If Calvinism is True then Why Evangelize?

IF CALVINISM IS TRUE THEN WHY EVANGELIZE?

by Leighton Flowers

When I was a 5-point Calvinist I was also evangelistic. I participated in mission efforts and was as active in sharing my faith with others as I am today.  In this blog and on my podcast I have regularly strived to help my non-Calvinistic friends understand that Calvinists are not typically anti-evangelistic and that every mainstream modern day Calvinistic scholar or pastor I know of is very interested in spreading the gospel to all people. As logically inconsistent at that may appear to some, it is a verifiable fact of the matter.

This fact, however, does not negate the merit of some sound logical arguments raised against the Calvinistic belief system. There is a good reason that when believers are introduced to Calvinism their first question is typically about the necessity of evangelism. This natural reaction to the teaching of Calvinism is evidenced by the volumes of work which have been produced by Calvinistic scholars over the years to answer this objection:

“If God has unchangeably determined who will and won’t be saved, then why evangelize the lost?”

First, many Calvinists will answer this question by simply saying, “Because God told us to.” <link> But should law be the motivation for our evangelistic efforts, or should we be motivated by that which motivated Christ to die in the first place? Love!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

In Romans 9:1-3 Paul expresses the self-sacrificial heart of Christ when he wishes himself accursed for the sake of his fellow countrymen. Paul is clearly motivated by love, not merely some obligation of the law. Paul is willing to give up his own salvation for these hardened Jews who are trying to kill him.

Is Christ less self-sacrificially loving than the apostle He has inspired to write these words? By no means! Paul is expressing the very heart of God Himself, whom he quotes in the very next chapter,

But concerning Israel [God] says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Rom. 10:21)

Or as Paul expresses to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:3-6:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

As Jesus Himself put in in Matthew 23:37:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Love, not law, is the motive of Christ and it must be our motive as well if we have any hope of persisting in our efforts to win this lost world.

GOD ORDAINS THE ENDS AND THEIR MEANS

A second answer often offered by our Calvinistic friends is reflected in the article below:

Some would see the Calvinist as holding to what is sometimes called “Theistic Fatalism.” Obviously, much different than pure “fate” type fatalism, this view would acknowledge God as the cause of all things, which is certainly true, but would then lead to a false conclusion of inactivity. And this really is ultimately what separates a Theological Calvinist from a Theistic Fatalist: the conclusion we draw based on God’s sovereignty and ordination. Fatalism leads to inactivity, while Calvinism leads to the opposite…

The Calvinist’s belief in God’s sovereign power does not lead to inactivity, but rather activity on a grand scale. And part of the reason for this is that a Calvinist believes that God not only ordains the end; but also the means. Fatalism, however is largely unconcerned with the means, holding to more of a “let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” sort of philosophy. This is much different from the result of a Calvinistic philosophy of God’s ordaining work. The Calvinist teaches that while God ordains the “end” of salvation for His elect; He also ordains the “means” of their salvation through belief in the gospel. Pure, Biblical Calvinism would lead to a vibrant form of evangelism; as I think you clearly see displayed in the New Testament by the Apostles. So the “end” and the “means” are both ordained by God.    -Shane Kastler <link> (emphasis added)

It’s interesting to me that when a Calvinist seeks to defend against the charge of being a “Theistic Fatalist” he often argues “God not only ordains the end; but also the means” as if that is a point the Theistic Fatalist would in anyway deny.

That argument does not avoid the charge of Theistic Fatalism, but in fact affirms it. For what is Theistic Fatalism if not God’s determination of not only the ends but every single desire, thought and action (i.e. “means”) that bring about those ends?

What do the Calvinists think this qualification is accomplishing in their effort to distinguish themselves from the Theistic Fatalist? The belief that God unchangeably causes every meticulous detail of both the ends and their given means is at the very heart of Theistic Fatalism.

Are there Theistic Fatalists out there arguing, “God doesn’t determine the means,” while the Calvinists are going around correcting them saying, “No, no, no God does control the means too?”  Of course not.  Both systems of thought clearly affirm God’s cause of all things, including the ends and their respective means.

So, what is the author seeking to accomplish by pointing out a common belief that Calvinists share with Theistic Fatalists?

It appears to me the only real difference between a Theistic Fatalist and a Compatibilistic Calvinist is that the latter refuses to accept the practical implications of their own claims in order to remain consistent with the clear teaching of the Bible.

