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Why I’m a Seeker-Sensitive Calvinist…

October 14, 2008

Last week I took a great break down in the countryside on a New Zealand dairy farm. Amongst all the sight-seeing, hiking and rabbit hunting, I did some much needed reading. J.I Packer’s excellent work, ‘Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God’, was a highlight and I regretted not having read it sooner. Also partially completed is David Well’s ‘The Courage to be Protestant’, a work I’m deliberately reading slowly to soak as much up as possible. Richard Baxter’s work, ‘The Reformed Pastor’, is already having an enormous effect on me and bringing some structure to plans to catechise the teenagers and young adults in my local church.

Packer’s and Well’s books really got me thinking on matters of evangelism, church methodology, current church trends and God’s sovereignty. I came away with the thinking that those who believe most strongly in the sovereignty of God in salvation, should always seek to be the most seeker-sensitive. I would consider myself a seeker-sensitive Calvinist and growing more in that understanding all the time.

Now, defining the terms is an interesting exercise. Simply, the Calvinist, if you boil the terminology down, is the one who says, “Salvation is of the Lord,”- Jonah 2:9. Calvinists have always sought to affirm the high ground of the sovereignty of God in salvation and the inability of man to save himself.

Now, the Seeker-sensitive’s aren’t the easiest one to define as they’ve grown so large and diverse. They have a basic theology and methodology though. Simply put, they would say that men and women are seeking after God and the church is the place to meet that need. Churches then gear their services towards attracting and entertaining seekers, doing their best not to offend them, ultimately with the aim of getting the people to become followers of Christ.

The Seeker-sensitive movement signalled a paradigm shift in the way one ‘does church’, over time becoming man-centred, not God-centred. Which isn’t surprising in today’s Western world. Men like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren popularised this movement and have influenced thousands of churches to do likewise. It is my personal opinion that this man-centred theology and methodology (which fleshes itself out in varying degrees) has done more to harm the church than anything else in the last few decades. We make man an idol and EVERYTHING suffers. Except perhaps the size of the congregation. But you’d have a hard time making the biblical case for calling a large gathering of unbelievers or alternatively enemies of God (some would call them ‘pre-Christians’), coupled with some believers… a church.

So why if I believe Calvinism is the best theological framework for understanding salvation and justification, do I suggest they likewise be seeker-friendly?

Well, they simply must be.

Though we need to remember…

“No one understands; no one seeks after God.”- Romans 3:11

“The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”- Luke 19:10

There is one Seeker.

His name is Jesus Christ.

Towards him we need to be Seeker-friendly.

“I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”- Matthew 16:18


18 Comments leave one →
  1. Rhett permalink
    October 14, 2008 3:26 am

    Ok, so I gotta say I dissagree on this one buddy (big surprise!). I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

    I don’t know Rick Warren or Bill Hybells, so I can’t vouch for their motivations. But it is sort of my policy (unless there is something seriously unbiblical going on) to assume the best with other Christians. I believe – when I look at what churches like Willow Creek have done – that they are completely sold out on evangelising the lost in whatever way they can. That is great! It seems (and there is little reason to doubt it) that thousands have come to Christ in seeker-sensitive services.

    It seems like the dissagreement here is really one of methodology. Sure, Willow Creek and the rest have weaknesses; without a doubt! They’ve recently put more emphasis on discipleship. But every method of church has flaws… it’s what happens in a flawed world. You big issue seems to be a theological one, but I don’t really get it. Surely you believe that we should seek to do everything in our power to evenagelise, even if Calvinism proves true? If by being seeker-sensitive you feel that Warren et-al are somehow inferring that people are the ultimate objective… well, wouldn’t that be the case whenever ANYONE evangelises? That’s what I mean by perspective; you see seeker-sensitive churches making an idol out of man, and I see them giving full commitment to the great commision, for the glory of God.

    Now, after all that, I can respect that you think there are better ways to do church than Warren and Hybels have accomplished. Great! I hope that in your sphere of influence you work to benefit Jesus and His church in the best way you can and are gifted to do. But to say seeker-sensitive theology “has done more to harm the church than anything else in the last few decades”… wow, really?

