Thursday, September 28, 2006

Are Calvinists Passionate About Evangelism?

Are Calvinists Passionate About Evangelism?
John T. Sneed

Background

Some time ago I was made the subject of an article because of a statement I made. I had said, on a Baptist bulletin board, that Calvinists were passionate about evangelism. Shortly afterward, I was taken to task for that statement. Dr. David Flick, former Director of Missions for the Grady Baptist Association in Oklahoma , wrote an article entitled “Are Calvinists “Passionate” About Evangelism?”[1] In his article he asserts that Calvinists are not passionate about evangelism. He bases this conclusion on a count of the number of articles devoted to the topic of evangelism in the Founder’s Journal.[2] He counted the number of articles devoted to evangelism and missions and compared that to the total number of articles on any topic included in the magazine. Flick concludes, “There is very little passion in the heart of a Calvinist for promoting and encouraging evangelism.”[3]

A Better Measure

I disagree with Dr. Flick’s conclusions and his methodology. While one might argue that the number of times someone talks about something is an indicator of their passion, I argue that it is not always true. This is especially true in a quarterly magazine. Editorial concerns will dictate what topics are covered and how often. Truer indicators of a person’s passion for something can be seen in what they say and what they do. Are Calvinists passionate about evangelism? What do Calvinists say and what do Calvinists do? These will give us a more real picture of their passion. While there is little doubt Calvinists are passionate for reformed doctrine, we are not talking here about reformed doctrine. The area of our focus is what Calvinists say and do about evangelism. I believe that what Calvinists say, and especially what they do about evangelism is a much better measure of their passion than the yardstick used by Dr. Flick.

What Do Calvinists Say About Evangelism?

One Calvinist that was mightily used of God in bringing sinners home was the evangelist George Whitefield. Hear his words as quoted by Ernest Reisinger, “I offer you salvation this day; the door of mercy is not yet shut, there does yet remain a sacrifice for sin, for all that will accept of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will embrace you in the arms of his love. O turn to him …”[4]Whitefield traveled far and wide, preaching to crowds that numbered in the thousands in both America and in England . Reisinger himself says that “[Calvinism] is the foundation and hope of missionary endeavor.”[5]

John Calvin, the reformer of Geneva , trained and sent over a hundred pastors and church planters into France .[6] Jonathan Edwards believed that a passion for souls was chief passion of a gospel minister. If it is true that what we believe in our hearts is what we act out in life, then the passion for missions and evangelism can be seen written in the lives of such Calvinists as Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and Dr. Livingstone, Henri Martyn, David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, and others. These men and their families sealed their belief in missions and evangelism with their lives, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Modern Calvinists are cut from that same evangelical mold. Commenting on John 10:16, John Piper remarks, “And therefore [Jesus] must bring all these wandering sheep into his fold! And they will be brought in through the word preached by his messengers.”[7] Piper is one of the most visible Calvinists of our day. Another modern Calvinist, John MacArthur says, “Reformed theology has historically been the branch of evangelicalism most strongly committed to the sovereignty of God. At the same time, the mainstream of Reformed theologians has always affirmed the love of God for all sinners.”[8] Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary states, “Furthermore, we must confess that Christ is the only savior, for there is salvation in no other Name.”[9] Many other examples could be called into witness. Since Dr. Flick has called me on the carpet personally, let it be on record that in one spot I have said “We Calvinists need to be the most passionate evangelists and gospel preachers in the Christian Church.” “Let us take our stand boldly with our predecessors and proclaim the gospel message far and wide. Let us be promiscuous like Spurgeon and call for decisions like Edwards. Let it compel us on like Carroll and let it leads us to the glory of God like Piper. Oh friends, preach and preach boldly. Preach and call for decisions. Let us be evangelical Calvinists. Believing God is in control, let’s go forth!”[10] I have said in my church “Let us commit individually and as a church, to do everything we can possible to see the gospel carried to every corner of the globe, starting in our own homes and not ending until the last frontiersman in the last corner of the globe is praising the Name of Jesus.”[11] While it is not within the scope of this article to survey the writings and speeches of every single Calvinist, I believe I have shown that Calvinists, as a group, speak evangelistically and as people committed to missions.

What Do Calvinists Do?

In our world today, we are often challenged “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” Words are all good and fine, but they are only noises unless they are backed up with action. So what do Calvinists do about missions and evangelism? I have already mentioned the Calvinists from the past our put their money, talents, lives and the lives of their families on the line to carry the gospel to new places. Many of these same people buried loved ones on the mission field. Sometimes they gave their own lives for the cause of missions.

