I skim through over 100 blogs a week and one of my new favorites is The Spurgeon Center. Founded by Dr. Christian George, the site is dedicated to promoting the “life, legacy, and library of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Today, George stops by the site to talk about his favorite dead guy. You can read the full interview below.
Dr. George, thanks for stopping by the site. Being the Curator of the Spurgeon Library at MBTS, it’s no secret that you’re a big fan of the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon. How and why did you become interested in his life?
You’re right, I’m a huge fan of Charles Spurgeon. Here’s how it started: Growing up, I always heard Spurgeon quoted in church. But it wasn’t until my father took me on a pilgrimage through England that I really fell in love with the preacher.
It struck me then that Spurgeon grew up poor. His parents couldn’t even afford to take care of him. So they sent him as a boy to live with his grandfather in Stambourne. I love that about Spurgeon. He understood what it felt like to be a nobody. He never sought the spotlight or stage. At first, I was drawn to his humility and how God raised Spurgeon up from nothing.
My interest and passion for Spurgeon grew when I enrolled as a college student at Samford University to pursue a degree in fine arts. I wanted to be an artist, and to paint portraits mainly. For hours every day I took classes on painting, sketching, color theory, design. And as I progressed through the program and begin to sharpen my skills, I began to notice that Spurgeon was an artist. Spurgeon was painting, too—not with pigments but with paragraphs. His metaphors, analogies, and word pictures gripped me. I begin to read Spurgeon with fresh eyes and see Christianity as colorfully as he did.
Meanwhile, God was pulling me into the ministry. I put down the paintbrush and picked up the pen. I began learning from Spurgeon how to write – how to compose sentences and craft sermons. I went to Beeson Divinity School after graduating from college, then to St. Andrews, Scotland, to study Spurgeon at the doctoral level.
I taught for three years at Oklahoma Baptist University after graduating with my Ph.D. and since then, my passion for Spurgeon has snowballed. In 2014, my wife and I moved to Kansas City where I currently curate the Spurgeon Library and teach church history at Midwestern Seminary. The only thing I can say is that God has turned a thousand gears of grace to make all of this a reality.
How has the ministry of Charles Spurgeon personally impacted you?
I always encourage my students to fall in love with a dead guy. Go find some missionary or martyr, pastor or theologian, and spend the rest of your life reading that person. Why? Because dead people still have something to say. Libraries are where dead people get to speak.
Falling in love with Spurgeon has made me fall in love all over again with Jesus Christ. Who would have thought that doing a Ph.D. on Spurgeon would have been one of the most spiritually formative seasons of my life? Spurgeon liked to say that Jesus told us to feed sheep, not giraffes. Spurgeon impacted the way I even view the academy. I view it not a thing in itself, but as a tool to reach the masses. Besides, Jesus came to found the church, not the academy.
Now having said that, I do teach and write in an academic setting. But I love the motto of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “for the church.” That’s what Spurgeon was about and that’s what I’m about.
My last year in the United Kingdom, I came across eleven notebooks of Spurgeon’s earliest pre-London sermons. I’m currently working on a twelve-volume critical edition of his Lost Sermons published by B&H Academic in February. It’s a project that has both the pastor and scholar in mind. Lay people can access it as much as professors. I think this is in keeping with Spurgeon’s ministry – he wanted everybody to be able to understand the gospel.
There’s another way Spurgeon has really impacted me. In 2013, I almost died from a ruptured appendix. For twelve years, I’d been suffering from a severe case of ulcerative colitis. The medicine I was taking prevented me from noticing the symptoms of a ruptured appendix, and we didn’t find out it had ruptured for almost a full month.
Throughout the three major surgeries and recoveries I underwent, God used Spurgeon’s sermons to minister to me. He was a man who suffered intense seasons of pain. In one of his early sermons he wrote, “Think much on grace, Christian.” That line encouraged me more than anything else to remember God’s grace is sufficient for our sufferings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Photo Credit: Christianity Today
OK, that’s great for you. But why should the rest of us care about Spurgeon?
God’s not done speaking through that Victorian preacher, and actually, I think he’s just begun.
Spurgeon is always pointing us to Jesus Christ – that’s the best reason to care about him. In the mid-nineteenth century, Spurgeon became so popular that a denomination almost started around him – “Spurgeonism.” In fact, the only reason you and I don’t drive down the street and see “First Spurgeon Baptist Church” or “Second Spurgeon Baptist Church” (unlike Wesleyan churches) is because Spurgeon didn’t want his name to be elevated. Spurgeon wanted Jesus Christ to be elevated. He once said, “As far as you can, keep your name out of all of the work you do for the Lord.”
Spurgeon is always pointing us to Jesus Christ – that’s the best reason to care about him. - Christian George Click To Tweet
Spurgeon practiced what he preached. And in virtually all of his sermons he points his people to Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon also packs his sermons with a God-centered theology that engages the world evangelistically. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a preacher who reached more people with the gospel. One biographer estimated Spurgeon preached the free offer of the gospel to ten million people in person. So I think God can use Spurgeon to bring different theological tribes together under the one banner of Jesus Christ.
