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Considering R.C. Sproul


It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they build the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But in the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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In the next two chapters of Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle discusses biblical methods of evangelism and personal techniques which reveals something of a (good) tension. The methods that we use should be biblical, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all use the same method. Or that each of us won’t use the same method each time we bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Scripture includes God’s passion for His glory in the salvation of sinners which includes our bearing witness to Christ’s person and work for that salvation. If Scripture is our norm or authority (it is!), then it reveals to us methods of evangelism. We should pay attention to the contexts of those examples of evangelism as well as how they parties involved interacted with those who don’t believe. Some of them came to faith, and others did not.

Not everyone Paul and Peter (and Stephen among others) shared their faith with came to faith. We should not expect everyone we share our faith with to come to faith either. We should have realistic expectations.

One of the examples Bechtle brings us is from 2 Kings 7 dealing with the lepers who discover Israel’s enemies had been defeated and tell the people starving in Samaria. I struggle with this example. I agree with his premise: evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” A number of others have made this assertion. They are reporting a redemptive act on Israel’s behalf. I guess I struggle with this as an earthly deliverance. It really isn’t the gospel so much as a type or foreshadowing. He needed to develop this further to show how this earthly deliverance connects with God’s covenant faithfulness revealed in Christ who died for our sins and kept the law for us. This is an example of the ‘imperfect witness’ he discusses next.

What I’m saying is this. At times Bechtle himself is not really clear about what the gospel actually is. For instance, later in this chapter he misses or neglects the reality of the double imputation I mentioned above: His bearing our sin and giving us His righteousness. Salvation is not less than forgiveness but more than that. It is about pardon and being declared righteous (not simply innocent). We are imperfect witnesses, and won’t say everything right. He still sin, and we don’t always use the right words. In a book we can’t include everything (this intends to be a short book, not a tome). But we should be as clear as possible.

We evangelize as justified people, not people seeing to be justified. We are righteous and have an established, unchangeable status with God. We are not trying to earn said status. This means, in part, that we can be honest about our sin including sin toward those we want to tell about Christ. That very sin may be what opens the door to talk about Christ’s work for us. We should be authentic, not used car salesmen, who own up to our weakness and struggle but rely on the supreme and sufficient Savior. Bearing witness has an objective aspect (what Christ has done for sinners), and a subjective aspect (our testimony about how Christ worked in my life).

“We’re not saved from every problem; we’re given his strength to face them, his presence to walk with us through them, and his patience to help us grow in the midst of them.”

One way of thinking about evangelism is to introduce mutual friends. Bechtle notes that we often go by personal recommendations when looking for someone to fix our car or home and a doctor to help us with a health problem. We aren’t selling a product, but recommending a person. We can’t make the person entrust themselves to Christ.We persuade, extolling His virtues and connecting them with their needs.

He mentions some pictures of this persuasion: salt, seed and light. In terms of salt he mentions that we often present the gospel in small doses, numerous conversations. We want to make them thirsty, preserve them (restraining sin) and provide some flavor. Too much salt hinders growth. In terms of light we reflect the light of Christ, shine on Christ instead of self. Seed is something we sow, but it grows apart from our work. We only control an environment. Not all the seed will grow. Growth, or harvest, takes time. It is not immediate. All of these pictures remind us to relax. Don’t focus on results so much as the process.

In our current culture we should be aware of the loss of civility. Being salt and light means being gentle and respectful, not forceful and angry. We can be passionate, but also humble. We can’t be so worked up about moral issues that we forget our own need for the Savior.

By knowing the people around us, we can speak to them during or after the “earthquakes” that take place in their lives. They all have them. You have to be there beforehand to gain trust. He notes that often we put up obstacles, thinking that being a good witness is filling our cubicles with “Christian posters” or knick knacks. We don’t have to force Jesus into every water cooler conversation. But we can and should “build relationships with fellow employees based on the common ground found in our daily tasks.” The same is true for neighbors. I don’t walk around spouting off Scripture verses. I’m building relationships with some based on common interests. We are intended to live among the lost, and you do. You may not like it and may run from it. Salt, seeds and light must be present to make an impact. As I recently told my congregation, you are here for the gospel. That “here” is home, office, neighborhood etc. But God placed you “here” for the gospel.

