Evangelism, Calvinism, and the SBC

Tim Brister —  January 11, 2008 — 64 Comments

Baptist Press recently reported on a conference of evangelists in the SBC who are lamenting the growth of Calvinism with the Southern Baptist Convention. Considering that Baptist Press found this worth covering, I figured that this was a significant conference with considerable attendance addressing serious and substantial issues. However, the first line of the article says thus:

A group of 15 evangelists meeting in Jackson, Tenn., Jan. 7-8 said they have concerns about the growth of Calvinism and the rise of a Willow Creek-style of non-confrontational evangelism within Southern Baptist churches.

Did you catch that? A group of 15 evangelists constituting a conference garnered enough political muscle to make this front-page Southern Baptist news. Anyone else find this peculiar?

Secondly, for these 15 evangelists from eight states to come together, there must be some serious matters which are causing such lamenting and concern. According to the BP article, here are the reasons for lamenting:

1. The LifeWay study which reported about 10 percent of Southern Baptist pastors identified themselves as Calvinists, while 29 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates espoused Calvinist doctrine.

2. A few summit participants said the movement toward Calvinism has come on secular university campuses through organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity.

So the growth of Calvinism among seminary graduates and the spread of Calvinism on secular campuses causing SBC evangelists to lament. Hmmm . . . But here’s where it gets interesting.

Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University, said that the kind of Calvinism Piper espouses is not the historic Calvinism of Calvin or Spurgeon. Poe argues:

“He holds huge, stadium-type events that are rip-roaring. There’s nobody else doing anything like that so he becomes [Calvinism’s] expositor. But John Piper’s version of Calvinism is not something John Calvin would espouse, or even that Charles Spurgeon [British reformed Baptist preacher] would espouse.

Poe does not explain what he means by his assertion, but one is led to believe that Piper is advocating a version of Calvinism “more extreme” and less evangelical than that of Spurgeon. But then again, you have to explain that to all the missionaries whose lives have been changed and charged for the glory of God by Piper’s fiery heart for missions and reaching the lost for Christ.

Jerry Drace, who initiated the “conference,” argues that Calvinism is giving young pastors a reason to “laugh at evangelism” and offer “an excuse not to do evangelism.” Nothing new here. Same ole’ rhetoric from the likes of Nelson Price, Lonnie Wilkey, and Bobby Welch.

Now, let me offer a few thoughts regarding this article by Baptist Press and the conference of evangelists:

1. The SBC media machine, Baptist Press, has a way of making matters “newsworthy” that do not have the merits thereof. There are thousands of church staff who have “conference meetings” with higher attendance than this conference. Baptist Press is simply trying to shine the spotlight on something they think it is important to them.

2. Jerry Drace talks about the young people “laughing” and “finding excuse for not doing” evangelism but fails to factor in the LifeWay study which revealed that “Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.” So if the Calvinists, who are laughing and finding excuses, are more personally evangelistic than the non-Calvinists, then what are we to make of the non-Calvinists?

3. Hal Poe’s assertion that Piper espoused a morphed (and distorted?) version of Calvinism is unqualified and unsupported. It would be nice that if a professor is going to make such claims that he would back them with substance.

4. The caricature that Calvinists are not evangelistic is an old and well-worn hat in the SBC. Consider these facts. According the 2006 Annual Church Profile (ACP), there are 44,223 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.

10,449 churches baptized NO ONE
3,312 churches baptized ONE PERSON
13,760 churches baptized 1-5 PEOPLE

A total of 27,521 churches in the SBC baptized less than FIVE people for an entire year, which comes to 62% of all SBC churches.

Furthermore, at least three out of four churches are plateaued or declining.

So can it really be said that one of ten Southern Baptist ministers (who are Calvinists) be the real reason for lamenting in the SBC?
Should we not be lamenting over the nearly 10,500 churches who are practically dead?
Should we not be lamenting over the fact that over 75% of our churches are experiencing no conversion growth?
Should we not be lamenting over the evangelism (and its practices) of the past 50 years which has turned in the SBC into an unregenerate denomination with over half of our “church members” as unrecognizable?

And yet, in spite of all this, a conference of 15 evangelists come together and talk about how they do not like John Piper–a man who has done more to fuel missions and evangelism than any Southern Baptist alive today.

And this is Southern Baptist news.

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  • Timmy, you’ve got to stop this! I mean…just where do you get off bringing facts into the mix? They’re evangelists not math teachers! 😉

    Seriously, this is sad reporting. While I don’t think there is an official way to decide what fits the definition of a “conference” I don’t see how this qualifies. Some of the response almost sounded like a job security and continuance concern, but maybe I’m reading it wrong.

    Aren’t a large percentage of seminary grads who are Calvinists going into the mission field?

