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.