Paul's Passing Thoughts

Helping Tim Challies and Other Calvinists with Evangelism

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on September 29, 2016

Originally published January 29, 2015

ChalliesYesterday, I was sent the following article about Calvinist evangelism written by blogger Tim Challies: How To Offend a Room Full of Calvinists. Miffed by the suggestion that somebody knows better than me how to offend Calvinists, I immediately read the article.

Apparently, according to Challies, Calvinists get offended when people suggest that their soteriology hinders evangelism.  According to Challies, the argument goes like this:

Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Protestants en masse think Calvinism’s greatest sin is weak evangelism, and of course, that makes them very angry because it’s supposedly the last criticism standing. I could start with the fact that Calvinism is works salvation under the guise of faith alone, or progressive justification, or salvation by antinomianism. Pick one; any of the three will work. But I have a mountain of data on that subject already; let’s do something different. Yes, let’s use Challies’ own words in the post to refute his argument. Before we call on Challies to refute his own protest, we will address his take on church history.

We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission… There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

In the post, Challies argues that we know that a straight line can be found from Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal because of history. Supposedly, Calvinists throughout history were driven directly by this deterministic gospel to reach thousands. It is very interesting when you consider the examples given which will aid in making my point.

The Great Awakening had absolutely nothing to do with Reformed soteriology. We should know this as a matter of common sense to begin with because the Holy Spirit doesn’t colabor with a false gospel. The Great Awakening was fueled by the ideology of the American Revolution and was expressed to a great degree in churches, especially among African Americans. Fact is, guys like Edwards and Whitefield then got on their horses and rode around the countryside bloviating and taking credit for the freedom movement tagged with “The Great Awakening” nomenclature.

Fact is, the Great Awakening was a pushback against the Puritan church state driven by Reformed soteriology that came across the pond as a European blight on American history. I would liken Challies’ assessment to our present President taking credit for things he is against when the results are positive.

What about Spurgeon? That example is just too rich because it makes the last point for me. Spurgeon, who once said Calvinism was no mere nickname but the very gospel itself, was the poster boy for getting people to come to church in order to get them saved. That’s important, hold on to that because it’s our last point.

But before we get to the last point, let’s look at the major point: Challies argues against the idea that fatalism hinders evangelism, and then confesses that he doesn’t evangelize like all of the great Calvinists in history because of…fatalism. Calvinism doesn’t cause fatalism resulting in lame evangelism, but Challies doesn’t evangelize because of fatalism.

After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel… We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all.

So why does Challies not evangelize according to him? First, because he just doesn’t, but secondly, he is responsible:

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

He is responsible, but not often stirred. And what’s his solution? There isn’t one, it is what it is; he is responsible, but not called to evangelism. No corrective solution is offered in the post. Why not? Because, as he said, we are responsible, but unable. Responsibility and inability are not incompatible. So, Calvinism doesn’t hinder evangelism, but if you don’t evangelize, there is no solution. Others did it, and you don’t, the end.  Well, I suppose that approach doesn’t prevent evangelism either!

And funny he should cite Edwards. Susan is doing a session on Edwards for TANC 2015 and is studying his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She approached me and wanted to discuss something about the sermon that she was perplexed about. Edwards spent the better part of an hour addressing the total hopelessness of man and his likelihood of ending up in an eternal hell, but in the end offers no counsel on how to escape. Why? Because if God is going to do something, he is going to do it, and man is responsible either way.

This now brings us to the final point with a bonus; we are going to help Challies with his evangelism shortcomings. There is, in fact, a solution for Tim’s lack of evangelistic zeal. He doesn’t properly understand Calvinism and its history. This isn’t about saving Tim from the false gospel of Calvinism, this is about being a good evangelist in the context of Calvinism. If I can’t save a Calvinist, I can at least teach them how to be a better Calvinist. Really, it’s disheartening when Calvinists don’t properly understand Calvinism.

This is how we will help Tim Challies. We will bring him back to the historical significance of Spurgeon using some of his own observations. First, let’s get a lay of the land; how does true Calvinistic evangelism work? First, it is the “sovereign” gospel which means the subject must not be told that they have a choice. This is some fun you can have with Calvinists. Ask them if they tell the recipients of their gospel message that they have a choice. Most will avoid answering because they don’t want to admit the answer is, “no.” By their own definition, that would be a false gospel speaking to man’s ability to choose God.

Secondly, if God does do something, if “the wind blows,” that puts the subject in two categories according to Calvin: the called and those who persevere.  The called are those that God temporarily illumines, but later blinds resulting in a greater damnation. Those of the perseverance class are the truly elect. So, the “good news” is that you have a chance to make it. But, if you don’t make it according to God’s predetermined will, your damnation is greater than the non-elect. God has either chosen you for greater damnation or the jackpot, but I guess it’s worth a try if God so chooses.