    These men should be partnering with Piper in an effort to further the Gospel and understand one another better.

    BTW, how’d this “conference” get press coverage?

    Just sad…


  • kevinhash

    They may be upset that the young pastors arn’t inviting them into their pulpits like they used to.

  • johnMark,

    Yes, many Reformed SBCers are going on the mission field. There are also strong networks, such as Founders as IX Marks, to perpetuate the movement while there is little to stop it (except perhaps articles in Baptist Press). It is not a matter of triumphalism but one of humble joy that there are so many are exalting the God of all grace.


    That’s an excellent point. Could it be said that the more Reformed pulpits, the less revivalism (not revival, but revivalism) we will see in the SBC?

  • As much as I pray this doesn’t happen, do you think this is the beginning of the politics against Dr. Mohler’s nomination for president of SBC? Seriously, if 15 men can get a front page article like this on the conventions “news” page, imagine what will happen when Johnny Hunt starts speaking out. I pray this does not become a blood bath for all the world to mock God as we duke it out amongst ourselves.

  • In 18 years in the pastorate I have baptized exactly 11.

    I am engaged in personal evangelism weekly, if not daily.

    I could baptize more if I wasn’t concerned in regenerate church membership.

    I am a five-point (is there any other kind?) Calvinist.

    If Baptist Press was writing my story I guess that it would read something like this: “Calvinist pastor has dismal baptism rate, it must be the Calvinism.”

    Instead, I know that my Lord and Savior will say something like this: “I planted you in a difficult place (Roman Catholic New Mexico) for My glory.”

  • Oh yeah, maybe they should check out Jeff Noblitt’s church as he has SIX (count ’em) missions pastors!


  • Matthew New


    Maybe the reason that this is news at all is that many of the bureaucrats in the SBC can sense and see that their days are numbered. With the success of the Building Bridges Conference and the dynamic leadership of non-Calvinists such as Danny Akin who endorse many of the ideas of change that we Reformed Baptists see as necessary for the revitalization of this denomination, there are some in the denomination who stand to lose power & income as part of it.

    Optimically looking, we could be seeing the last and loudest protests of those who would retard growth and revitalization in the SBC, just as was seen here at Southern Seminary before Mohler came in and cleansed house. Maybe they can sense that Dr. Mohler will able to do to the Convention at large, if he becomes SBC President, what he was able to do at SBTS 15 years ago. And of course we know how unsuccessful that was :^)!

    I am hoping that Dr. Wills will be able to give more insight in the SBC political process that has created the situation that we are in denominationally in his Southern Baptist Heritage class this Spring. I’ve got a feeling that we are reaping the some of the bitter fruit of the battles that took place in the 1980s over the control of the denomination.

  • Ron

    I am so frustrated with the baptist media.

    In either this, or last week’s Western Recorder there was another “calvinism’s a comin'” article by Dr. Frank Page (and not the first in his tenure as president).

    I was frustrated by the shoddy journalism that the BP displayed in the article announcing Dr. Mohler’s candidacy. They are the one who published misleading numbers realted to Highview’s missions giving. Instead of calling the church like some blogger did, to get the truth, they published a misleading report. Many are out there attacking other bloggers who are making the low numbers and issue, but it was BP who had the chance to fully outline the churches missions giving and did not.

    I agree with you Timmy, the Baptist media machine is using the news to shape the thoughts and attitudes of the churches in the way best suitable for themselves. Granted, I don’t think there’s some diabolical scheme or conspiracy, but it is plain as day.

    This goes both ways, because if I were an editor for BP, I’d be running articles detailing the danger of unregenerate church membership, legalism, a lack of fervency in evangelism, the advance of easy believism…you know, the things I fear for the convention!

    I guess this is another one to add to the PDF…growing ever larger.

  • Terry,

    I don’t know, but no one in the SBC should expect BP to offer objective journalism. Given that reality, it would be best to admit the bias, disclose presuppositions, and go from there. But as long as you act as a reporter stating the facts and covering the story, I feel like they become more and more incredulous.


    Indeed, that’s what I tried to point out. Do we want to continue with the revivalism and decisionistic evangelism that produces a denomination where over half don’t show up on a Sunday morning?


    I plan on being back down there next month for their True Church Conference. The theme of the conference is church discipline. Historically, it is proven that when church discipline is practiced, evangelism will increase. Currently, most churches don’t practice church discipline, and our evangelism is waning.

  • Matthew,

    Dr. Wills is a great, meticulous historian. He is currently working on a book on the history of SBTS which I hope is completed before 2009 when the SBC meets in Louisville. It would be a fitting tribute to the 150 anniversary of the school.

