A number of years ago I
read a book now out of print called "Will Evangelicalism Survive Its Own Popularity?"
The author reasoned the seeds for evangelical demise came from its popularity.
He examined a number of values such as the pursuit of pleasure, fascination
with fame, preoccupation with youthfulness, and the obsession with fads that
were permeating the church while corrupting the nation.
About 2 years ago I was
given a book called "Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome". It chronicles
a young pastor of a denominational church who started out trying all the new
ideas of the Church Growth Movement and failed. He began to ask some serious
questions about the Church Growth Movement and came to some solid answers as
to the meaning of success.
Now I've just read another
book that hits harder than the others. John MacArthur writes books that need
to be written-even if the ideas presented are seen as controversial. This is
one of those books. "Ashamed of the Gospel" Defines the "user-friendly church"
(a computer age term) and systematically demonstrates its unscripturalness.
Mr. MacArthur says, "Ministry has married marketing philosophy, and this (the
user-friendly church) is the monstrous offspring. The experts are now telling
us that pastors and church leaders who want to be successful must concentrate
their energies in this new direction. Provide non-Christians with an agreeable,
inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always
be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing.
Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we're assured; those
that ignore it are doomed to decline."
One of this crowd's favorite
texts is "all things to all men". In a superb exposition of the text in 1 Corinthians
9 he shows that Paul is not talking about changing the gospel to please the
crowd but that he will do nothing that will hinder the spread the gospel in
All would be well in this
book if the chapter titled "The Sovereignty of God in Salvation" was deleted.
In this chapter he states "If God chose who would be saved, and if His choice
was settled before the foundation of the world, then believers deserve no credit
for any aspect of their salvation. But that is, after all, precisely what Scripture
teaches. Even faith is God's gracious gift to the elect". He further states,
"His purposes for choosing some and rejecting others are hidden in the secret
counsels of His own will." "God controls all things, right down to choosing
who will be saved." He goes on to state, "What does God's sovereignty have to
do with the subject of this book? Everything."
Mr. Finney is seen as the
one whose ministry "foreshadowed and laid the foundation of modern pragmatism".
According to Mr. MacArthur, Mr. Finney's "fundamental theological error was
his rejection of God's sovereignty, that led inevitably to other errors in his
teaching. He concluded that people are sinners by choice, not by nature. He
believed that the purpose of evangelism should therefore be to convince people
to choose differently. The sinner's choice-not God's-therefore became the determinative
issue in conversion."
I don't endorse everything
in Mr. Finney's theology, but I certainly do not endorse Mr. MacArthur's Calvinism.
God is a sovereign God and the issue of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility
is not going to be settled in this column. Mr. MacArthur's stand is that unless
the gospel of Calvinism is presented it is not the gospel of the Bible. With
that I disagree.
The gospel must be presented
in all its clarity. To water it down or to make it a circus as some evangelicals
do today needs to be warned against. But 5-point Calvinism is not the Biblical
answer to the "user-friendly" church. The gospel of the Bible goes to "whosoever
will" and any who would come may come and receive from the Lord Jesus Christ
the water of life freely.