Monday, October 21, 2013


The title question should be addressed to those Calvinists who in past centuries preached the gospel fearlessly and steadfastly in the face of ridicule and persecution. To those who carried the gospel to hostile lands and persevered in spite of trials that modern American Christians can scarcely imagine.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

Let’s ask John Bunyan , the author of The Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding to The Chief of Sinners. Bunyan was a tinker by trade, and therefore the established Church of England forbid him to preach. He preached anyway, and a small congregation of faithful believers was formed. For his persistence, Bunyan was repeatedly thrown into the Bedford Jail where he spent a total of twelve years! During one of those imprisonments John Bunyan penned his classic allegory of the Christian life that we know as The Pilgrim's Progress.

What is less known is that Bunyan’s prolific writing fills three thick, oversized volumes of tracts, poetry, books, stories, and Bible expositions. Throughout these works he expounds clearly and fully his Calvinistic theology.

How many of us have languished in prison for preaching the gospel?

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

 Now let’s ask George Whitefield, the 18th century evangelist whose open-air meetings attracted countless thousands of listeners both in England and America. Some estimate the converts from Whitefield’s ministry at nearly one million souls!

Whitefield’s open-air meetings often attracted hecklers and worse. Thugs would throw fruit, vegetables, and sometimes stones. One malicious fellow climbed a tree above where the evangelist was preaching and urinated on him.

How many of us would endure such opposition and keep on preaching?

Yet Whitefield made no secret of his Calvinistic convictions. Because of them, his once good friend, John Wesley, attacked his views in sermons and in print. Whitefield answered Wesley in an open letter entitled, “Why I Preach Electing Grace.” Whitefield correctly observed, “This letter no doubt will lose me many friends.”

So, can a Calvinist evangelize?

 Along with the intrepid George Whitfield, another staunchly Calvinistic preacher was used of God to spark the Great Awakening of the 1740s:
Jonathan Edwards. Edwards also wrote volumes of theological works and is considered by Christian and secular scholars alike to be one of America’s keenest thinkers.

Before delivering his monumental sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards prayed and fasted for three days. He was overheard crying out in prayer, “God give me New England!” The sovereign God of heaven and earth answered that prayer and revival broke out that changed the course of American history for over a century.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

Ask William Carey who sailed off with his frail wife and young children to India without financial support. He settled on the disease invested banks of the Hooghli River.

His colleague, a medical doctor who could have contributed to the financial needs of the team, took off for Calcutta leaving Carey in the lurch.

But William Carey believed in a sovereign God, and that faith strengthened him to press on in spite of all obstacles. “Expect great things from God,” he wrote later, “and attempt great things for God.” For Carey, the order was clear: we must look to God before we can do anything for Him.

Dorothy Carey’s mental and emotional state steadily deteriorated until she had to be confined. Still Carey pressed on, opening new stations, publishing more literature, winning more souls.

Carey’s Calvinism, far from hindering his work, emboldened him to attempt every means at this disposal to further the gospel in India. He translated the Scriptures into many Eastern dialects, taught both college and grammar school, preached, printed tracts, books, and Scriptures, and published the first European-style newspaper in the Bengali language.

Carey’s multi-faceted ministry earned him the title, “Father of Modern Missions” and an honorary doctorate from Brown University in Rhode Island, even though he had never visited the United States!

Can Calvinists evangelize? 

Finally, we should ask the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul? How could he be a Calvinist? Well, because Calvin, like Augustine centuries before him, took his doctrine from Paul’s epistles. Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapter 9, expresses boldly the Apostle's conviction that a person's salvation does not depend upon human will, but upon God's sovereign mercy: "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy," He says.

Jesus Himself made it very clear in John 6:44 –

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Can a Calvinist evangelize?

It is the assurance that God is sovereignly working to draw people to His Son that emboldens the evangelist to persevere in the face of all opposition.*

* (See Acts 18:9-10)

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Jones

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I’m sure you’ve known people whom you could identify solely by certain features of their speech.  When I enrolled in my senior high school English class, a former student of the teacher said, “Don’t let him utilize you.”  I thought that was a strange remark until, during a rather warm spring class period, that teacher looked at me and said, “Mr. Jones, could I utilize you to open a window?” I’ll always remember Mr. Daly by that word – utilize.

Certain authors are especially skilled at developing characters by their speech patterns.  John Grisham is one.  Those authors can record pages of dialog without a dialogue tag and we know just who is talking.  Bible writers have their peculiar expressions, too.  When the Holy Spirit moved upon the writers of Scripture, he guaranteed the result without destroying the writers’ style.  Yet that rich expression of individuality is all but obliterated in most modern translations because the translators (more accurately paraphrasers) felt they had to explain the meaning of the texts rather than faithfully convey the text itself with all the original authors’ stylistic words and phrases.

One important example is the Apostle Paul’s use of the Greek word for “flesh,” sarx, especially in the phrase “according to [the] flesh.”[1]  This is a common phrase in Paul’s writings; in fact, the exact phrase that Paul uses, kata sarka, “according to flesh,” is only found in Paul’s epistles.[2]  But the NIV translators seem to be repulsed by the word “flesh,” as though it were a cross in the face of a vampire! Using their license called “dynamic equivalency,” the translators interpret for the reader what they think Paul meant by the phrase “according to flesh” in its various contexts.  Here’s how they render it:

“as to his (Christ’s) human nature”  (Romans 1:3)
“according to the sinful nature” (Romans 8:4, 5, 12, 13)
“of my own race” (Romans 9:3)
“the human ancestry” (Romans 9:5)
“by human standards” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
“in a worldly manner” (2 Corinthians 1:17)
“from a worldly point of view” and “in this way” (2 Corinthians 5:16)
“by standards of this world” (2 Corinthians 10:2)
“as the world does” (2 Corinthians 10:3)
“in the way the world does” (2 Corinthians 11:18)
“in the ordinary way” (Galatians 4:23, 29)
“earthly” (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22)

How would anyone guess that these “translations” were of the same phrase in the original Greek? Not only do the translators completely obliterate this characteristic of Paul’s writing, but in so doing, they obscure some important biblical truths.  I am amused when I see advertisements for “exegetical” commentaries “based on the NIV”.  That seems to be akin to a literary analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet based on Cliff’s Notes! 

It’s time to end the dictatorship of the NIV and get back to what God actually said! Essentially literal translations, like the NKJV, ESV, and NASB, those that seek to be faithful to the words and expressions of the biblical authors, give us a window through which we may interact with God's Word as He inspired it. I urge everyone to procure one.[3]

[1] Paul’s phrase is actually “according to flesh” in the Greek, but it is translated “according to the flesh” in essentially literal translations.
[2] Late manuscripts include the phrase in Acts 2:30, with variations, but that reading does not appear to be the original reading.  Even if it were to be accepted as original, the would be understandable that Paul’s companion, Luke, who wrote Acts would use the phrase.
[3]For an excellent discussion of the difference between Dynamic Equivalent and Essentially Literal translations I recommend the following: Choosing a Bible by Leland Ryken and the longer book, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation by Leland Ryken.