    Regarding the bureaucracy, I just think we have come to a day where we really need renewed Baptist Identity. During the Conservative Resurgence, what united us was inerrancy and opposition to liberals. In other words, what united conservatives was mostly what they were against. Now that there is no long a push back, we are pushing at each other, looking for new battles, fresh blood, and a cause to rally behind. For some, it is anti-Calvinism. For others it is anti-alcohol. Others still it is anti non-cessationism. But mark it down. There will always be an “anti” in the SBC to rally around, even if it is Disney World. 🙂


    Yes, unfortunately my PDF will have to be expanded!

  • Timmy,

    Are you going to be live-blogging the True Church Conference? I will not be able to make this years because I am going to be attending the Founder’s Midwest Conference. However, I did attend last years conference and was blessed beyond measure. I was actually wanting to talk with you about the live-blogging thing. I have been giving it some thought, but am way in over my head–I just keep a diary! I’d love to get with you and talk to you about it just to get a feel for the feasability of it and if I would be able to do any justice to it.

  • One other thing, is it not ironic that the real news is the fact that this BP is news at all. Of all the things we could hold conferences about, of all the HUGE issues that needed to be addressed and written about in our papers, we write about 15 Southern Baptists sitting down and telling each other how much they don’t like John Piper’s theology. We are going down the path of “adventures in missing the point,” and this article is a mile-marker to a dead-end road.

    Not to sound entirely trite, but could Jesus take the wheel of the SBC?

  • Matthew New


    I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment of Dr. Wills and as the 3rd generation in my family to attend Southern, I eagerly await Dr. Wills’ history of SBTS.

    As for the “anti” faction in the SBC, if they are not careful, they will push alot of our generation out of the SBC and into other demonimations & as independents. Lifeway Research has already shown that this is occurring and accelerating. Attitudes of this sort do not a strong denomination make, and I pray that it stops soon, or there will not be much of a denomination left to fight for control of :^)!

  • Terry,

    Yes, I am planning on being there and live-blogging the conference. It is in February this year instead of May (as in last year), so it is right around the corner.

    Yeah, live-blogging is quite the challenge. The hardest thing for me is the mental exhaustion because you are typing, thinking, and analyzing what is said, taking photos when you have a moment, and trying to make it sound coherent and true to the conference and speaker. It’s a lot of fun though, and I enjoy meeting the people at the conferences. I thought about doing a post on live-blogging tips for anyone interested. I’ve learned alot about how to make it work easier the past couple of times.

  • kevinhash

    I wonder if there will be a BP article about the hundreds at the True Church Conference. Or about the hundreds of teens that just met in Chattenooga to hear hard preaching and sing cross-centered songs.

    BTW, I do think it is an issue as evangelists are seeing fewer young pastors bring them it. It is theological concern for some and perhaps financial one for others. At my church, I’ve chosen to bring in men like B. Ware, T. Schreiner, P. Washer, etc. I’m not alone in that. Some have noticed that I have Bible Conferences and not “revivals”.

    See you in Muscle Shoals


  • Maybe the reason they believe Calvinists don’t share the gospel is because the gospel Calvinists preach (and definitely the way they preach it) bears very little resemblance to the one that they share.

    A man that I know was trained in college by the Navigators, and they had to share the gospel at least once a day. But, one could not have been considered to have shared the gospel unless they made it all the way through a presentation and then (literally) asked the question, “do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” no matter if the person to whom they were speaking was an avowed atheist. If this is what we mean by ‘evangelize’, then I rarely get a chance to do this. I feel like most of what I do with modern people my age is like Acts 17. Creation, lordship, repentance. Hear objections. Remove as much as I can. Creation, lordship, repentance. etc., etc. It takes time and patience and the numbers don’t roll in. Maybe that’s the biggest problem?

    I’ve gotten so tired of this rhetorical caricature that I almost don’t even hear it anymore. Rubber/glue kind of thing.

  • Hi Timmy,

    I just wrapped up my take on the article just after seeing that you already wrote on this. One of these days, I’m going to find out how you do what you do, man. 🙂

    No one has mentioned it yet, but that part about vocational evangelists at the tail of the article is something that really needs to be talked about.

    Tim Powell,

    There’s no problem with your Acts 17 approach (how coud there be?). We need to truly study the ART of evangelism (aka the art of not sticking one’s foot in the mouth) by going back to scripture and studying how Jesus and the Apostles approached spreading the gospel. Their actions don’t look like tent revival meetings of our southern past, that’s for sure.


  • Obviously the men at this conference fail to see the number of IMB missionaries, like me, who have sold their life for “evangelism” and yet would consider themselves to be Calvinist.


