International Mission Board president David Platt sounded the alarm against a "gospel-less" and "gospel-lite" missions approach that many are apparently adopting today. This dangerous trend, he said, promotes good deeds but minimizes a call for repentance.
Platt spoke of his concerns during the Global Missions Emphasis chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 6. He referenced debates taking place among some evangelical mission agencies regarding the usage of "Son of God" in translating Scripture or in interacting with Muslims.
"I see practices among these same agencies that minimizes the call to Christ, that says someone can be both Muslim and Christian at the same time," Platt said. "I see trends that see social justice as equal to, or more important than, evangelism, Gospel presentation."
Platt said he drew criticism recently for promoting the primacy of evangelism in missions. He called on NOBTS to hold fast to a biblical definition of evangelism that calls for repentance from sin and belief in Christ.
"Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ," Platt said.
At the conclusion, NOBTS president Chuck Kelley voiced his agreement with Platt and related the warning to Southern Baptists.
"If you had asked me the most surprising development in Southern Baptist life in the last five years, I would tell you it is the diminishing of the conversation about evangelism," Kelley said. "There is less conversation about it now than there has been in my lifetime."
In his sermon, Platt highlighted the distinction between a believer who wants to "witness" by living a good life and biblical evangelism. He reminded the audience that Christians around the world are being martyred not for living moral lives, but for proclaiming a message that calls for repentance.
Platt noted that the English word "martyr" comes from the same Greek root as the word translated "witness" in Scripture. A believer in a Communist country who remains silent about the Gospel is not in danger, but those who proclaim the Gospel are, Platt told listeners.
Make evangelism "primary" in your life and ministry, Platt urged.
"The last thing the nations need is the exportation of nominal Christianity from North America," Platt said. "The nations need the Gospel and men and women who are committed to proclaiming it with contrite courage and brokenhearted boldness wherever God leads them."
Doctrine matters, Platt said, noting that next year marks the 500-year anniversary of the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door. The Reformers thought doctrine was worth dying for, Platt said, and told of John Rogers who was executed by Mary I of England because he opposed transubstantiation, the view that Christ was physically present in the bread and wine of communion.
The idea that the human act of eating communion was necessary for receiving Christ's forgiveness "undercut the Gospel," Platt said. The core of the Gospel, he said, is salvation secured by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone.
"If we lose this, we lose everything," Platt said. "We have hope not in our merit, but only in His mercy. Not our merit -- His merit. Doctrine like this matters. Theology like this matters."
While salvation cannot be earned, persuasion is part of evangelism, Platt said. He underscored that only the Holy Spirit can "bring from death to life," only the Holy Spirit can convict and regenerate.
Platt noted that eight times in Luke's writings -- passages such as Luke 1:39-42 and Acts 2:2-4 and 4:8 -- the filling of the Holy Spirit preceded a verbal proclamation of the Gospel.
A passion for the nations, a desire for the spread of the Gospel to all nations is not for a select few believers, Platt said, but is for every follower of Christ.
"So, I challenge you today to look at a world with 2.8 billion people who have never even heard the Gospel and make it your ambition to see this Gospel proclaimed among them, wherever God may lead you," Platt said. "May you be driven with zeal."
Marilyn Stewart is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and assistant director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.