Chinese Church Voices

Evangelism, Reformed Theology, and Church Life, Part 3

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

 Last week we posted the second part of an article from ChurchChina about the impact of Reformed theology on evangelism in “Y Church.” Part one discussed the current situation of Y Church. The second part described in more detail how the research findings describe the impact of Reformed theology on Y Church’s evangelism. The third part gives recommendations for Y Church’s evangelism. This is part three.

The Impact of Reformed Theology on the Church's Gospel Ministry–A Case Study of "Y" Church's Evangelism, continued

Recommendations for Y Church's Evangelism

1. Focus small groups on evangelism

Small group ministry is ministry that campus fellowships cannot ignore, so much so that people say that it is the best existing model for current campus work and a model for fastest development. In the past Y Church used small groups for evangelism, causing the church to develop rapidly. Unfortunately, they did not continue to make small groups about evangelism. For a time, the small groups functioned as groups to "stabilize the church and firm up the pastorate." This change resulted in internal development of the church. Fellowship became more stable and more solidified. Small groups repeated the same things. They brought nothing new and even shrank.

I propose that Y Church change the orientation of small groups to once again make them a window to the gospel and thus help attract seekers to church to hear the gospel preached from the pulpit. Simply better coordinating these two, that is church and small groups, can help change members' view of a high threshold to the gospel. After small groups are active, each person can find the appropriate space to ask questions about the gospel. The church will liven up and develop because people are sharing the gospel.

2. Do not "imprison" the gospel within a narrow definition

You could say that Reformed theology exhausts its strength when it comes to passing on the proper gospel. Some scholars give definitions from systematic theology, others from narrative themes. However, whatever the perspective, the aim is to define what exactly the gospel is. Recently, ChurchChina published the article, "The Reformation Continues—Reconfirm and Uphold the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone." The author "Timothy" says, "Calvin believed that justification is pivotal, and is the center around which everything turns. Justification by faith alone is also the heart of Paul's teaching. So, when we say we rediscover the 'gospel' of the Reformation, we also say we rediscover justification by faith alone."[1] This tells us that the core definition of the gospel is justification by faith alone. But, if it is only this, not many members can share the gospel and not many can clearly explain the gospel.

I believe that Tim Keller's view is more appropriate: "The gospel is not everything, the gospel is not a simple thing, and the gospel affects everything."[2] So, the gospel is not only doctrinal, but also descriptive, and has more applicability. Most members share an applicable gospel, that is, how the gospel impacted their own lives. That includes not just the gospel, but a gospel of flesh and blood, a gospel that ordinary people can understand. This is a "doctrinal gospel" that is practiced in context. If everyone narrows the definition of the gospel, then would an authoritative scholar please write a gospel tract to just put the whole matter to rest? In fact the gospel can't be narrowed. We should move towards Tim Keller's "the gospel affects everything."

3. Don't give up on the evangelistic mission because there are no results

Spurgeon once shared about George Whitefield's evangelism experience:

The great eighteenth-century evangelist was hounded by a group of detractors who called themselves the 'Hell-fire Club.’ When Whitefield would stand outside preaching, this little group of guys would stand off on the side and mimic him. They didn't believe a word of it. The ringleader was called Thorpe. One day Thorpe was mimicking Whitefield to his cronies, delivering his sermon with brilliant accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and facial expressions, when he himself was so pierced that he sat down and was converted on the spot."[3]

As we can see, whether one has the ability to evangelize or whether we are ordinary believers, no one is able to say that they are able on their own to bring people to faith in the Lord when they evangelize. In the end it's the work of the Holy Spirit in people's hearts that brings them to the Lord. Accordingly, no individual believer can boast in his own strength to lead a sinner to faith in Christ, not even veteran evangelists, for it is ultimately the Holy Spirit's work in a man's heart to work salvation. As Paul says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13). So, we can boldly to evangelize and entrust the results to God.

