21
Nov
14

Calvinistic Evangelism–Introduction

I am in the process of writing a short book on Calvinistic evangelism. I intend to consider such topics as the following:

The necessary prerequisite to evangelism
The need to remove non-biblical rubbish,
An examination of apostolic evangelism,
The theological foundation for evangelism,
Lessons from Jesus’ evangelistic ministry,
The standard of evangelistic success,
The issue and goal in evangelism,
A history of Calvinistic evangelism.

It is my intention to post these chapters here as I write them. As usual, your questions and comments are welcome, but please read and conform to the rules for commenting. If you do not abide by the rules, your comments will be summarily deleted.


CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM

Introduction

This title might seem like a contradiction in terms to some people since the common notion is that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism. The perception is that even if they believe in evangelism it is clear they are not too concerned about it. Some have alleged that a Calvinist would sooner fly across the country to debate with an Arminian than to walk across the street to witness the gospel to an unbeliever. They believe Calvinists simply do not think evangelism is necessary or important. One of my purposes in writing this short book is to show that this has not been the case historically and is not true in the present day.

Definitions

Calvinist

Contrary to popular opinion, a Calvinist is not a follower of John Calvin. The term “Calvinist” is merely a theological nickname for those who believe the salvation of sinners is all of God and all of grace. The Calvinist is a person who believes that sinners do not cooperate with God in their salvation in the sense that God does his part, the sinner does his part, and the two working together produce salvation. This does not mean the Calvinist denies the sinner’s responsibility to believe the gospel and turn to God and away from his idols. He simply denies that either the preacher or the sinner is able to produce these responses to the gospel.

Evangelism

It seems the impression that Calvinists are not concerned about evangelism has come from differences of opinion about what constitutes evangelism. If a person does not use the accepted vocabulary and follow the evangelistic procedures and methods that have been established by the advocates of free will decisionism, he is perceived as non-evangelistic. For example, someone has defined evangelism as “getting sinners across the line for Christ.” If this is what evangelism means, it is true that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism.

What do we mean by the term “evangelism?” The term itself is derived from the word euangelizo which simply means to tell or proclaim good news, but that good news must have a context. Before the good news can have significance, sinners must understand the bad news. For this reason evangelism must include a clear communication of the biblical teaching concerning the great chasm that exists between God and the sinner. The sinner needs to know what the Bible teaches about God’s character, his purpose in the world, and his own rebellious condition and guilty standing before God.

Evangelism should also include an urgent call for sinners to obey the commands of the gospel and bow before God’s sovereign throne in humble adoration. As we shall see, the issues of the gospel concern far more than whether the sinner is destined for heaven or hell. It is an issue of whom or what he will worship.

Finally, evangelism should include a communication of the good news that God has promised to save guilty sinners who will call on him to forgive them based on Christ’s redemptive work.
We can define evangelism as the proclamation of the good news that God has universally published his terms of peace. It is the announcement that he has promised to pardon every guilty rebel who will discard the weapons of his insurrection and bow in humble submission and grateful worship before his sovereign throne. Finally, it is the declaration that this proffered pardon is not based in any sense on the sinner’s willingness to return to God or on his believing acceptance of the terms of peace. Pardon is based solely on Jesus’ redemptive accomplishments on the sinner’s behalf.
I plan to return to this definition later since it is critical that we understand its component parts if our evangelism is to comport with the biblical pattern.

Zeal without Truth

It is true that many Calvinists would fly across the country or even around the world to debate issues that concern God’s salvation. This is not true because Calvinists enjoy debate so much but because we are interested in the accuracy and purity of the message we Christians proclaim. It does not matter how zealous a person may about the matter of evangelism if his message and methods are faulty.

Perhaps you will recall the events surrounding Absalom’s death recorded in 2 Samuel 18. There was a messenger named Ahimaaz who asked Joab to allow him to carry the news of Absalom’s death to the king but Joab denied his request and sent a man referred to as “the Cushite” instead. Ahimaaz asked that he might also run after the Cushite and Joab allowed him to do so. Being a zealous and rapid runner, he was able to outrun the Cushite, but when he arrived he had to confess–“When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was” (2 Samuel 18:29). Whether we should be zealous about the task of evangelism is not at issue here. The king’s business requires haste. The question is what message will be on our lips when we begin to tell the good news. Will it be God’s truth or will it be a garbled approximation of the biblical gospel?

A Radical Restructuring

What I am going to propose in this book will require a radical restructuring of the Church’s evangelistic message and methods. For many, this will require a complete paradigm shift in their thinking about doctrine and practice. Such a proposal will be terrifying to many who read these pages. It is far easier to continue in the well-worn paths to which we have become accustomed than to sincerely follow the truth.

Let me try to put your minds at ease by making you a promise. I will not ask you to reject any evangelistic practice or any evangelistic terminology for which you can find precedent in the New Testament Scriptures. What I will ask you to do is reject the concepts, the jargon, and the methodology that is absent from or contrary to the biblical pattern.

This is not intended as another “how to” manual on evangelism. In reality, such a manual would be impossible to write from a biblical standpoint. There is no “one size fits all” method. There are certain factors in the evangelistic process that do not change, but every individual has specific needs that should be met as we engage them in conversation. If we study Jesus’ evangelistic ministry it becomes very clear that he never dealt with two individuals in the same way. In some cases we must spend a significant amount of time instructing people about the character and attributes of God. In other cases, we will need to focus on the worthlessness of their own righteous acts as the basis of their acceptance with God. In still other cases we may need to focus on God’s willingness to accept them and forgive them, their vileness and wickedness notwithstanding. Although every sinner has the same basic needs, those needs do not always manifest themselves in the same way. Someone has said that the preacher’s task is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In reality, the best way to prepare for biblical evangelism is to be well armed with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures so that one will be prepared for whatever issues may arise when we urge sinners to be reconciled to God.

Instead, my purpose is to contrast modern evangelism’s message and methods with the biblical pattern and suggest a more biblical approach to this important aspect of the Christian life. What I am asking you to do is to obey the LORD’s admonition in Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

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4 Responses to “Calvinistic Evangelism–Introduction”


  1. November 22, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I look forward to reading this, my dear brother. It’s funny – those who hate Calvinism contend we do not evangelize, ignoring the historical record that shows most of the evangelizing of the 18th and 19th centuries was by the efforts of Calvinists. But those who hate Calvinism tend to not study history or Scripture.

    Press on!

  2. November 22, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    I’m convinced that if any Christian searches the scriptures concerning the true nature of fallen man, and takes the words in the sacred text for their plain meaning, he/she would become ‘Calvinistic’ concerning evangelism. I too will be reading these posts.

    • November 22, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      Stuart and Dan,

      It is great to hear from both of you. I have been examining the apostolic pattern of evangelistic preaching and have found to be an eye opening study. Their starting point was altogether different from that of modern evangelism. They never began by declaring to their hearers that God loved them except in the sense of his universal benevolence and common grace toward them as his creatures. Instead, they began by pressing the issue of the sinner’s guilt before our holy God whose wrath is engaged against them.

      They never told their hearers “Jesus died for you.” That good news was reserved for those who bowed the knee before his sovereign throne. Their message was that for sinners who believe and repent there will be abundant pardon through the redemption that is in Christ.


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