People of every generation like Spurgeon. But I think Spurgeon will be best received by millennials (I’m one of them by the way). Why? Because Spurgeon was a master of saying things simply. His short, punchy sentences cut straight to the heart. No wonder the Twitter-verse quotes him. Spurgeon doesn’t need the full 140 characters to get the gospel across. This is what I mean:
“The man who cannot weep cannot preach.”
“By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.”
“The storm has a bit in its mouth.”
For a generation like ours, a preacher who can communicate like that will resonate in a way that others can’t. With the rise of the Internet and social media, I believe Spurgeon’s going to be more popular in the twenty-first century than he was in the nineteenth.
Allow me to address the elephant in the room (gulp). Isn’t this love of Spurgeon thing idolatry? Or not? How as Christians can we honor our heroes without idolizing them? Have you ever faced that tension?
Every time I walk into the Spurgeon Library, I pass through a transparent door that has Spurgeon’s face frosted into the glass. One of the reasons we installed this was to reminds us to look not just to Spurgeon but through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ.
Since the Protestant Reformation, Christians have opposed the adoration of saints, the worship of statues, and the elevation of Tradition over Scripture. Yet we, too, can fall into the old temptation of idol production. We are also vulnerable to the sin of exalting people over God – whether it’s a celebrity preacher’s podcast or a best-selling Christian author or leader. Protestants make clever idols, often from the authority of popular preachers and personalities.
But Spurgeon doesn’t let us get away with that. Though the sin of pride was his Achilles heel, Spurgeon burned all his calories making much of Jesus Christ. Even at the end of his life when he knew he was going to die, Spurgeon insisted on being buried beneath a small stone instead of the gigantic tomb they ended up constructing for him.
How do we keep from worshipping Spurgeon? We have to recognize that Spurgeon was a sinner like each one of us. It was only through the transformative power of grace that Spurgeon or any of us can claim the precious promises God gives to his adopted children.
Allow me, however, to take the question in a different direction. We must not worship Spurgeon, but nor should we forget Spurgeon. Forgetting Spurgeon is just as much an idol as worshipping him. Why? Because we become the idol. We begin to think that we are the only ones who matter, that our church, our time, our tradition is the only one God cares about. That’s the beauty of church history. It frees us to see how God has acted in the lives of his people throughout time and space. It redirects the focus off of ourselves and onto God – the one whose middle name is Jealous.
Great response. Now, to the biographies. What’s the #1 best biography on Charles Spurgeon? Why?
For my top ten biographies, see here.
After Spurgeon died in 1892, many of his friends wrote helpful and interesting biographies about him. Keep in mind, though, that the bias of many early biographers was to preserve Spurgeon’s reputation from the damage it received in the “Downgrade Controversy.” Some of these biographies present Spurgeon as a superhero who didn’t bleed or suffer and who could do no wrong.
But today, biographies are more balanced. There’s a reinvigorated interest in seeing Spurgeon as the man he was – weaknesses as well as strengths. I think that’s what artists must do – we must paint the warts as well as the dimples.
For the busy Christian reading this interview, what’s the best way to learn more about Spurgeon? Can you recommend some links?
Actually, I’ve just started a blog solely dedicated to the life and legacy of Charles Spurgeon. You can find it here.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I post something new about Spurgeon. My aim is to inform and encourage readers of every walk of life.
Also, this winter we’re revamping www.spurgeon.org. I can’t give away too much just yet, but this website is going to offer tremendous amounts of resources for pastors, scholars, and anyone interested in Spurgeon and the Christian life.
If you want to watch a documentary about Spurgeon, I highly recommend Stephen McCaskell’s “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon.”
Excellent. Let’s wrap this up. Last question: what do you think will be the impact of Charles Spurgeon’s legacy on the church in the next 100 years?
You and I are living in challenging times. There is a general feeling in our country that Christian morals are falling out of fashion. Those who hold traditional axioms of evangelicalism are finding themselves increasingly marginalized and penalized. Tolerance has become not only the defining virtue of our age, but it’s becoming baked into younger generations at every level of society.
Spurgeon lived in challenging times as well. He also saw the decline, or “downgrade” as he called it, of evangelical Christianity. He, too, was marginalized in the media and betrayed by those closest to him. Even his own denomination, students, and brother turned their backs on him.
That’s why Spurgeon is primed to speak into our own culture. His life is a reminder to cling to our convictions without compromise and at great personal cost. But to do that with radical and selfless love.
Jesus once reminded his followers that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). I see Spurgeon’s life as taking Jesus’s statement a step further. Yes, the truth will set you free. But truth spoken in love (Eph. 4:15) will set other people free. We will win the world by our love.
At the end of Spurgeon’s life, he offered a final prophecy: “I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years, but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”
Spurgeon’s prophecy has come true in our day, and I believe it will continue to come true in the days and decades ahead. The more distant future will vindicate that Victorian because he will remind the future that the way forward is the way backward. Back to the cross, back to the Christ, back to the life-giving message of grace. Spurgeon did not preach a new gospel but he preached an old gospel in a new way. That’s why Spurgeon, like Abel in Hebrews 11:4, “though he died, he still speaks.”
Dr. Christian George serves as the curator of the C.H. Spurgeon Library and as assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the founder of The Spurgeon Center and the author of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon.You can follow him on Twitter here.
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