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Volume 8, Issue 3: Cultura

The Evangelical Heart

Roy Atwood

Evangelicals, who have been rolling and smoking their own theology since Chuck Finney and the Soul-Winners took the 19th-century church by storm, have a serious heart condition. Soul-winning, the heart of American evangelicalism, is not just diseased from too many years of bad theology and doctrinal junk food; it is congenitally defective. No dramatic change in lifestyle or spiritual habits -- no promise-keeping or laugh therapy -- can fix what's ailing it. Evangelicalism needs nothing less than a heart transplant.

Cutting soul-winning out of a dying evangelicalism may sound heretical, but it is the only way to revive evangelicalism. Today's evangelical idea of soul-winning is the radical problem requiring radical treatment. Soul-winning, as understood in today's terms, has nothing to do with the Christian gospel. It is alien to it. And the body of Christ, His church, must reject it.
The evangelical idea of soul-winning has two congenital defects. First, the soul to be "won" is misunderstood as a spiritual entity independent of a person's body rendering the physical realm virtually irrelevant. But the Bible says that God made man a living soul or being by the inextricable union of body and spirit. That union He called good. After the fall, death can wrench the soul from the body, but this is not a pleasant state imagined by pagan philosophers. This temporary division of body and soul is the effect of sin, not the norm. Christ came to redeem us spiritually and bodily. That is why Christ Himself was raised bodily (see 1 Cor. 15:35-49; Phil 3:20-21). Thus, the biblical idea of soul (Hebrew: nephesh; Greek, psuche) encompasses the whole person, and not just a body fragment or "spiritual body part." From Genesis 2:7 to Revelation 20:4, the Scriptures speak of the souls of men and women only in relation to their whole beings and their whole redemption in Christ who sits bodily on the Throne.
The second congenital defect of evangelical soul-winning is that it considers the "winning" something evangelists do in their own strength -- given the right moment and the right methods. The theology of soul-winning has, in fact, more in common with the state lottery and games of chance at the county fair, than it does with the Christian gospel. Given enough "chances" and the "right techniques" everyone can be a winner! True, Proverbs 11:30 says "he who wins souls is wise," but Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that "by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." And Romans 10 tells us that faith comes by hearing, but hearing by the word of God. So even our hearing, as deaf as the dry bones Ezekiel told to "hear the word of the Lord!" (Ezekiel 37: 1-14) is the gift of God.
The Good News is not that our disembodied souls are being won through human effort, but that "Christ is Lord" (Rom. 10:9). The universal Lordship of Christ -- not soul-winning -- is the heart of the biblical gospel. His redemptive work and His sovereign rule over all things are the heart of the truly evangelical message: "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9). The good news that Christ saves sinners is grounded in His absolute sovereign reign over absolutely everything -- even death (Eph. 1:15-2:10). Christ is the Savior and Lord not just of our souls, but of the whole creation, and of our whole being.
John Calvin recovered this biblical concept of Christ's sovereignty from Roman Catholicism's theological trash heap at the time of the Reformation. He recognized that the Risen King calls us, first, to be citizens in His Kingdom by redeeming us as whole persons, body and soul, from sin (John 3:16; Rom. 1:7; 8:28-30; 2 Tim. 1:8-10). However, He does not just leave us to win other souls, or to wait for the launching of our bodiless souls heavenward. Rather, we were "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). Calvin observed from Scripture that "the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all actions of life, to have respect to our own calling.... [H]e has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, He has distinguished the different modes of life by the name callings.... [I]t is enough to know that in everything the call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge of duty, keep the right path."[1] Not everyone is called to be an evangelist, pastor, missionary, or teacher, but all are called to submit to the Lordship of Christ in their respective callings, and in every part of their whole beings (Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:17). As Abraham Kuyper once observed, "There isn't an inch of all that exists that the Lord doesn't claim, `It is mine!'" That is the evangelical heart: declaring the Lordship of Christ over all of life.
The evangelical soul-winning tradition has an erratic, restricted pulse that limits the blood of Christ to an impoverished view of the soul. The Reformation's pulse sent the Lordship of Christ surging throughout the whole man and made "the eyes of all who truly love the Word of God and the principles of the Reformed religion"[2] to see the implications for the sovereignty of God over every sphere of life. Evangelicalism's heart once again needs to pulse in rhythm with the Lord of the whole creation. It needs nothing less than a new heart.

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