  • Matthew,

    Your assessment regarding young people being pushed out is one that I have been trying to make for some time. Consider these articles:

    The Outsourcing of the SBC

    Depopulating the Denomination

    Saving the SBC

    2007 SBC State Convention Analysis

    Together for the Church

  • Kevin,

    No, I don’t think they will cover TCC. But hey, that is what I am here for! 🙂

    I agree about alternatives for revivals. For instance, I recently heard of one where Dr. Schreiner is speaking on a weekend deal at a rather new church plant.

    Growing up in Alabama, I can remember reading through the Sunday paper and finding on almost every page a big advertisement from a local church regarding their “revival” or “campmeeting” services. Without fail, there would be one in Spring and one in the Fall, and along with VBS, these weeks would be the times where 75% if not more of the decisions for the year occurred, many of them repeat decisions.

    For instance, a leading evangelist in the SBC has said, “I’d rather be saved twice than lost once.” Now his theology aside, I know of folks who have been “saved” multiple times through his crusades. Just last month, I heard of a young man who was baptized for the sixth time, that is, after coming back from a Christmas retreat where this evangelist was speaking.

    Indeed, theology matters, but more importantly, the souls of men and women matter, and we cannot treat them lightly!

  • Tim,

    I agree. Evangelism packaged and programmed can be helpful, but often times it does more damage than good. Either evangelism is compartmentalized or the gospel is reduced, neither which is good – and then you feel like a failure if you didn’t go all the way through every time. Last October, I wrote a little about my practice of evangelism in a series I entitled “Elemental Evangelism.” If you put that in the search box, it can lead you to all the posts (if you are interested).


    I have a lot of staff who work for me behind the scenes. 😉


    Right on. I don’t know many IMB missionaries personally (about 10-12), but of those I know, every one of them is a soulwinner and yes, a “five-point Calvinist.” God bless you brother in your missionary efforts to spread the fame of His name!

  • Don’t forget the part where neither John Piper nor his church are Southern Baptist.

    So “our” evangelists are upset about someone who isn’t even “one of us.” Pitiful.

  • Stephen,

    Piper is easier to slander because he isn’t “one of us”.

    Even though I was a Calvinist prior to beginning seminary, it was a turning point in my life when Dr. Bruce Leafblad at SWBTS made Desiring God required reading for my church music class.

  • Reading that article left me greatly upset and sad indeed. Whoever wrote it certainly missed some critical things and must not have been at the Building Bridges Conference where they addressed typical false assumptions on Calvinism. Take this quote for example “In a broad sense, it’s happening on Christian college campuses too, as Calvinism appeals to young people who are wanting a more intellectual approach to Christianity,” said Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson.” Calvinism doesn’t appeal to folks because of it’s intellectualism but rather because it is truth! By the way, I’m 54 yrs old and it appeals to me because it’s the only thing that could finally explain my conversion. I wasn’t even seeking God when I was 48…No, I was enjoying my sin and I couldn’t understand what had changed in me that made me see how deplorable sin is and how full of it I was. I was desperate for a Savior. By God’s grace I have been regenerated!

    Of Piper, Poe said, “He’s effective because he’s so passionate,” Effectiveness isn’t a direct result of Piper’s passion but rather of his proclamation of the truth. He goes on to say, Drace told the group he currently is working with some young pastors who are “so leaning in this morphed Calvinism that they almost laugh at evangelism. It’s almost to the extent that they believe they don’t have to do it. So [Calvinism] gives them an excuse not to do evangelism.” He should have more accurately called it “Hyper-Calvinism” which is morphed Calvinism and is a lie.

    On a side note, as usual for a Friday night, I was in downtown Athens, GA with a small group who were on the sidewalks sharing the gospel with UGA students, homeless people, and others. One of those with us was a church planter of a Reformed Baptist Church! Oh…come to think of it, all 7 of us are Calvinists! Maybe I should send him a link to my ministry http://www.CompelledToTell.com where we train people to share the gospel and then take them out to the streets and parks to put it into practice. Funny…all our ministry leaders are Calvinists!

    How many did we lead to the Lord last night? ALL OF THEM. How many of them made decisions? ALL OF THEM…one way or another. We are only called to proclaim the gospel…salvation is of the Lord.

    I won’t hog any more space but end my vent grateful for this blog.

  • Timmy

    Great post dude. Esp the part about how this is not worthy of front page news, and the part about how the statistics show that Calvinists are more evangelistic (I did not know that).

    Besides … Calvinists get together all the time too to lament Armenianism, and when they do, their numbers are greater and their arguments are stronger. Why don’t they make the front page?

    I suppose (hope) Calvinists will be taking over media headquarters eventually also to stop this sort of injustice/charicaturing and poor taste for real news.