    More than the Prosperity-doctrine and celebrity Christian culture? More than the association of Christianity with a radical, war-mongering agenda? More than the dilution of the Gospel in some recent “Christian” thought? More than year and years of much ignorance and failure to help in the global poverty and Aids crisis? More than the tranformation of Christianity into a cultural phenomenon that demands no more of a person than church attendance and good morals? More than the crisis of biblical illiteracy?

    Seeker-sensitive church? On my list Warren and friends are way, WAY in the positive in term of impact. Sure, there may be things I dissagree with, but they are minor. It just seems like a really strange thing to turn the “guns” on, if I’m honest.

    Still, interesting reading as usual, my friend. Update your blog more often! 🙂

  2. October 14, 2008 8:05 am

    ““The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”- Luke 19:10. There is one Seeker. His name is Jesus Christ.”

    Awesome thought Jono. I’m sure there are many evangelistically minded churches of diverse shades that would say “amen” with you to that description of Christ.

  3. Dave N permalink
    October 14, 2008 2:42 pm

    I think you are missing Jono’s point. The truth of the Gospel matters. To water down the Gospel is like drinking room temperature water with ground coffee stirred inside. Sure, its “coffee”, but its not “coffee” the way “coffee” should be – its missing some key ingredients: heat, sugar, cream,etc…

    @ it is said well this way….

    “This brings us to his most disturbing alteration, the gospel itself. To charge Warren with modification of the gospel is an ugly accusation, one that should not be made lightly. What is the evidence for such an indictment? Consider the following:

    In the video that accompanies the “40 Days of Purpose,” Warren leads his listeners in prayer at the end of the first session. The prayer goes like this:

    “Dear God, I want to know your purpose for my life. I don’t want to base the rest of my life on wrong things. I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you. Jesus Christ, I don’t understand how but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you. Make yourself real to me. And use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for.” Warren goes on to say: “Now if you’ve just prayed that prayer for the very first time I want to congratulate you. You’ve just become a part of the family of God.”

    Warren would be hard-pressed to find biblical backing for this presentation of the gospel. We find nothing here about sin, grace, repentance, the person of Christ, Calvary, faith, judgment, or the resurrection. This is the ultimate in a mutilated, seeker-sensitive gospel: the seeker comes to Christ in order to find his purpose in life, not to receive forgiveness from sin and the righteousness of God. Then, to pronounce someone a full-fledged member of the family of God because he has prayed such a prayer (based on minimal, if any, understanding of the person and work of Christ), is beyond tragic.”

    To confirm assurance of salvation to someone without these key ingredients in understanding the true Gospel is not only a tragedy, but also, as Jono points out, doing more harm than good. If anyone confirms salvation without acknowledgement of sin, without repentence, and explains that one can receive salvation by repeating a prayer – don’t you see how that causes one harm and not good? This is the seeker friendly movement…. no mention of sin, no mention of God’s wrath, no mention of hell, no mention of God’s holiness, no mention of God’s standards for us, etc… Salvation is not a work of one’s self – ie… saying a prayer, doing “good” (Romans 3), etc. Salvation is the work of Christ – dying on the cross, paying for my horrible sins (because I can’t), conquering death, and the HS changing my desires because I recognize who He is, what He did, and who I am. Its the ultimate “one way relationship”! We were dead, and Christ made us alive – Ephesians 2

  4. October 14, 2008 6:30 pm

    Don’t worry boys – the Emerging church is dead and IT was already ransacking the corpse of the seeker sensitive heretics. Personally, I think it only demonstrates the depravity of the unregenerate and highlights the lofty status of we elect. There’s no light without the dark, no heaven without hell and no pure church without those who sully the name of Christ in the cause of true religion.

