Friday, January 29, 2016

Southern Baptist Evangelism and Unregenerate Evangelicals

I receive in the mail the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Messenger, the free periodical of this Southern Baptist seminary.  The Winter 2015 issue was entitled: "Focus on Evangelism."  On page 5, the "Practical Missions Report" indicates that all seminary students at the institution between August 2015 and November 2015 witnessed to 1,725 people.  That does not sound like all that many in terms of the number of students enrolled at the seminary, although one can be glad that some evangelism is going on.  Followed by this not especially high number, the striking figure follows that of these 1,725 people witnessed to 185 made "professions of faith," according to the magazine.  This practice of 1 in 10 or higher of the people witnessed to making what the periodical calls "professions of faith"--that is, repeating the "sinner's prayer"--is something that has been relatively consistent in this Southern Baptist periodical, as I have noticed over the course of quite a number of issues.  On page 9, one student testifies that he has seen "more than 54,000 precious people ask Jesus to save them, over 1,000 this year alone."  On page 19, the seminary promotes a vision of having Southern Baptist pastors and other church leaders "share the gospel with at least one person per week."  This terribly low goal would be considered "revival," and the president of the seminary invited "all 46,000 Southern Baptist pastors to join us in sharing the Gospel an average of once a week . . . [i]f only one in 20 of those hearers prayed to receive Christ, that would be more than 200,000 professions of faith in Christ!  Friends, we are going to take our nation back!"  None of the statistics given in the magazine indicate how many of the people who said the sinner's prayer were baptized or continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2)--probably because the number was very, very low.  Nowhere in the magazine is there the slightest warning about false professions.

What is striking for anyone who seeks to practice Biblical evangelism is that these statistics are astonishingly high.  There is no evidence that anywhere close to 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 of the people Christ or the Apostles preached to was genuinely converted.  Nor do I know anyone who practices Biblical evangelism in the United States that sees conversion statistics such as these, that is, if conversion is defined as a lost person, enabled by God's grace, coming to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  If, however, "professions of faith" are defined as manipulating people to repeat a "sinner's prayer," then 1 in 10, at least in certain socio-economic strata of America, is not surprising, nor especially difficult.  It can be done without any help from God at all.

Statistics such as these indicate that Hyles-type "evangelism" is, sadly, not restricted to certain segments of fundamental, independent Baptists.  Such "evangelism" is rampant in Southern Baptist evangelicalism and in many other evangelical circles.  For instance, Bill Bright's Four Spiritual Laws was explicitly developed by a salesman with salesmanship in mind.  The only major difference is that Hyles-people typically do more salesmanship than one person a week, the goal for the Southern Baptist pastors.

Just as Hyles-style salesmanship disguised as "evangelism" has led to huge numbers of unregenerate people in Hyles-churches--explaining the large amounts of sexual immorality and other perversions at such religious centers--so Southern Baptist salesmanship "evangelism" has led to huge numbers of unconverted evangelicals and unconverted Southern Baptist pastors and other religious leaders, just as huge numbers of non-Baptist evangelicals are unconverted.

A 1976 Master of Divinity thesis at the Southern Baptist flagship Southern Seminary by Noel W. Hollyfield, Jr., is illuminating. Of diploma students, 100% knew that God existed without any doubt, that Jesus was doubtless the divine Son of God, that He would return to earth some day, and that there is a life after death. 96% believed miracles happened just like the Bible says that they did, that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He walked on water, and that the devil actually exists. Of final year Master of Divinity students, only 65% knew that God existed without any doubt, 63% said that Jesus was doubtless the divine Son of God (the percentage that believed in His theanthropic Person as the only begotten of the Father was certainly lower than this; "divine Son of God" is easily twisted into neo-orthodoxy and liberalism), 56% believed He would return to earth some day, and 67% believed in life after death. Only 40% believed that miracles happened just like the Bible says they did, 33% believed He was virgin born, 44% believed He walked on water, and 42% believed that the devil exists. The figures grew even worse for Master of Theology and Doctorate students; of these, only 63% were sure that God existed, the same percentage had no doubt Jesus was the "divine Son of God," 53% believed He would return to earth some day, 53% believed in life after death, 37% believed miracles happened just as the Bible declares, 32% believed He was virgin born, 37% believed the devil existed, and 22% believed Jesus walked on water.