In both Theistic Fatalism and Calvinism, if God sovereignly decrees for me to go witness to my neighbor He will give me the effectual desire to go witness to my neighbor. If my neighbor is one of His elect and God has unchangeably elected for me to be the means by which my neighbor comes to Christ, then logically I would have to believe that God will give me the effectual desire and the opportunity to carry out His preordain plan (i.e. “God ordained the means”). If that effectual desire never comes then why couldn’t I rightly conclude it ultimately was not God’s pre-ordained plan for me to be the means through which my neighbor would come to Christ?

The only logic argument a Compatibilistic Calvinist could bring to this charge is, “That’s true but you can’t think that way!”  In other words, the Compatibilist has to ignore the truth claims of his own systematic in order to live practically. His actual beliefs are untenable and must be ignored in order to remain consistent with the Biblical mandate.

If you go back and re-read the Calvinistic explanation posted above you will notice that there is no difference in the actual claims of the Calvinist and the Theistic Fatalist. The only difference is in how the person chooses to act in response to that commonly held belief of Divine determinism. And therein lies the problem for the Calvinist, for that choice is just as unchangeably determined by God as is the choice of His elect to believe.

Did you follow that? Under the Calvinistic system, God unchangeably determines those who will accept the belief that “God not only ordains the end; but also the means.” And He determines if that believer will respond with evangelistic activity or inactivity. In other words, God decides if the  believer of theistic determinism will become a hyper-Calvinist who refuses to actively participate in evangelism or a productive, obedient Calvinist like the author above.

Calvinists are known to argue, “God has ordained for His elect to be saved through the proclamation of the gospel,” But wouldn’t they likewise argue that God has ordained for the saved to proclaim the gospel when they do proclaim it and not to proclaim it when they remain disobediently inactive?  After all, the author does affirm that God causes all things that come to pass, which would include the inactivity of the saints, would it not?

Think about this.  If any particular Calvinist chooses to disobey God and not proclaim the Gospel when impressed to do so by the Holy Spirit, who is really responsible for that choice to disobey?

Has God, for some unknown reason, not granted the sufficient grace to convince the will of His messenger to proclaim the truth when told to do so? Or has that messenger disobeyed of his own libertarian free will? And what is the result of that disobedience? When an individual Calvinistic believer disobeys God’s command to evangelize, did any fewer elect individuals respond in faith than what God ordained? Of course not.  Why?  Because God ordained for that Calvinist’s disobedience with the same level of “sovereign control” as He does in ordaining for another Calvinist’s obedience.

You see, a Calvinist may argue that evangelism in general is necessary for the salvation of the elect in general, but logically your individual responsibility to evangelize any particular elect person is not necessary for the salvation of that elect person. After all if you weren’t ordained to evangelize that elect individual, someone else was, otherwise they wouldn’t be elect.

Granted, someone (but not necessarily you) has to share the gospel with the elect in order for them to be saved. If God has ordained you to be that evangelist, then He will give you the effectual desire to do so. Thus, if you refrain from doing so you could rightly conclude that you weren’t meant to be the means for that person’s salvation. You are left with the perfect excuse for your inactivity and disobedience to God’s command: “God unchangeably ordained the means, or in this case, my lack of participation in those means.”

So the next time a Calvinist argues that “God ordains the ends as well as the means” just remember this does not avoid the charge of Theistic Fatalism but actually confirms it. In fact, their system logically affirms that the believer’s inactive disobedience is as much according to God’s ordained plan as is another believer’s active obedience. So, if and when a Calvinist becomes “hyper” or “anti-evangelistic” in his behavior, he does so by God’s decree. And, so too, if a Calvinist becomes highly evangelistic in his behavior he does so equally by God’s decree (i.e. “God ordains the means”). A consistent Calvinistic scholar cannot get around this logical fact no matter how much theological rhetoric they use to placate their opponents. The best they can do is say, “Just don’t think of of it that way,” which in essence means, “Act like what we believe isn’t true.” And to that I say, “AMEN!”

