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Questions: Was Evangelist Rolfe Barnard a “Liar for Jesus”?

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I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Brocken asked:

I’ve listened to a few of Rolfe Barnard’s sermons. Do you think he was truthful with all of his sermons or do you think he was prone to lying for Jesus. I’m referring to one sermon where he talked of being opposed by seven deacons of one Baptist church and Rolfe Barnard praying to God to either convert them or kill them. According this sermon by Rolfe Barnard all seven deacons who opposed him all soon died.

rolfe barnard

Rolfe Barnard was a 20th century Southern Baptist evangelist. Barnard died in 1969. At one time, Barnard was affiliated with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) John R. Rice and the Sword of the Lord. However, Barnard fell out of favor with Rice after he began emphasizing the doctrines of grace (five points of Calvinism) in his preaching. From that time forward, Barnard preached for Calvinistic Baptist churches.

During my transition from IFB doctrine to Calvinism, I stumbled upon the preaching Rolfe Barnard. In Part two of the series, Why I Became a Calvinist, I wrote:

My first exposure to Calvinism came in 1988 when I began borrowing and listening to cassette sermon tapes from Chapel Library — a Calvinistic tape lending library and tract publisher in Pensacola, Florida. I had seen an ad for Chapel Library in a periodical I received, so I thought I would write to request a list of sermon tapes. Most of the preachers on the list were not familiar to me, but one name stood out: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, was a well-known British Evangelical pastor. He was the pastor for many years of Westminster Chapel in London.

Along with a handful of Lloyd-Jones’ sermon tapes, I ordered tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a Southern Baptist evangelist. While I thoroughly enjoyed Lloyd-Jones’ sermons — and I would listen to dozens more of them over time — it was Barnard’s sermons that blew me away. Here was a Calvinist who preached with the fervor of an old-fashioned fire and brimstone evangelist. I had never heard Calvinistic preaching before listening to Lloyd-Jones and Barnard. I had been told that Calvinistic preachers were dried up prunes with little zeal, passion, or power. I was big fan of nineteenth century Calvinistic Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, but having only read his sermons, I had no idea how Spurgeon sounded. I assumed he preached with great authority and power, but since there are no recordings of his preaching, all anyone can do is assume how Spurgeon preached.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979.  Midwestern — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — was resolutely opposed to Calvinism. Ironically, one of the college’s men’s societies carried Spurgeon’s name. When questioned about having a society named after Charles Spurgeon, students were told that, yes, Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but God mightily used him in spite of his Calvinism. More than a few IFB preachers suggested that Spurgeon was not a “true” Calvinist; that his zeal for winning souls was inconsistent with his Calvinistic beliefs. I would later thoroughly study Spurgeon’s published sermons, and I determined, without question, that Charles Haddon Spurgeon was an Evangelical five-point Calvinist.

While Spurgeon was my favorite nineteenth-century preacher, Rolfe Barnard quickly became my favorite modern-day preacher. Many of his recorded sermons were preached at Thirteenth Street Baptist Church in Asheville, Kentucky. For many years, Henry Mahan was the pastor of Thirteenth Street. I called Henry one day to see if he had contact information for Barnard. I wanted to have him come preach a meeting at our church. Henry told me, well brother, Brother Barnard died in 1969. (Henry and I would later develop a friendship. I visited Thirteenth Street several times, and Henry came to Ohio to preach a conference at the church I was pastoring.)

….

Barnard’s sermons made a deep, lasting impression on my life. As Barnard preached the Calvinistic gospel and spoke of God’s sovereignty and grace, I found myself emotionally stirred. I asked myself, why hadn’t I ever heard these “truths” before? Why hadn’t my college professors told me of these “truths?” In time, I came to believe that my mentors and professors had lied to me about the gospel, salvation, and God’s grace.

Barnard, then, opened the door for me to Evangelical Calvinism; and once the door was opened there was no going back. I began buying and reading books written by Calvinistic theologians and pastors — many of them from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Over time, I would buy almost one thousand theology books and Christian biographies. One time, a church teen walked into my study, looked at all my books, and said, preacher, have you read all these books? With great humble pride I replied, yes, every one of them. I was quite proud of my library, a common trait found among Calvinistic preachers. It was through these books and the preaching tapes from Chapel Library that Bruce Gerencser, a one-time IFB preacher, became an Evangelical Calvinist.

If you have never listened to one of Barnard’s sermons, give the following sermon a listen.

Needless to say, Rolfe Barnard made a huge impression on me. Now to Brocken’s question. Was Barnard a “liar for Jesus?” Evangelists are known for their dramatic stories, and Barnard was no exception. His stories would literally cause me to weep. I never asked myself whether Barnard’s stories were true. While I have no definitive proof for the claim that Barnard was a “liar for Jesus,” all the people in his stories are long since dead, so I can’t verify his sensational claims. However, as with the fantastical claims found in the Bible, I seriously doubt that Barnard’s stories were true. There may have been elements of truth in Barnard’s illustrations, but it is doubtful that many of his stories happened exactly as he said.

