UPDATE II: Frank Turk has some outstanding thoughts on this topic, plus a great Spurgeon quote. This is a dialog that will be very helpful to many SBC leaders wondering if Calvinism is the anti-missions theology they’ve been told it is. UPDATE III: Frank keeps it up at his blog. And continues with one final installment.
UPDATE IV: Read the comment thread.
UPDATE V: Gene Bridges hits a home run. Arminians aren’t your problem in evangelism. There’s some hyper-Calvinism around here, too.
[This post begins and ends with the assumption that you will take the time to watch Francis Chanâ€™s video presentation of the gospel at Just Stop and Think.com. Invest the time to view the video (15 minutes) and/or read the gospel presentation at the web site.]
“But there is GOOD NEWS—GOD LOVES YOU, IN FACT HE IS CRAZY ABOUT YOU AND HAS DONE SOMETHING SO THAT YOU WONâ€™T HAVE TO GO TO HELL. He has provided the way to be declared not guilty. This is why Jesus came….To know Jesus Christ personally and have your sins forgiven, you must acknowledge that you are a sinner separated from God and that your only hope is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came and died for your sins. To stop here, however, would be to stop short of salvation…There are two things you must now do to enter into a relationship with the God from whom you have been separated: 1) Repent….You see, there are some things only God can do and some things only you can do. Only God can remove your sins and give you the gift of eternal life, but only you can turn from your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior…..2) Believe in Jesus Christ and Receive Him Into Your Life.” Having seen the enormity of your sin and having decided to turn from it, you then must believe in and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Becoming a Christian, however, is far more than following a creed or trying to live by certain standards. Jesus said that you must be â€œborn again,â€ or more literally, â€œborn from aboveâ€ (John 3:3). This spiritual rebirth happens when we personally believe in Jesus Christ, receive him by inviting him into our lives, and turn from our sins. In other words, we ask Jesus to come and take residence in our lives, making the changes he deems necessary. A person must take this all-important step in order to become a child of God. Notice that this offer is yours for the asking, and it is free. You donâ€™t have to work for it, trying to clean up your life before you make this life-changing decision. The Bible says: â€œThe free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lordâ€ (Romans 6:23)…To hear God calling us, we must know how he speaks. One way in which God speaks to us is described in the Bible as a â€œstill, small voice.â€ This could be described in another way as that tug you may have felt on your heart from the Holy Spirit showing you your need for Jesus. He may even be speaking to you right now! It is at that point that you must â€œopen the door.â€ Only you can do that. Jesus will not force his way in.- Francis Chan, “Just Stop and Think”
This cross is not about you, but about God.
God does not passionately love you.
God has decided your eternal destiny, and no decision on your part affects that decision.
We must not make God out to be the passive Lover of our souls.
Somewhere along the way, those of us who communicate the gospel to others are confronted with some decisions regarding what we will say and how weâ€™ll say it. If you have been influenced by reformed theology to any extent, these choices will be unavoidable, particularly as you become aware that many Calvinists believe the gospel is commonly shared in a way that is problematic.
If you are an evangelical of some kind, and if you are involved in evangelism or preaching, you are going to have to decide how you are going to make â€œthe offerâ€ of the Gospel. â€œThe Offerâ€ is the offer of salvation by grace, through faith, by Christ. When you evangelize, you are offering the message of Christâ€™s salvation as a gift to those who hear and believe.
For example, Paul said we are Godâ€™s ambassadors and we make Godâ€™s offer of reconciliation to the world.
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The most fundamentally sound summary of the Bible is John 3:16. â€œFor God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.â€
Is John 3:16 an offer of salvation? Is it the story of Godâ€™s love? Is this a verse about an active, pursuing love ? Does it mean God is, in some sense, awaiting your response? Or is this the story of your already determined eternal destiny, and no response from you does anything except reveal Godâ€™s predetermined choice of where youâ€™ll spend eternity?
Once you start down this road, a lot of questions will follow you.
Perhaps thereâ€™s not an â€œofferâ€ at all. Maybe thereâ€™s just Christ, and you believe in him, trust him, or not. In other words, â€œthe offerâ€ implies that something is incomplete, and salvation in Jesus is not incomplete. Itâ€™s a totally finished work of God done entirely for us.
We not only have to articulate the â€œoffer,â€ we must explain faith, the human response to that offer. Some will say that faith in what God has done for us isnâ€™t ever an offer to conduct a transaction for us if we do something. Faith is believing that God has done everything for those who are the elect.
Of course, that faith response doesnâ€™t do anything but believe in what has already been done, so faith isnâ€™t a necessary part of salvation in the sense of completing an incomplete offer. Faith is necessary in one way–itâ€™s always present in those saved by Christ–but itâ€™s not necessary in any way that makes salvation complete.
If you havenâ€™t heard this or similar ways of discussing faith and salvation, you will. And you will need to make up your mind about how you are going to present the Gospel.
Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, has made that decision. A graduate of two Macarthur schools, an enthusiastic student of John Piper and recent speaker at Louie Giglioâ€™s Passion â€™07, Chan has made a 15-minute Gospel presentation called â€œJust Stop and Think.â€ You need to watch it, and you need to listen to how Chan presents the Gospel.
