Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Southern Baptist Evangelists on "Calvinism"

I thought this was an interesting article for two reasons: 1) the article claims that LifeWay Research suggests that 29% of recent SBC seminary grads self-identify as Calvinists; 2) the evangelists are bother both by Calvinism and "Willow Creek-style evangelism" (whatever that is).

What I think these brothers should really be concerned about is that their style of "mass evangelism" is going the way of the buggy whip, eight-track cassette, and floppy disk.

When 29% of all Covenant Seminary grads plant churches as the most effective means of evangelism, and when the PCA has 160 mission churches in existence at any one time, what is suggests is that Calvinists (or at least Presbyterian Calvinists) "do evangelism," but they evangelize in connection with the local church and new church development. It would be interesting to see if these figures (and rationales) are similar for these recent SBC seminary grads.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Lucas,

I have to wonder if the reason that these "evangelists" are so concerned is that they are jealous or perhaps fearful of a loss of power? Since evangelistic meetings like those of Bob Jones, Sr. and others seem to have all but disappeared (outside of Baptist Fundamentalism, that is), these men might be worried about job security.

On the other hand, maybe the problem is simply a misunderstanding on their part of exactly what evangelism is. Perhaps they have just come to define evangelism in terms of big week-long meetings, traveling in an RV and having people walk an aisle.

Travis said...

Dr. Lucas,

I agree with the points/thoughts you raise. However, I wonder if the PCA's touting of it's number of church plants isn't a bit unfair. I know of several PCA church plants that are mostly made up of churched folk and transfer growth. If I remember correctly the actual statistics regarding adult baptism and profession of faith in the PCA is a bit sad. You probably have more data on this than me though. Your thoughts?

I'll call or email about breakfast next week.

geoffsnook said...

I don't know what Willow Creek style evangelism is other than probably inviting people to church and showing them a good time as well as the gospel? I don't know.

But I do know this. I'm a PCA pastor and really benefited greatly from Hybel's "Just Walk Across The Room" video series. He really emphasizes relational and friendship evangelism that takes time, love, and prayer. So if that's Willow Creek style, then I've got no problem with that.

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, geoffsnook: Just to be clear, it was the SBC evangelists who had a problem with "Willow Creek evangelism," whatever that is. I agree that there is benefit in paying attention to what Hybels and gang are doing. sml

Mark Bates said...

I agree with Travis that the stats on professions of faith in the PCA are a bit sad. However, if you took our church plants out of the equation, it would be extremely depressing. If it were not for church planting and the growth of some of the larger churches, the PCA would actually be declining in numbers. Another sad fact told to me by an MNA leader is that we are organizing about the same number of churches as we did 20 years ago. If that is the case, then our church planting movement has not grown. Still, if you look at the stats, you will see that the professions of faith in the PCA are coming from our new churches and a very select few of our existing churches (usually our larger ones).

Also, it is difficult to compare evangelism across denominational lines. In the PCA, we talk about people actually joining the church by profession of faith. That is a much higher standard than someone who raises a hand at an evangelistic meeting.

Bottom line, I agree with Dr. Lucas' conclusion that the old-style of Baptist evangelistic crusades has gone the way of the floppy disk. I think we can point to a pretty rich tradition of Calvinistic evangelism/missions activity, a tradition that our theology encourages us to continue.

Travis said...

Mark, I think you raise some really good points that bring balance to what I raised. However, I'm still tempted to say, "Yes, but..." if you know what I mean. There are plenty of examples of evangelistic fervor from reformed church history that might better serve as a standard by which to judge ourselves than to simply conclude our call to more commitment in church membership is what is causing the gap. Again, I'm not saying there's no validity to your point.

Mark Bates said...

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I did not mean to say that our commitment to membership standards is causing a gap. What I was trying to say was the way we measure conversions is different. We measure conversions by those who join the church, not simply by those who pray at an event. In the old school Baptist evangelists model, they measure conversions by how many people come forward, raise a hand, etc... So, if we are comparing denominations, we need to be aware that we measure things differently. For example, in my previous church, we saw quite a number of people pray to receive Christ through special programs like VBS, Christmas outreaches, etc.., but they did not always show up on the stat sheet as people joining by profession of faith.
Sorry for the confusion.