Calvinists, as we all know, don’t evangelize. Why should we? If God is going to save the lost of this world, He can do so quite well without us!
So why are Reformed Christians among the most vocal complainers against modern preaching which simply presumes the gospel? Why does Calvinism go hand in hand with a rigid insistence that preachers must proclaim the gospel regularly – some would say incessantly?
I reflected on this again recently as I concluded a second round of preaching regularly in Christian school chapels. In my teaching years I preached weekly to all ages of kids, and now I’ve had the opportunity to reprise that role in my own sons’ school gymnasium. The great difference is that I’m not in the school daily and don’t know the kids nearly as well as I did years ago. Neither do I know their churches, so no open letters will be forthcoming.
Still, I assume what I learned before and have previously said in this space: the children of evangelical churches may well be the greatest unreached people group I will ever encounter. It’s true; I preach to some thoroughly broken down men at the local rescue mission who know the gospel far better than “church kids.”
As my own children grow up, I increasingly understand why. Whenever we venture outside the doors of our own church into broader Christendom, we run into a constant stream of gospel-less teaching. “Jesus will make you a better student.” “Jesus can make you the sort of man you want to grow up to be.” “Jesus teaches you how to play nicely with others.” “Jesus is the key to good sportsmanship.” “Jesus wants us to have fun.” It’s the Nickelodeon version of the prosperity gospel.
Such statements run the gamut from biblical accuracy to sheer fantasy, but all have one thing in common: they are not the gospel. It seems like every Christian is running around serving as a spiritual life-coach to the kids, assuming someone else has already explained to them how Jesus saves sinners. But who exactly does the evangelism? Some parents, granted, but experience tells me not to count on it. Neither can pastors be counted on to preach clear, simple gospel messages, and if the kids are stranded in perpetual youth “ministries,” forget about it!
Years ago Reformed parents worried about letting their kids go mingle with Arminians lest they be induced to walk an aisle in a silly, uncomprehending way. Those days are gone. Now we’re grateful if anyone bothers to mention salvation at all. The strange part is that I suspect many – maybe most – of these adults actually love the gospel. Some might be second (or third?) generation representatives of gospel-less religion, but many cling to the mercies of Christ and remember the cross in their darkest hours. So why don’t they talk more about the gospel?
Perhaps crucifixion and resurrection are so basic that we all just assume everyone knows them. My oldest son was only four when he interrupted my retelling of Christ’s death to say, “Dad, I already heard this one before.” If the gospel is the basic knowledge that everyone already knows, do we really want to keep pounding on it day after day?
Some basic knowledge is presumed after a while. I don’t remember any high school literature classes that began with singing the “ABC” song. The gospel, though, is different. There are other truths in the Bible, but we must never neglect the fundamentals of Christ’s saving work.
As a Calvinist, I know why.
The message of the gospel is simple enough for little children to understand, but the heart of man is corrupt and will not absorb the things of God. A person may sit in church for forty years and hear the gospel time and again until he can recite it by rote, yet never comprehend or trust. Such is the depth of our depravity.
Such people sit there weekly in your church and in mine. Merely brushing shoulders with us doesn’t do anything for them. You can take a corpse to a crowded ballpark, but he won’t watch the game. Unless the Spirit grants resurrection, the dead remain dead. The only hope of any person, regardless of his church or family background, is that the Spirit of God will call him savingly unto Christ.
Yet we are not left without recourse. The Spirit calls the dead to life, and He does so through certain means. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses it, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners…” (Q 89). Indeed, the Spirit says so Himself in Romans 10:14-17. That is why we must preach the gospel. Preaching saves no one, but without gospel preaching, who can be saved?
So, as I told my son, I will continue to tell him about the death and resurrection of Jesus with annoying frequency, all the while praying that the Spirit grants him life. This is also why Calvinists – who understand depravity, grace, and regular means – protest so loudly when pastors fail to preach the death and resurrection of Christ but instead presume that everybody already knows.
As for the kids at Grace Christian Academy, my plan was simple: I evangelized them.
Because I’m a Calvinist.