At one time, I revered Barnard. I listened to ALL of his available sermons. Thus, it is not easy for me to say that he was a “liar for Jesus.” But skepticism demands that I pay closer attention to Barnard’s stories. It is clear, at least to me, that he was prone to exaggeration (Baptist for lying).

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Bruce, I’ve come across conservative Christians who not technically fundie but still misled. My friend who was from an offshoot of The Way ministry believed that if she believed it, it was true. This of course exempted her from all the lies she told me, because she wanted stuff to be true even if it was obviously false.

  2. Avatar
    Kel

    Bruce, I’m certainly not as well-read as you are – one thousand books! I could only dream of that. But I once bought a fine collection of Spurgeon’s sermons on prayers. I literally weeped when I was reading his transcripts – he was THAT powerful, even if I could never hear his voice.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Bruce. But as far as I remember, Spurgeon was still opposed to what he termed “hyper-Calvinism”, i.e. the refusal to preach the free offer of the Gospel to anyone who would listen. He was still a revivalist at heart, I suppose. In contrast, some Calvinists are wary of casting the Gospel pearls before the reprobate swines.

    Also from your story, I recall you stopped doing altar calls soon after you became a Calvinist and started doing expository preaching. Letting God do the convicting for you. For me, this is sure evidence that you indeed made a transition to Calvinism.

    • Avatar
      William

      There are preachers who are not Calvinists but do not do alter calls because they don’t want someone who is too scared to come up to stop them getting saved. Max Younce is one such example.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Hyper means to “go beyond.” I’ve noticed that some Christians (and atheists) wrongly use the term hyper-Calvinism to describe run of the mill five point Calvinism. As you say in your comment, duty faith and double predestination are both examples of “going beyond” — though Calvinists endlessly argue the points. Of course, Calvinists argue about everything. 😂

      Years ago, I would pick up a man twice on Sunday for church. We were both Calvinists. He, however, believed in double predestination. I asked him about my then three year old daughter with Down Syndrome. I asked, “so, you believe my daughter could be predestined for Hell”? He emphatically said, YES! And I emphatically stopped the car, told him to get out and walk home. 😂 Ah, those were the days.

      • Avatar
        Kel

        Well Bruce, a Catholic said to me, him having done some background reading on Calvinism, “I appreciate your branch’s emphasis on learning.”

        Well, too much learning can lead to endless arguing about everything under the sun 😂. I read somewhere that a Calvinist earns his – always “his”, hello complementarianism – position amongst his peers by demonstrating his ability to demolish the heretical arguments put forward by filthy Catholics and Arminians.

        What an insufferable heartless man. Kudos to you for doing that. You story reminds me that Calvinists also argue endlessly about the salvation of deceased infants. One pastor I know believes that infants of elect parents will automatically be elect if they die during infancy – I think he adopts this position for pastoral reasons. At least, he has other people in his mind. (Although by implication, he is still condemning infants of non-elect parents sigh)

        Lastly, I once encountered some online comments made by a man concerned with the salvation of his six children. Another Calvinist commenter lambasted him for being preoccupied with this, and not with God’s sovereignty and His glory. If those children end up in hell, the Calvinist said, at least their suffering will be God-glorifying. Delightful.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Not giving altar calls lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. Of course, there were fewer people “saved” after I did this. Evidently, I was much better at wooing people than the Holy Spirit. 😂

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    Ah, Martyn Lloyd Jones. I went to Westminster Chapel a few times as a student in London to sit at his feet. I was so impressed that so many were taking notes, (late 60s, recordings barely invented back then) and that afterwards, folk stayed in their pews and discussed the sermon with those around them. There wasn’t the usual rush for coffee and a good gossip. It was in the newsheet, IIRC, that the great man spent Fridays preparing his sermon, so if you rang, or came to the door, his wife would turn you away, however dire your emergency. (This was before even big churches had other staff, like counsellors etc.) It was quite honestly my first dissonance….I felt the jesus I knew always, always put needy people first. And we carried an extra rather unique burden,our name is similar to his…cue jokes over many years about pastor hubby’s preaching prowess, and he even got mistaken for him more than once!

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Awesome story. 😂 I devoured Jones’ sermons. The Chapel Library Tape Lending Library would send me ten or so tapes at time. We didn’t have a TV and the Internet was in its infancy. These tapes were like manna from Heaven for me, at the time. Now? Quaint relics of my past.

      We had a tape library too, Sovereign Grace Tape Library. We bought an expensive cassette tape duplicator. We would then copy the tapes from Chapel Library, along with my sermons, and send them to anyone who requested them.

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Bruce Gerencser