Angus Buchan: Evangelist or Revivalist?

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Angus Buchan is an evangelist and not a revivalist. An evangelist is involved with basic or first phase evangelism and usually addresses a particular group of people only once, or perhaps a few times during a weekend rally. After his listeners have indicated that they accepted Christ as Saviour, he regards his duty as done and then moves on to his next appointment.

A revivalist, by contrast, is particularly involved with second phase evangelisation as his messages are aimed at further steps of dedication and service to the Lord in the lives of those who already have a testimony of salvation. That is precisely what the word revival means – new life where there already is life. Christians are called to search themselves and make a new commitment to the Lord, and are also clearly shown what their responsibility is in the process of sanctification. When they comply with these demands, lukewarm, prayerless, powerless and spiritually unfruitful believers are transformed into dedicated witnesses for Christ. They will then fulfil their calling to testify about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, leading to the salvation of many sinners. That is the fruit of revival.

More than a century ago, Andrew Murray was at the forefront of a real revival ministry in South Africa. His books on sanctification as a further work of grace after conversion are still read all over the world. I even met a Russian preacher in Estonia who bought one of Andrew Murray’s books in Helsinki, Finland. Murray does not associate holiness with ecstatic experiences and signs and wonders but with a pure heart and enduement with power from on high.

Andrew Murray obviously also did basic evangelisation but it was always followed up with clear preaching on the filling of the Holy Spirit. Other well-known revival preachers in the 18th and 19th centuries followed the same approach. The converts from John Wesley’s meetings assembled in halls where they were taught about higher levels of spiritual dedication. They eventually established a new evangelical church.

In America, DL Moody was also an evangelist and revivalist. After evangelistic meetings were conducted in certain places and many people were saved, he followed it up with a series of messages on sanctification. Dr. RA Torrey was often requested to deliver his eight messages on sanctification during a week-long rally. They were later published under the title: The Holy Spirit – Who He is and what He Does. It made a very big difference in the lives of young believers by strongly establishing their faith and dedication. Charles Finney published a magazine to give further instruction to converts. Some of them neglected their duty to make a full surrender and to serving the Lord wholeheartedly. His words to them were: “You are a disgrace to Christianity.”

The ministry of Angus does not provide for this second phase of deeper spiritual instruction, and because of this it is somewhat presumptuous of him to often say: “We are in a revival.” The absence of this vital element of revival explains the phenomenon of why there is not a notable change in the low spiritual standards of most churches in South Africa. That so many people commit themselves to Christ for the first time at his meetings is an indication that preaching on this subject in many churches is not explicit and convincing enough.

Angus plays a very big and praiseworthy role in fulfilling this need and should be honoured for doing so. It is encouraging that a high profile person, who is in the media’s limelight, is humble and bold enough to refer to Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of the world. He also often mentions sins that separate people from the Lord. Without that, people would not be fully convicted of their sinful and lost state.

However, the fact remains that evangelisation which is not backed up by further intensive instruction from the Bible, often leads to superficial change which does not last long. It is like seeds which have been sown in shallow soil. They quickly germinate and start growing, but the young plants are not able to withstand and survive the pressure of adverse circumstances. That is why many of the converts during rallies revert to their old ways after a time.

A number of case studies on converts during gospel rallies have been conducted in the past. At places where there are no evangelical churches or Bible study groups with high standards where converts can get further instruction, more than 90% of them did not stand by their original commitment. Angus Buchan will seriously have to face this fact. In modern preaching in general, more emphasis is placed upon moralising and human relations than on an improved man-God-relationship.

Should Angus wish to achieve more success, something very definite will have to be done to provide for second phase evangelisation. In His Great Commission Christ not only said that disciples should be made of all nations, but also that they should be taught to observe all His commands (Matt. 28:19-20). This is an intensive and long-lasting task which can in most cases be better executed in small group contexts.

There are also various other matters in the preaching of Angus which cause concern. He sometimes refers to very dubious American preachers who are overly devoted to miracles, signs and wonders, as role models. Furthermore, he does not show enough understanding of Biblical eschatology. The Bible teaches that the church dispensation will end in a dark time of apostatising, tribulation and antichristian deception. Because of that, there will be a process of polarisation in which those who are filthy will become filthier, while those who are holy should become more holy. Converts should be prepared to face these challenges as their commitment to the Lord will be severely tested.

Angus, however, gives his support to kingdom reforms in terms of which the hope is raised that if most people repent, conditions in countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe will be restored in the spiritual, moral, political as well as economic spheres. This expectation is at variance with the Biblical scenario that the majority of people will tread the broad way right down to the end, and also with the fact that we can expect more apostasy and lawlessness in the world.

Another problem which certainly has negative consequences is that Angus is so much inclined towards maintaining good relations and fostering ecumenical meetings, that he completely ignores the subject of spiritual deception and therefore has no apologetic element in his preaching. This is to the detriment of young believers as they get no guidelines for the identification of deceptive teachings. It is very good to be saved from moral sins, but there is also spiritual deception against which believers have to be warned. At one of the rallies of Angus in Port Elizabeth free DVD’s were distributed at the gates in which a false eschatology is promoted, as well as a legalistic lifestyle which includes the observance of the Old Testament Sabbath on Saturdays. The recipients did not know whether these gifts were handed out with the consent of Angus.

In spite of all these objections I have great appreciation for the fact that Angus Buchan proclaims a clear message of repentance. The value of one soul that is saved is more than all the treasures of the world. Although this promising action is not backed by a clear strategy for second phase work, thereby undoing much of the good work that has been achieved, his preaching was and still is a big blessing to many people. We should rejoice about that.

The views of Anton Bosch

I asked the opinion of Anton Bosch on the above-mentioned matter. He lived in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, for a long time before acceding to a call from a congregation in California, USA. He says the following in his letter:

“I recently watched the video Faith Like Potatoes and while that was a dramatization, I considered that with everything else I have seen and heard, and come to the conclusion that your evaluation is correct. He is an evangelist – nothing more, nothing less. The problem with evangelists (of which Billy Graham is a prime example), is that they are not equipped to do anything more than preach the gospel. That is their calling and gift. This results in two issues:

1.   They must stick to the gospel and only the gospel. The moment they begin to speak on matters of doctrine, they are out of their depth. Thus their theology cannot be trusted. Graham has proven this many times and Angus seems to be the same. That is not a reflection on them, but a reality that God has built into the church so that every member is dependant on every other member (see point 2 below). Evangelists and those around them need to understand this and not expect, or allow them to pronounce on all matters of doctrine.

2.   They need to work with other ministries who can do the follow-up. This is more than just telling people to find a good Bible-believing church. You don’t take a new-born (physical) baby, put it down in the middle of the street and tell it to find good pasteurized milk. The baby will drink anything, even poison. The baby must be parented until it comes of age. A clear example of this is with Philip: “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city…. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:6ff).

I think the distinction you draw between an evangelist and revivalist is good.”