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An Interview With Paul Washer
July 29, 2013
You probably know Paul Washer as the man who preached the infamous “Shocking Youth Message,” a sermon that has tallied over one million views on YouTube. But there is far more to the man than that one sermon. For ten years he was a missionary in Peru and in that time he founded the HeartCry Missionary Society to support Peruvian church planters. He is also a pastor, an author, a conference speaker and now serves full-time with the HeartCry Missionary Society. I recently asked you to help me interview him and today and tomorrow I will share what turned out to be a fascinating interview. (Note: Reformation Heritage Books has dropped the prices on the Kindle editions of the first two volumes in Washer’s “Recovering the Gospel” series. The Gospel’s Power and Message is $2.99. The brand new The Gospel Call and True Conversion is down to $4.99).
Can you tell me the five people who have most influenced your faith and the five books that have most influenced your faith?
The person that I most admire is Jesus Christ. He is the only perfect Person. There is simply no comparison. The difference between Him and all other men is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. He is in a category all to Himself. The most precise and thoughtful scholar is limited in what he knows and wrong in some things that he affirms; the most devoted saint is stained with sin and full of error; the bravest heart among us will fail and break; but Christ is altogether lovely, holy, and unfailing. With regard to saints in history, I have gained the greatest benefit from George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Whitefield, and John Calvin. But these are only a few. To borrow a phrase from the author of Hebrews, “What more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of…” all the Reformers and Puritans from whom I have benefited: Bunyan, Boston, Brooks, Edwards, Flavel, Goodwin, Murray, Newton, Owen, Ryle, Sibbes, etc.
The book that has had the most influence on my life is the Bible. This goes without saying for every genuine Christian, but it should always be emphasized, even at the risk of redundancy or cliche. It is the Book of books, the very Word of God, and the only written document that possesses the power to save and transform lives. Other than the Scriptures, the most important book in my life has been The Autobiography of George Muller. It sits on the right-hand corner of my desk; its cover is worn, and its pages are yellow and torn from much use. It has been a great help to my faith throughout nearly thirty years of ministry. The second most important book to me is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This book sets forth the doctrine of salvation with amazing clarity and insight. The third book is Today’s Evangelism by Ernest Reisinger. As a young man, I always knew there was something wrong with the way I was doing evangelism. God used Reisinger’s book to expose the superficiality of my message and methodology. Halfway through the book, I was full of fear because of the way I had been preaching the Gospel. That day, I promised God that if He would let me live, I would never preach the Gospel in a superficial manner again. The fourth book is actually a collection of books entitled, The Complete Collection of E.M. Bounds on Prayer. The fifth book is Pentecost Today? by Iain Murray, which is one of the best treatments of revival and the power of the Holy Spirit I have ever come across. It most closely resembles my beliefs with regard to this doctrine. Finally, I must also mention a video series that greatly impacted my life when I was a young missionary in Peru — The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. I watched portions of that series on my knees. At times, I would have to pause the tape and simply lie prostrate on the floor. It was a pivotal moment in my life.
Many people first learn about you through YouTube and the “Shocking Youth Message.” Can you tell how that message came about, and how it came to be a YouTube hit? What has the message meant to your life and ministry?
As I walked up to the pulpit, I was unusually burdened and was unsure about what to preach. It seemed that there were thousands before me who were resting in a false assurance. There was a message burning in my heart, but I knew that it would be offensive. As I began to speak about the influence of culture on the church, the people in the auditorium broke forth in applause. They had no idea that I was speaking about them. At that moment, I took up my text in Matthew 7 and began to preach. It was as though I was being carried and pushed along by strong wind that I could not resist. I felt broken into a million pieces, and yet I was fearless about the consequences. Immediately afterwards, I thought I would collapse, and I was full of fear. Many people were angry with me that day. I remained troubled about the sermon for the next few weeks. While I was preaching, I had no doubts; but afterwards, I was besieged by doubt. Had I done the right thing? Several months passed, and I eventually put the whole thing out of my mind. I never saw a copy of the video, nor did HeartCry put it online.
After several months, we began to receive emails from all over the world. People were sending in testimonies of how they had been saved through “The Shocking Youth Message.” All of us at HeartCry were bewildered. We had no idea what message the people were writing about or if I was the one who had preached it. Finally, one of my fellow staff members went online and found it. I was shocked probably more than anyone. Radio stations began calling and asking for interviews, and debates were going on all over the Internet either for or against what I had preached. Even after all these years, we still receive testimonies from around the world of people who have been converted through that sermon.
The message has affected my life in many ways. Positively, it has allowed me to preach and write about the Gospel and the nature of genuine conversion. Also, it has opened the door for people to see the work that God is doing through the HeartCry Missionary Society and indigenous missions. Negatively, it has led some young reformers to hold an unbalanced view of the kind of preaching that is needed for true revival. The message I preached was hard, very hard, but it was the exception and not the norm of my preaching. There are times when a “hard word” must be preached, even to God’s people. However, the church and the individual believer do not grow by daily helpings of “hard words,” but by being nourished and encouraged by the full counsel of God. The greatest catalyst for spiritual maturity in the truly converted is a greater revelation of the love of God in Christ. Another thing that “budding prophets” need to understand is that a preacher carries a Sword, a basin, and a towel. He is quick to use the basin and towel with great joy. But he is slow to use the sword, and he always does so with tears and fear and scarred knees.