But hold on, and this is huge: all of that can be bypassed by Calvin’s “power of the keys.” What’s that? If you are a formal member of a Reformed church, and the elders like you, whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

Furthermore, according to Calvin, sins committed in the Christian life remove us from salvation, but membership in the local church and receiving the “impartations of grace” that can only be found in church membership supply a perpetual covering for sin. And here is the crux: one of those “graces” is sitting under “gospel preaching” of which Spurgeon was chief. In one way or the other, Spurgeon sold this wholesale and the results speak for themselves.

See, the solution for Challies is simple.  There is a solution for the disobedience he himself is responsible for: simply invite people to church in order to “get them under the gospel.” And that often looks like this…

Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

Problem solved. That’s how Calvinism is a straight line from its theology to evangelism—you are saved by being a formal member of a Reformed church, and your salvation is sustained by remaining a faithful member of that church and obeying everything the elders tell you to do and think. But let’s not call it intellectual rape, let’s call it “keeping ourselves in the love of Jesus.” Let’s call it “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.” Let’s call it “being faithful to the church every time the doors are opened.” Let’s call it “putting ourselves under the authority of Godly men.” Let’s call it “trusting God with our finances.”

You’re welcome Tim, glad I could help.


5 Responses

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  1. John said, on September 29, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    Below is a link to the membership “covenant” from Challies’ church in Toronto, where he is a pastor. Do some things in it look familiar? Yes, you’ve probably read about it on Paul’s blog; and yes, these things are out there in the real world. Look out for the Calvinist buzzwords; the controlling “measures,” and the lies. And be afraid, very afraid…not.

    It says it all, doesn’t it? Appalling.

    If you ever come across this form or something even remotely similar, don’t, I mean DON’T sign this thing, and flee from this abomination called Calvinism/Reformed theology as though your life depended on it, because it just might…depend…on…it.

    A friend recently sent me this. It’s a quote from the Zachary-Smith debate, circa 1900, and slightly before my time. I don’t know who said it, but it reminds me of, yes, you’re right:

    “When you get religion, you don’t want it
    If you want it, you haven’t got it;
    When you want it, you can’t get it
    If you get it, you can’t lose it
    For if you lose it, you never had it.”


  2. Ken said, on September 30, 2016 at 9:31 AM

    I read most the link to Challies’ church. I would commend the attitude of this church to want to put into practice the instructions of the NT writers.

    What I do not like is the excessive amount of detail in the documents. I suppose you know where you stand which is good, but I am afraid I think I would like to be approaching sinless and doctrinal perfection before applying for membership!

    Except I’m not sure I would ever want to apply for membership, I think I have seen contracts for jobs that are less detailed than this. I note the tendency to sign up for commitment to the church, but there is not much about the commitment of the elders to the members – it’s all rather one way. I’ve seen this before in churches who are keen on submission to authority. Above all, I cannot imagine any of the apostles wanting anyone to sign up to kind of thing in the early days of the church. There is no NT instruction to do this, to sign a document – so much for sola scriptura!

    I don’t think you should screen people out if they don’t subscribe to your precise theological formations.

    I noticed the Holy Spirit is referred to as the one bringing us to conversion, and the sentence by the aid of the Holy Spirit is used in connection with wanting to live out the commitment being entered into by joining the church, but there is very little mention of the Spirit’s on-going work in the life of the believer. Nothing about spiritual gifts or sanctification, about going on ‘being filled with the Spirit’, about God going on supplying the Spirit and working miracles. A traditional weakness of reformed theology!

    I know some charismatics have misused the phrase the letter kills but the Spirit gives life to set the Spirit and Word against each other, but I can’t help feeling the amount of verbiage here is stifling, a kind of spiritual claustrophobia.

    It all looks very legalistic, which is ironic considering Calvinists think they are the ones who champion the grace of God.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on September 30, 2016 at 9:48 AM

      The whole issue is about authority.
      Nowhere in the Bible do you see believers waiting around for permission to use their spiritual gifts. Nowhere in the Bible do you see believers required to sign a contract in order to be allowed to serve. It is all about control.


    • John said, on September 30, 2016 at 10:39 AM

      Ken, you have some interesting and good points. Now imagine this “church covenant” or a similar one being implemented in real life. Your “spiritual claustrophobia” is an accurate description. Unfortunately, I have seen covenants like these in action: Try intellectual rape, and, as Andy has said, control—with a capital C. It is ugly.


    • Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on September 30, 2016 at 2:03 PM

      “Grace” because Jesus keeps the law for us (“Jesus for us”);ie., He loves for us as long as we are obedient to the “means of grace” that can only be found in the institutional church. It’s works salvation dressed up in “Sola Fide” requiring faith-alone-works as opposed to work works. In other words, the church decides what works are really by faith alone. If you do just those works, Jesus will continue to impute His perfect law-keeping to your salvation account. That’s Protestantism….plain and simple.


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