The most notable fact about these (yes, now somewhat dated) statistics is not that theological modernism was being taught at Southern Seminary–it is the fact that such a high percentage of those who think they are called to preach, pastor, etc. in the Southern Baptist Convention are able to be convinced that such fundamental Christian doctrines are false. Only a lost man will ever deny the resurrection, and other doctrines of the gospel (1 Cor 15:2, 14; Gal 1:8-9, etc.).  The fact that these Southern Baptist leaders are able to come out of their seminary as modernists shows that, going into the school, of the 96% or so that were orthodox, very, very many of them were orthodox but unconverted. Why? Not because the Southern Baptist Convention does not have orthodox doctrinal statements, but because of weak or false evangelistic methodology that confuses the repetition of the "sinner's prayer" with, drawn by the Spirit of God, coming to Christ in repentance and faith for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. And if a majority of prospective Southern Baptist pastors were, in the 1970s, unconverted, what is the situation among their church members? And what is the likelihood that the Convention's evangelistic methods have drastically improved since then?  What percentage of Southern Baptists is unconverted now? And who is to think that other evangelical denominations do not have similar percentages of orthodox but unconverted members? The sea-change in evangelistic methodology from the 18th century to today–which has influenced fundamentalism as well as evangelicalism– has produced a terrible epidemic of false professions. In conclusion, it is very likely that the average Southern Baptist and the average evangelical is lost, in large part because of corrupt substitution of salesmanship for genuine Biblical evangelism, just as the average member of a Hyles-church may be lost. (That most Southern Baptists are lost has even been recognized by some SBC leaders.)  Indeed, the average evangelical pastor may even be lost.  The "evangelism" of Mid-America Baptist Seminary will never take the nation back--instead, it will produce vast numbers of false professions and hardened hearts who think Christ "didn't work" because of the false and confused gospel presented to the lost by undoubtedly well-meaning evangelicals.

Readers of this blog are encouraged to pray and then to witness to far more than one person a week. They should work with their churches to preach to every single person in their community through public evangelism and through going house to house, to practice Biblical evangelism that seeks to point the lost to Christ so that they come to Him in repentant faith, rather than manipulating them to repeat a "sinner's prayer," and to have specific resources to give to the lost evangelicals that they are likely to run across as they practice Biblical evangelism (and specific resources for other types of lost people).  A survey of the history of how we got to this terrible point in evangelical evangelism is also worth the study (see here and here). Readers should also only consider partnering with other churches in training men for the ministry at institutions that recognize the severe problems with modern salemanship "evangelism" and the epidemic of false professions (while still maintaining a zeal for genuine Biblical evangelism).  Finally, they should be very careful in dealing with evangelicals or Hyles-type fundamentalists that wish to join their churches, so that they can, as much as possible, only accept into their membership genuinely converted people.


Tyler Robbins said...

Cultural Christianity is a great and terrible plague. I recently had lunch with a man I didn't know, but who claims to be a Christian. He attends an apostate denominational church, and confided in me that he "doesn't get anything out of church" anymore.

I asked him if he'd been reading his Bible. He looked embarrased, and said, "No really. Sometimes, I just open my Bible, flip through the pages, and randonly pick a verse or two to read."

I told him that the sword of the Spirit was the word of God, and said that he couldn't expect to be encouraged to serve the Lord if he never read the Lord's word. At this point, I began to suspect that he wasn't actually a Chriistian at all. I explained the Gospel to him briefly, and encouraged him to read through a book of the Bible before we talk again.

He said, "Yeah, but I just don't understand any of it." I asked him if he had a study Bible which could explain the background of some of the letters. This is when he dropped a very sad bombshell. He said, "Yeah, I think I have a study Bible. It's got . . . like . . . the Old and New Testaments in it, or something like that?"

This man believes he's a Christian. He "prayed the prayer" when he was a little boy. He is not a Christian. He participates in the (now old-fashioned) cultural practice of "going to church," but he is not a Christian. This "other Gospel" has given him false security. How awful.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't get as much of what Tyler describes, because there is less cultural Christianity in California. It is quite normal to have someone tell you that they don't need your help because they're all set. I don't get lots of people claiming already to be saved where I'm at.

However, I think that Thomas here provides a great contribution to the thought that, since independent Baptist fundamentalism is so bad, I'll go be an evangelical Southern Baptist. You're not improving from that in the thing that people would say is important, the gospel. The evangelicals do what the bad independent Baptists do but with even more sinning, because there is nothing in the way of personal separation preached either. Either way, people are not saved, but I can see how someone might think unsaved evangelicalism is better, because there you're not saved, plus you get to do almost everything the world does too.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Tyler,

That sounds terrible. Very sad.