Can you tell us how it came to be that you ended up in Peru for ten years? Obviously the answer lies in the Great Commission, but why did you choose Peru? How did you know that is where God wanted you?
In my last year of seminary, I made a list of possible directions for my life, and then I left the bottom blank because I realized that God’s will for my life might be beyond anything I had written down. Should I continue in the street ministry where I had been laboring? Did God want me to return to the Philippines or Peru, the two countries in which I had ministered for a time? Every day, I prayed over the list and waited upon the Lord. Sometimes I would erase an option from my list, only to put it back the next day. Eventually, my desire to go to Peru grew. It kept growing until it eclipsed all the others. In addition to my inward desire, God began to open doors and orchestrate things so that it started to become obvious that this was the direction that I should take. Finally, one day on the stairs between the second and third floor of the seminary library, I was given an overwhelming confidence and joy that Peru was the place. Through the years, I have discovered some essential principles in discerning God’s will: First, by God’s grace, we must be firmly committed to seeking first the Kingdom of God and His glory. Secondly, we must establish a life discipline of renewing our minds in the Word of God. Thirdly, we must seek godly counsel from mature believers. Fourthly, we must watch for signs of God’s providence opening doors and closing them. Finally, we should consider the desires of our heart. God gave me a growing desire to evangelize the people of Peru and to minister to their needs. When I started HeartCry in order to reach other nations, I was driven by a similar new desire.
What can you tell us about the state of the church in South America? What are some of the encouragements and concerns you see there?
In South America, like any other place in the world, there are both encouraging signs and great concerns. The encouraging signs are the number of people who are being converted and their zeal to evangelize the lost — those not only of their own people, but also of the other nations of the world. There is a providential openness to the Gospel that would astound most believers from the States. A street evangelist can share the entire Gospel with more people in one day in Peru than in a month in the United States. Another encouraging sign there is similar to what we are seeing here. Many preachers and students of the Word are rediscovering the great doctrines of the church, the sufficiency of Scripture, and the importance of expository preaching.
The concerns in South America are something of a reflection of the problems that we find in the United States. First, there is a superficial Gospel which promotes easy-believism. Secondly, there is a lack of expository preaching and biblical counseling. Thirdly, the growth of false prophets and marginally Christian sects has risen. Whenever there is a genuine work of God, we can be sure that the devil will multiply the counterfeit.
Family worship is one of the disciplines most Christian families want to succeed at, but find they struggle with. What is your experience with family worship? Could you describe how you lead your family in worship?
Family worship is a non-negotiable essential for the Christian family. Several years ago, I read a statement from Dr. John MacArthur about raising children. I cannot quote him word for word, but the central truth that I remember was this: Teach the Scriptures to your children daily, discipline your children consistently, and love your children unconditionally. If you do these things, you will have acted biblically. This truth has been a foundation stone to my family life and the raising of my children. Usually five times a week, my family meets in the evening for devotions and prayer. I have three children, aged twelve, nine, and six. During our devotion, we study through books of the Bible, and we pray. Each night, we advance a few verses in Proverbs and a few verses in whatever other book of the Bible we are studying. For example, at this moment, we are studying in Proverbs 16 and Luke 11. We do line-by-line exposition. One child will read the verse, and I will teach. Then the next child will read the following verse, and I expound upon it. In the midst of this, there are also comments and questions by my wife and children. We are now going through Proverbs for the third time, and we have gone through the following other books: Matthew; John; Romans; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; I & II Thessalonians; I & II Peter; and I, II, & III John. Usually, we spend about half an hour in study each evening. However, at times when the children’s interest has been peaked, the devotions have lasted an hour. I am careful to follow what is happening with my children during the devotion. Devotions should not be drudgery, but the highlight of the day.
There are many of your fellow Christians who look up to you and admire you. How do you handle praise from others? How does the Lord keep you humble?
If I were to answer this question the way it is now worded, it would be an indictment against me, for it presupposes either that I am humble or that I believe myself to be humble. Pride is a terrible and dangerous thing. It can take so many forms; it can even assume the appearance of humility. Pride can lead not only to self-exaltation, but also to self-abasement. It is a dangerous worm of many disguises. The key to battling pride is not found in struggling against thinking too highly of ourselves or in striving to think of ourselves as lowly. The key is found in simply not thinking about ourselves at all, but setting our minds on Christ and the needs of others.
Having said that, I can share a few things that may be helpful in our fight against pride: First, we ought to seek to grow in our understanding of the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. The more we understand who He is and what we are in comparison, the more pride is defeated. Secondly, it is wise to surround ourselves with those who know us and love us enough to speak into our lives with words of correction and rebuke. Thirdly, after extensive travel, we should always make our way home as soon as possible. People who only listen to preachers have a tendency to put them on a pedestal, but those who live with preachers recognize that they are just common men. Lastly, if we judge our lives by what we know or by what we say, we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are something we are not; it is wiser to evaluate ourselves by the amount of truth we actually live. This is very humbling.
This interview will continue and conclude tomorrow; in the second installment I ask what encourages and concerns him with New Calvinism, I ask about the series of books he is writing, about how it came to be that he has more metal in his body than a Tonka truck, and about how you and I can pray for him.