In addition, to those in the body who say that they "don't know how to share" and "don't dare to share," I want to share Paul's words to encourage them. “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Therefore, we don't need to be afraid of "not being able to speak" and evangelizing.

4. According to Biblical revelation and our belief in predestination, we should have more confidence to continue preaching the gospel

The Book of Acts records the setbacks Paul encountered preaching the gospel in Corinth. “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, 'Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.'” (Acts 18: 9-10). Thus, Paul preached the gospel in Corinth for a year and a half. He established the Corinthian church, bringing the elect there to repentance because of their hearing the gospel. Similarly, as for the Y Church that holds to reformed theology, shouldn't they strive to share the gospel in this city to make known God's chosen people? As it says in Acts 13:48, "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." These truths are the most motivating for our evangelism. It's not right to stop "casting nets" knowing that there are "fish." The right thing is to continue "casting nets" until "as many as were appointed to eternal life believe."

5. The Reformed church that emphasizes rationality when evangelizing to postmoderns must pay attention to the importance of building relationships

Reformed churches are often understood by people to be one of the most logical, meticulous, systematic, and powerfully articulated denominations. Churches under Reformed theology's influence must take note of Saint Francis of Assisi's remark to "Preach the gospel to all people, and if necessary use words."[4] So, it seems that Reformed theology has lost its key strength and must face the fact that postmoderns value relationships. That is, the church must strike a balance between sensibility and rationalism—evangelism will be more effective by knowing and doing together.

I previously published an article in ChurchChina called, "The Necessity of Student Ministry—Concise Analysis of a 1400-Question Survey." Here is an extract from that paper that elaborates on the importance of relationships when evangelizing to postmoderns:

That survey also found that post-90s youth emphasize relationships and the self. Current university students belong to the post-90s generation. And, as we can see from image one, 56.9% of those students surveyed said their faith was impacted by their family; 21% said church members; 3.5% said Sunday school teachers; 9.3% said pastors impacted their faith. The first two are classified as relational, making a total of 77.9%. The latter two are pedagogical, making a total of 12.8%. Comparing the two percentages together we can see that post-90s university students emphasize relationships more. I myself have experienced this in the pastoral context. A lot of teaching will turn people off. But, they actively participate in activities instead.

I would like to use a quote from Lu Zunen's article "What Are Our Young People Thinking?" to conclude:

To share the gospel with post-90s youth, one must both build a relationship and pass on knowledge. When a trusting and loving relationship is built, post-90s youth are often quite open to learning about faith. Their interests are broadened and there are many things they are open to learning about with others. What is more, once spiritually empty youth step into the halls of faith, they are on fire to grasp the entire system of Christian faith.[5] 

Author: Qiu Zhi, 2017-01-26

Original article: 改革宗神学对教会福音事工的影响 ——以Y教会为例谈传福音   (教会, ChurchChina)


  1. ^ Timothy Keller (提摩太·凯乐), “Gaijiao gaige zai jixu – Chongxin queren bing chishou” “宗教改革在继续——重新确认并持守“因信称义”的福音,” ChurchChina《教会》No. 5 of 61, September, 2016. 
  2. ^ Timothy Keller (提摩太·凯乐), ”Fuyin Shenxue”《福音神学》, p. 13.
  3. ^ Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim, 1974), 34: 115.
  4. ^ Laurie Green (萝利·葛林著), Let's Do Theology: Resources for Contextual Theology, 《做神学—同走进处境神学》, translated by Chan Kwan Ying (陈群英 ), (Hong Kong: Chinese Christian Literature Council, (香港: 基督教文艺出版社), 2012) p. 7. 
  5. ^ Lu Zun’en(陆尊恩), ”Women de niangqingren zai xiang shenme? – Qiantan ruhe xiang 80hou、90hou、95hou chuanfuyin “我们的年轻人在想什么?——浅谈如何向80后、90后、95后传福音” ("What Are Our Young People Thinking?"), ChurchChina《教会》No. 6 of 50,November, 2014.
Image credit: Chinese Bible by Wesley Fryer via Flickr.
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