F.F. Bosworth is one of many Pentecostal leaders featured in Dean Merrill’s book, “50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders Every Christian Should Know” (Chosen Books, 2021). The book, which is similar to Lester Sumrall’s“Pioneers of Faith” (Harrison House, 1995), is a collection of profiles that provides a brief overview of Pentecostal and charismatic leaders who played important roles in revival movements and church history. As for Bosworth, Merrill describes him as “a man who wanted to hear from God equally as much as to speak for God and be the conduit of His healing power.”
The book features a long list of names that are well known. In addition to Bosworth, the list includes such luminaries as Maria Woodworth-Etter, Smith Wigglesworth, Charles Mason, William J. Seymour, John G. Lake, Aimee Semple McPherson, Donald Gee, Agnes Sanford, David du Plessis, Gordon and Freda Lindsay, Wonsuk and July Ma, Dennis and Rita Bennett, John and Elizabeth Sherrill, Francis and Judith MacNutt, Jack Hayford, Oral Roberts, William Branham, Harald Bredesen, Jane Hansen Hoyt, and John Wimber.
Dr. Craig S. Keener, who wrote the Foreword, describes the book as “a handy primer on most of the leading figures --- a valuable refresher for those schooled in Pentecostalism and a crucial survey to initiate beginners.” As such, the book is sure to answer questions, fill in gaps, inspire, and perhaps invigorate a new generation in the study of Pentecostal church history.
As the author, Merrill continues to add to an already impressive career. He is the former editor of Campus Life and Leadership Journal. He also served as editorial director for David C. Cook and Focus on the Family. He has written 10 books and co-authored 39 others, according to his bio. Some of his titles have been ranked on New York Times bestseller lists.
Key moments in Bosworth’s life
Merrill’s 282-page volume gives readers a quick overview of the key moments in Bosworth’s life history. He opens the chapter with Bosworth’s dilemma in Lima, Ohio. Bosworth had been asked to preach on the subject of divine healing. He believed in healing, but he wrestled with the fact that all were not healed in answer to prayer. After some reflection and prayer, he concluded it was his job to preach and pray for the sick, and to leave the results to God. He’d asked, “Lord, suppose I preach on healing, and the people come and don’t get healed?” The Lord reportedly replied, “If people didn’t get saved, you wouldn’t stop preaching the Gospel.” From that point, Bosworth began preaching the message of salvation and healing with unrelenting boldness.
Merrill follows this section with two widely known cases of healing in Bosworth’s ministry. The first case is about the school for the deaf in Chicago in the 1920s where multiple students were reportedly healed through Bosworth’s ministry. David J. du Plessis mentioned the healings in the April 1958 issue of World-Wide Revival. He wrote:
Fred Bosworth received a lot of publicity in the Chicago Daily News and other metropolitan newspapers when a large number of students who were attending a school for the death were miraculously healed, their healings causing the school to close.
The second case is the story of John Sproul, a war veteran, whose healing testimony appeared in the Oct. 19, 1921, issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sproul had lost his voice about three years earlier following a gas attack on the battlefields of France. Sproul testified to being healed in a revival meeting that was held by F.F. Bosworth and his brother, B.B. Bosworth.
Other topics in Bosworth’s story
In telling Bosworth’s story, Merrill also writes about:
The book is a compilation of Bosworth’s sermons on divine healing. Today, in 2023, the book is still in print. Over the years, its individual chapters have appeared as articles in magazines. Audio recordings have been made of the entire book.
* Bosworth’s famous debate on divine healing with the Rev. W.E. Best in 1950 in Houston.
At the time, Bosworth was holding revival meetings with William Branham. During the debate, Rev. W.E. Best, a Baptist pastor, argued for cessationism. However, Bosworth argued using the promises of God in the Scriptures and the testimonies of those who professed they had been healed. Merrill writes:
“Eventually Bosworth asked everyone who had been cured by faith to stand. Hundreds arose. After they sat down again, followed up with “How many of you are Baptists?” According to one news paper report, ‘At least 100 stood up.’”
* Bosworth’s Pentecostal experience.
Here, Merrill makes a remarkable claim that is questionable. He writes: “Bosworth spoke in tongues himself (following the 1906 laying on of hands by Pentecostal pioneer Charles Parham), and so did many in his meetings.” Merrill does not cite a source for this claim.
Merrill correctly notes that Bosworth, a founding father of the Assemblies of God, left the denomination over the issue of evidential tongues. Bosworth opposed the view that speaking in tongues was the only initial evidence of Spirit baptism.
Bosworth suffered a severe beating by a mob of white men after he preached to a black audience at a camp meeting in 1909. The racist mob threatened him, beat him with boat oars and a baseball bat, and literally ran him out of town.
*Bosworth’s embrace of British-Israelism.
Merrill writes, “It must be admitted that his theological compass wasn’t perfect. In the mid-1930s, he began to espouse an error called British-Israelism, the notion that the people of the British Isles (and their American cousins) were the direct descendants of the ‘Ten Lost Tribes’ of Israel, and therefore preferred by God.”
* Bosworth’s influence on the post-World War II healing revival.
Bosworth served as a mentor to the revivalists in the healing revival of the 1940s and 1950s. His book, “Christ the Healer,” became a veritable textbook for pastors and evangelists during this time. He also served as an active member of The Voice of Healing, where he worked with Gordon Lindsay and other healing evangelists.
Merrill ends his chapter with a story about Bosworth visiting the home of a young T. L. Osborn, who was living in a parsonage. When Bosworth entered the home, he learned that Osborn was upstairs praying, making “loud and impassioned pleas for God to bless and meet all kinds of needs.” When Osborn was finally done, Bosworth said, “You know, Tommy, the Lord’s an awfully good gentleman. He won’t ever butt in as long as you’re doing all the talking!”
Most of the people featured in Merrill’s book are probably well known to the readers of such books as “All Things Are Possible” by David Edwin Harrell Jr. and the “Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements” by Stanley M. Burgess. If you haven’t read these books, but you want a general knowledge about the important pioneers and leaders in Pentecostal church history, then Merrill’s book will be a good place to start.
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