    Someday … Calvinism will one day take over the world. (jk)

  • Yogi Taylor

    It really amazes me at the irony of the statement, “Calvinism is a cop-out for evangelism,” because I am willing to bet that people who make such statements do not know any Calvinist, or have enough contact with their Calvinist brothers and sisters to know them personally.

    I don’t know a single person, who would consider themselves a Calvinist, which believes one is not under the command to evangelize, locally and globally! And trust me I know a ton of Calvinist.

    Yes, the irony is that those who make these kinds of statements are making cop-out statements due to ignorance or hate.

    Tim that was a great article.

    Yogi Taylor

  • Timmy, brother, forgive me for saying so, but I think you’re overreacting about this story. While I can’t speak for all the attendees at the conference, Dr. Poe is a friend and mentor of mine whom I just had an email exchange with today. He is surprised that his comments have generated such excitement. Trust me, Dr. Poe is no anti-Calvinist even if he’s not a 5 pointer. If Dr. Poe was speaking at this conference, we should all be greatful. He possess the kind of demeanor we need if we are going to be about carrying out Dr. Dockery’s Building Bridges spirit.

  • Diane,

    Thanks for sharing your story and what you guys are doing to reach unbelievers in GA.


    As an Assyrian, I too sometimes lament the influence of Armenians. But as a Calvinist, I have no problem working with Arminians. 🙂


    That’s right. I don’t know of any Calvinist who doesn’t desire to be a Great Commission Christian. Now are there any who aren’t evangelistic? I’m sure there are some out there, just like the majority of non-Calvinists in your typical church who don’t share the gospel with the lost. Calvinists just seem to get the spotlight because we happen to believe God is sovereign in salvation. Truth be told, none of us, Calvinist or non-Calvinist are as evangelistic as we should be, but that point is not being made – or making Southern Baptist news.

  • Adam,

    The BP article carries an unqualified assertion regarding Piper made by Poe. I have personally interacted with others from UU, and even they find his comments alarming.

    It I may say, the only overreaction was the fact that Baptist Press considers this news.

    I like Poe and enjoyed meet him last year at the Baptist ID conference. The comments have nothing to do with him but rather what he said (and did not say). I think his implications and conclusions of Piper were unfair and need clarification (at least).

    I am not sure that we are building any bridges when Southern Baptists hold conferences to lament the return to the theology of the founders of the SBC.

    If we are going to talk about building bridges, we should not caricature men like Piper and assume the success of his ministry is his passion or popularity, nor should we bring out the worn-out misrepresentations of yesteryear as Drace has done. It is obvious that this conference of 15 evangelists are not looking to build any bridges, for the same cause that has led many to rejoice has brought them to tears.

  • D.L. Kane

    “Our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward. Read those newspapers which represent the Broad School of Dissent, and ask yourself, How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. Downgrade III – Spurgeon

    Is it just me or do others see that in many way we are simply seeing a “revival” of the 1887 Downgrade? The similarities cannot be ignored. This is nothing new and different. It’s just history repeating itself. I hate to be cynical and I’m not sure who said it; but, it seems to be rather accurate: “One thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history.”

  • D.L.,

    I think there is alot we can learn from Spurgeon’s life and ministry, especially his controversies. You have motivated me to go back and read over Murray’s book The Forgotten Spurgeon lest I forget!

  • Craig Schmidt

    A couple stats that I got out of the recent Lifeway Research study and presented to my church today was that since 1991, SBC churches have baptized over 6.2 million people with a rise in attendance of only approximately 1.6 million. To me, this means that we have lost 3/4 of those we have baptized. Where are they now?

  • Hey Timmy,
    I know you are not trashing Dr. Poe, and I also found that article disturbing, even though I still don’t know how to classify myself on the Calvinism scale. I’ve heard Dr. Poe back up that statement before about John Piper having different theology than John Calvin. I think that the term Calvinism instead of reformed theology may be part of the problem with the conference. So Adam Winter’s comment was a good one on Dr. Poe.
    It disturbs me that those I know with the most sound theology that are the most evangelistically oriented are Reformed when the people who complain about Calvinism are less concerned about evangelism. And the problem of not hiring them? Is it a problem if a Calvinist pastor wears a Hawaiian print shirt and preaches the word and doesn’t need hired guns to do it for him?

  • I am constantly reminded as to why I have such great joy in knowing that the Lord provided me with the opportunity to leave the SBC. “Conferences” like this are a complete waste of time and resources.

    By the way — while these fellas were meeting about how we Calvinists don’t do evangelism and missions, 150 members of 17 different churches from the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA) were in Lakeshore, Mississippi rebuilding Lakeshore for a week — we worked on 21 houses and shared the gospel with hundreds of people. Lakeshore Baptist Church is a Reformed SBC church in the middle of a disaster area that has done more than any other church and/or denomination in their area to show mercy and share the unadulterated gospel… it is absolutely amazing what is going on down there. “Ironic” that these 2 events would coincide. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    ARBCA in Lakeshore

  • Is it a problem if a Calvinist pastor wears a Hawaiian print shirt and preaches the word and doesn’t need hired guns to do it for him?