Dr. Flick drew his conclusions about Calvinists by a review of the articles in the Founder’s Journal. The Founder’s Ministries is a network of Southern Baptist Calvinists who meet at conferences to learn about the content and application of Calvinistic theology. I note that the 1999 National Founder’s Conference was devoted to the topic of evangelism and missions. Speakers brought message after message on that topic. I personally attended that conference. A perusal of the Founder’s Website (www.founders.org) shows that regional conferences being held this year will deal with the topic of missions, and this year’s youth event is centered on evangelism.

The winter 1997 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to the topic “Obeying the Great Commission.” Southern Seminary has begun, within the last few years, a Center for Church Planting.[12] These actions are from a school that is often derided for its Calvinistic bent.

I mentioned earlier that I cannot survey every Calvinist ministry or writing, yet any overview will lead one to a variety of articles and resources by Calvinistic authors on evangelism. The Evangelism Explosion material was written by nationally known Calvinist D. James Kennedy.[13] Joni Erikson-Tada has touched the lives of millions of children through her radio show Joni and Friends. Through her work for the disabled, she has touched thousands of other lives. Joni is fully Calvinistic in her theology.

I will speak for a time about what I know best, myself. I have been the Director of Evangelism in two different Baptist associations. I have been the Team Leader for Church Planting in one association. I have led two churches to join the SBC Global Priority Church network. I have worked on several mission trips designed to teach evangelism, both in the U.S. and in Canada .

Much more could be written. I could cite hundreds of pages of material with stories from Calvinists and Calvinistic churches of the work they are doing in missions, church planting, and evangelism. Even a cursory look over the Internet would have provided such examples.

Conclusions

Dr. Flick disagreed with my comment that Calvinists are passionate about evangelism. Then he proceeded to count the number of articles from the Founder’s Journal that dealt with evangelism and pronounced his conclusion to be correct. I think I have shown him to be incorrect. I offer it as a given that within every group there are those who hover on the extreme. Calvinism is like that. No doubt there can be found those Calvinists who ignore evangelism and missions or who go looking only for the elect before they will give a gospel presentation. But they are the exception, not the rule. They are the extreme, not the mainstream.

By the things they say and by the things they do, Calvinists have shown themselves to be a people passionate about evangelism. Calvinism as a system is often accused of having a dampening or even a killing effect on evangelism. But this is not so. Many of the missionary movements that are so well known today were birthed in Calvinistic theology and brought into existence with Calvinistic lives. By word and deed, Calvinists show themselves to be passionate about evangelism and missions.

Let me offer a final word before I close. I would not normally want to be drawn into an argument like this. Although I find Calvinism to be a beautiful system of theology that exalts God and shows man his proper place, I am more a champion of Biblical Christianity than of Calvinism per se. However, I am also a champion of truth, and when a falsehood is attached to me, whether on purpose or not, I am compelled to respond. It is for this reason I was motivated to write this article. Whether one holds to Calvinism or not, one must in honesty, acknowledge its contributions to Evangelical life.

Bibliography

Boice and Sasser, ed. (1996). Here We Stand. Baker: Grand Rapids .

Cairns , E. (1954). Christianity Through the Centuries. Academie: Grand Rapids .

Flick, D. (2003). Are Calvinists “Passionate” About Evangelism? Retrieved from http;//www.baptistlife.com/flick/fjpassionate.htm.

Kennedy, D. (1970). Evangelism Explosion. Tyndale: Wheaton .

MacArthur, J. (1996). The God Who Loves. Word: Nashville .

Piper, J. (1993). Let the Nations Be Glad! Baker: Grand Rapids .

Reisinger. E. (2005). What Should We Think of Evangelism and Calvinism? Retrieved from http://www.founders.org/FJ19/article5.html.

Sneed, J. (2002). I Will Send You. Unpublished manuscript.

Sneed, J. (2003). The Exercise of Saving Faith. Retrieved from http://www.baptistlife.com/flick/savingfaith.htm.


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[1] Flick, 1.

[2] The Founder’s Journal is the quarterly magazine of the Founder’s Ministries, a network of Southern Baptists interested in reformed theology, also called the doctrines of grace.

[3] Flick, 3.

[4] Reisinger, 1.

[5] Reisinger, 9.

[6] Cairns , 316.

[7] Piper, Nations, 198.

[8] MacArthur, 17.

[9] Mohler in “Here We Stand”, Boice and Sasser, ed., 75.

[10] Sneed, Exercise, 13.

[11] Sneed, “I Will Send You”, 6.

[12] Information is taken from the Southern Seminary website www.sbts.edu.

[13] Kennedy, 229.

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