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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE BASIC THEOLOGY OF EVANGELISM
by Harold John Ockenga

Text: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).

Evangelism must be Trinitarian if it is to be Biblical. The Great Commission defines the program of the Church for this age by the authority of the Triune God. The Great Commission is one of the earliest statements of Trinitarian creedalism; along with the apostolic benediction of Second Corinthians 13:14, it is the basis of the so—called Apostles’ Creed, which is so clearly Trinitarian.

The Bible is our authority. A Bible which is the infallible rule of faith and practice is the reason for the existence of Protestantism. The Reformation rediscovered three major truths that constituted Protestantism, a return to New Testament Christianity. The first truth, called the formal cause of the Reformation, is that the Bible is the final and infallible authority in matters of faith and practice. This is the principle of sola scriptura. The second truth is justification by faith, called the material cause of the Reformation. This is the principle of sola fide. The third truth is the priesthood of the believer. It is a corollary of the other two. The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer proclaims the freedom of the Christian man, expressing his deliverance from priestly mediation, sacerdotalism, and ecclesiastical control.

The principle of sola scriptura has been rejected by liberal Protestantism. For the liberal, the Bible is not authoritative, not dependable, and not authentic. This dismissal of the Bible has resulted from the acceptance of evolutionary naturalism and higher criticism. Evolutionary naturalism applied to religion, necessitated a view that the Hebrew people evolved religiously from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism, to ethical monotheism. In accordance with this presupposition, the Bible is viewed as the record of the evolving of religious experiences of the Hebrew people and the books of the Bible are re-dated on this premise. Higher criticism joins hands with evolutionary naturalism to bring about this result. Thus Karl Barth, speaking at the University of Chicago, could say, “The Bible is full of errors,” and Emil Brunner could make the Bible a shambles in his Revelation and Reason. The removal of the Bible from the central place of authority in Protestantism has debilitated its power to evangelize. A liberal Protestantism cannot meet the competition of the Roman Church. In order to build a power structure comparable to the Roman Church, it has embraced the activities of the ecumenical movement. This movement not only intends to unite the various Protestant churches, but also to circumvent the reformation in order to find a basis of theology and tradition for reunion with Rome. The 1963 Montreal Conference on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches spent much time seeking to discover and express the tradition which will bring together the various traditions of the individual branches of Christianity and will supply a basis for dialogue in the areas of reform and reunion.

The necessity for a return to Biblical authority is the reason for our gathering. We are under the Word. Let us therefore give proper place to the Word of God in all of our deliberations. Otherwise, only two alternatives exist: The first is to go on to left-wing rationalism in which the human mind is the supreme authority in religious matters; the second is to return to Rome, where the church is the final authority in Christian doctrine and ethics.

Biblical evangelism is Trinitarian. The Bible honors each member of the Trinity in the theology of evangelism. The New Testament makes it clear that the Father elects, which is predestination; that the Son redeems, which is atonement; and that the Holy Spirit regenerates, which is salvation. Heresies arise from the neglect of one aspect of this Trinitarian theology or from an overemphasis upon one particular facet. Historic Christianity has maintained the elements of Trinitarian redemption in balance as it has occupied the central stream of orthodoxy.

A Biblical foundation supports all great movements of evangelism. The Reformation, in a literal sense, was a revival. The leaders of the Reformation embraced the truths of the New Testament and sought to reform the existing church in accordance with these truths. They discovered that the church was unreformable and they themselves were excluded by excommunication from its membership and benefits. Therefore, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and their colabourers returned to New Testament Christianity though it meant separation from the Roman Catholic Church of the day. Upon his deathbed in Eisleben, Luther was asked, “Reverend father, do you die in the faith which you have preached and which you have proclaimed?” He replied, “Yes.” The Reformation freed men from the intellectual bondage of scholasticism, from the economic thralldom of feudalism, and from the spiritual slavery to the priesthood. The movement swept the masses into a new sense o± freedom. For a time the revival promised to engulf all of Europe.

