I have often heard people say that it does not matter what evangelistic method you use as long as you are preaching the gospel. Some argue for this laissez faire approach to evangelistic methods because God is not limited (“put in a box”) by what we do. They point out that God is not restrained even by our faulty and unbiblical methods and I readily agree that is true. When the gospel is present, God does sometimes save souls through faulty methods. But that does not mean that God is pleased by the methods themselves. That does not mean that God sanctions them. To say that God has the ability to overcome our faulty methods is not the same as saying that God endorses our faulty methods. As Charles Spurgeon also said, “In the church of the present age there is a desire to be doing something for God, but few inquire what he wills them to do. Many things are done for the evangelizing of the people which were never commanded by the great Head of the Church, and cannot be approved of by him” (quoted in The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray, p. 111).
It must be remembered that God has, in fact, built a biblical “box” for himself and we dare not tear it down because it impedes our evangelistic agenda and goals. This simply means that if God has said something about our ministry of the gospel, we should seek to conform ourselves and our ministry to that revelation from God. While God is not limited by what we do, we are responsible for what we do. Our actions are bound by conscience to obey whatever God has said in the Word.
This is not a new perspective. This is the historic perspective of Christian orthodoxy. For instance Jonathan Edwards would put it this way, “The Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation; and we know that he uses a great variety; and we cannot tell how great a variety he may use, within the compass of the rules he himself has fixed. We ought not limit God where he has not limited himself” (Jonathan Edwards, The Distinguishing Marks of A Work of the Spirit of God, p. 89). I agree with Edwards, we should not limit God where He has not limited Himself. We should not build a box around God, that he has not built for himself. But where God has placed any limitations through his revealed Word (i.e. as Edwards puts it, “the compass of the rules he himself has fixed”) on how we view his character or how we conduct our lives, or how we engage in evangelism, we are bound to obey.
I am thankful that God has saved sinners despite the flawed methodology often used in evangelism today. I praise the Lord for the evangelistic zeal of those who sometimes use these methods, knowing that many of them are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t doubt their genuine love for Christ and love for lost souls. I cannot, however, condone methods which God does not condone, which distort the gospel message, which confuse the meaning of true repentance, and which are destructive to the souls of many people by luring them into a false sense of security, among other things.
A pragmatist says we should use any means available to reach people that the normal means God gives won’t (or can’t) reach by themselves. This is an example of man-centered evangelism and a low view of God’s ability to save his elect through the means he ordained. The Scripture says we should use the means that God prescribes because they bring glory to God as they point to Him as the author of salvation, who alone can save all men through the means he ordained. This is an example of God-centered, God-glorifying evangelism. May we be engaged in this kind of evangelism in greater ways for the glory of God and the salvation of many!