February 28, 2006
Thanks Mark, for the excellent questions and sorry for my slow reply. Let me give some quick answers and then I’ll come back and elaborate later.
First, some Calvinists are considered poor evangelists because they are. We could both give examples. This is a point I’ll take up later.
Second, Calvinists are often considered poor evangelists by anti-Calvinist evangelists because they have been taught that Calvinism quenches evangelistic zeal, and undermines the motive for missions, and those same anti-Calvinists have simultaneously mis-identified certain man-made approaches to evangelism with the evangel itself and with biblical evangelism, and thus have viewed the use of these man-made methods as the final measure of faithfulness in and zeal for evangelization.
Third, Calvinists are often considered poor evangelists because of historical ignorance. The standard fare of anti-Calvinism (Calvinism kills evangelism and missions) so often served up in the SBC and in wider evangelicalism is, of course, wrong. Dead wrong and demonstrably wrong. The greatest evangelists and missionaries of Protestant era have been Calvinistic or Reformed. That is, they have embraced and preached the doctrines of grace. Whether it is Bunyan or Spurgeon, Carey or Nettelton or Whitfield or Duff or Stott, that you are talking about the Baptist tradition, the Congregational tradition, the Anglican tradition, the Presbyterian tradition and so on find the hall of fame evangelists and missionaries and you’ll find folks who live, breathe, teach and preach the doctrines of grace.
Fourth, Calvinists ought to be better evangelists because we (only by God’s mercy) have gotten a clearer hold on the Bible’s teaching on man’s sin, God’s grace, Christ’s cross and free salvation the very heart of message of evangelism. Those who have been forgiven much, love much, and love to tell the story. And we realize the depth of our own sin, the greatness of God’s grace to us, the cost of Christ’s work and the freeness of God’s grace shown to us so we love to tell others about it.
Fifth, I well remember your remark to me a number of years ago, that "Calvinists will be the last people sharing the Gospel." I agree with you wholeheartedly and that statement is true at so many levels (again, I want to explore it some more, later). For instance, in the last fifty years in evangelicalism (as its Calvinistic moorings slip) we have seen an erosion of commitment to the exclusivity of Christ and the absolute necessity of the Gospel for salvation. This is the consequence of an encroaching, incipient, Arminianism. It has led many an Arminian to stop sharing the Gospel. The evangelical Calvinist, on the other hand, will be the very last one to cave in to universalism in its various forms, or to accommodate the spirit of the age. The evangelical Calvinist is a supernaturalist and a particularist in ways that the Arminian is not, and thus is less vulnerable to the siren call of the spirit of the age that compromises bold Gospel witness.
Sixth, this being said, the growth of the PCA (and other strong reformed churches like CHBC and CLC and GCC and BBC) is not because we are better evangelists but because we have a better evangel (that is, a more biblical one) and a gracious, sovereign God who is at work changing hearts by his Spirit. The PCA motto has been from the beginning "true to the Bible, the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission." Not a bad slogan. In the PCA though, we earnestly desire to see more adult professions of faith, and in no way are patting ourselves on the back or resting on our laurels. God gets all the glory. The rest is our fault.
Seventh, reformed types (in the SBC and PCA and elsewhere) are more likely to be able to find their converts than non-reformed types (who might have to put out an APB to locate 75% or more of their decision-makers). So, multiply Shiflett’s results for reformed church growth by at least four. The reason for this is that we reformed folk are interested in making disciples (see Matthew 28:19), not simply getting someone to pray a prayer or sign a card or raise a hand or walk an aisle, etc.