The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

Publishers of Protestant, Reformed Christian Literature

Evangelism: A Reformed Debate

by John Kennedy and Horatius Bonar

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Evangelism: A Reformed Debate

by Rev. John Kennedy, D.D. and Rev. Horatius Bonar, D.D.

ISBN 0-9526799-1-4
144 pages; soft cover


Evangelism: A Reformed Debate

A reprinting of material never before found in one volume. While Dr. Kennedy's critical review of the Moody-Sankey missions, "Hyper-Evangelism – Another Gospel, Though A Mighty Power," is not unknown, here it is accompanied by Horatius Bonar's retort entitled "The Old Gospel – Not Another Gospel but the Power of God unto Salvation," and Kennedy's further rejoinder "A Reply to Dr. Bonar's defence of Hyper-Evangelism."

The matters covered here are urgent for the Reformed Church: How is the church to grow? May scriptural principles be set aside in order to reach a greater audience? Or is the church to cleave fast to the Word, trusting only in the Lord of the harvest for blessing? We believe that Dr. Kennedy's incisive analysis of what was an innovation in his day is hugely relevant to our own. Includes index.


by the James Begg Society Committee

E VANGELISM is a must for the church. She has a divine imperative and a heavenly mandate for this labour of love. Scripture says "Go ye into all the world, and preach..."; this means that an extensive part of her theology is the theology of mission. In this the Scottish Kirk has been unsurpassed historically. Every minister is a missionary to the souls under his care, and he yearns and prays for revival in the lives of his people. The church then must be a church in mission. Unless she evangelises she will fail her Lord. And unless she sows obediently there will be no harvest.

This century the church has gone through trial and error in evangelism. There is nothing new in this. Dr.Kennedy last century observed a novel departing from the old conception of the church, to a new idea of making her "relevant" and "successful." Success which was in his view however, at the expense of faithfulness. He differed with most of his countrymen in the modus operandi of evangelism.

The renowned revivalists have indeed failed. Thousands upon thousands have professed Christ, but Britain has grown more and more godless. If the tree is to be known by her fruit, then the new evangelicalism is exposed as counterfeit: its products do not have the weight, attractiveness and savour of the old.

There were big fish as well as minnows debating with Kennedy, but we can see today the fruit they left behind; a weakened Christianity unable to withstand the world which it must encounter. The church must face the fact that the Reformed Faith remains robust while other forms crumble. Biblical religion alone will endure the storm; all else is built upon sand.

A true turning to God in the land is always marked by a hunger for the word purely-preached and unadorned by the fashions and sentimentalities of the age; by a calling upon God as the supreme Sovereign and our chiefest good; and by the giving of glory to Him in the offering of praise. Every endeavour to advance the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” must promote these elements for a successful outcome pleasing to the Lord. It is the church’s great privilege that she is Christ's appointed agent for the gathering of His scattered sheep: that this volume might be of guidance to her in her sacred task is the earnest longing and prayer of the publishers.

The three pamphlets which comprised the debate are here reproduced under one title for the first time. The cover-pages of the originals are reproduced at the beginning of each part, and an Index to the main subjects has been added.

We extend our grateful thanks to many who have helped in the production of the present work, particularly to Rev. Professor Hugh M. Cartwright of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, for writing the Introduction. Our greatest indebtedness as ever is to Almighty God for His abounding mercy and grace.

LORD, bless and pity us,
shine on us with thy face:
That th’ earth thy way, and nations all
may know thy saving grace.

Let people praise thee, Lord;
let people all thee praise.
O let the nations be glad,
in songs their voices raise:

Thou'lt justly people judge,
on earth rule nations all.
Let people praise thee, Lord; let them
praise thee, both great and small.

The earth her fruit shall yield,
our God shall blessing send.
God shall us bless; men shall him fear
unto earth's utmost end.

– Psalm 67.


by Prof. H.M. Cartwright

T O some these three pamphlets may seem relics of theological battles fought long ago on a field as distant from us in relevance as in time. But those who read carefully will see, behind the local and temporary, the spiritual war of which these battles formed a part and which goes on still. There can be advantage in considering contemporary issues as they were discussed in previous manifestations. The perspective given by subsequent history helps to illustrate the accuracy of assessments made on Biblical grounds of the real tendency of movements which, though applauded at the time, involved serious departures from Biblical truth and practice.

Moody and Sankey appeared in Scotland when the churches, surrounded by unchurched masses, were complaining of spiritual stagnation and were seeking to accommodate themselves intellectually, doctrinally and liturgically to the spirit of the age in order to win the age. The Calvinism of the Westminster Confession was giving place to something closer to Arminianism. For different reasons Biblical critics and devout men like Dr. Bonar could join in supporting a movement which, whatever effect it had on the unchurched masses, seemed to 'bring to decision' multitudes of previously nominal or fringe adherents of the churches.

Kennedy contends for the Word of God as the only standard for regulating the theological content of preaching and the method of evangelism. He argues that aims and results do no justify unbiblical doctrines and means and that however excited even good men may become over the seeming success of such they will pervert and replace Biblical Christianity. "A negative theology will soon supplant our Confession of Faith, the good old ways of worship will be forsaken for unscriptural innovations, and the tinsel of a superficial religiousness will take the place of genuine godliness." Whatever God may do in His sovereignty with the truth amidst error His blessing cannot be expected upon preaching and practice which go contrary to His Word.

Bonar, who was obviously sensitive to the thrust of Kennedy's arguments, does not seriously deal with the doctrinal and practical issues on which Kennedy focuses but majors on personalities and on perceived cultural differences between the north and south of Scotland as the reason for Kennedy's disapproval of Moody and those supporting him. Kennedy is not distracted and his Reply elucidates even more clearly the fundamental flaws of the new evangelicalism. He calls readers who endorsed preaching which marginalised the law, the fact and implications of man's depravity, the necessity of the new birth which precedes any human movement Godwards and the sovereignty of God in the dispensing of Grace, back to the preaching of Jesus in John 6 as a model Gospel sermon. In so doing he makes many perceptive and thought provoking observations on themes basic to the Gospel and its preaching such as the necessary use of the law, the danger of substituting faith for Christ and of making faith nothing more than a natural belief and making assurance nothing more than the awareness that one has this belief. He also discusses the basis on which, and the terms in which, the Gospel is preached to all.

The ultimate test of who was right in this argument is the Word of God, and this republication will justify itself if it constrains readers to subject their beliefs and practices to Biblical scrutiny. History confirms the accuracy of Kennedy’s Biblical assessment in that it reveals the impetus given by Moody's campaign to the departure of the Scottish Churches from Biblical doctrine and practice and reveals the shallowness and barrenness characteristic of Scottish Church life on the whole during the subsequent 120 years. We must apply the same tests to every attempt to make the Gospel relevant and be resolved, in the spirit of the Gospel, to adhere to the doctrines and practices of the Word, looking for blessing to the Sovereign Lord whose prerogative it is to bless.

— Prof. Hugh M. Cartwright
Edinburgh, 6 December, 1996.