In the next chapter Bechtle reminds us that not only will one size not fit all for us, it won’t for the opportunities we have to share the gospel. A hammer is very helpful if you are driving (or pulling) nails. It is not so helpful for driving screws, cutting wood or wires, laying concrete etc. You need a tool box of evangelism techniques to share the gospel with the various people you know in the many different contexts. You should be building your tool box as a result. It is helpful to be familiar with evangelism explosion, the bridge illustration, the Romans Road, Two Ways to Live, the Great Story (creation, fall, redemption & glory), cultural connections (the trending section on FB to know what is going on), etc. The better you understand the Bible, the better you’ll be able to communicate it to people in a gracious way that meets their circumstances. You don’t want to be one of those people relying on a 12-in-1 tool all your life (helpful in emergencies but not too good for intentional and varied work- if that is all your contractor has, get a new contractor). Some will “fit” you better. Know your limitations, as Dirty Harry advised. Set healthy boundaries in light of your resources and limitations.

Who you are may also shape the means of evangelism. You could use these methods and techniques in street preaching or blogging. They are very different, and not for everyone. Engage in evangelism using the gifts and interests God gave you even as you share about your weaknesses, struggles and needs.

This is moving us from sales pitches to customer service. It also moves us from expert to information gatherer. Learn from the people you want to share with. Ask about their work or hobby. That is part of relationship building, but also gaining knowledge you can use in the future in other relationships. Be a person who grows in wisdom and favor with God and man. This will make you someone more comfortable with and likely to engage in evangelism.


In the midst of his discussion in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle asks what they would do.

You might think he’s speaking about the people with whom you are sharing the gospel. Or other people, like those extroverts, who use other methods.

He’s really thinking about Jesus and Satan. In two separate chapters he addresses each respectively.

The first of the two chapters focuses on how Jesus interacted with people. There are some speculative questions, just to prompt thoughts. I have no idea if Jesus would go on TV, and don’t actually find it to be a helpful question (Bechtle isn’t focusing on that so this is not a criticism of him).

He does go to the fact that Jesus “came eating and drinking”, essentially doing things that the religious people of His day looked down upon. If Jesus showed up on TV, it wouldn’t be TBN. It might be CNN to talk to Larry King.

Bechtle has 2 assumptions: Jesus wants to impact people eternally, and He’ll use appropriate methods to do that.

What do we see Him doing?

  1. Jesus went about His daily life and ministered to the people He met. While on a mission, Jesus wasn’t necessarily like a missionary. But for 3 years Jesus was an itinerant rabbi. He focused on His disciples. But there were times when He traveled the countryside speaking to crowds. Most of the time was ordinary. He encountered people in every day life, like the woman at the well, and talked with them.
  2. He met people where they were and moved them closer to God. He went to them. He didn’t set up an office, or booth like Lucy the 5-cent psychiatrist. He found them. “Jesus’s goal was the same- to love people and move them a step closer to knowing God.”
  3. He prayed for God to work through Him. We see Jesus taking time to pray. Fully human, Jesus relied upon the Holy Spirit in His ministry just as you and I are supposed to. As “the perfect man” He was perfectly dependent upon the Father expressed in prayer.

“His philosophy of evangelism seemed to be, ‘Love people and talk to them.'”

Bechtle then applies this to us in the 21st century.

  1. Minister to the people you encounter while going about your daily life. Perhaps you need to pray to see the ministry opportunities available to you every day. The person in the cubicle next to you that is going through a rough patch. Your neighbor with ordinary problems. Jesus simply lived in proximity to people. So do you. See those ordinary encounters or interactions as appointments. Maybe you simplify your life. Live closer to work or church so you have more time. You don’t need to meet every need you come across (we are often driven by what the media thinks is important). But be open-hearted toward those in your path.
  2. Meet people where they are and help move them closer to God. Yes, that is odd terminology if we want to be overly theological. Yes, you are either in Adam or in Christ. We are talking about the process of evangelism. Engage them on one pertinent issue that comes up. Not every conversation turns into the 4 Spiritual Laws. You may just listen to them to better understand them, but willingly engage people.

He spends time talking about listening. We aren’t listening to challenge them, but to love them (which may include challenging their thinking at times). Listening builds trust as well as understanding. It is interesting to ask people about their jobs, most of the time. But you learn things about people, ideas, areas of knowledge. Listen to love.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1

Bechtle then turns the table, so to speak. He talks about what Satan does in order to keep us from bearing witness or being effective in bearing witness.

