Calvinistic Evangelism–Introduction to Part Three–The Theological Foundation for Biblical Evangelism

Many of the leaders of the evangelical church have over the past several decades made a conscious decision to bow to the pressure of public opinion. Like babies who spit out their spinach because they prefer the taste of fruit, the members of their churches have insisted on “practical teaching” in place of sound doctrinal teaching, and their pastors have complied with their wishes. Their sermons have been largely textual or topical in nature with little, if any, attention to sound hermeneutical principles of exegesis [drawing out to the text what the human author and the Holy Spirit intended then it was written]. In most cases, expository preaching has become a relic of the past. Even those who have pretended to engage in such preaching have been more concerned to read their own theological traditions into the text than to engage in the arduous task of exegetical excavation that is necessary to interpret the text properly. The result has been a progressive weakening of the spiritual life of the church. Since the emphasis has been placed on the size of the church and not the spiritual health of the church, most churches have become anemic and bloated. What is usually referred to as growth is nothing but swelling.

The reality is that the church’s practice can never be right as long as its doctrine is defective and errant. It is no wonder the message and methodology of modern evangelism is so far removed from what we find in the biblical record since the church has departed so radically from the sound pattern of doctrine on which right practice must be based.

In his classic book, Thoughts on Religious Experience, Archibald Alexander has likened religious experience to the impression made by a signet ring on a wax seal. He argued that the reality of our religious or Christian experience depends on the accuracy of our understanding of biblical truth. To the extent that our understanding is flawed, to that same extent our religious experience will be flawed.  He wrote,

If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind, by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety; error never can, under any circumstances produce the effects of truth. This is now generally acknowledged. But it is not so clearly understood by all, that any defect in our knowledge of the truth, must, just so far as the error extends, mar the symmetry of the impression produced (Alexander, 1841, 8).

If this is true in the life of the individual believer, it is no less true in the corporate life of the church. Our practice in regard to such matters as worship, evangelism, interaction with our culture, and Christian education will inevitably and invariably be determined by the impression God’s revealed truth has had on our minds. If we are at all consistent with ourselves, our message and methods will be a reflection of what we believe. It necessarily follows that no change will occur in regard to our evangelistic message and methods as long as our underlying doctrinal foundation is defective.

My purpose in this section of the book is to present what I believe is a correct understanding of the biblical doctrines that must underlie a biblical approach to evangelism. It will not only include those doctrines that directly impact the message we preach and the methods we use, but also those that provide us with a strong impetus to evangelize. It will include such topics as the attributes of God, his purpose in redeeming sinners and in the proclamation of the gospel, the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, the nature and purpose of salvation, God’s purpose and grace, the nature and extent of the sinner’s fallen condition, effectual redemption, prevenient grace and libertarian free-will vs. effectual calling, the nature of faith and repentance, and the nature of biblical assurance.

I urge you to consider these issue with a Berean spirit (see Acts 17:11), making an effort to lay aside any preconceived ideas you may have received from your religious tradition and let every word be established by a careful, exegetical approach to our sole authority, the Holy Scriptures.

Alexander, Archibald, Thoughts on Religious Experience, (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Publication 1841).


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