The 18th century evangelist George Whitefield had a gift for dramatic oratory and was known to reenact Bible stories during his sermons. So it was fitting when Whitefield came to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary through a dramatization done by seminary trustee Dan Nelson during chapel Nov. 9.
Nelson is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Camarillo, Calif. His interest in Whitefield goes beyond occasional. In fact, Nelson’s doctoral dissertation was titled “The Evangelistic Preaching of the 18th Century Awakening Leaders,” and focused on George Whitefield as well as Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.
“George Whitefield spoke with such authority and anointing of the Lord that many in the crowd were moved to tears of repentance and conversion,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, said about Whitefield’s ministry in his introduction to Nelson’s performance. “Why did one man have such an impact on both continents? Given the ratio of people in America at that time, he had a far larger exposure to people even than Billy Graham has had.”
Patterson attributed Whitefield’s success to a “confidence in the word of God,” a “zeal for souls” and a unique “animated, dynamic preaching style.”
Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England, in 1714. He was educated at Oxford University and ordained in 1736. During his 34-year ministry, he made seven evangelistic trips to America and preached more than 18,000 sermons. His revival meetings on both sides of the Atlantic drew tens of thousands of people. Whitefield died of asthma in 1770.
Nelson, taking on Whitefield’s persona, narrated the story of Whitefield’s life and presented six excerpts from Whitefield’s sermons to demonstrate his evangelistic spirit. In a final charge, he urged chapel attendees to take up the same attitude.
“I charge you in the sight of God to keep your torch of faith well lighted,” he said. “May you be that burning and shining light. Pursue your calling with all diligence in faith, without which you could not please God. Accept no limitations, overcome all obstacles… Do all; be all for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Honor Him by your life; don’t dishonor Him. Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation. May you bring many souls with you to heaven.”
Archived Flash Media and MP3 recordings of Nelson’s Whitefield presentation can be viewed, listened to or downloaded through the seminary’s Web site.