11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2

27 and give no opportunity to the devil.  Ephesians 4

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5

If we pay attention to the NT, we see that Paul wants us to aware of Satan’s strategies. If we are aware of them we won’t be surprised or ambushed.

  1. He wants to keep us distracted. Whether it is focused on method, our sin, entertainment … Anything but bearing witness. It is easy to distract most of us.
  2. He wants to keep us divided. He wants us fighting about methods instead of actually doing evangelism. He wants us to bicker over just about anything: the color of the carpet, instruments and style of music in worship, how to administer communion, etc. He stirs up pride and envy.
  3. He wants to keep us deceived. While we have the mind of Christ, our justified minds are still being sanctified or renewed. There are lies we can believe that keep us from evangelizing others. It could be hyper-Calvinism. It could be racism (see Jonah). There are lots of ways he can deceive us so we don’t bear witness. One Bechtle mentions is focusing on Satan’s power instead of God’s infinitely greater power.
  4. He wants us to be discouraged. He does this with unrealistic expectations. Reminding us of our sins and mistakes so we feel like failures.

In keeping with this overall strategies, Bechtle offers 10 ways Satan schemes to disrupt our efforts.

  1. He tempts us to sin. Whether or not we actually sin, the reality of our corruption is exposed and we can be paralyzed by guilt and shame. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.
  2. He works against and outwits us. He knows our weaknesses and patterns. We need to be aware too, so we’ll know the places he’ll strike.
  3. He appeals to our pride. This the “mother of all sins”. One manifestation is seeking to be liked and respected. Our pride will take offense at any slight and detour evangelism. We should be humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand, remembering that He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
  4. He lies. It is his native tongue. We need to know the truth better so we can spot the lies.
  5. He works on our hearts, manipulating our emotions and passions. Scripture reminds us to guard our hearts lest it be tainted by bitterness.
  6. He convinces us to be friends with the world. This means we’ll minimize sin and participate in sin w/out a thought. We are to be friends with God who loved us and gave Himself for us. The world doesn’t love us and give itself for us, but kills us if we oppose it.
  7. He engages in battle against us. Put on that armor: truth, faith, peace, righteousness, salvation, the Word & Spirit and get to fighting.
  8. He pretends to be an angel of light. This is part of the deception. He can distract us with “good causes” that are keeping us from the main fight. The gospel does have social implications, but if we make them the main issue we’ve lost.
  9. He’s vigilant. Be watchful too!
  10. He interferes with our ministry. He’s like the heel in wrestling who cheats whenever the ref isn’t looking. Expect it at every turn. Don’t give up but keep trying.

“Resisting the devil means learning how our enemy works and taking offensive and defensive measures to render him ineffective.”

Not the best chapters in this book. But there were a few things worth considering. He could have recommended a book like Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

As you go, make use of every opportunity knowing that the enemy will oppose you at every turn.

Considering Graceful Witness


What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 


Over the course of 2 chapters in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle covers 3 “F”‘s. In one chapter he covers the “conflict” between form and function in evangelism. In the second he covers fear which often keeps us from evangelism.

Form vs. Function

He begins with a pastor taking “greet one another with a holy kiss” literally. Strangers were asked to kiss one another on the cheek. In some cultures this is perfectly normal. In Western culture, not so much. The function Paul has in mind is a warm greeting. He wants to further brotherly & sisterly love in the church through warm greetings. The form that took in his culture was a “holy kiss” the form it takes now is a hug, side hug, hand on the shoulder, hand shake etc. But not kissing.

This terminology would be helpful in the “head covering” debate. The function is to affirm authority in covenantal relationship (read: marriage) in worship. The form changes by culture. In Western culture, a woman wearing her wedding ring indicates she is married. She honor that in worship as she prays and (in Paul’s day at least, prophesied).

“Much of our misunderstanding of Scripture today stems from emphasizing form over function.”

In discussing evangelism we often get caught up in questions of form, as if one form of evangelism is right and the others are wrong. The real question is what is the best form of evangelism for a particular person in a particular set of circumstances talking to a particular person to fulfill the function God has established. As with the head coverings question, there is a particular function that God has called us to. The form that takes may differ. It is the function that matters. But we often focus on form and judge those who use a different form than us (we could also talk about style of music in this way).

I agree with Bechtle that many of our most heated intramural debates are about form and function, or between principle and preference as a friend puts it. But not all, or even most. Sometimes we really are wrangling about the meaning of Scripture. But often enough we are only wrangling about our preferred form of applying that biblical principle or function.