The Evangelical Revival under the Wesleys and George Whitefield occurred two centuries later in the recovery of wide areas of Christian experience that had been obscured. From the Puritans they inherited the emphasis on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From the Lutherans they received the truth of justification by faith0 They rediscovered the truth of the witness of the Holy Spirit and of personal assurance. They preached on the witness of the Spirit more than on any other subject. George Whitefield’s favorite text was, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” (Luke 4:18). From this emphasis a revival influence spread throughout England to counteract deadness in the Anglican Church and the moral corruption of the masses. The result is known as the Evangelical Revival.

The Finney revival of the mid-nineteenth century came from the emphasis upon the Law and the Gospel. Charles G. Finney’s preaching of the law produced conviction and his offering of the Gospel brought comfort to the hearts of convicted men. Finney’s emphasis was in accord with such great confessions as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg catechism wherein the law is given its proper place in Christian life.
Today the Billy Graham evangelistic meetings emphasize the Bible as the sword of the Spirit. Dr. Graham’s oft-repeated clause, “the Bible says,” is characteristic of this evangelistic emphasis. Hence in these various movements we see that evangelism was based upon Biblical theology. If we examine this theology we will find that it is Trinitarian, for each person of the Trinity bears an important role in evangelism0

(1) God the Father in Evangelism

In speaking of the role attributed to God the Father in evangelism, we emphasize the decrees of God, the election of God, and predestination by God. The Divine decrees constitute the plan of salvation. This redemption expresses the Divine attributes of love, justice, and wisdom. The Bible makes it plain that redemption originated in Divine love, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” (John 3:16), that “God sent forth His Son to be a propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10), and “that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (II Cor. 5:19). Grace then is God’s love in motion toward our sins. However God is just, and justice must be satisfied. The Governor of the universe must do right and God could not forgive sin without satisfaction. The eternal Father in infinite wisdom devised the means of salvation which is called the plan of redemption. This plan is expressed in the eternal covenant of redemption. In this covenant the Father agreed to give to the Son a people; the Son covenanted to represent this people by substitution in a life of obedience and in a death of suffering; the Spirit covenanted to apply this efficaciously to men so that there would be a redeemed people belonging the Son. This we know from the Biblical texts that declare there is a “kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), that there is a “lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (I Peter 1:19, 20), and that there is a people “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:5). For this reason Isaiah could say that Jesus Christ “shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). Christ endured His sufferings with joy because of the people that were given to Him. Jesus Christ on the cross got a glimpse of the countless multitudes who were redeemed by His suffering and He was satisfied.

The decrees of God thus established the end from the beginning and the steps along the way. These embrace the fall of man, the atonement made for sinful man through the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ (all prophesied in detail), the offer of salvation through universal preaching, and the salvation of those who believe or respond affirmatively to this preaching.

God’s part in redemption is called election. Here there are competing theories. The five points of Calvinism speak of the sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, a limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the believer. Not all Christians share this formulation, but in accordance with it those who do, hold that God elected some and passed by others. Calvinism declares that the Gospel must be preached in all the world and that those who are elected will accept the Gospel, believe on Jesus Christ, and will persevere in good works unto the end, It also teaches that no one can know who is elect except by the fact that he continues in good works and perseveres unto the end.

An illustration of this is found in the Huguenot piety and perseverance in the face of the terrible suffering which these people underwent for a century and a half. The Huguenot movement began under the preaching of Stapulensis in 1524 and was most successful. Calvin had to flee from France and settled in Geneva from whence he directed the Reformation in France. For a time it seemed as if all France would be won to the Reformation, but then reaction set in under the leadership of the Guise family and the Spanish inquisition. The Huguenots were persecuted economically, socially, and physically. Numerous massacres occurred, not the least of which was that of St. Bartholomew’s Day. Six wars of religion occurred which ended in the defeat of the Huguenots and in their emigration to the Netherlands, to Germany, to England, and to America. These Calvinists were inspired by this stern faith to maintain their spirit through the most terrible suffering.

