The Best of Times in New England

These are the best of times for Christians in New England. The body of Christ in the northeastern United States is seeking unity, pursuing mission, enjoying growth, and tasting the goodness of God. No one person or institution has planned this work. No single church or theological camp can claim credit for it. But you will find throughout much of New England today thriving college ministries, fledgling church plants, and revitalized colonial-era congregations renewed in their zeal to love their neighbors and spread the gospel.

I don’t mean to underestimate the ongoing challenges. In fact, I heard an interesting argument while returning to the airport on Sunday morning following a wonderful week in New England meeting with students and faculty at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and rejoicing over an anointed TGC New England Regional Conference in Boston. On the radio in my cab, a gay host explained how any religion that does not tolerate homosexuality must be crushed. There is no room in democracy, he explained, for such intolerance: gay rights and biblical Christianity cannot co-exist in America, let alone liberal New England. He told believers something we already know: Christians will continue to face a stark choice. We can capitulate on biblical teaching or incur the wrath of society’s self-appointed arbiters of tolerance. Many have already chosen the path of least resistance.

Collin Hansen moderates a panel on our cultural idols and the gospel with David Wells, John Piper, and Richard Lints.

Even so, these are the best of times in New England—after all, there has never been a golden era free of temptation to love self more than God and neighbor. Revival experts might cite the Pilgrim landing or the First Great Awakening as more blessed times in New England’s past. Yet we somehow forget that Unitarianism is no new fad in this part of the country. Jonathan Edwards might enjoy a resurgence today, but he was hardly beloved in Boston, a city even then torn between Old Light pastors like Charles Chauncy who denounced the revival and New Light allies like Thomas Prince who published testimonies to the outpouring of God’s grace. We ignore in our nostalgic remembrance the self-serving ministers like James Davenport who brought shame on the revival by supposing his antics had been blessed by the Holy Spirit. Then as now, tares grow among the wheat.

Reputation and Revelation

These are the best of times in New England because we wrongly suppose that Christianity depends on the comfort of a moral majority who live out biblical values even if they don’t quite grasp the biblical gospel. We give thanks for such common grace, but we dare not invest outward appearance with salvific significance. A book like Revelation comes alive in New England, where Christians often feel the palpable hostility toward God and brazen disregard for his Word. Christians in New England must be prepared that their reputation with family, neighbors, and co-workers may not survive revelation of their faith.

During the New England Regional Conference, TGC president Don Carson spoke with passion about genuine faith that can endure any hardship for the glory of God. He observed that there have been more conversions in the last 150 years than the combined 1,800 years prior. The same goes for the number of martyrs. Both figures will grow till the end. Christians in New England know better than many others in the United States this blessing of laying down their pride and picking up their crosses to follow Jesus wherever he leads, whether in the conservative small towns of New Hampshire or the liberal halls of academia in Boston. Commenting on Revelation 12:11, Carson said, “We triumph over Satan by the blood of the Lamb, the testimony of the gospel, and our willingness to die.”

Stephen Um speaks about gospel-shaped community.

These are the best of times in New England because God has raised up local church leaders who love their communities, who have committed to staying over the long haul as they trust Christ to change hearts and redeem souls. They understand the challenges. The have endured hardship. They have been tempted to hunker down but defied Satan to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to their neighbors and encourage fellow believers to do likewise. One such leader is Stephen Um, senior minister of CityLife Presbyterian Church in Boston and leader of The Gospel Coalition New England Regional Chapter. He and his team, especially Justin Ruddy, organized the Regional Conference with the aim of uniting Christians across denominations, equipping believers to stand fast and tell the truth of Jesus, and inspiring them to love their neighbors as themselves. All of us who worked together to organize the event stood together at the Back Bay Events Center and marveled at the faith-stirring sound of nearly 1,300 voices singing praises to the King of kings.

Um could have speaking of the particular challenges in New England when he told the conference, ”God puts us into situations that show us we cannot rely on anything else but God who raises the dead.” Not cutting-edge ministry methods. Not the memory of a Christian past. Not the social benefits of church attendance. Only the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of union with Christ, and the persevering love of our heavenly Father can be credited for what we’re seeing in New England today.

Long-Awaited Thaw

Writing in 1950, a couple months following an unexpectedly massive turnout to hear Billy Graham preach on Boston Common, the renowned Park Street Church pastor and evangelical statesman Harold John Ockenga observed,

God is moving as he has not moved in America at least for four decades and as he has no moved in New England for two centuries. . . . You do not have to wait till next year. You don’t have to wait ten years. You don’t have to pray anymore, “Lord, send a revival.” The revival is here!

