That’s what Stetzer’s research showed in his recent presentation at the Building Bridges Conference. Every student of church history and Baptist history knows that the charge of Calvinists not being evangelistic or committed to the Great Commission is easily refutable, but alas, the caricature has remained among many who do not want to reckon with it. So it goes like this:
Explain the biblical doctrines of grace and how they fuel missions and evangelism, and if they do not listen, take two or three witnesses from church history with you, and if they refuse to listen, then bring them before the facts and empirical data of sociological research.
So here’s the facts of the recent study done by Stetzer and LifeWay Research:
1. Nearly 30 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates now serving as church pastors identify themselves as Calvinists.
2. In the last year of the study, 34 percent of those serving in SBC churches identified themselves as five-point Calvinists.
3. Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.
4. 27 percent of 1,234 recent seminary graduate respondents serving in SBC church leadership positions “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that they are five-point Calvinists, while 67 percent affirmed that God’s “grace is irresistible” and 58 percent said they believe “people do not choose to become Christians, God chooses and calls people who respond to him.”
5. Calvinistic churches, though they baptize fewer persons each year, have a “baptism rate” virtually identical to that of non-Calvinistic churches. Baptism rate is the number of annual baptisms relative to total membership, a statistic used to measure evangelistic vitality.
Now, before any of my Calvinist friends think we are off the hook and free from the inevitable attacks from anti-Reformed stalwarts in the SBC, we need to realize that our current commitment to evangelism and missions is simply unacceptable. I agree with Stetzer who says,
“Regardless of whether Calvinists are having a lower number of baptisms and a smaller attendance or baptizing the same in the baptism rate, the reality is none of these baptism rates or growth numbers should make any of us happy.”
To my Calvinist brothers, if we do not share the gospel to others as a dying man to dying men, imploring them to flee to Christ in repentance and faith on a regular basis, then it doesn’t matter how many points you hold to when you miss the main point of the gospel. It is not in the presence of Calvinists or Arminians that we live, preach, and share the gospel but rather Him who will judge the living and dead.
To my non-Calvinist brothers, there is much more to be done in our churches than to be telling people that Calvinists don’t believe in evangelism and missions. There are as many (if not more) anti-evangelism non-Calvinists as there are Calvinists. We need to get beyond these baseless and inaccurate attempts to demonize and marginalize Calvinists in the SBC.
The bottom line is that the gospel is not normative and central in our lives as it should be, and that goes for all of us. I will be the first to get in line and say that I am not as broken for the lost as I should nor am I as consistent in sharing the gospel as I should. From the looks of it, none of us have any ground to stand upon. Again, hear Stetzer reflecting on this reality:
“At the end of the day, Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike in our churches are failing to engage lostness in North America. This theological discussion has to lead to missional action and that missional action needs to cause Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike to love each other and to encourage each other and to provoke one another on to love and good deeds.”
Let us pray for one another, that we would take seriously the charge to deliver of first importance that which we also received – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us display to the world know the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord and Treasure. And let the love which we have received from the Father through the Son be the distinguishing mark of our lives, in how we treat one another as well as how we minister to a Christless world.