Because of who we are (personality, gifts, experiences, white middle class) and where we are (North America, Tucson, a suburb etc.) and the person to whom we are speaking (older Jewish man, upper middle class, from the Midwest) and where (kids’ birthday party) the form evangelism takes may differ. In this case, it was a simple statement since I didn’t really know the man but he talked of keeping Torah. So I sowed a seed with “If we can keep Torah, why did Jesus have to die?” I didn’t want to throw down with a stranger on another stranger’s back patio. So a simple comment may produce a nagging question in a man’s mind.

I was faithful in bearing witness in those circumstances. Could I have been more faithful? Possibly. Could I have used a different method? Sure. Was the method I used “wrong”? No.

One of the things Bechtle has not mentioned (yet) is cultural IQ (or emotional IQ either). Both have some role in all this. For instance, in a highly authoritarian culture, it would be unthinkable for a younger man to question an older man’s point of view. Even though we were both in America, his sub-cultural presuppositions could include this. We want to further the gospel, not set up additional obstacles. We want the offense to be the cross, not us.

Bechtle lays out a few different methods in summary. The traditional approach (approaching strangers with a particular method like the 4 Spiritual Laws to quickly share the whole salvation message). This also includes methods like Evangelism Explosion, street witnessing etc. He mentions an approach that became popular in the late 80’s or so, “lifestyle evangelism”. This was a more relational approach, and long-term approach. We could fight over which is better. Or we could realize both have strengths and weaknesses, and appropriate places and uses.

“The important thing is to look at the function of evangelism- to being people to the Savior. All methods people use are just forms to accomplish that function.”

This means that I might use different methods. I can’t use lifestyle evangelism if someone wants to talk with me on the plane. I probably shouldn’t use the traditional method with my boss. What matters is making Christ known to that person in an appropriate fashion in those circumstances. While you may be the “only Christian they ever meet” it is unlikely unless you are on a plane in Iraq. So, don’t feel the need to close the sale, so to speak. Love them.

The reality is that you don’t know how God will bring a person to Himself- the particular evangelistic method during which the coin finally drops and they get it. I know of one man who found a tract in the gutter while on a walk. He picked it up, read it and became a Christian.

Who you are is an important part of this. Bechtle tells of a bartender who became a Christian. As you might imagine some in the local church urged him to change jobs. They grew frustrated when he didn’t. More so when his plans to go to seminary didn’t include ending his career as a bartender. His reasoning? “Who do people share more openly with than their bartender?”. This was a good pool for him to fish for men and women. And the church nearly split since this involved the controversial aspect of alcohol. He is bringing the gospel to them where they are, not where he wants them to be. This man’s ministry isn’t for everyone. Sharing the gospel in bars is not wise for an alcoholic.

He then addresses a topic that I call being “inoculated against the gospel”. Some people are resistant to the gospel because of false understandings of Christianity furthered by some methods of evangelism. Many think they are Christians because they walked the aisle or raised their hand, not because they believe in Christ crucified, resurrected and ascended. You have to “unevangelize” them as a friend says. I did this once when a couple came into my office wanting to be married in our facility. They said they were Christians and I simply asked “What does it mean to be a Christian?”. After hearing their answers (moralism- at which they’d failed because she was pregnant), I was able to unpack the gospel for them and they believed. But many in the community were inoculated.

“Finding common ground means we have to go where the fish love and live among them in an honest way. … Most people would rather come to your house for a barbeque than spend Sunday morning in a church service.”

There is no one size fits all method. But a wise evangelist will use a variety of faithful methods that fit the particular situation and person. That may mean opening up your home for Christianity Explored, regularly having coffee with a co-worker or neighbor to talk about life or many other forms that fit you and them.

The Fear Factor

Most people avoid public speaking. They’d rather die.

Most Christians have plenty of fear regarding evangelism. Fear is to be expected. Some of us allow fear to become a prison.

Bechtle notes two types of fear. There is the fear that keeps you from doing things you shouldn’t do. Fear causes us to analyze whether or not we should do something. I felt that fear while I was roped up and ready to slip over the side of a cliff. I went over, and the ropes kept me safe as I slid down to the base of the cliff. But standing in the path of a moving train, the fear means I should get out of the way.

