The Local Church and Evangelism – A dynamic theology (Part 3 of 6) – by Erroll Hulse

Two heresies in particular destroy the Gospel as far as its evangelistic thrust is concerned. One is hyper-Calvinism in which the free offers of the Gospel are denied and in which an excuse is made of the fact that men are dead in sin and therefore there is no point in evangelizing.  The other heresy which destroys true evangelism is decisionism.
(Editor’s Note:  Dr. Hulse presented this material as a series of addresses he gave to The Carey Conference in 1975.   We believe this material has as much, if not more, application to the church today and are reprinting it with the permission of the author.  We have divided it into six separate postings: the introduction and five major points.  We will run 2 of these a week over the next three weeks.)

2. A dynamic theology is the foundation of evangelism

Our age is an age of power, an age in which people look for and admire the dynamic. Men talk constantly about power: military power, political power, industrial power, economic power. Our Lord in sending his disciples out to evangelize the world, declared that all power belonged to him. He alone has the power to regenerate and quicken sinners. He alone has the dynamic to create new life.

A theology that does not come to grips with the sovereign power of God is less than dynamic. “All power is given to me—go ye therefore.” Our knowledge of God (theology) and the fact that Christ is now making application of the redemption he has secured for his people forms the foundation of evangelism, the basis upon which we proceed to the work. The knowledge that our Lord has power to quicken whom he wills invests our persevering efforts with hope and expectancy.

The doctrine of election, far from shutting out sinners, is the reason for their being gathered in. As we evangelize we soon discover that “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). But we are encouraged by the sovereignty of God and such statements as, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

Theology is a knowledge of God. We are to teach all truth, particularly those truths which pertain to the knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost into whom the converts are baptized. What makes theology dynamic? The Holy Spirit, for he comes like the wind to regenerate and quicken. To us the proclamation belongs. To the Spirit regeneration belongs. We are to command men to repent and to believe. We are to exhort, urge, plead, expound and teach. We can do all this. But we cannot regenerate. “Of his own will begot he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18).

Regeneration precedes faith and repentance. Repentance is God’s gift (Acts 5:31 and 11:18). Likewise faith is God’s gift to all his elect people. It is not man’s faith which causes election but election which causes man’s faith. (If the reader is in doubt about this a study of the following Scriptures will be helpful: Deut. 7:7, 8; Hos. 14:4; John 6:37, 39, 44; 12:32; 1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 2:8, 9; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 4:10, 19). This is the hinge upon which the whole issue turns. Modern evangelism is based on the notion that the preacher must preach to obtain man’s response in order that God might then regenerate. Human response can be obtained by the exertion of pressure. By means of a call for decisions a visible result can be obtained. Our interest is in regeneration.

When souls are quickened they soon make their presence felt as they did under Peter’s preaching: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Those who follow in the apostolic tradition preach for regeneration. They are not interested in a harvest of hay, wood and stubble. They look for gold, silver and precious stones.1

Preaching which is vindicated by the living, dynamic, almighty regeneration of God in which souls are brought to life is magnificent. In contrast to this, evangelism in which teaching and doctrine are minimized, and man-centred religion predominates, with the emphasis on entertainment, is weak and disappointing, because those who profess to have made decisions soon fall away.

The question of the centrality of theology was avoided at the World Congress on Evangelism at Berlin in 1966. The outcome was summarized as follows:

“In contrast with the results of other historic assemblies the Congress papers will reflect the theological weakness and uncertainty which characterizes twentieth century evangelicalism. Blessings and curses are mingled together. The atmosphere is grey. The pure air of the Gospel is there, but so is the smog. The sun does shine, but dimly through the smoke and fumes of compromise and doctrinal confusion.

“The Christian Church today faces one of the greatest crises of all time. In past centuries some truths have been assailed. Now the very foundations of the faith are being rejected. The World Congress on Evangelism revealed how ill-equipped evangelicals are to face this crisis. Inarticulate in doctrine and man-centred in outlook, many evangelical leaders are unable even to define what the historic faith is, let alone teach it. The result is that a diluted theology within the churches has produced a shallow and ignorant generation of Christians.”2

The World Congress on Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974 proceeded on the basis that theological issues had been clarified at Berlin. Lausanne was even more confused theologically than Berlin.

It is commonly understood that a heresy is something which destroys the Gospel whereas an error is that which is wrong and misleading but which is not serious enough to destroy the Gospel. Two heresies in particular destroy the Gospel as far as its evangelistic thrust is concerned. One is hyper-Calvinism in which the free offers of the Gospel are denied and in which an excuse is made of the fact that men are dead in sin and therefore there is no point in evangelizing. Total human responsibility (men know that they ought to repent and believe the Gospel) must be maintained together with faith in the sovereignty of God. These matters cannot be reconciled to human logic. The hyper-Calvinist in his desire to be logical comes to the wrong conclusion that it is inconsistent to command sinners to repent and believe when they are unable to do so, which is entirely an unbiblical and false conclusion!

The other heresy which destroys true evangelism is decisionism. This system also follows human logic. If God commands sinners to repent and believe, then obviously, reason the decisionists, they must be able to do so. Therefore, without any further ado, we employ every device at our disposal to get men to make a decision.

Clive Tyler of Cape Town, in his enlightening article, demonstrates the harmful practices which Finney’s logic has led to in the churches.3 That which stops short of God’s regeneration deceives souls into a false assurance and creates havoc in the churches because of the addition of false converts. Paul preached repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). To us belongs the proclamation to every creature. To God belongs the increase.

Notes

  1. It is questionable whether Paul is speaking of sound teaching when he refers to “gold, silver and precious stones”. I Cor. 3:11-15. The foundation has already been laid, as we see in Matt. 16:18, Eph. 2:21, 22, and particularly 1 Pet. 2:5. We are built on that foundation. Wood, hay and stubble represent those who are false converts—the unregenerate; gold, silver and precious stones, those who are true. This passage is a vindication of the gathered church principle and the necessity of discipline with regard to a realistic church membership. R. L. Dabney in an exposition of this passage warns against the use of artificial means to gain professions of faith. c.f. Discussions, Vol. 1, 551 ff.
  2. Banner of Truth No. 48, p. 8.
  3. Reformation Today No. 18. Finney and the Disappearance of Revival by Clive Tyler.

 

Rev. Erroll Hulse, who worked with the Banner of Truth Trust, serves on the pastoral team of Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, Leeds, England, and is editor of Reformation Today, a valuable publication for those interested in reformation worldwide. He is also the author of The Believer’s Experience, published by Carey Publications.