  5. Dave N permalink
    October 14, 2008 9:04 pm

    One more thing…

    God, because of His great love for us, killed His Son as payment for our sins. He has allowed us to repent and acknowledge what He already knows about us by seeking forgiveness from Him! Repentance / Forgiveness of sins is the only way to accept the gift of salvation. What God did for me, doesn’t make sense. Christ died for ME? God wants ME to worship Him? God forgives ME? Why? I can give Him nothing. I have nothing to offer Him, yet He still loves ME and I am His child if I repent. So does that mean that Christ wants to be part of my life? That is a key question.

    Does Christ want to be part of your life? I say NO! Christ does not want to be PART of your life, but the very PURPOSE of it! That’s why He created you! That’s why He died for you, that’s why His Father, God, killed His Son. “To live is Christ”! (Phil 1:21) If Christ is not the very purpose of your life, you are dead! If Christ is not the very purpose of your life, something or someone else is! That’s idolatry! To live is Christ! Christ is the very purpose of life! I don’t see the EC confirming these important doctrines – only confirming a false salvation.

    Does this really matter? you may ask…. Luke 17:2 confirms that it really does matter “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Seems pretty serious to me.

  6. Rhett permalink
    October 14, 2008 9:52 pm

    Do you guys ever run out of straw men? 😉

  7. Dave N permalink
    October 14, 2008 10:25 pm

    I don’t get it?

  8. Rhett permalink
    October 14, 2008 11:27 pm

    I’m just being light-hearted, but I do think it’s really easy to attack opponents positions when you create a straw man out of them. I dunno, I can hardly criticise, because I used to spend hours and hours of blog-time (back when I had a real blog) aiming the vitriol machine gun every which way.

    But gosh, if there is one thing I CAN add, it’s that stepping back and saying to myself, “Sure, there are tons of things out there I dissagree with, but I can only really have any influence within a certain sphere, and that influence in way more effective in personal relationships that on the internet” was a good move. Besides, I’ve found that people tend to follow when you present them with a better alternative, rather than standing around take shots at other methods.

    Look, I know that you guys feel that you are defending the gospel. I actually agree with you on what the gospel “is”; I’m fairly conservative myself when it comes to theology.

    But this kind of thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m betting we would all have a fairly different opinion of someone like Warren if we actually met the guy.

  9. Dave permalink
    October 15, 2008 1:38 am


    I respect your honesty and do believe that this is one hill worth dying on. (the true Gospel message) This has nothing to do with a person, such as Mr. Warren. I have heard him speak and he seems very like-able – No question. The issue is confirming salvation without any mention of repentence or sin. This is not an attack on any person – it is merely a defense of the true Gospel. Salvation was paid by an act of love from Christ. Salvation can be received by an act of true repentance – love for Christ. I can tell you I love you, but if the next minute, I’m hitting you in the face with my fists, you would probably want to question my words. The same is true with salvation. We can say we want to be “in the family of God” all we want. That doesn’t make us in the family – there is something more. We need to really communicate clearly and, more importantly, ACCURATELY, what needs to be done to get into the family of God. To not be accurate, is really a disservice to not only that person, but the very Christ whom died. To ignore that, I believe, would be hurting our Lord.

    I appreciate the interaction.

  10. bigjonnymac permalink*
    October 15, 2008 1:52 am

    I will be getting onto this tonight. I like the interaction, but I’m hoping my overall point was not missed, which BJ alluded to in his first post. The seeking and saving was done by Christ.

    I stand by the point of seeker-sensitive theology/methodology being the most harmful thing in the church during the last few decades.. but I am by no means attempting to make that the main point. I mentioned Hybels and Warren as many people, including many NZ’ers are unaware of what the SS movement is. I also want people to remember that the EC desire for authenticity in part stemmed from a dissatisfaction with SS (mega-) churches.

    Keep it civil.


  11. Rhett permalink
    October 15, 2008 2:00 am

    Thanks. And look, I completely agree with what you have just said. What I think we differ on is this: I don’t see the seeker-sensitive movement in as bad a light as it has been cast here. I mean, sure, there will be times when it falls short on communicating the gospel thoroughly, and maybe that Warren quote you mention is one such time. But, I have seen plentt of seeker-sensitive type people and churches communicate the full gospel effectively so I cannot damn them all in one broad stroke.