There is also the fear that comes from a challenge. Most athletes and actors feel fear before a game or performance. It isn’t debilitating. It is a creative tension. Many of us experience this at work when we take on new responsibilities, make a presentation etc. It gets to whether or not I am the best or appropriate person to do something. It is not about danger but about gifting. Some people work thru the fear and accomplish great things (or ordinary ones). This is the fear that I want my kids to face so their lives don’t become really small.

Evangelism is about the latter fear (unless you live in an oppressive system that prohibits evangelism). When we try to share our faith in ways that don’t “fit” us, we feel more fear. Don’t wait until you are “fear free” because there should always be that creative tension. “Eustress is the creative tension that helps us to perform.” It is stress, but not the kind that destroys us.

“Fear is like putting too much tension on a string or expecting it to sound like another instrument. Our job is to discover what kind of instrument God made us to be and allow him to play through us.”

It is discovering the best (not only) way for you to do evangelism. This is about intentionality; how you will plan to go about evangelism. Circumstances may arise when you share in a different way due to the circumstances.

Introverts tend to gravitate to relational evangelism. These are to be genuine relationships, meaning you are their friend even if they never come to faith. In the course of life together there are moments to bring the gospel in, hopefully moving them closer to faith. There may even be moments for great boldness or confrontational discussions. But it is within the context of friendship.

One day you may find yourself on a plane talking (likely against your will) to a stranger. You don’t say “not my gifting” but “Jesus, help me be faithful”. You may share the gospel in a way you are not comfortable. And that is okay. Finding the way that best fits you is not an excuse for never using a method that doesn’t.

Our desire is to feel strong and confident. But often that is not God’s goal.

“God doesn’t work around our weakness; he works through our weakness. Confidence comes through competence. Praying for boldness doesn’t mean doing things we’re not wire to do. It means asking God to work through us, helping us to do the things he has called us to do.”

God has called all His adopted children to evangelism. The form will differ. Don’t be dissing someone else’s form. Some speak. Others write. Some speak to strangers. Others to family and friends. Some in their neighborhoods. Others to Sunday School classes full of kids or in worship services. Someone wrote the SS curriculum through which thousands of people will hear the gospel. That’s a form of evangelism we don’t notice, particularly if our view of evangelism methods is very narrow.

He then deals with some of the more person specific fears we experience and that keep some from evangelism: rejection, failure, not having answers etc. He provides some responses to those fears. These get back to the reality of justification, adoption and sanctification (theology matters!). I’m accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if my message (and even me) is rejected by others. I’m accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if I don’t lead many/any to Christ (that I know of). I’m loved and accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if others see I’m a sinner or that I don’t have all the answers. The fact is God is working in me just as much (or more) than He is working in them. God is not in a rush regarding your sanctification. Nor is He in a rush for their conversion. Relax, resting in the love and patience of God.

Many Christians don’t evangelize because of the 3 “F”‘s. Questions of form vs. function, and fears plague them. The Enemy is satisfied. The Father wants to help us discover the best form for us, and to press through creative tension to be faithful witnesses.


Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 


As I prepared to preach on Jonah I wanted to pick up a new commentary. I’d preached thru Jonah (a mere 4 sermons) during a stint as supply just before moving to AZ. I struggle with reading books over again. I wanted a fresh look, so I took a look.

I came across Kevin Youngblood’s volume Jonah, part of the Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament Series. This was a new series to me, and relative new. I liked the section of the Introduction I read on line and decided to buy it.

I was not disappointed. This volume was greatly helpful to me as I thought through Jonah and prepared to preach it again.

This is a more technical commentary, but not overwhelmingly so. Youngblood did a good job of making the literary and grammatical features of Jonah understandable, and indicate their importance to the text.

Each chapter gives you the Main Idea of the Passage, Literary Context, Translation and Outline, Structure and Literary Form, Explanation of the Text,  and the Canonical and Practical Significance. It packs in quite a bit of information. It was understandable. It was not overwhelming in sheer volume. Many of his thoughts found their way into my preaching on the text as I pondered the original meaning and made the epochal adjustment for application.

This is a series I’ll consider using in the future as my technical volume. I really enjoyed how it was set up. The information was pertinent and assisted my preaching. One weakness would be it was a bit light on connecting the text to Christ. There was some, but there could be more to help those less experienced in using typology to get at the gospel in OT texts. This is a worthy addition to a pastor or teacher’s library.