    That’s it. *Throws down gauntlet*

    From now on, every Reformed or Reformed-leaning pastor should wear Hawaiian shirts in the pulpit while preaching hellfire and brimstone. Who’ll take up the gauntlet?

  • Pingback: Evangelism Statistics in Southern Baptist Convention « Provocations & Pantings | Evangelism Coach()

  • Craig,

    That’s a great point you brought up. Many church growth guru’s are out there saying that for every “x” number of people you baptize, “y” percentage is going to stay. In other words, there is a disconnect between evangelism and discipleship, baptism and church membership. This kind of thinking may work well for pragmatism but is so terribly wrong when it comes to the church.

    Both Gene Bridges and Tom Ascol have provided examples of churches in the SBC who have led the convention in baptisms. When you juxtapose five years worth of ACP of these churches, what you will find is that hundreds and hundreds of people are being baptized and added to the church with a net increase in the single digits (some even went down in membership). If I can retrieve the links, I will post them here.

  • David,

    Here are my guesses as to the things they might have against Piper:

    * Piper as a “seven-point” Calvinist
    * Piper’s view on baptism and church membership
    * Piper’s radical God-centeredness

    Perhaps there are others. But of those who attended the conference and/or expressed their concerns, how many, do you think, could (a) articulate Piper’s beliefs and (b) then offer a more biblical case?

    I guess that is what gets me. It is not that they would disagree or have issues with Piper, but that Baptist Press provides Poe’s assertion without qualification, clarification, or exposition.

    That is, except the fact that God is using Piper way too much to impact the younger generation – a generation that the elder Southern Baptists have seemed to have written off.

    I would make a prediction and say that, for every nine out of ten Southern Baptists under the age of 35, if you asked them who their major influences or heroes were in the faith, they would not be Southern Baptist. They would be men like MacArthur, Piper, Driscoll, Mahaney, and the like.

    So there is not only a theological disconnect but a generational disconnect. They are not only lamenting over the growth of Calvinism among the young people, they are also lamenting their loss of influence and denominational identity among this generation.

  • I’m a little late to this party. I think Kevin Hash makes a great point. These guys are more worried about their jobs than they are the theology. Since when does what you wear make a difference in someone coming to Christ? Didn’t Elevation Church here in Charlotte have several hundred people accept Christ in one service a few months ago? I think the pastor preached in jeans. What did Jesus wear?

  • Kevin,

    Jesus wore suspenders, and quoted the OT in the KJV (Schofield Reference). 🙂

    But seriously, I mentioned this over on Tom’s blog, but I think there is also an issue in the growing gap between church and culture as we are living in a more post-Christian, secular society.

    The itinerant evangelist and crusade evangelism relies on the “attractional” model or harvest evangelism. If you bring them, we will get them saved.

    Many of the younger guys realize that we need a model of evangelism that engages the culture and equips every Christian to be “on mission for God.” Therefore, the missional model is replacing the attractional/harvest model. The missional model seeks to build relationships with the lost on their turf without expecting them to come where we are, seeks to love their neighbor by engaging them with good deeds, and demonstrates the gospel while at the same time proclaiming it.

    Many long to see the day when our churches see people saved and “added to the church” every week because of the faithful witness and incarnational living of God’s people in the midst of a pagan society rather than two times a year when a “harvest preacher” comes to town. That’s nothing against the itinerant evangelist but a call to be a witnessing body of believers who take serious the call of the Great Commission.

  • Jesus wore no such thing. He wore a 3-piece dress suit with wing-tip shoes, pocket watch with chain, with bear grease in his hair and his moustache handlebar-style on Sundays. Once in a while he shaved the chin part of his beard to do something different.

    Incidentally, it was also the only day of the week he took a bath.

  • Did anyone notice the most recent “Facts & Trends”? Especially as it relates to the “greying” of the SBC?

    As one who is over 50, it scares me that we are losing younger leadership.

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  • Timmy, I would be curious to know how you and the majority of your readers interpret the Ephesians 4 office of the Evangelist as a gift to the Church. Would you say the bulk of them view this office as extinct, misinterpreted, abused or something totally different? Was there a place in the Church for the ministries of D.L. Moody, Billy Graham and the like? Were they an anomaly or should they be normative? I would be interested in reading your thoughts on this perhaps in a different post in the future.

