Like a Man on Fire

Over the years I have heard people encourage evangelism by saying something like, "Preach like an Arminian, pray like a Calvinist." That, or some variation on the theme gets play now and then. And, let me just tell you, it's the wrong thing to say. It's not the wrong thing to say because Calvinists are the white hats, and Arminians are the black hats, but because when we say something like that we are implying (intentionally, or not) that Calvinism is somehow incompatible with evangelism and Arminian theology is incompatible with prayer. As a Calvinist I would have to intentionally ignore the great examples of men who were strongly Reformed in theology and consequently passionate evangelists. John Calvin, The Puritans, John Bunyan, George Whitefield, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, et al. serve as wonderful examples of men who were not preaching Christ to the lost in spite of their Reformed theology, but were emboldened by their theology to preach the gospel precisely, widely, and earnestly.

Of course, there are differences between Reformed and non-Reformed theologies, and this can impact how we approach something like evangelism. But, let's not encourage the false notion that Calvinism is to blame for bad evangelism. It's not a man's Calvinism that leaves him unmotivated to speak words of life to those who are perishing, but his cold or fearful heart. Years ago on the blog I explained how the doctrines of grace should embolden our evangelism, but let me repeat it here.

Man’s total depravity moves me to preach Jesus Christ because I know that there is no hope for a man to find his way to God, accidentally or intentionally, on his own. There is no hope of him believing the truth apart from the preaching of the Gospel. Because people are dead in their sins, and are unwilling to come to Christ apart from the Father’s drawing, I know that their salvation hinges on God’s sovereign work. I know that he uses the preaching of the Gospel as the means of awaking the dead.

The doctrine of election encourages me to share the Gospel, because I am assured that God has chosen a people for himself. Like Jesus, the prophets and the Apostles, I preach indiscriminately to all, trusting that all who were predestined to eternal life will believe, if not now, later.

Particular redemption compels me to tell others about Jesus because not a drop of Christ’s blood was wasted. Because Jesus has purchased people from every tribe, tongue and nation we understand that God has sent us where we are, and is sending others around the world to preach Christ crucified with the awareness that He is building his church. Christ has accomplished redemption for his people, and it only awaits application.

The doctrine of effectual grace pushes me out of my study and into the community with the Gospel because I know that, although I may fail to persuade someone, God will not. Because a leopard cannot change his spots, nor man his nature, I am relieved to know that God will cause a man to be born again. So I tell as many as I am able the good news that we have in Jesus, with the hope that God will open hearts to respond to the word.

As we seek to stoke the fire of evangelism it's good to think of Calvinism as an accelerant, not a retardant. So, when Calvinists are calling one another to evangelize (which we must continue to do), I think it's confusing and unhelpful to say "Preach like an Arminian, pray like a Calvinist." However, I'm not simply opting for "Preach like a Calvinist..." either. As I read through the history of the church I see faithful and fervent evangelists who preached Christ crucified to all who would listen, and the one thing they have in common is not Calvinism or Arminianism, but a deep and abiding love for Jesus that burns within them like a raging fire.

Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody differed in some important aspects of theology, but they were united in their love for Jesus and agreed that the only hope for sinners was Jesus' life, death and resurrection. George Whitefield and John Wesley brutally scrapped over the doctrine of election, but they worked together for the spread of the gospel because they were gripped by the glory of God and the great need of their neighbors. They were men, like the prophet Jeremiah, who couldn't contain the knowledge of God within them. It burned like a fire, overflowed the boundaries of their hearts, spilled out of their mouths, and spread to those around them.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
(Jeremiah 20:9 ESV)

I would say, preach like a man on fire. Better yet, may we be men on fire. Reformed and non Reformed brothers alike can share in this.