Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Evangelism Explosion, and Calvinism

Mark Dever writes,
"And then came Evangelism Explosion. D. James Kennedy, a native of Augusta, Georgia, became the pastor of a little PCUS church in Ft. Lauderdale in 1959.  He began training his people to do evangelism.   And by 1962, he had organized this as a program called Evangelism Explosion.  The book continues on, in its 4th edition.  It has been used literally around the world.  It is the subject of much debate and criticism among evangelicals.  Missional types dismiss it as a modernistic sales job, assuming too much to be of any use today.  Reformed types dismiss it as one-sided, coercive, or decisionistic.  Nevertheless, neither of those sets of discussions need to detain us as a matter of history.

My suggestion is that Evangelism Explosion (and the subsequent dramatic growth of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, especially in the 1960's) became a quiet, but telling piece of counter-evidence against the stereotype of Calvinism killing evangelism.  Kennedy was unashamedly Calvinistic in the soteriology he presented in his sermons.  He later joined the PCA, with the Westminster Confession as its doctrinal standard.  Regardless of how consistent or inconsistent one takes aspects of EE to be with Reformed theology, a church that clearly meant to be Calvinistic pumping out evangelism, and evangelism training throughout the 1960s and 1970s was a telling argument in pragmatic America.  I'm not sure anyone thought of it at the time.  But I think that it substantially weakened the ground of the opponents of Reformed theology.  A pastor born in the 1920s, coming to maturity in the 1940s may have assumed that Calvinism was as gone as the horse and buggy, and partly he may have assumed that because of the "evangelism-killing" argument.  But a pastor born in the 1960s, maturing in the 1980s, would have a hard time taking it for granted that a Calvinistic theology always (slippery slope) leads to killing missions and evangelism.  There would be too many churches around him using Evangelism Explosion."(1)
I have come across, quite recently, criticisms of evangelism explosion (EE) questioning James D. Kennedy's Calvinism, and method. (2)

Anyone familiar with EE can understand why fellow Calvinists would be suspicious of it. EE is not a detailed gospel presentation that emphasizes the wonderful truths of limited atonement, unconditional election or irresistible grace. Primarily because James D. Kennedy took the Scriptures seriously that milk comes before meat. Deep, wonderful, magnificent, beautiful, doctrinal truths that glorify God cannot be received before the doctrinal basics. However, James D. Kennedy did stick to his calvinist convictions, like limited atonement, by outlining EE closely to scripture (e.g. Romans 5:8). Where EE gets off track, in the eyes of some calvinists, is its insistence upon, misquoting texts as exegesis instead of application, and what appears to be decisional regeneration. The former criticism is simple to correct. The latter criticism is serious if in fact true. Does EE reduce the gospel to easy believeism? I think not. Look at what the presenter asks the presentee. First, he explains that eternal life is a gift offered from God to all in Jesus Christ. Second, he proclaims this gift is received by saving faith. Saving faith is defined as (continually) trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life. Third, he instructs the gift is received through faith in Christ with evidence of, transferring trust from self to Christ alone, acknowledging Christ as personal Lord and Savior over all, and repentance. After this, a person is told to pray to God to acknowledge the gospel, trust Christ for salvation and ask for help in repentance. Clear necessary characteristics of the gospel are preached. The EE emphasis is salvation is justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone--not a mere prayer. Although at times it may seem like it, since EE gets lumped in with the Four Spiritual Flaws of Campus Crusade for Christ.      

EE is great because it is flexible, can be personalized, and yet there is still room for improvement. As Calvinists we can make EE more doctrinally precise without sacrificing its simplicity. But we must stray away from, being too afraid to use the plain language of Scripture or, belaboring doctrinal truths to the expense of presenting meat before milk (e.g. Emphasizing unconditional election, or limited atonement). We should be open, if conscience permits, to use analogies (e.g. A gift for all who receive it) and terminology (e.g. offer, accept, receive, embrace ) that even Arminians use with the understanding that Calvinism lies at the foundation for both.  

(1) Mark Dever. Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? http://www.9marks.org/blog/whered-all-these-calvinists-come-part-4-10
(2)  George R. Jaffray Jr. Explosive Evangelism. http://www.the-highway.com/explosive_evangelism1.html

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