Monday, March 4, 2013

Doing EC Evangelism in Contrast to the 'Lordship' Style of Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort
We have a pastor friend, I should say he has been one of my dad's best friends ever since Bible College (for my dad), back in the 70s, and he has pastored a smallish Baptist church in Oregon for close to 30 years now. This friend of my dad's (and he is a friend of mine too :-) apparently has been dealing with a guy who has just recently become a zealous 5 point Calvinist. Apparently this guy who has been a member of this church for over 20 years, and who has been a 5 point Calvinist for many of those years, has just recently gotten a hold of Ray Comfort's (and Kirk Cameron's) evangelistic ministry (Way of the Master). Ray Comfort has been a street Evangelist (something I have been involved in too, esp. in the past, for many years) for years and years; and he has built his ministry up around the supposition that usage of the "Law" to preach the Gospel is really the best and only way to engage in the proclamation of the Gospel (i.e. so he will use the James passage that says if you have broken one part of the Law you have broken all parts and thus are guilty and need salvation). Well, this guy in this church has really been challenging our friend (the pastor of this church), with a need to engage in this kind and style of ministry; with 5 point Calvinist shape.

So this pastor friend of our's (my dad and myself) has been trying to call me, and has been talking to my dad. My dad has told this friend about our Evangelical Calvinism and our book, and so our friend would like to get some "counsel" from me on how to maybe handle this situation he is currently being faced with in his church (which in a smallish church could threaten to cause some real damage ... I've seen it happen before!). I am not totally sure, yet, what all the exact details are, but I am betting what I just recounted to you is, in general, what is going on. So how might I counsel this pastor friend of our's?

I think first I will explain how the Bible obviously speaks of God as Love, and Triune; that He is not a God of Law, and that He is not a God who is an 'Angry God hanging sinners over hell if they don't turn, and thus avoid the burn'. In fact, just the opposite. God came for us, in Jesus Christ, because He is a God of love; and salvation isn't a policy that He purchases through charging the 'debit card' of His Son as payment. Instead, salvation is the 'kind' of life that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always known in themselves and for each other; of which God created (and now re-created us in the Son) to participate in for all eternity. In other words, 'eternal life' isn't someTHING 'we' get because God bought it, and now can give it to us; instead eternal life, by definition, is God's life, and He has graciously invited us to participate in it through the Son's priestly life for us. So God has chosen to be God with us, thus allowing us to be us with Him for all eternity as participants in His kind of life---i.e. eternal life.

I think in conversation, I will also discuss some of the background of Calvinism's development, and philosophical foundations; and try to inform this pastor friend how Calvinism is not 'Gospel truth' as his church member, I am sure, uncritically believes it to be. And I think an important place to start for this pastor, with his congregant, will be to talk about who God is (as I just described, a bit); since how we conceive of the Gospel starts there, and nowhere else. His congregant is developing evangelistic methodology based on the symptoms provided by the 'cause' which is his conception and doctrine of God. He needs to critically reconsider how He thinks of God, and then this will reorientate the way he proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. It will come out something like this:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour." ~T. F. Torrance, "The Mediation of Christ", 94.


  1. Hey, Bobby, amazing that you would bring up Ray Comfort and the challenges that way of evangelizing has for incarnational, Trinitarian theology! This same story played out in our congregation. A couple of good friends of mine, whom I have known since they were kids, latched onto Comfort's premises and when GCI started down the road to a greater understanding of who God is and what that implies, they, and a group that they mentored, became very antagonistic - shaking their heads "no" during sermons, pulling off to themselves after services and talking among themselves, etc. This occurred 4-5 years ago. After meeting with the church leadership, they decided to part, amicably. I still stay in touch with them, but there never seems to be any movement toward seeing God through the lens of the Triune God who has lived in love for eternity and wants to share that kind of life with us. Instead, it is always about "repent and believe" to basically save yourself. When I've tried to speak to them about the relationship God desires to have with us, I was provided with the astounding response of "all that relationship stuff is for down here," meaning that God doesn't relate to us in the ways we understand love and compassion humanly. They basically believe most are in hell, and most are going there too. I have to leave their hearts to God. I occasionally reach out as a brother to encourage them in general terms. If I go too deep, I always get pushback.

  2. Jerome,

    Thank you for sharing this story! I don't think some people really realize the impact that all of this has on real life people some times ... so thank you for sharing this! And I'm glad you still have contact with these folk; hopefully they will see the light on this, soon!

    1. We did Comforts "Way of the Master" last year and I thought it was okay, not necessarily the “best” (or only) way to do evangelism but a potentially effective way.

      How would you see Paul’s method in Acts 28:23 "When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." ?

      I know you would say God being Love comes first, but He did give us the Law (which I see as something that informs us about the nature of God) And in Jesus we have the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. So although the Law comes forth from God’s love – isn't it still an important revelation of (about?) Him?

      My issue with Torrance’s statement, and I think you could say my “fear” is that simply preaching a God of love, with no law, no foundation other than love, (which in this relativistic world can mean anything) you end up with Free Grace. (and yes I know you don’t subscribe to this)

  3. Hi Steve,

    A properly understood notion (versus culturally) concept of love won't given in to the fears that fear you. I'm not going to do theology based upon its reception or manipulation by society at large; instead it is better to engage the questions that are presented by the Revelation of God Himself, and the categories and emphases therein.

    As far as the Law, it is interesting how so often we emphasize it as some sort of moral boundary-markers. I think biblically, the Law (or Torah) has more to do with an emphasis upon God's Instruction (which is what Torah means) in general. Certainly there is this "legal" aspect, but I think that orientation has been fulfilled in Christ. So the Law of Christ is love, which is the ground of the Old Covenant as well (Mt. 22).

    I would see Paul's method the same as I would Jesus' in Luke 24; that the TaNaKh was all about Him.

    I have personally heard Comfort do street preaching on 3rd Street at the Santa Monica promenade. I was not impressed with his method; he was more of a spectacle than anything else. Although I do get impressed when anybody tries to share the faith of Christ with a lost world. But what they are sharing is definitely of import; not all Gospel presentations are equal.

  4. So I am trying to understand, I am not to worry about how it is received just how I present it?

  5. The Evangelical's Rosary:

    (Arminian) Evangelical Christianity teaches that my salvation is dependent on MY decision to accept Christ, and my assurance of salvation is dependent on MY feelings of his continued presence in my heart.

    But what happens during times of hardship and trial when I don't feel saved? Answer: I repeat my born again experience again and again until I finally feel absolutely certain that I am saved!

    Thousands, maybe millions, of Evangelical Christians struggle with doubts and fears regarding their salvation and eternal destiny due to this faulty theology. They have no sure assurance of salvation! They are praying the Sinner's Prayer again and again as if it were a Rosary.

    The Sinner's Prayer:

    "Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for
    Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen."


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