Today's "Calvinism" and evangelismARE "CALVINISTS" LACKING IN EVANGELISM?
While professed Reformed Calvinists are often wont to "wallpaper" their blogs and websites with Spurgeon photos, there is a noticeable lack of similarity between them and Spurgeon. For example, I know many who would probably decry Spurgeon's message on salvation by faith -- just as the "high" and "ultra" Calvinists did in Spurgeon's own lifetime.
Modern Reformed Calvinists react rather strenuously against the idea that "Calvinism kills evangelism" (See Ernest C. Reisinger, A Biography, page 72), and the usual retort is to mention past personalities such as Spurgeon who were evidently not retarded in their zeal and efforts by their version of Calvinism.
However, no less a Calvinist "reformer" than Iain Murray apparently recognizes the lack of Spurgeonic evangelistic emphasis in the so-called "resurgence" of Calvinism in our time.
In the Preface of his 1995 book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, Murray says:
In the 1960s it seemed to many of us that Spurgeon's continuing significance had to do with his witness to the free-grace convictions of the Reformers and Puritans over against the shallow and non-doctrinal evangelicalism of our day. Thirty years later that witness remains relevant and yet it is apparent that the recovery of doctrinal Christianity is not necessarily our chief need today.
In many churches there has been a real increase in knowledge and a resurgence of Calvinistic belief has occurred across the world. The word 'forgotten' is happily far less applicable to Spurgeon than it was forty years ago. But it may well be that the time has come when we need to be MUCH MORE FAMILIAR with a rather different emphasis in Spurgeon.
While I know of no evidence that Hyper-Calvinism is recovering strength, it would appear that THE PRIORITY WHICH SOUL-WINNING HAD IN SPURGEON'S MINISTRY IS NOT COMMONLY SEEN TO BE OUR PRIORITY.
The revival of DOCTRINE has scarcely been matched by a revival of EVANGELISM. While not accepting the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism it may well be that we have not been sufficiently alert to the danger of allowing a supposed consistency in doctrine to OVERRIDE THE BIBLICAL PRIORITY OF ZEAL FOR CHRIST AND SOULS OF MEN.
Doctrine without usefulness is no prize. As Spurgeon says, 'You may look down with contempt on some who do not know so much as you, and yet they may have twice your holiness and be doing more service to God.'
This leads one to wonder about the sort of "Calvinism" of this age when compared to that of former years. My own personal observation is that there has been far too much emphasis on what Murray calls "consistency of doctrine" than what he calls "the Biblical priority of zeal for Christ and the souls of men." I have -- for better or for worse -- since the mid-1950s had a firsthand knowledge of several centers or bases of what Murray calls the "resurgence of Calvinistic belief," and looking back upon the subsequent aftermath of those distant "resurgencies" is not very inspirational.
Groups of individuals and churches over the country which gathered around an emphasis on "Calvinistic belief" at "Grace Conferences" such as those held in Cincinnati OH, Ashland KY, Carlisle PA, Houston TX, London UK, and in other cities have not left a very desirable, attractive landscape. Few would care to recall in detail and with perfect candor what has developed in certain places across time. What began in various locales as a sort of "burning bush" has over the years become more like unto the "withered fig tree."
What seems to have been a "common" missing element in each of these "resurgent" scenarios is what Murray himself cites -- "the PRIORITY which soul-winning had in Spurgeon's ministry." What mattered most seems to have been theoretical "soundness," ecclesiastical "reformation," and what Founders' founder Ernest Reisinger called "experiential application in areas of worship and witness." Looking back on these areas today is to behold something on the order of an old Western "gold rush" town filled with balls of sagebrush rolling around on the streets.
An acquaintance of mine, Stephen Garrett, has recently reflected upon this same topic. You may read his article, Spurgeon and Today's Baptists, at the BaptistGadfly.