    For a good while I struggled with people and evangelism methods that I thought weren’t presenting the true Gospel (you know: sin, repentence, all that good stuff from 1 Cor 15 and Galatians 1 that I love). I mentioned it to the Principal of the bible college I go to. (He is a Reformed guy who love D.A. Carson… just so you know!)

    What he said to me was a revelation. He said he had been reading a book by Chris Wright which said that there are different ways “into” the mission of God (or different methods of evangelism), but that the misssion was not COMPLETE until the part about sin and Jesus death on the Cross to pay for our sin had been shared.

    This helped me because I have a lot of friends who are a bit more “progressive” (or whatever the label is these days) than I am, and I was the guy jumping up and down yelling about how they weren’t sharing the “real” gospel. But what my Principal shared with me helped me to interact with these people and join in with evangelism in a way that was constructive, rather than just throwing stones. And I’m sure if you asked Warren (or any of the guys involved in the SS movement), they would agree that the task is not COMPLETE until sin and redemption is mentioned.

  12. Rhett permalink
    October 15, 2008 2:02 am

    That comment was in reply to Dave’s last comments. But welcome to your blog, Jono!

  13. October 15, 2008 6:13 am

    I find this a bit patronising as a ‘seeker’. The assumption that I might be forever misinformed by one branch of Christianity, the idea that I can’t take in a variety of views and evaluate them, the idea that I can’t do my own research, the idea that the Holy Spirit can’t guide me, the assumption that I can only ever be ‘told’ and not ‘discover’ understandings or truths that may even be new to you 🙂

  14. October 15, 2008 9:21 am

    Amen Jack.

  15. Rhett permalink
    October 15, 2008 9:55 am

    Awesome comment.

  16. October 15, 2008 10:48 am

    “I find this a bit patronising as a ’seeker’.”

    Jack, as I know pretty much nothing about you, it’s hard to respond to this. But I must ask, what are you seeking? The accepted understanding of what a ‘seeker’ is, could partially be defined as a non-Christian. If that is the case, this discussion shouldn’t be of great concern to you and the patronising comment thrown out.

    “The assumption that I might be forever misinformed by one branch of Christianity”

    As said above, my main point was not regarding the merits and negatives of the seeker-sensitive movement. There are branches of Christianity that will misinform you. There are branches of everything that will minsinform you to some degree. My comments aren’t intended to define that. A quick google/youtube search could find a variety of opinions on the SS movement, and everything else under the sun.

    “the idea that I can’t take in a variety of views and evaluate them,”

    Where was this said? I claimed that no one comes to salvation in Christ unless he first goes after them himself.

    “the idea that I can’t do my own research”

    Go do all the research you want. It’s a free country.

    “the idea that the Holy Spirit can’t guide me,”

    If you are a believer, I would hope the Spirit is guiding you. If you are not, the work of the Holy Spirit is the only true hope you have in coming to the truth of Christ.

    “the assumption that I can only ever be ‘told’ and not ‘discover’ understandings or truths that may even be new to you”

    Once again. Where was this said?

  17. Rhett permalink
    October 15, 2008 11:35 am

    I think you are missing Jack’s point. 😉

  18. Shutson permalink
    October 16, 2008 5:54 am

    Loving the conversation.
    While I would class myself as reformed, and agree completely with Jono’s picture of Christ as the seeker par excellence.
    But I also see the individual being lead further up and further in by the Spirit, following an incomplete presentation of the Gospel.
    For these reasons:
    No presentation is exhaustive.
    People are not saved by a complete comprehension of information.
    if a sinner is made alive by the Spirit so that they can see Jesus, even if the presentation is lacking, then faith is both given and received.
    God will make himself known by those to whom he has made himself known.

    I think humans can be understood as “seekers” as long as that description is understood as a matter of perspective. from where we stand some people are moving toward faith. However from God’s perspective no-one comes to Jesus unless the Father drags them.

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