In particular, you need to listen to the language and the theology Chan uses. According to some reformed critics, itâ€™s commendable for zeal, but Biblically way off base and an example of â€œthe problemâ€ in evangelicalism.
Chanâ€™s presentation has much in common with evangelism teachers like Ray Comfort and Will Metzger. Chan talks about the wonder of creation. He uses the Ten Commandments to explain our relationship to God, our sin, and the certainty of judgment. He unapologetically says that God loves us, that God passionately loves the world, that Christ died for you, and that God is inviting you to say â€œYes!â€ to a relationship of repentance, faith and God-glorifying obedience.
In the process, Chan says that the cross was the way a God of love saved sinners. He says that God passionately loves and pursues sinful people. He believes that sinners must respond and he urges them to do so in intense, emotional terms. He says that God wants the viewer, right now, as they watch the film, to pray a prayer of faith and surrender, and then begin living out what it means to appreciate a God who sends his Son to love, die for and save undeserving sinners.
Chan, like a lot of young pastors who are influenced deeply by John Piper, isnâ€™t frightened by the language of traditional evangelical invitations, and especially isnâ€™t afraid of the language of passionate, pursuing love. I can appreciate that, because in my encounters with Calvinism as a pastor and a preacher, this was a never-ending controversy: What could you say to unbelievers, and how would you say it?
Here are some very familiar sample comments and conversations, probably similar to conversations many of you have already had if youâ€™ve been in reformed circles. They are typical of the reactions of some critics to language like Francis Chanâ€™s:
â€œJesus died for you.â€ Better not say that, because Jesus only died for the elect. You will confuse people.
â€œGod passionately loves you.â€ Wrong. God is actually very angry with you, and people donâ€™t need to hear about the love of God when the Bible says God is angry with the wicked every day. They need to hear about Godâ€™s wrath and anger. Donâ€™t tell unbelievers that God loves them in their rebellion.
â€œGod doesnâ€™t want you to go to hell.â€ You donâ€™t know that. According to Romans 9, God does want some people to go to hell. Thatâ€™s why they go there. That we all donâ€™t go there when we all should is the good news.
â€œRight now, God is inviting you to give your life to Jesus.â€ That makes it sound like God is passive and helpless, waiting on sinners. God doesnâ€™t do that. He regenerates sinners and they believe on him.
â€œGive your heart and your life to Christ now. Donâ€™t wait until tomorrow.â€ This is rather manipulative and emotional. You have nothing to give to God. You belong to him anyway.
“Pastor, your invitation today asked people to make a decision for Christ, and the Bible never says that. The Bible tells people to believe. Making a decision is something we do, and we do nothing in our salvation. You need to be Biblical in what you tell people to do.” I heard this a lot when I was a pastor, and I gave a very modest invitation.
I donâ€™t want to sound unsympathetic here. Iâ€™m against the public invitation and have three essays on this site kicking it. Iâ€™m aware of the problems of non-Biblical language in evangelism and have written on that. Iâ€™m aware that romanticism and emotional manipulation are cultural idols that Biblical Christians canâ€™t ignore or treat as neutral. Iâ€™ve written an entire essay on the problems with romanticism in worship music.
Many evangelical Calvinists have been able to use evangelistic language such as Chanâ€™s without gagging or choking. Spurgeon was a master of direct, evangelistic invitations. Many of the Puritans were as well, in ways that would shock some of their contemporary promoters. D. James Kennedy is a Calvinist. Certainly John Piper, as serious a Calvinist as exists in evangelicalism, can use the language of passionate intensity in evangelism.
Notice Piperâ€™s language in his presentation of the Gospel called â€œQuest For Joy.â€
Do you desire the kind of gladness that comes from being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus? If so, then God is at work in your life.
What should you do?
Turn from the deceitful promises of sin. Call upon Jesus to save you from the guilt and punishment and bondage. “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Start banking your hope on all that God is for you in Jesus. Break the power of sin’s promises by faith in the superior satisfaction of God’s promises. Begin reading the Bible to find his precious and very great promises, which can set you free (2 Peter 1:3-4). Find a Bible-believing church and begin to worship and grow together with other people who treasure Christ above all things (Philippians 3:7).
The best news in the world is that there is no necessary conflict between our happiness and God’s holiness. Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus magnifies him as a great Treasure.
Now it is clear to anyone who reads this that Piper is a careful Calvinist. He avoids things that would violate his reformed faith, such as implying Christ died for all persons or that faith precedes regeneration. At the same time, he commands sinners to repent, turn, call, start banking, have faith, obey and so on. He explicitly tells his hearers to find a desire to submit to Christ and to follow it. In no way do these commands imply that God is passive or that the sinner is completing salvation by his/her response.
This is solid, evangelical evangelism that one would have heard from Wesley or Whitefield.
But there is also a puzzle. Piper does demonstrates the reluctance of some Calvinists to speak of the love of God in personal terms. Nowhere in â€œQuest for Joyâ€ does it say that God loves sinners or that God loves you.
