"The Dying American Church"–Is Calvinism the culprit?

Thom Rainer, newly elected President of Lifeway finds his typically optimistic heart deeply challenged by the evangelistic anemia that characterizes most evangelical churches in America. According to his research, it takes 86 American church members one year to reach one person for Christ. His research further suggests some reasons for this:

  1. Doctrinal ineffectiveness, by which he means that major doctrines of the Bible are often avoided by churches. Repentance, hell, regenerate church membership and church discipline are disappearing from the life and ministry of many churches.
  2. Church leaders are becoming less evangelistic. A recent survey of pastors discovered that 53% of them had not made an attempt in the past 6 months to engage one lost person evangelistically.
  3. Minor issues often distract Christians from focusing on evangelism.

Rainer concludes: “The numerical evidence seems clear. The American church is dying.” Coming from an optimist, these are sobering words. Rainer’s opinion is not that different from the assessment that many have been making for decades, however, in the midst of of much evangelical self-congratulatory celebration. Maybe if his and other voices continue to join the chorus, more evangelicals will stop boasting long enough to engage in some much needed self-evaluation.

One final note–Rainer wisely does not try to blame the spread of Calvinism for the decay of American Christianity. It is obvious that 53% of American evangelical pastors are not Calvinistic. Calvinism is not the culprit. But it may indeed be the antidote. As the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace continue to spread throughout churches in our country the prospect of revival and reformation increases. Apart from such spiritual renewal sent by God, Rainer’s prophecy will sadly come true.

We need to heed the wisdom of the great Southern Baptist leader from the early 20th century, J. B. Gambrell. He recognized that the great need of his day was a renewal of the preaching of the doctrines of grace. This is what he said:

We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine, when done in the true spirit of preaching. Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace, predestination, election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace a in all things else. God honors the preaching that honors him. There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a truce with their Maker quit sinning and join the church. The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender. Let us bring out the heavy artillery of heaven, and thunder away at this stuck-up age as Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Paul did and there will be many slain in the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life (quoted in Tom Nettles’ By His Grace, For His Glory, 216).

Pray for ongoing reformation in our day!

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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