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.

Evangelism by J.D. Payne

I recently received a copy of J.D. Payne's new book, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today's Questions. J.D. is a National Missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and an Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism in the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I often get unsolicited books in the mail. If they're good, I'll say so. If not, I don't blog about it. When another book came in on evangelism I wasn't exactly excited. Perhaps because I've been reading books on evangelism since 1993 and while some are great, most are just okay, often repeating what has been said before. I was happy to find J.D.'s book to be practical, theologically solid, and fresh.

Evangelism was written to "respond to the most commonly asked questions about evangelism." But rather than present new and inventive answers to the age-old questions, J.D. provides clear, biblical answers from a Reformed perspective. And, the questions he seeks to respond to are not only theological, but also the kind of questions all of us ask, or at least wonder to ourselves. Here are just a few of the 33 chapters (questions) dealt with in Evangelism.

What Is the Gospel? (Ch. 2) What Is Conversion? (Ch. 5) What Are We Saved From? (Ch. 8) What Is Election? (Ch. 10) What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel? (C. 13) What If I Don't Feel Like Sharing the Gospel? (Ch. 20) What If I Make A Mistake When Sharing the Gospel? (Ch. 22) What Should I Do If My Church Is Not Evangelistic? (Ch. 25) How Do I Begin Conversations about Spiritual Matters? (Ch. 28) What Is The Best Way to Witness to Family Members and Close Friends? (Ch. 29) What Do I Do When Someone Says He Wants To Follow Jesus? (Ch. 31) What Do I Do When Someone Says He Doesn't Want To Follow Jesus? (Ch. 32)

The book contains an ongoing conversation between two men, Roberto, and Mark. Their dialog kicks off each chapter as a way of introducing the subject matter as Mark is mentored by Roberto. I know this approach is helpful to many, but I also know that others find this sort of presentation unnecessary. So if you don't need it, skip to Payne's words for the meat of each chapter.

I really like J.D.'s book, and will recommend it to people at our church. If you desire to be the witness God has called you to be, but have questions or anxieties, this book is for you. Check it out.

Three other titles that I highly recommend are Jerram Barrs, The Heart of Evangelism, J.I. Packer's, Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God, and Solomon Stoddard's, A Guide to Christ.

The Most Important Post of the Year?

Has Steve McCoy written one of the most important blog post pastors will read this year? I think he just might have done it. Read it. Read it thoughtfully. Take it seriously. You may not agree with it, but do not dismiss it. Steve asks,

What if evangelicals hit America with 200, or 500, or 1,000 theologically strong, gospel-centered pastors who start preaching in open-air and public places in their cities, beyond their Sunday morning worship services, at least once a week for the rest of 2011? What would happen?

I know that sounds crazy, unrealistic, and dated to most, but go and read all of his thoughts on the subject. Ponder them, and join the conversation over there.