Listen to Piper in point 5.
5) God sent his only son Jesus to provide eternal life and joy
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15)
The good news is that Christ died for sinners like us. And he rose physically from the dead to validate the saving power of his death and to open the gates of eternal life and joy (1 Corinthians 15:20). This means God can acquit guilty sinners and still be just (Romans 3:25-26). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Coming home to God is where all deep and lasting satisfaction is found.
There are 326 verses in the ESV New Testament that use some form of the English word â€œlove.â€ Most of them refer to our love for God or for one another. But a substantial number refer to Godâ€™s love for people and individuals.
In Johnâ€™s Gospel, God loves the world. Jesus loves Lazarus, Mary, Martha, the disciples, the church and John himself. A typical Johanine use of love would be something like this in John 15: 6 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. From Jesus, to all those he met and ministered to, to those who believe.
We need to decide, did Jesus love Lazarus? The woman at the well? The woman caught in adultery? Did he love Pilate? Did he love the men he prayed to forgive at his crucifixion? Did Jesus command love for enemies but not love his enemies?
Can we talk about Godâ€™s love for the person in front of us? The person we are having coffee with and talking to about the claims of Christ on his/her life? Does God love them in the present? Is the death of Christ â€œforâ€ them in the present? Is there a response on their part?
These are crucial questions, because Romans 5 says:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous personâ€”though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to dieâ€” 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Does the â€œusâ€ in this passage–a limited group in some senses, but an unlimited group in others–mean that we cannot say to an ungodly world that God showed his love for each one of them by Christâ€™s life and death? No one can argue that New Testament language doesnâ€™t eventually narrow down to an â€œusâ€ that are believers only, but is the language of the coming of Christ for the world, the death of Christ for the ungodly world and â€œthe offerâ€ of salvation to the whole world appropriate for evangelism to every person or not?
This is not about buying the worst of evangelical language. Itâ€™s not about saying Chanâ€™s presentation couldnâ€™t be improved or Piperâ€™s improved as well. (See the â€œTwo Ways to Liveâ€ presentation.) Itâ€™s not denying the legitimate criticisms of many Calvinists. Iâ€™ve made many of these same criticisms. Iâ€™m not buying all that revivalism has done or taught. Iâ€™ve seen the results up close. Language does matter.
Ultimately, it is about whether you can look at the children that you see at the playground tomorrow and can say to them all, â€œGod loves you and gave his only son Jesus so you can know and enjoy His love forever.â€ Can we say to all the people we meet this year, â€œJesus passionately loves you?â€ Can we invite all people–not just all kinds of people–to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because he loves them and he died to save them? Can missionaries go anywhere and say to everyone, “God loves you passionately and Christ died for you?”
The critics of Chanâ€™s language say that we cannot portray God as a â€œpassive Lover of our souls.â€ This is an odd phrase. The love of God in the Bible is not passive. It is active and pursuing in both testaments. But some reformed critics seem to be saying that unless God does everything, then he is passive.
As a classroom teacher, I do many things for my students, but I do not do everything for them. They make a response to my teaching. I would find it odd if someone said that giving my students the opportunity to respond means that I am â€œpassive.â€ Is it possible to believe in depravity and regeneration and not condemn Chan’s gospel presentation as presenting a “passive” God?
Is it possible that in seeking to give God credit for all of salvation–as we must in all ways that pertain to the essence of what salvation means–some make the mistake of distorting obvious Biblical aspects of Godâ€™s genuine, bona fide invitation and offer? In saying that the cross is not about us, but about God alone, are we going too far in the way the New Testament presents the â€œoffer?â€ It seems that the critics are attempting to theologically correct Biblical language and imagery so that we are always describing what was done for us and never offering a real invitation where our response is crucial.
Iâ€™m firmly of the belief that we have to find a way to be faithful to the Gospel and say exactly those things to the world that God gives us to reach and influence, whether it be a world of Muslims or a world of three co-workers.
The Bible portrays Godâ€™s love as creator, father, husband, mother, judge, redeemer, and many other ways. It uses the language of law, business, marriage and intimate sexuality. It tells stories and uses illustrations of marriage, families, courts, farms and judgment. The Bible is diverse and exhaustive in its language explaining the Good News.
The most basic Biblical words are Jesusâ€™ first words: Repent. Believe. Follow. They are words of recognition of what is, and of a faith response to what must be. With due respect to Dr. Piper, â€œDelight yourself in the Lord,â€ is a good command, but it cannot replace the Bibleâ€™s call to repent, believe and follow.
And if our theology has brought us to the point that we are careful to not speak too extravagantly about the love of God, something is seriously wrong. If we can read the Prodigal Son or the woman at the well and not see the passionate Lover of our souls, weâ€™ve simply gone too deeply into our own theological mazes.
At that point, whatever weâ€™re defending simply doesnâ€™t matter anymore. When we can no longer articulate an offer of salvation, weâ€™ve lost what it means to evangelize.
I think this is a very important issue to many younger evangelicals. If â€œJust Stop and Thinkâ€ is the wrong Gospel, then we need to have a much longer conversation.