Will Calvinism Kill Evangelism?
Ernest C. Reisinger
Will Calvinism Kill Evangelism?
No, it will not kill God-centered evangelism where biblical methods are employed in the great work of carrying out our Lord's clearest command.
Before discussing evangelism and Calvinism, it may be wise and helpful to make a few general comments in respect to some misconceptions about Calvinism. The subject is one that immediately arouses diverse feelings. There are bigots both for Calvinism and against Calvinism. The subject is also one that poses some vitally important questions that are very relevant at the present time in the SBC. I hear many sincere voices of inquiry, especially among seminary students and young pastors.
There is no doubt that the founders and faculty of our first
seminary as well as the majority of early Southern Baptist ministers, were
committed, experiential Calvinists.
The root principles of the two great systems of theology are to be found embedded either in Calvinism or in Arminianism. However, these systems were in existence eleven hundred years before John Calvin was born. Then, these two systems were called Augustinianism and Pelagianism, so named after the two men of the fifth century who defined them. Yes, we call it Calvinism. We could, with justice, call it Augustinianism which would not mean we are following Augustine into the Roman Catholic Church but rather that we are following the principles of theology that Augustine taught. Indeed, John A. Broadus, a great Southern Baptist of the last century, was right when he said that this system goes back to the Apostle Paul. Hence, Broadus called Calvinism "that exalted system of Pauline truth."
John Calvin may well have been the man who first formulated
those doctrinal principles into a formal system, but as I have said, the
doctrinal principles did not originate with John Calvin or Augustine
but with the apostle Paul. Therefore, Calvinists are not followers
of John Calvin, but rather, we hold to the doctrinal principles that he
formulated into a system of Christian doctrine. (The same thing is true of
the Apostles' Creed. The Apostles did not write the Apostles' Creed; the
biblical truths of the creed were systematized many years after the Apostles
were gone to their reward.) Therefore it is a serious mistake to say or imply
that that we are followers of John Calvin. We do not baptize infants or have
anything to do with burning heretics. We can safely say Pelagianism is the
ancestor of Arminianism, so Paulinism and Augustinianism are the ancestors
Moreover, the foundation principle upon which the whole doctrinal system of Calvinism rests is not predestination. No, the primary teaching of Calvinism rests on a much broader basis and one which, it is not too much to say, touches the very nature and character of God. The one rock upon which Calvinism builds is that of the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of God. It is, indeed, this doctrine of divine sovereignty that is held and emphasized by Calvinism, and which forms the source from which every other principle of Calvinistic teaching is founded.
It is important that we understand that Calvinism does not center
primarily on its doctrine of predestination separately considered. Predestination
is simply the outworking or application of God's divine sovereignty to salvation.
Calvinism asserts that the sovereignty of God is supreme in salvation as
in everything else.
In looking back to the rock from which we are hewn we cannot overlook some of our great Southern Baptist Convention fathers and leaders who were committed, articulate Calvinists.
Take Basil Manly, Sr. for example. One historian said of Manly that he played the part of a concertmaster in orchestrating the events that resulted in the call for a conservative convention of Baptists. Manly produced a strongly worded six-point resolution which led to the separation of Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists. This resolution was "passed standing and unanimously." Basil Manly was a Calvinist of the first order.
In one sermon entitled "Divine Efficiency Consistent with Human Activity," Manly told a group of ministers:
Consider James P. Boyce. the principal founder of our first seminary (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Long after Boyce's death, one of his former students, Dr. David Ramsey, gave a Founders Day address on January 11, 1924, entitled James Petigru Boyce: God's Gentleman." A few lines from Dr. Ramsey's address will tell the story that Boyce was a committed Calvinist and that, at the same time, he loved the souls of men.
His love for his fellow man was such that, after Boyce died, Rabbi Moses of Louisville said about him,
Boyce not only loved men, but he loved God. Ramsey said, concerning this point:
Boyce's legacy to us and to our posterity is the biblical theology expressed in the Abstract of Systematic Theology, which is nothing other than his classroom teaching. It is pure Calvinism.
In defense of Boyce's Calvinism, William A. Mueller, author of A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said,
Rev. E. E. Folk, in the Baptist Reflector commented on Boyce's abilities and fruits as a teacher of theology:
Boyce and Manly were strong Calvinists. But they were not alone. Their theology was no anomaly in early Southern Baptist life. W. B. Johnson, first President of the SBC, was a Calvinist. R. B. C. Howell, second President of the SBC, was a Calvinist. Richard Fuller, third President of the SBC, was a Calvinist. Charles Dutton Mallary, first recording secretary of the SBC Foreign Mission Board, was a Calvinist. So was B. H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patrick Hues Mell, President of the SBC for seventeen years, longer than any other man, was a polemic defender of Calvinism.