Only God knows if these best of times in New England will develop along the lines of earlier revivals in the region. Our days need not look just like those days to reflect a powerful work of God. Local Christians will be appropriately reticent to claim too much for fear of drawing undue attention on themselves and away from the God whose grace keeps the church in good times and bad. But now is a time for giving thanks. To God be the glory, great things he has done!

“The hardened heart of Boston was at least chipped at this past weekend,” wrote Jessica Kent, a student at Emerson College in Boston who attended the conference, “and only God knows if this is really the beginning of a long-awaited thaw.”

Photos by Scotland Huber

  • Danny

    One from our 330 year old congregation shared the following. He is brand new to our “brand” of the Christian faith, and the first time at an event like this:
    “On Sunday, I was thinking of a way that I could convey to my wife and children my impressions regarding the conference experience with some emphasis on being with the other attendees, here’s what I came up with:

    Coldness was replaced with Warmth…
    Rudeness was replaced with Respect…
    Callousness was replaced with Caring…
    Arrogance was replaced with Humility…
    Hopelessness was replaced with Joy…
    Indifference was replaced with Passion…
    Uncertainty was replaced with Faith…
    I could go on and on, it was as if I had stepped into another dimension. The conference gave me Hope. Hope for me, hope for my family, hope for First Church of Christ, hope for Christianity. Hope that people still can care about and Love one another.”

  • Brandon

    Amen, Danny!

    TGCNE was one of the most beautiful expressions of the church I have ever experienced. It was so encouraging to see Christians from around New England gathered together for the gospel and to know that we are not alone. Thanks so much to Justin Ruddy and everyone who invested so much in the weekend. And great work on the photos, Scot!

  • Gordon A Loop

    This article was so refreshing to read. I served the Lord for 10 years in Boston as an open air preacher, and then left to finish my education. I am now heading back 12 years later to be the new pastor of Calvary Baptist in Dedham, MA. I am giving God thanks as I embark on this journey, and praying with faith that He will use me, and allow me to be a part of real move from His mighty hand upon the church, and the city of Boston!

  • Nick Savastano

    Thankyou to everyone from the Gospel Coalition and everyone at City Life Presbyterian Church for stepping out in faith for all of us to gather together. I didn’t expect more than 300 hundred but was wrong and especially encouraged seeing so many young/middle aged believers. Not that age matters the Lord builds his Church of all ages, but statistically the numbers of young commited followers of Christ is not good. I saw a great sence of unity of everyone being serious about the our Lord’s Gospel and His Church. Let us all mature in the faith and truly live it out with NO Comprimise!

  • Brian

    Conferences with big name speakers are great. I’ve been to a few myself, but a GC conference in Boston is hardly a NE revival, Collin. I live in South West CT, and I can tell you that it’s still dark, cold and churchless down here.

    • Collin Hansen

      If I equated the conference with revival, then I would agree with you, Brian. Point is, even this relatively little conference wouldn’t have been possible if not for all the churches and ministries God is blessing throughout New England. I’m sorry to hear that’s not the case in your part of Connecticut, and I’ll pray God would work in your midst.

  • Matthew Morizio

    God have mercy everywhere. N.E.’s darkness (and a darkness it is!) is a microcosm of so little Light (Gospel-, Christ-centered ministry) in so many other places. Sadly, we have brethren to thank for snuffing out the Light of the Gospel in N.E. … Unitarianism and Universalism are “blowback” from an earlier Moralism robed in Christian garb.

    The Spirit doesn’t dwell (manifest His presence) where the Word of Christ (instead of Mosaic or softer legalism) doesn’t define (Christ’s person and work, and Christ in you!).

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  • andrew harrison

    Amen! This is great to hear. Glory to God! On the other hand, the south, yes, the “bible belt” is starting to spiral downwards. Decades of moralism and legalism are starting to come back to bite us. I actually hear Dr. Michael Horton say that in the future the American south is projected to be one of the hardest places in world to evangelize.

    • Matthew Morizio

      Andrew: Indeed. Moralistic, Therapeutic, Theistic Rationalism has a way of eating away a what little Gospel fiber there might be in the South and elsewhere. Too little Gospel (Christ’s person and finished work) being exalted makes MTTR’s of us all!

      The Gospel alone is the Spirit’s medium to subjecting all things to Christ for the good of God’s people.

  • Verna E. Khantzian

    ** GOOD NEWS … is always good to share…. Very Heartwarming!! Wonderfully Encouraging and Exciting. Thank you for sharing….!!!!

  • Charlie Johnson

    Good article, and great quote by Ockenga… Praying that we will see some great revivals in our day as well!

    If you’re looking for a pastoral position, check out to get a free resume listed!

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