The second view is that named after Arminius, who taught in the University of Leyden from 1604 until his death. Arminius returned to the pre-Augustinian view of conditional election. By His eternal and immutable decree, God ordained in Jesus Christ to save those who by the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus Christ and persevere in that faith and obedience of faith. Christ died for all and each so that He gained reconciliation and remission of sins on the condition that believers remain faithful. Those grafted into Christ by faith have the means to fight Satan, to win the victory, and to persevere by the Holy Spirit. God foreknew this faith and elected believers unto salvation.

The view which one adopts is of great importance to his evangelistic fervor. The matter of election is no mere question of semantics, The resolution of the matter res in giving proper place to each Biblical emphasis. We must not neglect either emphasis. For my part, I approve a practical synergism of affirming prevenient grace, the responsibility of each individual, and of election in Christ of all who believe. Thus I say that salvation is all of God, reprobation in all of man. I cannot throw the responsibility of man’s reprobation upon God

This raises the question of predestination by God and the invitation to accept Christ. The Bible makes it plain that the Holy Spirit attends the preaching of the Word and enables a sinner to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. The offer of salvation is real, and God does not mock us. It is the Spirit’s work to attend that offer with life-giving power. Yet we witness two attitudes toward the giving of an invitation.

Some ministers, much used, of God, have never given an invitation to accept Jesus Christ and will not permit such an invitation to be given from their pulpits. I refer to men like the late Dr. A. W. Tozer, the late Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse, and Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. On the other hand, invitations extended in the ministry of Billy Graham and others have found thousands responding affirmatively to the opportunity to accept Christ. In both instances there have been valid and permanent conversions: I have personally known many of them. We must conclude that we cannot be exclusive in our methodology, nor can we sit in judgment upon those who use a different methodology in evangelism from our own. God is sovereign. God honors His Word when it is preached. He attends it by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, although it may be done in different ways.

(2) God the Son in Evangelism

Evangelism must center in the offer of the person of Christ. It pleased God by the foolishness of the kerygma, or the message preached, to save those who believe (I Cor. 1:21). The kerygma centers in the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus Christ. In the early centuries of the Church, doctrinal controversy centered upon the person of Christ — whether He possessed one will or two wills, whether He had one nature or two natures, whether He was a man upon whom the Christ descended at His baptism and from whom He ascended before His death, whether He was eternal or a demiurge or first creation above all creation. Finally, at the Council of Chalcedon, the orthodox view of the person of Christ stated that He possesses a full Divine nature and a full human nature, in one person, and so will continue to be forever. He is very God of very God, and very man of very man. There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave His life a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (I Timothy 2:6).

This is the orthodox view — the view of the Scripture, of the creeds and of the confessions of Christendom. Christ was pre-existent, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, became incarnate, lived a perfect life, worked miracles, atoned for sin by His death on the cross, arose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, exercises the priestly ministry of intercession, and will come again to reign over His eternal kingdom.

The high view of Christ has always been accepted by evangelical Protestantism and is a prerequisite of evangelism. If we are to have a doctrine of salvation, the full deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the real humanity of Jesus must be preached. The low view of Christ taken by liberalism cuts the nerve of evangelism and missions. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible unquestionably is a better translation than the King James Version and is more faithful to the manuscripts. My personal objection to it, however, is that wherever the manuscript evidence permitted the translators to present either a high or low view of Christ, as in Isaiah 7:14, or in Micah 5:2, the translators chose the lower view. This does not impinge upon their ability as translators, but it does reflect their presuppositions in the translation. Liberalism nas always taken the low view of the person of Christ. As the word of the crucifixion, resurrection and coming again is preached, we are confronted with the necessity of a decision which results in salvation or reprobation. It is only by preaching the Christ of the Bible that converts may be won spiritually.

