the number of youth in the US is greater today and the number of SBC churches and people has grown dramatically since then.

My favorite story of the Jesus Movement was told by Edward Plowman, a journalist who wrote The Jesus Movement in America: Accounts of Christian Revolutionaries in Action, a fine book on the movement. He described some young hippie-types in D.C. sharing Christ on the street one day in the early 70s. Three pastors – well-groomed and suit-attired – walked by. One of the pastors asked, “What are you young men doing?” One of the young men humbly replied, “Sir, we are doing what you just talk about.”

Trevin: You write that “Jesus didn’t go after the cultural elites, but the outcasts and ordinary.” How does Jesus’ calling of ordinary men to be His disciples impact the way we view our calling today?

Alvin: Movements often begin at the margins and give life to the heart of the institution. Jesus lived and walked in the Jewish culture, but His chosen disciples did not fit into the religious establishment of His day. In this way the Jesus Movement is reminiscent of early awakenings. Wesley and Whitefield reluctantly began preaching in the fields in the 1700s and reached masses of people overlooked by the established church.

We have to be very careful in our day of confusing surface ability with potential for leaderships. After all, even the great Samuel overlooked the shepherd boy David, but God looked at his heart. He still does.

Trevin: You encourage Christians to adopt new measures of success – not to be so focused on seating capacity, but sending capacity. How can we shift our measurements from building an institution to advancing a mission?

Alvin: First, we have to be honest about just what a mammoth undertaking this is in many of our conventional churches. We have mastered the ability to maintain what we have, and by God’s grace we have a lot.

But read the book of Acts and you see a movement of believers always extending, which leads me to the second point: we must not only want to grow and advance the movement, we must be willing to pay the price.

Just this morning I read about Paul. Soon after his conversion he boldly proclaimed Christ, and pretty quickly people wanted to kill him. Movements are exciting, thrilling, and engaging, but a gospel movement in this culture is also costly.

There is much more to say (which is why I wrote the book!), but I would finally add that movements advance by having an idea that the adherents believe to be more important than life itself. We have that in the gospel, so leaders must constantly herald the gospel to believers and unbelievers and show the centrality of the gospel to all of life.

Trevin: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

Alvin: I hope it will encourage pastor, leaders, student ministers and believers in general to see Christianity as more than a factory we check into weekly and something we add on to our already busy lives. I hope the reader will be revived, awakened to the glory and the story of the gospel and will want to advance this great movement of God.

Just imagine, what if every believer awoke daily with this thought: “Today, I get to advance a movement of God as I interact with people, live sensitive to His Spirit, and speak up for Him as I have opportunity both in encouraging believers and in evangelizing unbelievers.” We might see a fresh wind of God’s Spirit in our time.


This originally appeared at Trevin Wax's blog.