This Day in Church History: Births of Pascal and Spurgeon
19 June 1623 was the birthday of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the French mathematician, physicist, and Christian philosopher. Pascal was an apologist for Christianity to the skeptical French “philosophes.” Although he considered himself a faithful Catholic, Pascal was an adherent of and apologist for a reform movement within Catholicism called “Jansenism,” which had many points of overlap with Reformed Christianity. Jansenism was eventually declared a heresy by the Vatican, but not until after Pascal’s death, so he escaped excommunication as a heretic. (Great timing; shared with the early Church Father, Origen!)
19 June 1834 was the birthday of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the most famous British preacher of the 19th C. and one of the greatest Baptist preachers of all time. Although I am not the Spurgeon fan of some of my fellow Baptists (he is far too Calvinist for this Anabaptist), and I especially disapprove of his role in the “Downgrade Controversy” which splintered the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, I cannot escape the power of his preaching even in print. Further, far too many conservatives are apologists for the status quo (or reactionaries), but Spurgeon combined his strong defence of Calvinist orthodoxy with an equally strong social conscience that his latter-day admirers would do well to emulate. Spurgeon was a fierce critic of the laissez-faire capitalism of his day, an opponent of British imperialism, and a strong advocate for peace (openly admiring Quakers at the point of pacifism). Spurgeon’s strong opposition to the Boer War generated so much antagonism among jingoist nationalists that the London police had to surround his church to keep an angry mob from burning it down! But these “social gospel” aspects to Spurgeon’s life and thought are usually ignored by conservative Christians (especially fundamentalists) for whom he is a hero. They need to recover these dimensions of the one they call “the last Puritan.”
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