The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reforming the Evangelicals

By: Thomas F. Booher

In my rough estimations, I would bet there are between 35-45 million non-Reformed Evangelicals that attend church weekly and would be willing to listen to biblical teaching, even Calvinism so long as it was presented carefully. There's probably another 35-45 million Evangelicals that wouldn't care to listen. The side that would be less likely to listen is far more likely to vote for Trump. Given that Obama won the 2012 election by about 5 million votes, it should be apparent that if Evangelicals were voting in accord with Christian and biblical principles, they would have chosen Cruz (or another candidate) in a landslide over Trump. Instead they have propelled Trump to the nomination. Consider that Cruz himself said that half of born again Christians do not vote. I've read that only half who identify as "born again" are registered to vote, and of that half only half of them actually make it to the polls. So it's quite possible that 75 percent of Evangelicals do not even vote! 

I'm not advocating a "get out the vote" ploy; that's being pushed enough as it is. Those who don't wish to vote need to be taught a theology of voting. This goes back to the need for Evangelicals to understand something of their own name. By that I mean, they need to know something of God that goes beyond the surface. When that happens and God is held up as deep and wonderful and holy and merciful, then voting will happen naturally. And it won't be for someone like Trump. 

Let's say that there are 40 million evangelicals that would at least listen to Calvinism for a minute, but then about 10 million of them reject it as crazy and un-Jesus like. So be it. But I would bet there's a good 25-30 million that would at least be molded by biblical/reformed teaching so that they would be much more in align with Scripture than they presently are. I have seen this where I teach. You begin talking about Scripture in a careful and logical way, probing its depths, and the kids begin to reflect and listen. They might not accept Calvinism on the whole, but they will (and have) come to embrace Piper's "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" as well as "God's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever." Now we know that the consistent application of that leads to election, reprobation, total depravity, irresistible grace, all that good stuff. I've told my students as much. They may wrestle with that reality, and wish to embrace glorifying God chiefly without having to affirm election or the total loss of free will. What then? Did I fail? Is that a useless endeavor? Should we dismiss them as rubble or hard-hearted haters of the truth? No. We should realize that such people are becoming more and more like a John or Charles Wesley. And imagine if today's shallow-thinking but faithfully-church-attending Evangelical went from what they are to a John or Charles Wesley? Think how that would influence the music in the church service, and you will begin to see that Calvinism will rear it's beautiful head through their praise, thoughts, and lives. That would still reform the churches to an extent, and praise God for incrementalism! They would also be quicker to support a Ted Cruz type candidate, and wouldn't be supporting he-who-must-not-be-named-again. 

So in short, we need to think of creative ways to reach non-Calvinists with a thoughtful, loving, rich Calvinism. We need to do something like John Piper has been doing, without mixing ourselves to the same degree with some of the people he is doing it with. That just confuses things and diminishes the shine and truth of his message. If Andy Stanley is going to speak right after John Piper at a Passion Conference (I've been to two of them), then it can give the impression that the two really aren't speaking two different messages. But believe me, there's quite a bit of difference. 

So if we must keep a healthy degree of distance and disassociation (perhaps not total) with the Evangelical leaders, how can we reach out to the Evangelicals? Knocking on their door is one way, being more conversant in general with them, at work, at church, at the grocery store, at a rally, at the Christian school, in the homeschooling group, etc., all are beneficial. Yet we need to realize that conversion doesn't usually happen quickly, to salvation in Christ or to the sovereignty of Christ in salvation. Patience saturated with prayer, thoughtfulness joined to theology must win the day. This doesn't mean hiding your theology or diminishing the truth one iota. It may mean that you present Reformed theology through a non-Reformed grid to help them understand it. It may mean you don't always refer to Reformed theology as Reformed theology, but simply as the right interpretation of God's Word. That's what we care about anyways, right? 

Then there's Facebook. I've said it's become a mirror room for me, where I find like-minded Reformed believers everywhere, and that's about it. Usually what we say we already know and it's just a little bit encouraging, or maybe we disagree with some minor point of doctrine and have fun (or frustration) arguing about that. We need that, but more importantly we need to reach out to Evangelicals. I strongly believe that, and I've failed at that. My Tulip Driven Life Facebook page is going to become a place where I seek to draw non-Reformed Evangelicals through book promotions and boosted posts catered just to them. Then they can join the conversation. 

But, I must admit, I've seen what happens to free will folk who comment on my page. They get crucified by the Calvinists, in a mean-spirited and ungracious way, virtually without fail. The Evangelicals are seen as the enemy. Look, some of them might be, some of them might be false teachers, and many might be unconverted. But many are converted, and besides, doesn't Christ say to love our enemies? Shouldn't we love them especially with the truth of God's Word, with the gospel? We need to repent and do better at this. 

I think in our society, and where I am in the Bible belt, reaching Evangelicals needs to occur through things like Reformed bookstores and Reformed Bible Institutes. I hope, Lord willing, to start both of these someday. You probably won't get Bob and Sally to darken the doors of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church, simply because it uses big words and is "Presbyterian" (which is also a big word, a double evil). I know of a lady who asked me for advice on a good church, and when I recommended a Presbyterian one, she informed me that that wouldn't work precisely because her husband wouldn't go for a church that didn't sound like "Christ Community Church" or the like. And while we need street preachers to proclaim the gospel, those means are not going to be as effective for the evangelical who already thinks he or she knows the gospel and is converted. These Evangelicals will check out a Christian bookstore in a heartbeat (and may leave just as quick when all I offer is Reformed stuff), and that's where we have to hook them. We have to be the owners, or frequenters, of these kinds of stores, and converse with our non-Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ, face-to-face, with love, about the Sovereignty of God. We have to converse with them about how God's Word applies to all areas and facets of life. We have to tell them that expositional preaching is biblical preaching, and that there pastor probably doesn't do that and cherry picks verses out of context to fix a "felt-need" rather than a real need -- which is to see that while we are great sinners, Christ is an even greater Savior. We don't need life enhancement, we need new life. We don't need to get rid of the problems around us, but the sin within us. We need to introduce the concepts of mortification without using that big bad word at first. We need to pray that through these means, God would bring revival.  

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

I'll have more posts on Reforming Evangelicalism, so please follow the blog, the Facebook page for it, and stay tuned. You can also read my first post in this series here