Mrs. D. B. Fitzgerald, a member of Mell's Antioch Church in Oglethorpe, Georgia and a resident in Mell's home for a number of years, recalls Mell's initial efforts at the church:
I could go on and on giving names and biographical sketches of our Founding Fathers who were equally committed Calvinists and strong on evangelism, but I will just name one more. Dr. John A. Broadus, a great preacher and one of the founders of our mother seminary said,
Let me summarize by pointing out five things that Calvinism is not.
Calvinism is authentically, historically Baptist. Unlike the
liberal movement, the Charismatic movement, the Dispensational or the Keswick
movements, Calvinism is the only one that can claim to be endemic to our
Baptist history, heritage, and teaching. Until this last century with
its pragmatism, Southern Baptists and their progenitors have always been
Calvinists. The present day resurgence of Calvinism is simply an
effort to restore our theological past, which will have a profound
effect on our evangelism.
First, what is evangelism? Evangelism is the communication of a divinely inspired message that we call the gospel. It is a message that is definable in words, but must be communicated in word and power. "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance..." (1 Thess. 1:5). That message begins with information and includes explanation, application and invitation.
The information is how God, our Creator and Judge, in mercy, made His Son a perfect, able and willing Savior of sinners. The invitation is God's summons to mankind to come to that Savior in faith and repentance, and find forgiveness, life and peace.
"And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment" (1 John 3:23). "Jesus answered and said unto them, this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).
One definition of evangelize is as follows: "To present Jesus
Christ to sinful men, in order that they may come to put their trust in God,
through Him to receive Him as their Savior and serve Him as their King in
the fellowship of His church." You will notice that this definition includes
the church. Our Lord gave the commission to the church.
The doctrinal foundation for biblical evangelism is as important to the work of evangelism as the skeleton is to the human body. Doctrine gives unity and stability. It is the doctrinal foundation that produces the spiritual strength that enables evangelism to endure the storms of opposition, hardship and persecution that so often accompanies true evangelism and missions. Therefore, the church that neglects the true doctrinal foundation for biblical evangelism will soon find its efforts weakened and spurious conversions will be produced. The lack of a doctrinal foundation will work against unity and will invite error and instability in all evangelistic efforts. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of a sound biblical foundation for true God-centered evangelism.
Doctrine shapes our destiny, and we are presently reaping the fruits of unbiblical evangelism. The great apostle, instructing a young minister to do the work of an evangelist, tells him that doctrine is the first purpose of Scripture. 2 Tim. 3:16 "All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for DOCTRINE." Evangelism without a doctrinal foundation is building on the sand (cf. Matt. 7:2426). It is like cut flowers stuck in the ground without doctrinal roots; they will wither and die. Calvinists have a doctrinal foundation for evangelism.
The doctrinal foundation of God-centered evangelism guarantees its success. First, because God the Father has some chosen ones:
That sounds to me like a guarantee of success!
The second guarantee of success is found in the fact that God the Father gave his Son, the Great Shepherd, some sheep and the Great Shepherd made atonement for the sheep that the Father gave Him.
The atonement that we are considering is a planned atonementthe cross was not an accident. God planned it. He was not sleeping or caught off guard at the cross. He had an unchangeable, immutable plan, and it was being carried out. The apostle Peter preached this as part of his first message:
The apostles not only preached it; they prayed it. Hear their prayer in Acts 4:2729:
God was the master of ceremonies at the cross.
Jesus also taught that God the Father had an unchangeable, immutable plan and power to execute it:
Jesus makes clear why some do not believe on Him. Have you ever wondered why some do not believe? Well, Jesus answers that question here:
He describes two characteristics of His sheep:
This truth, that the atonement was for the sheep, is underscored by our Lord s prayer found in John 17. Hear His prayer:
This view of the extent of the atonement makes the cross a place of victory, because what the Father planned, the Son purchased, and these He prays for. This is consistent with that great declaration in that messianic prophesy of His coming: "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11).
Jesus teaches the same thing in John 6:37:
Please note the text says, "save his people," not every single individual, but His peoplethe sheep.
God used the fact that He had some people, some sheep, to encourage the evangelizing of that wicked city of Corinth. The great apostle was afraid to go to Corinth, and God encouraged him by saying, ". . .be not afraid... for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:9, 10).
Is this the message of the cross that you have heard? A Christ whose death is not in vain and will not fail to accomplish all that was intended? Or, have you heard the message of a poor, impotent, pathetic, and sometimes, effeminate Jesus who died just to make salvation possible and who is standing impotently by, waiting to see what these mighty, powerful sinners are going to do with Him?
This is not just a different emphasis. It is a different content of the message of evangelism. The biblical gospel is God-centered, God-honoring, and good to sinners. God-centered evangelism has a doctrinal foundation, and this foundation guarantees its success. If your concept of Calvinism kills evangelism, I suggest that you examine your understanding and study J. I. Packer's book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Walter Chantry's Today's Gospel and my book, Today's Evangelism, Its Message and Methods. These books can be obtained fromChristian Gospel Book Service, Cape Coral, FL.
1 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press). This book is highly recommended.