    Personally, I do believe the office is alive and well and that some guys are gifted with an extraordinary ability to reach the lost with the Gospel. History seems to prove this fact. I also believe that our generation is at a loss for knowing what to do with them. Old school “harvests” do seem to have become ineffective. The Evangelists have not kept pace with an ever changing culture or the advent of new technological mediums. By many the power of the Gospel has been exchanged for engineering the invitation. Operating independent of the authority of a local Church has caused some to stray doctrinally and morally. However, this low ebb is a part of a greater and more attractive history. In our nation in every generation God has raised up a man or many men to stand with one primary message, the evangel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is to them what Christian hedonism is to Piper.

  • Zach,

    I agree with you that the gift of evangelism is alive and well and that our generation don’t know what to do with Old school “harvest” evangelists. Here’s my take on it.

    First, the gift of evangelism has come to be synonymous with preachers who believe in decisional regeneration and give invitations without ever giving the gospel. I do not call many of the contemporary “harvest” preachers evangelists because the primary purpose of evangelists is to preach the gospel, and many do not. Yes, they bring in many decisions, but that is besides the point. If you asked the average person making a decision in these harvest situations, many (I dare say majority) don’t know what they are doing. In other words, you cannot have the gift of the evangelist if you do without the evangel, and I could give you dozens of examples of contemporary evangelists where this is the case (I will refrain from naming names, since I think you know who I am talking about).

    Second, evangelists of old, as in Wesley or Whitefield, were biblical and doctrinal in their preaching, even if they were evangelizing the lost. I have respect for Moody and Graham, but they held to a theology (or lack thereof) that pioneered much of the deviation we see today regarding evangelism. On the other hand, I think John Piper’s father, for example, was a good example of a modern minister who I believed had the gift of evangelism (and was an itinerant evangelist).

    Third, the kind of “harvest” evangelism is effective where the fields are white unto harvest. But what about sowing? What about the regions of the world where this kind of evangelism would not work? We live in a churched culture with considerable nominal Christianity. Harvest evangelism is cradled in such a milieu, but I wonder what someone with the gift of evangelist would like in the Christian church in China or Indonesia. Just a thought.

    In sum, while I believe in the office of the evangelist, I have serious concerns about the function of the evangelist, especially with regards to today.

  • Haha, I’m 99% sure I know who you are talking about.

    Yeah, I have often wondered how Evangelists function in other parts of the world. Sometimes I wonder if some of the guys who are effective church planters in our nation are not called as Evangelists.

    You mentioned Whitfield and Wesley, I wonder if they considered themselves Evangelists. I know they both Pastored at different times. I’m planning to read Dallimore’s biography of Whitfield this year and that is one of the questions I hope he answers.

    Thanks for the response.

  • Well, Zach, you know that I have listened to many an evangelist in my time, albeit a short one. I think a more accurate term for their work would be revivalists than evangelists, although their success is determined by decisions.

    I haven’t had the chance to read Dallimore’s bio of Whitefield, but I hope to soon. Time and again I have heard that one cannot consider themselves educated until you have read Dallimore’s work. So here I blog–uneducated and desiring to learn!

  • I may be showing my theological ignorance so please help me out. I don’t see where scripture indicates there is a “gift of evangelism”. Rather, there is the office of evangelist for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11,12) Every Christian has been given the priviledge of sharing the gospel throughout each day, as God gives opportunity. No doubt some are better at explaining it than others but the power is in the seed, not the sower. Far too often Christians excuse themselves by saying evangelism is just not their gift. That was one of my excuses until God broke me. He opened my eyes to see I needed to study the gospel and learn how to share it…then actually do it, even if it was at Wal-Mart with another Mom who was buying bananas. Now I know from experience what an incredible priviledge it is to carry the very words that can bring eternal life. WOW! It’s amazing that I would be trusted with that.

  • Diane,

    That’s a good question. Many people see Eph. 4 to be a list of spiritual gifts, similar to 1 Pet. 4 (as in Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12). The text is not explicit in saying that these five offices are “gifts,” although I suppose the argument could be made that one would inherently need to have a gifting to serve in any of those capacities.

    I think another aspect that complicates things is how programmed and hyper-structured the Western church has become in recent years. It is becoming less organic and more of an organization. The more organized, the more specialized each ministry and minister will be. The more specialized, it can be argued that the more marginalized the gifts will be seen and utilized. For instance, if you have a staff evangelist, then people will inevitably come to think that he is *the* evangelist versus *an* evangelist in the church. Ergo, the function is compartmentalized to the most gifted, and the rest of the church can be let off the hook (since they are not gifted). Now, we all know that we are called to be witnesses and share the gospel. We believe that. But if we take an honest look, we have come to expect the ministers to do all the work in ministry and have failed to implement an every-member ministry or practice the priesthood of all believers. Ministers, who hold these offices, even the office of the evangelist are called to *equip* God’s people for the work of the ministry, in building up the body of Christ. So those with the gift or office of evangelist is not about themselves, which is contrary to what most evangelistic organizations and evangelists are and do today.

