A friend of mine mentioned to me that a series of posts on evangelism might be helpful and edifying. Now, let me be clear upfront that I am no guru when it comes to experiential evangelism. Our King has been pleased to use me in the conversion of a handful of people (for which I’m grateful), but has used me more in a teaching and edifying capacity in his church. So, these posts will be geared toward teaching and edifying the people of God, encouraging them to pray for and speak the Word of Life to those perishing around them. That said, I do have a friend at church (yes, he’s Reformed) that is and has been engaged in various forms of personal evangelism. His thoughts are quite welcome, as are the thoughts of others. Let’s kick this around and make sense of it together.
A famous little book on evangelism written by the J.I. Packer comes to mind. It’s called Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and it is well worth its very low price. Packer’s goals in that wonderful little book are three: to demonstrate that 1) God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are both true, 2) divine sovereignty does not inhibit evangelist, but 3) that it actually gives the only basis on which we can evangelize. To some degree, I will be piggybacking on Packer. I don’t have his book on my shelf anymore, but I have been heavily influence by it.
Right off the bat, I want to clear away at least one persistent caricature of the Reformed segment of the church, but first I’ll offer a necessary word of definition as to what “Reformed” means. I’ve read some folks in the blogosphere say that when people say “Reformed,” they’re being sneaky and really mean “Calvinistic.” There are two ways to think about this. One way is historical. The term “Reformed” refers to a branch of the Reformation that was neither Lutheran nor Anabaptist. Taken in this historical sense, the Reformed include Jacob Arminius and his followers. Arminius, after all, was trained and continued to be a theologian in the Reformed tradition. This sense of the term “Reformed” is not limited to, but is usually found among historians, not theologians. Theologians have typically used the word Reformed in a second sense, a confessional sense. When “Reformed” is used in the confessional sense, it means that the intellectual content of the 16th- and 17th-century Reformed confessions of faith define what being “Reformed” is. The most enduring and important of these confessions are the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism , Belgic Confession , and the Cannons of Dort ) and the Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith, Short and Larger Catechisms [1646-7]). Now, these documents are all highly “Calvinistic” in the sense that, among other things, they make much of the absolute sovereignty of God and the utter helplessness of natural (unconverted) man. These confessions/catechisms hold to and detail what’s come to be known as “Reformed” theology. Now, most people use “Reformed” in this second, confessional sense. I, too, will be using the term in this confessional sense.
Now that we have some definition, I will address a common and very persistent caricature of the Reformed view of evangelism. “The Reformed,” so it goes, “are simply not interested in evangelism. See, they think that God will save only the elect [which, by the way, we do think]. What’s more, they think that God is ‘completely sovereign’ in saving them, so Calvinists don’t need to worry about evangelism. God’ll do it.” Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that bunk. Keep your hand up and make it a fist. Good. Now, shake your fist in the general direction of the person who fed you that line.
The Reformed really do believe that God is 100% sovereign over the salvation of sinners. We do believe that only the elect will be saved. (That, by the way, is not at all distinctly Reformed.) We do believe that God will certainly save every elect person, but we believe that he accomplishes that through ordinary means. The ordinary means of saving a sinner is via the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has commissioned his church to proclaim that gospel and to teach obedience to all nations (Mt 28). In short, God’s set it up in such a way that he uses us. God’s chosen to use his people to save the world, and he doesn’t do it without us. He’s just as sovereign over the means as he is over the end. He will certainly redeem his elect, and he’ll just as certainly use his church to accomplish that end.
The Reformed are interested in evangelism because 1) we want to be obedient to our King, 2) we want to see the whole world flood into the Kingdom, and 3) we know that (generally speaking) it won’t happen except though our actions. Don’t get me wrong, God can do whatever he wants to do. He can speak through an ass if he wants (I think I’ve heard a couple Arminian preachers that qualified… just kidding!), but preaching asses are quite extraordinary, not his stated, ordinary means.
He uses us. So, let’s get busy!
Having given some definition and set the stage all pretty like, I hope in the next post to address how the sovereignty of God provides the only basis for evangelism, and how, without a firm sense of divine sovereignty, evangelism is too often turns deformed into interpersonal manipulation.
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