Do you want to know how to make a Calvinist angry? Do you want to know how to offend a whole room full of them? Just bring up the old line about Reformed theology being incompatible with evangelism. We have all heard it, we have all read it, we have all rejected it.

It’s the word on the street, though, that Calvinists make poor evangelists. Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.

We like to answer this charge with facts. We go to the Bible to show that the sovereignty of God is not the snuff that extinguishes the ember of evangelistic fervor, but the spark that causes it to burst into flame. We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all. We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission.

Those are good and valid responses. But, to quote the Bard, perhaps the lady doth protest too much. The Bible and history answer the charge. But do our lives? Do our churches?

When I look at myself, I have trouble finding a clear line extending from my Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal. I can easily draw a line from my Reformed theology to my beliefs about evangelistic zeal, and I can go to history and look to other men and women to draw a line from their beliefs about Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal.

But in moments of honesty, I have to own it: My life does not consistently display it. Too often I am the cliché. I have got the theory. I have got the facts. I have got the history. But I don’t have the zeal. Not often, anyway. Not often enough.

There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.

It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.

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Charles SpurgeonI’m hardly alone in expressing love and admiration for Charles Spurgeon. He had a way with words that is nearly unsurpassed in the history of the church. These words about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer are powerful and challenging.

I very much question whether this prayer was intended to be used by Christ’s own disciples as a constant form of prayer.

It seems to me that Christ gave it as a model, whereby we are to fashion all our prayers, and I think we may use it to edification, and with great sincerity and earnestness, at certain times and seasons. I have seen an architect form the model of a building he intends to erect of plaster or wood; but I never had an idea that it was intended for me to live in. I have seen an artist trace on a piece of brown paper, perhaps, a design which he intended afterwards to work out on more costly stuff; but I never imagined the design to be the thing itself. This prayer of Christ is a great chart, as it were: but I cannot cross the sea on a chart. It is a map; but a man is not a traveler because he puts his fingers across the map. And so a man may use this form of prayer, and yet be a total stranger to the great design of Christ in teaching it to his disciples.

I feel that I cannot use this prayer to the omission of others. Great as it is, It does not express all I desire to say to my Father which is in heaven. There are many sins which I must confess separately and distinctly; and the various other petitions which this prayer contains require, I feel, to be expanded, when I come before God in private; and I must pour out my heart in the language which his Spirit gives me; and more than that, I must trust in the Spirit to speak the unutterable groanings of my spirit, when my lips cannot actually express all the emotions of my heart.

Let none despise this prayer; it is matchless, and if we must have forms of prayer, let us have this first, foremost, and chief; but let none think that Christ would tie his disciples to the constant and only use of this. Let us rather draw near to the throne of the heavenly grace with boldness, as children coming to a father, and let us tell forth our wants and our sorrows in the language which the Holy Spirit teacheth us.

 

A couple of years ago I began to share some infographics I titled Visual Theology. Through those infographics, and with the help of some talented graphic designers, I explored some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith: The order of salvation, the attributes of God, the Trinity, Reformed theology, the books of the Bible, and so on. You can see and download the complete list here or even buy them in print format here.

Visual Theology will return to explore more great truths and doctrines. But in the meantime, Josh Byers and I plan to share a few infographics that look to people—people we know and admire. Last week we kicked things off with John MacArthur. Today we continue with John Piper: The Infographic. Piper’s Desiring God Conference for Pastors is beginning today and if you are not attending, you can watch it via livestream. Any guesses who we’ll feature next week, just on time for his 75th birthday?

John Piper Infographic

 

 

 

 

A couple of years ago I began to share some infographics I titled Visual Theology. Through those infographics, and with the help of some talented graphic designers, I explored some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith: The order of salvation, the attributes of God, the Trinity, Reformed theology, the books of the Bible, and so on. You can see and download the complete list here or even buy them in print format here.

Visual Theology will return to explore more great truths and doctrines. But in the meantime, Josh Byers and I plan to share a few infographics that look to people—people we know and admire. We are kicking things off with John MacArthur. Here is John MacArthur: The Infographic.