    Those whom God has given as evangelists “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:6) by equipping God’s people to share their faith and disciple new believers, for as I once heard at a Billy Graham School of Evangelism, “evangelism is incomplete until the evangelized become the evangelist.” If that is the case, it can be argued that we are seeing very little biblical evangelism and Great Commission Christians. Instead of making disciples, we are making decisions.

    My point is that being the church means that we all must embrace the mission of God of bringing fame to His name by telling of His good news to sinners and investing our lives to train them up for godliness and service in His body.

  • Timmy, you are so right on target. In the past, I thought my role in evangelism was to bring lost people to church and let the preacher do the job he gets paid to do…let him tell them. Sad thing is that I rarely ever heard the gospel preached in the sermon and yet there was always an altar call. Now I wonder what so many responded to when all they heard was how Jesus would improve their life.

    I can’t find scripture where we are told to bring the lost into the church service. No, the church is the gathering of born again believers who are to be prepared so that they can go.

    BTW…I thank God for you, brother.

  • I have a theory that Paul’s seconds, like Timothy and Titus many have been “Evangelists” in the purest sense of the word. They would have planted Churches, appointed and trained the first Elders then moved on to new works. Therefore, Paul’s command to Timothy to “do with work of an Evangelist” and “fulfill your calling” would make perfect sense. I ran the idea by Noblit and he thought it was plausible and had heard it before from another source, but didn’t adopt it entirely.

  • That’s an interesting perspective. I have never really thought about that before. So then, the “evangelists”, that is, Paul’s disciples, were of a different sort than the evangelists we see today. For one, they were intrinsically tied to planting and developing churches, having a tenure much longer than four days. Am I right?

  • Yes, unless you count Phillip. But perhaps there are exceptions when you are Divinely transported.

  • Gavin Brown


    I see I’m a little late to this thread!

    I’ve been reading thorugh “Pierced for our transgressions” recently, and this sort of polemic against Piper reminds me of what the authors say about those who are on the opposite side of the doctrine of penal substitution: namely, that they make accusations without actually engaging the arguments set forth by proponents of penal substitution. Most who criticize Piper (IMO) seem to do this as well by looking past what he actually believes and practices in favor of saying he’s unbiblical, unhistoric, hyper-calvinist, etc. I suppose that would get in the way of their ridiculous straw man arguments.

  • Justin

    Comments like the ones mentioned get to me. My wife and I (both Calvinist) are IMB missionaries sharing the gospel to the lost. People need to come up with a better argument against Calvinism.

  • Gavin,

    Unfortunately there are just about as many straw men when it comes to Calvinism than there is unregenerate church members in the SBC.

    Okay, maybe not, but still there’s alot.


    That’s right. The thing that bothers me most about what these 15 evangelists and their conference fellows have done is misrepresent the very biblical truths that send, support, and encourage missionaries across the world. What was it that encourage Carey, called Paton to persevere, motivated Judson to stay? It was God’s sovereignty in salvation and the doctrines of grace. It is not only a bad argument; it is an insult to all those whose lives have born eternal fruit as a result from having believed them.

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  • All I can say is that if the Reformed/Calvinist SBC is responsible for producing men of God like Pastor Paul Washer then sign me up!

    The sad truth is that those self-styled evangelists are likely caught up in the manifold errors of free-will Arminianism and thus they feel threatened by true conversions to Christ that bring much glory to God by emphasizing His sovereign electing grace in contradistinction to the flesh-pleasing, man-centered, “God’s done all He can and now the rest is up to you” psycho-babble that’s espoused by vast swaths of the professing church thanks to Finney and his modern day spiritual counterparts.

    And on a Biblical note isn’t it interesting how we always find the sons who were outside the covenant jealously plotting and conspiring against the sons of the covenant? Here’s wisdom – just as He did in the first act of creation God is still separating the light from the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.

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  • dadof6

    Hey Timmy, long time no write. I started checking out your blog a couple of years ago, then started running out of time. I don’t know what the big deal is here. I grew up SBC, but attend a Bible church in Fort Worth, Texas. My son, who also spent most of his life in a SBC church and the one of the pastor’s sons started a evangelistic ministry through our church that goes to downtown every Friday night and witnesses, as well as lovingly answering heretics and those blown by every wave of doctrine. My son is 18 and his friend is 16. They average 8-15 young people, college, high school age, that go out every Friday to share the gospel and fellowship. So much for anti-evangelistic Calvinists!

  • reflectionsofayoungpastor

    This comment is a little late, but I have only one word:
    woodie turner