The problem is much deeper than apostate denominational churches, though; the Southern Baptists have a decent doctrinal statement that is not apostate.

JimCamp65 said...

Hello All,

My background is very much the Hyles crowd. The Lord graciously prevented an impressionable preacher boy from going to school there. It took years, but I now repudiate their error.

Thomas stated...
"Just as Hyles-style salesmanship disguised as "evangelism" has led to huge numbers of unregenerate people in Hyles-churches--explaining the large amounts of sexual immorality and other perversions at such religious centers"

I would like to disagree with this statement. I have little doubt that some of these men are unregenerate, & even more of their members. I think a more likely cause of immorality in their preachers is the exaltation of the pastor above what is appropriate. Pride. "That pastor is never wrong". I am not making excuse, in this statement, for habitual adulterers.

These churches use slipshod evangelism, & it is wrong & destructive. I agree. But I've known many devout Christians who believed upon the Lord Jesus from their churches. They've had definitive changes of life (repentance), made public profession & been baptized (confession), & moved forward in following Jesus Christ (sanctification / discipleship / perseverance). I struggle to see them as lost, based upon they were lead in a prayer. If they are depending upon an "open sesame" prayer, then I would have my doubts. If they found their way through the fog to an honest repentant faith in Jesus Christ, then I think we should accept their testimony. Thomas' last sentence said as much, I think.

Just my $.02. As always, greatly appreciate the material here. Learned much
Jim Camp

Tyler Robbins said...

To Bro. Brandenburg and Bro. Ross:

It is always interesting to see how where you live impacts the context in which you minister. I'm in the middle of Illinois. We're surrounded by corn and apostate liberal denominations. Cultural Christianity is still very much alive here.

All the adults I've had Gospel discussions with consider themselves Christians. It's a social thing. One man told me, "The (PC-USA) Presbyterian Church will always be my church. I went to Sunday School there. My mom and dad went there. We've always gone there." He hadn't actually set foot inside the church in 12 years, but he still felt a cultural attachment to it.

Farmer Brown said...

I was recently in an area that is has a strong "christian culture", preaching door to door. It was encouraging. I visited perhaps 100 people, and of those 100, at least 10 invited me in to present the gospel. These visits lasted from 20 minutes to two hours.

Of those 10, all but one eventually professed to be believers, not because of my witness, but prior to it. Only two attended church regularly. That was an ABC-USA church. Several were cohabiting in an unmarried state. All insisted they were believers. Only one wanted to follow up on that conversation.

This is the great danger of easy-believism and evangelical doctrine. You can be saved because you prayed a prayer (easy-believism), and do not need to be different in any way from the world (evangelicalism).

I am almost certain that all those with whom I spoke were unregenerate, but try convincing them of that. Most "christians" they knew were just like them, so why would they need to change? They can't all be wrong, right?

I do not know what is more difficult, evangelizing the lost (Like Kent in CA) or evangelizing the "saved" like we just did.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Camp,

I agree that the pride and man-worship is a big part of the immorality also. But aren't they also abominations, and isn't it the lost who are characteristically prating abominations?

Also, I agree that there are certainly saved people in Hyles churches. The more consistent they are with their practice, though, the more that number will shrink over time until the whole thing goes apostate.

Thanks for the comment.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Farmer Brown,

I would personally probably give people like that my pamphlet for evangelicals:

Steve Rogers said...

This is a great article and very timely considering all the "professions of faith" by evangelicals and southern baptists during the Iowa republican presidential campaign season. I can't tell you how many Christians, even pastors, I know, that are hailing Trump and Rubio as "saved." When I point out that neither has even professed a Biblical gospel and Rubio is openly Roman Catholic, they immediately pull out the "judge not" nonsense. I've heard many defend Rubio's "salvation" citing the fact that Rubio attends half his time in an emerging SBC in Florida, where he has made a profession of faith. Then he goes to his Catholic mass on Sunday to take the Eucharist.

Trump's salvation? I had an IB retired preacher tell me that a couple from his church met with Trump personally and led him to Christ 6 months ago. We are in very bad shape concerning the most important thing...the Gospel!

Steve Rogers said...

I'd love to see a series of articles on the Gospel and professing politicians.