On the weekend I found a great article that really helped me understand how reformed theology works in evangelism. I thought it showed very clearly how the reformed view of the atonement works with the free and universal offer of salvation. What follows is a summary of what I felt were the key points. To view the entire article please visit The Highway.
by Morton Smith
When we admit that we are unable to harmonize in our mind the limited atonement and the unlimited offer of the Gospel, we are not positioning that there is any inconsistency between the two. “The Gospel offer contains nothing that is not absolutely truthful. All who comply with its directions shall certainly be saved. If some will not comply the cause lies in themselves.
(Alternatively, if anyone does respond to the gospel in repentance and faith then the cause lies in God.)
How should we go about the task?
1. The first is that the Gospel message is about God. It is an announcement of who He is, His attributes, His standards and requirements for us. Involved in this, is also our relationship to Him as His creatures, made for His glory. As Packer says, “These truths are the foundation of theistic religion, and until they are grasped the rest of the Gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here, with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his creator, that the Christian story starts.
2. The second basic ingredient of the Gospel is the message about sin. Involved in this is the fact of our fall, and then our continuing in our guilty, filthy, and helpless state. Men need to be faced with the awfulness of sin, and to come to despair of any help in themselves. It is when they realize this that they are aware of the need of salvation. Packer emphasizes the fact that we need to bring men to a conviction of sin. He suggests three signs of true conviction. First it is an awareness of the wrong relationship with God. Second, there is a sense of guilt for particular wrongs done in the sight of God. Third, conviction includes conviction of sinfulness. It is a sense of one’s own corruption and perversity before God. Psalm 51 speaks of both the transgressions and the sinful nature (cf. vs. 4-6). In the Psalm the Psalmist confesses both as his own.
3. The third basic element of the Gospel is the message about what He has done. It is important for us in the presentation of the Gospel not to leave out either of these elements. It is necessary to point men to the person of Christ as the object of their trust, and also to that which He has done for them as the object of their faith. Jesus calls men to come unto Himself to receive rest from their labors (Matt. 11:28), and Paul points to faith in His blood as the means of our justification (Rom. 8:24-25).
4. The final element of the Gospel is the summons to faith and repentance. The demand of the Gospel is for both of these. On the one hand, it’s not sufficient just to turn from sin, or repent. On the other hand, it is not sufficient just to talk about faith in Christ without turning from one’s sin. Both are necessary. True saving faith involves Godly repentance. In this connection it is striking to see how often repentance is used as the primary word to call men in the Scriptures (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 17:30; II Tim. 2:25). Sad to say in our day and age this is all too often neglected. Packer says,
“Our task in evangelism is to reproduce as faithfully as possible the New Testament emphasis. To go beyond the New Testament or to distort its viewpoint or shift its stress, is always wrong. . . . ”
“The Gospel is not “believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” anymore than it is “believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours.” The Gospel is, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sins, and now offers you himself as your Saviour.” This is the message which we are to take to the world. We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement; our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him.
It is vital that we include an urgent and solemn offer. The case is made here that this is the only offer of grace that men shall have. There shall be no second chances after this life. “O children of the house of hell, close with the offer of adoption into God’s family! I beseech you to accept it, nay, I charge you to come out from among them this day, and enter into God’s family through Jesus Christ, under the pain of God’s eternal displeasure.
How does Reformed Evangelism differ from Arminian Evangelism?
First, the Arminians deduce from the offers and invitation of the Gospel that man has ability to respond. The Marrow-men, in contrast, asserted the distinction between what a man may, and ought to do, and what a man can, or will do. “They affirm God’s right to call and command, but also man’s sinful inability to repent and believe. None taught human depravity more clearly than Boston and the Erskines.”
A second difference is that the Marrow-men held with Reformed theology that the Holy Spirit is necessary to make the external call of the Gospel efficacious in the heart of men. The Arminian view is that there is sufficient grace given to all men.
The third difference is that Arminians set forth a universal atonement, whereas the Reformed view asserts that the atonement is designed only for the salvation of the elect. The Marrow-men “affirmed that while the Gospel offer expresses God’s revealed purpose to save all who believe on His Son, it does not express God’s unrevealed and sovereign will as it relates to election and the extent of the atonement. Although God’s secret will regulates all His dispensations towards its creatures, it forms no part of the rule either of our faith or of our duty. The unconverted are not called upon to believe that they are elected or that Christ died for them in particular.”
The fourth difference has to do with the love of God. The Arminians hold that God loves all men equally and alike. The Marrow-men affirmed that the universal expression of God’s benevolence and compassion contained in the Gospel offer was not the same as His electing love. If one tries to deal with the question of whether the doctrine of election excludes the free offer, the answer must be given that the Scriptures teach both the general invitations of the Gospel, and the particular and special work of Christ. God has not chosen to reveal clearly how both truths are consistent with each other. “A minister should preach a full, unfettered Gospel because God has commanded it to be preached to every creature. He has forbidden His ministers to exclude any man from his offer.”
The sole ground or warrant for man’s act, in offering pardon and salvation to their fellowman, is the authority and command of God in His Word. We have no other warrant than this; we need no other; and we should seek or desire none; but on this ground alone should consider ourselves not only warranted, but bound, to proclaim to our fellowman the good news of the kingdom, and to call upon them to come to Christ that they may be saved.