John MacArthur Infographic

In the fall of 1740, America was abuzz. Revival was sweeping the northern states and Christian fervor was at fever pitch. George Whitefield, the great English evangelist was traveling through the colonies, and his reputation as a powerful preacher and orator had preceded him so that great crowds swelled to hear him preach. Because most churches were closed to him, he chose to preach in the open air just as he had so many times in his native England. On October 16 he stood in the center of the Quaboag Plantation in West Brookfield, Massachusetts with a crowd of at least 500 standing about him and there he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. As he preached, he stood upon a great rock, known today—appropriately—as Whitefield Rock. And this, Whitefield Rock, is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are tracing the history of Christianity.

The Great Awakening was an unexpected revival that swept North America in the 1730s and 1740s, a sustained time in which God granted unusual response to the preaching of his Word. This awakening was closely related to similar revivals that occurred in Europe around the same time.

The Great Awakening is usually associated with two men who were to become close friends, but who did not meet one another until after the revival began: Jonathan Edwards, the preacher and theologian, and George Whitefield, the preacher and evangelist. However, the revival was carried along by many other sincere and unknown Christians. The first spark of revival glimmered forth in Edwards’ town of Northampton, Massachusetts. As Edwards preached to his church, he emphasized the importance of a vital, personal faith in Jesus Christ. People heard that word and were transformed. People heard that word and took it with them, believing it, sharing it. Collin Hansen writes, “During the First Great Awakening, God worked through men like Edwards and Whitefield to save thousands of sinners. Local awakenings connected through the itinerant ministry of Whitefield and writing of Edwards dramatically affected colonial America.”

George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England. He attended Pembroke College, Oxford, where he met John and Charles Wesley and joined their “Holy Club.” However, it was only when he read Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man and became seriously ill that he was genuinely converted. He immediately became passionate about sharing the gospel with others and was soon ordained an Anglican clergyman.

Whitefield Rock

In 1738 Whitefield traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to serve the parish there. While in America he became convinced of the need for an orphan house and returned to England to raise funds. While in England he was able to preach to large congregations and he soon developed a reputation as a talented, engaging and passionate preacher. It was upon his return to America in 1740 that he preached the series of messages that would forever seal that reputation. For many months he preached nearly every day and often many times a day, sometimes to thousands or even tens of thousands of people at once. Crowds were amazed at the power of his voice, shocked that it could carry to the distant reaches of a crowd, and they were amazed at the power of his words. Where Whitefield preached, souls were saved and lives were transformed.

PBS captures the unexpected impact of Whitefield’s preaching and the Awakening that followed:

Whitefield ignited the Great Awakening, a major religious revival that became the first major mass movement in American history. At its core, the Awakening changed the way that people experienced God. Instead of receiving religious instruction from their ministers, ordinary men and women unleashed their emotions to make an immediate, intense and personal connection with the divine. From New England to Georgia, the revival was marked by a broad populist tone—small farmers, traders, artisans, servants and laborers were especially swept up by the preaching of Whitefield and his followers.

While Whitefield and other revivalists were overwhelmingly popular, they were also regarded with distrust and suspicion by many church leaders. These leaders saw that the revivalists could preach anywhere they wanted, rather than only in established church buildings. Not only that, but they could preach for a time and then go on their way. Division soon followed, with some clergy distancing themselves from Whitefield and others.

And this is why, on October 16, 1740, Whitefield found himself outdoors, on Foster Hill, outside the town of West Brookfield, Massachusetts. This was a rough, hilly and sparsely-populated region and the crowd of nearly 500 people marked this as a major event for the area. And there Whitefield delivered just one of the 18,000 sermons he would deliver in his lifetime. And just like the others, he preached God’s Word and called for a personal response.

Whitefield Rock has nothing special to commend it and is just one of millions of similar rocks scattered through the region. In the eyes of the world, there is no reason to remember it except for the fact that a man stood upon it for a short time and spoke to a crowd of people. But perhaps in this way it aptly represents the era of revivals and awakenings. A simple man stood upon a simple rock and preached the most remarkable message in all the world. That rock stands today as firm as it did when Whitefield stood upon it, and it stands as firm as the Word Whitefield preached. So much in this life and this world is transient, here today and gone tomorrow. But God’s Word is like that rock—fixed and immovable.

Bonus: Watch Steven Lawson recite Matthew 7 while standing on Whitefield Rock.