Evangelism centers in the offer of the propitiation of Calvary. The Bible statements of this fact are many (Romans 3:25; II Cor. 5:21; I Peter 2:24; 3:17). Three words are used in these statements. One is peri (translated for), meaning concerning; another is anti (translated instead of ) meaning in the place of; and another is huper (translated in behalf of), meaning for the sake of. The Bible teaches that Christ died for us, in the place of us, and in behalf of us. Various theories concerning the atonement have been taught, such as the governmental view, the exemplary view, the piacular view, the view of vicarious repentance, and so on.

Dr. Joseph Sizoo illustrated these theories by the use of four houses. First, there is the courthouse, which represents the governmental view; second, there is the playhouse, which represents the exemplary view, or the view of moral influence; third, there is the counting house, which represents the vicarious view; and fourth, there is the home, which represents God’s loving sacrifice. All these emphases are to be found in the Scripture, but they are found as manifestations of the basic teaching that Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of Divine righteousness, substituted for us in His act of passive obedience to justice, and thus demonstrated in His life and death a Divine justice and love. From this derived the governmental, the moral, and the exemplary views of the atonement. It is this gospel of redemption which is able to affect the will; nothing will move men to repentance and faith as does the preaching of the propitiation of Calvary.

Evangelism must emphasize the particularism of the Christian faith. In the teaching of the liberal wing of contemporary theology we have a universalism which declares that all men are redeemed by Christ and reconciled to God so that all which remains is to publicize this to them. In an article on universalism, Harold Lindsell says: “Now the idea of some non-Christians being ‘in Christ’ has yielded to the conclusion that all men everywhere are ‘in Christ,’ even though they may not be conscious of Him; men need only to be made aware of this truth.” In support of his affirmation he quotes from
W. Norman Pittenger, Bishop James Pike, Dr. Nels Ferré, Dr. T. D. Niles, and Dr. W. O. Johnson, to show that they are universalists in the above sense.

Such universalism is hardly compatible with Biblical teaching. The Bible declares that the gospel must be preached universally, that the death of Christ is sufficient and applicable for all, but is efficacious only to those who believe. The Bible emphasizes the responsibility of acceptance of Christ. The plain alternative to this is the state of being lost and of suffering eternal torment. The Bible doctrine of torment and hell has thrust some into the belief in ultimate restorationism after a period of punishment, and others to the belief in universalism of atonement and of the application of the atonement. We must remember that the greatest emphasis upon hell and suffering as the alternative to salvation was made by the Lord Jesus Christ. If we give the proper emphasis to the responsibility of man, we have no problem with the doctrine of hell.

(3) The Holy Spirit in Evangelism

Evangelism is dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Contemporary theology discloses a new interest in an emphasis upon the Holy Spirit’s ministry. This does not so much apply to the Spirit’s ministry in common grace, but rather to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in special grace. The Holy Spirit restrains the destructive processes of sin and thus enables humanity to maintain an orderly life. The Holy Spirit also is the source of the renewing processes in the churches and in society. The emphasis upon spiritual renewal in the Roman Catholic church and the various branches of Protestantism is directly attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has had a part in every stage of redemption, in creation, in revelation, in inspiration, in the incarnation, in the atonement, in the resurrection, in the formation of the church, in the missionary undertaking, in the prayer life of the believer, in the transformation of the believer into the image of Christ, and so on. His work is a prerequisite to effective evangelism.

Evangelism may be equated with the public proclamation of the good news of the gospel or the private witnessing to the good news of the gospel with the purpose of bringing individuals to faith in and confession of Christ as Saviour. This Is called conversion, and conversion has two meanings. It may be the active turning on the part of an individual as a response to the gospel. This is the lesser sense of conversion and is within the ability of the individual. The New Testament uses the word “epistrepho” in the active tense. Theologically, conversion is often used in the larger sense of being equated with regeneration. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, converts, and transforms the life of the individual. There is no possibility of an evangelistic outreach without the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The twentieth century has seen the growth of the so-called “third force,” which is the Christian movement emphasizing the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

Regeneration, or the new birth by water and the Spirit (John 3:15) is the requirement for any spiritual and evangelistic movement. Jesus said, “unless a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Too much religion omits the necessity of the new birth. Some theology minimized the place of evangelism in regeneration. Some Lutherans and Anglicans teach baptismal regeneration. Some reformed theologians teach that regeneration by the Holy Spirit precedes conversion. The evangelical position is that regeneration is conditioned upon repentance, confession and faith. This alone stimulates evangelism.

