J. David Pawson (25 February 1930 – 21 May 2020) was an evangelical minister, writer and prominent Bible teacher based in the United Kingdom. I heard him speak and preach over many years, consistently encouraging Jewish disciples of Yeshua to affirm their Jewish identities in Yeshua, build Messianic congregations, and stand alongside their people. He was formative in the beginnings of the London Messianic Congregation in the UK, and was not afraid of taking the side of Israel in political debate and prophetic interpretation.
According to his autobiography, Pawson’s immediate ancestors were all farmers, Methodist preachers or both, dating back to John Pawson, a friend and follower of John Wesley. His father, Henry Cecil Pawson FRSE (1897–1978), was head of Agriculture at Durham University and Vice President of the Methodist conference. From his childhood in the north of England David Pawson had wanted to be a farmer, but by the time he had completed his studies for a BSc in Agriculture at Durham University, he felt God was calling him into full-time Christian ministry. He then studied for an M.A. in theology at Wesley House, Cambridge, and subsequently joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain, serving in Aden.
After leaving the RAF he served as a Methodist minister, but became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of infant baptism. After appearing before a doctrinal committee of the Methodist church, he volunteered to leave the denomination, and did so. Shortly thereafter he accepted an invitation to become the pastor of Gold Hill Baptist Church in Buckinghamshire.
Later, as pastor of Guildford Baptist Church (‘Millmead’, which he helped to design),he established a reputation among both evangelicals and charismatics as a Bible teacher. From here his teaching tapes – originally made for the church’s sick and elderly members – became popular worldwide. Under his ministry, Millmead became one of the largest Baptist churches in the United Kingdom.
Pawson left Millmead in 1979 and engaged in an itinerant worldwide Bible teaching ministry predominantly through seminars for church leaders in Asia, Australia, Africa, England, Europe, and the United States. Millions of copies of his teachings have been distributed in more than 120 countries. He was a writer and speaker with a reputation of urgency, clarity, and uncompromising faithfulness to the Scriptures. His extensive and very accessible overviews of the books of the Bible have been published and recorded in Unlocking the Bible, available on CDs, DVDs, and YouTube. He is widely considered to be one of the world’s finest biblical expositors. As of 2019, Pawson at 89 years of age had retired from public ministry. Pawson passed away on 21 May, 2020 at the age of 90.
In The Normal Christian Birth, Pawson argued that a biblical initiation into Christianity should involve more than the simple “Sinner’s Prayer”. Whilst accepting the fundamental basis of salvation by faith, he argued that the Biblical model of a person’s “birth” into God’s kingdom included aspects which are frequently ignored or forgotten today. He proposed four principal steps: repentance towards God; believing in Jesus, baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit. This, according to Pawson, is the biblical pattern for a “normal Christian birth”. According to the book itself, “David Pawson advocates a synthesis of the ‘liberal’ emphasis on repentance, the ‘evangelical’ on faith, the ‘sacramental’ on baptism and the ‘pentecostal’ on the Spirit.” This book has been influential and is taught at a number of theological seminaries and mission stations.
In “Leadership is Male”, he teaches that leadership is a role given by God to men. In so doing, he criticizes men for not taking proper responsibility in important aspects of family and church life. He argues that modern men too often neglect their social obligations and should return to the Biblical model of manhood. This book’s foreword was written by a woman, Elisabeth Elliot.
In “The Road to Hell”, Pawson is critical of Annihilationism, the teaching that the punishment of hell is not eternal. He teaches that people who go to hell experience eternal suffering. According to the book itself, by “challenging the modern alternatives of liberal ‘universalism’ and evangelical ‘annihilationism’, David Pawson presents the traditional concept of endless torment as soundly biblical.”
In “Unlocking the Bible”, Pawson presents a book by book study of the whole Bible. The book is based on his belief that the Bible should be studied, as it was written, “a book at a time” (certainly not a verse, or even a chapter at a time), and that each book is best understood by discovering why and for whom it was written. It is based on an arranged series of talks in which he set out the background, purpose, meaning and relevance of each book of the Bible, and was transcribed into written form by Andy Peck. The groundwork for this study was laid in the 1960s and 70s, when Pawson took his congregation through nearly half of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament line by line (recordings of those studies are still distributed).
