Since the passing of Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, I have been thinking a lot about the current state of evangelism. Unfortunately, it is not good. A slew of factors, including the rise of the “prosperity gospel,” a growing hyper-Pentecostal movement, and an obsession with politics have cast a shadow on the church’s evangelistic mission.
Combine this confusion in the church with an ever-rising secularism in our culture’s most powerful institutions and establishments, and it seems that we are in the midst of a perfect storm that rages against the advance of the gospel.
The Covenant of Redemption
It is during this perilous time that I have been reminded of an important truth. An ancient truth. A biblical truth. A truth the Reformed faith has emphasized particularly during times of renewal and revival. A truth that has fueled evangelism and missions for the past two thousand years.
It is the truth Paul mentions in Titus when he says that God promised “eternal life . . . before the ages began” (1:2).
It is the truth that John references in Revelation 13:8 when he mentions that those who will worship the beast are the ones “whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”
It is the truth sometimes called the covenant of redemption. It is the glorious doctrine that before the cosmos was created, our Trinitarian God covenanted to redeem a people for the honor and glory of His name—the Father choosing who would be redeemed, the Son agreeing to purchase their redemption, and the Holy Spirit agreeing to apply Christ’s redeeming work to the elect.
It is this truth that carried Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles to the ends of the earth, knowing that God has chosen an elect people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who must come to faith through the preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:48; 18:10; Titus 1:1).
Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century British preacher, centered his evangelistic ministry in the covenant of redemption. He described the covenant of redemption this way:
It is a noble and glorious thought, the very poetry of that old Calvinistic doctrine which we teach, that long ere the day star knew its place, before God had spoken existence out of nothing, before angel’s wing had stirred the unnavigated ether, before a solitary song had disturbed the solemnity of the silence in which God reigned supreme, he had entered into solemn counsel with himself, with his Son and with his Spirit, and had in that council decreed, determined, purposed and predestinated the salvation of his people.
The covenant of redemption is pivotal for regaining needed evangelistic footholds for a number of reasons. I’ll briefly mention two.
The Lostness of Mankind and the Certainty of Salvation
Francis Schaeffer once remarked that if he were given an hour to present the gospel to the person sitting next to him on a plane, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes explaining man’s bondage to sin and his state before a holy God before explaining the gospel itself in the remaining five minutes.
In a culture where the greatest taboo is not affirming someone else’s chosen identity, we often have a lot of pre-evangelism work to do before we are able to present the gospel, as Schaeffer modeled in his own day.