The new emphasis upon the Holy Spirit is centered In the modern charismatic movement as it is seen in all of the established denominations, especially the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and the Congregational. We must examine the validity of this movement. Some preclude the possibility of such validity by adopting the position that God withdrew these gifts after the apostolic days so that they have not been the possession and the experience of the Church since. Historically it is evident that the gifts were withdrawn and ceased to be manifested and practiced for a thousand years. But there is no Biblical evidence requiring us to believe that God has withdrawn these gifts. If the curtain came down on the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit with the close of the apostolic era, there is nothing in the Scripture to indicate this. It is a conclusion drawn from history. On that same basis we would have to retract the theory if gifts of the Spirit were historically manifested in these latter days.

It is irrefutable that the spiritual gifts were a part of the New Testament Christian experience (I Cor. 12:4—31; 14:1—40; Eph. 4:7—16; Rom. 12:3—8). The manifestation of these gifts was experienced by those who were baptized with and filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament age. The claim is made today that these gifts are reappearing in the charismatic movement. Small groups of people are meeting for fellowship, worship, and the expression of these gifts in many areas of the world, intelligent and responsible individuals have testified to receiving the gifts. Great evangelistic zeal and devotion have been manifested by those who proclaim to possess these gifts. This has created what is called “the third force.”

I believe that we cannot limit God by some preconceived theory that declares that He cannot manifest the gifts of the Spirit in this age. I, personally, have not seen the manifestations of these gifts, especially the gift of healing and gift of speaking in tongues. Should this movement prove valid and a modern manifestation of the supernatural, it could be an answer to the rationalists in the church who accept no argument f or the Biblical faith and who even go so far as to proclaim “God is dead” in the name of Christianity. God may be giving a supernatural demonstration that will confound unbelief.

A visitation of the Holy Spirit is the greatest need of the church and of Christians today. Revival in the church is contingent upon the visitation of the Spirit. We are encouraged to believe that the new emphasis upon the Holy Spirit’s person and ministry may very well be the prelude to revival. My understanding of the Bible is that revival can occur at any time up until the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19—21). If we are to have this revival, we must not wait on the Divine sovereignty, placing responsibility for the absence of spiritual visitation and quickening upon God. God uses means to bring about His purposes, and our dedication is not the least of these.

Is there any formula for us to fulfill in order to bring revival to reality? An analysis of New Testament experience and of historical revivals would suggest these prerequisites. First, united confession. It is essential that evangelicals confess their fragmentization, their divisions, their suspicions, their impotencies, their faithlessness, and their quarreling. Nothing will break down barriers faster than this. Second, we must have united prayer. The promises of Scripture are based upon such spiritual unity in prayer (Matthew 18:18—20; Isaiah 45:11; 66:8). Third, there must be united believing (Mark 11:24; Matthew 21:21,22). Fourth, there must be united witnessing (Acts 2:1, ii). All these conditions were fulfilled in the pre-Pentecostal prayer meetings of the apostles and disciples. In th proportion in which we fulfill them today, we may experience revival visitation.

As the early and latter rain was promised in Ancient Israel (Hosea 6:3), and as God promised to pour out His spirit upon all, flesh (Joel 2:28), we believe that we may experience times of refreshing in this age. Let us have faith in the promise of God, for with God nothing is impossible. Let us act upon this promise, depending upon the Holy Spirit to attend the good news with quickening power.

 

 


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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006