In “When Jesus Returns”, he critically considers in the light of scripture the major views on eschatology popular in the church today, specifically the preterist, historicist, futurist and idealist schools of interpreting the Book of Revelation. He rejects postmillennialism in favour of a premillennial understanding of the Second Coming, so that Jesus will return bodily in power immediately before his reign over the world for a millennium from Jerusalem. He asserts that the supernatural taking up of believers alive at this time (following the ‘tribulation’ period of persecution), so as to join the returning Christ, fulfils the Rapture prophecies; he argues against a pre-tribulation timing of the rapture. He further argues that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a fulfilment of scriptural prophecy, and that prophecies spoken about Israel relate specifically to Israel (not to the church), so that the outstanding prophecies about Israel will be fulfilled before the end of the age.
In “Jesus Baptises in One Holy Spirit”, Pawson discusses the evidence for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a separate event from believing, repentance and water baptism. He argues that a believer does not receive the indwelling Holy Spirit until s/he is baptized in the Spirit, a distinct experience evidenced by charismatic gifts such as prophecy or tongues. This differs from the evangelical view that the Spirit is automatically received when a person believes, and the Pentecostal view that receiving the indwelling Spirit (at conversion) and receiving the Baptism in the Spirit are two experiences with different purposes.
In “The Challenge of Islam to Christians”, Pawson documents the present rapid rise of Islam in the West. He explains what Islam is, arguing that its rejection of Jesus Christ’s divinity mean the two faiths cannot be reconciled, and he proposes a Christian response, based on the church purifying itself. The book details Pawson’s testing of his premonition that Britain would become Islamic. In comparing the situation to that portrayed by the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, Pawson implies that the rise of Islam could be impending judgement for the immorality into which Western churches and secular humanist society has sunk.
In “Once Saved, Always Saved?”, Pawson uses scripture to question the frequent evangelical claim that someone who has once believed in Jesus Christ will end up with Christ in heaven whatever that person subsequently believes or does. (Twelve years earlier, another evangelical, RT Kendall, summed up this claim in a book having the same title without a question mark.) Pawson points to the need to persevere in faith, and to the repeated exhortations in scripture to do so.
In “Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals” (a revision of “Fourth Wave”), Pawson calls for an end to the division between charismatic and Evangelical Christians over the issue of Spiritual Baptism and charismatic gifts. He argues that the charismatic gifts are for the church today but that their practice should be built on a solid scriptural basis. He therefore argues that the two groups should learn from each other, to the benefit of both.
In Defending Christian Zionism, Pawson puts the case that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a fulfilment of scriptural prophecy, and that Christians should support the existence of the Jewish State (although not unconditionally its actions) on theological grounds. He also argues that prophecies spoken about Israel relate specifically to Israel (not to the church, as in “replacement theology”). However he criticises Dispensationalism, a largely American movement holding similar views about Israel. Pawson’s book Israel in the New Testament continues the Christian Zionist theme.
Pawson wrote a number of Commentaries where he goes through an entire book of the Bible in detail. This series is based on the preaching of David Pawson to his congregation back in the 60s and 70s. This series, which includes almost all of the books of the New Testament Books and selected books of the Old Testament, is being added to on a regular basis.
Reflection and Prayer: My most recent meeting with David Pawson was at All Nations Christian College, where he had taught in the 1970s and I had invited him to speak to new generations of students. Always a compelling speaker, he challenged us all to be faithful to scripture and in ministry. His views on many subjects were controversial, especially on Israel and on Islam, but he was well-received and provided memorable encounters. At my last meeting, a year ago, we discussed his latest book, Defending Christian Zionism, and he was polite and firm on his position, a post-supersessionist reading of Scripture and a historic premillennial eschatology, which many British evangelicals have long since abandoned or failed to advocate so passionately and eloquently. His book is well worth reading!
Prayer: Thank you Lord for this faithful disciple of yours, and the lives he touched and changed through his leadership, exposition of scripture, and faithfulness to you. May you raise up many others through his legacy, to love and serve You and Your people. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.