Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Gospel: Puritan Style

I am reading a book by J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness; The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, and I wanted to post an interesting statement reflecting the views of the Puritans regarding the gospel:
The Puritan position was that only God, by his Spirit, through his word, can bring sinners to faith, and that he does this, not to our order, but according to his own free purpose. Our evangelistic practice, the Puritans would say, must be in accord with this truth. Modes of action which imply another doctrine cannot be approved.
The Puritan position seems [undoubtedly] biblical, and ... its implications are of great importance for the reforming of inherited evangelistic traditions today. It implies, to start with, that all devices for exerting psychological pressure in order to precipitate 'decisions' must be [avoided], as being in truth presumptuous attempts to intrude into the province of the Holy Ghost. It means, further, that to [renounce] such devices is no loss, since their use can contribute nothing whatever to the effectiveness of evangelistic preaching. Indeed, it will in the long run detract from it; for while psychological pressures, skillfully handled, may produce the outward form of 'decision', they cannot bring about regeneration and a change of heart, and when the 'decisions' wear off those who registered them will be found 'gospel-hardened' and antagonistic. Such forcing of tactics can only do damage, perhaps incalculable damage, to men's souls. It follows, therefore, that high-speed evangelism is not a valid option. Evangelism must rather be conceived as a long-term enterprise of patient teaching and instruction, in which God's servants seek simply to be faithful in delivering the gospel message and applying it to human lives, and leave it to God's Spirit to draw men to faith through this message in his own way and at his own speed.

How does the Spirit work? Does he authentically work through our begging people to walk an aisle, or does he work most powerfully through the preaching of God's word? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

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