LOSING THE NEED FOR PERSUASION IN EVANGELIZING THE LOST

The English word “persuasion” (in all its various forms) is used three times more often than the word “predestination,” yet it seems the latter receives a thousand times more attention. Persuasion is at the very heart of evangelism. I have to wonder if the lack of emphasis on this biblical doctrine has lead to the decline in baptisms and evangelistic efforts among Evangelicals over the last few decades? Let’s be reminded at what the scriptures tell us about persuading the lost:

They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. (Acts‬ ‭28:23-24‬)

Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. (2 Corinthians 5:11)

Too often we speak only of the need to proclaim and explain the good news to the lost, but clearly the Bible teaches us that we should be trying to persuade people of its truthfulness. Is that not what evangelism and apologetics is all about?

If God, through some kind of inner working of irresistible grace, is going to convince his unconditionally chosen elect to believe the gospel regardless of your effort, then is there any rational reason to persist all day long in attempting to persuade the lost?

Why not simply proclaim the truth of the gospel and “leave the rest up to God?” That is not Paul’s approach to evangelism. Should it be ours?

27 thoughts on “If Calvinism is True then Why Evangelize?

  1. Well thought-out and written. In particular, Leighton says, “If any particular Calvinist chooses to disobey God and not proclaim the Gospel when impressed to do so by the Holy Spirit, who is really responsible for that choice to disobey?”

    I would also ask, “How can it really be considered disobedience anyway if your ‘disobedience’ is really just you ‘obeying’ what God sovereignly decreed for your life? And wouldn’t this put you in a bind – where obeying one decree (“go out and evangelize”) would be disobeying the other decree (“be lazy and don’t evangelize”)? And vice versa. What a conundrum. And also, how is this any different from Calvi-god having a revealed, spoken Will (like his call to people to seek him and believe) while at the same time having a secret, contradictory Will (“The non-elect can never seek or believe”)? Yet Calvinists will say it’s okay in that case (even if it’s a “mystery”), but it’s not okay in this case for God to have one revealed Will (“You must evangelize”) yet to also have a second, secret, contradictory Will (“You will be lazy and refuse to evangelize”). What a mess!”

    1. Calvinists either must either compartmentalize their many contradictions or simply never think their beliefs through to their logical conclusions. I do not say that snarkily; I actually know a good many Calvinists who practice one or the other of these options.

      1. I agree TS00!
        I think Calvinism is more than just a theology.
        Its has its own unique language – and its own unique thought-patterns

        You can see how much that is true by the way Calvinists repeat their memorized talking-points over and over like someone reciting a mantra.

        Its almost like the mind is supposed to conform to thought-patterns designed to prevent the mind from asking rational questions.

        I can’t help but wonder if that is part of the Calvinist social structure.

      2. In my experience, it is. So many just memorize the talking points, and, even after being brought to concede the logical contradictions, immediately, obediently return to the talking points, as if your entire provocative discussion had never taken place. It is very discouraging.

      3. Thanks TS00
        I can’t help but sometimes see Calvinism as a form of mental bondage.

        I was looking at an online article written by Lilia Tarawa – a girl brought up in a bible cult.
        The point where she started to question the doctrines is where she says: “I couldn’t see how beating a child because you felt angry and full of rage was a demonstration of God’s love”

        Interesting how an AGAPE sense of love can be the turning point to bring deliverance.
        I wonder if that is the key that delivers people out of Calvinism?

  2. Piper is a case in point

    In his book “Let the Nations be Glad” he uses words like “salvation is at stake” and the “urgency of our mission” (page 120, 159, 165). This is a bit hypocritical for Calvinists.

    It is inconsistent of him to say (p. 62) “God’s ultimate goal will come only through prayer….and he will be engaged to do it through prayer.”

    Man’s prayer engages God?

    Page 63 has a heading “Prayer releases the power of the Gospel.” Woah. No prayer, no power….Piper is putting man in control? Unless of course God “gives” us the prayers that me then “must” pray, which of course “releases” his power. For Piper, man plays no part again (except puppet).

    Still in the context of human prayer, (p.64) he says, “If the proclamation of the word aborts the purposes of God fail.” “That purpose wont happen without prayer.” (66)

    Clearly this is Piper teaching what he denies elsewhere: God’s purposes can fail.

    He makes a hero out of Mueller (p. 69) for praying for 19 years for several people to be saved. What if it is not God’s Calvinistic will that those people be saved? You are praying against God’s, eternal, deterministic will. How can he laud such a thing (as a Calvinist)?

    He later (93ff) tells many stories of people who preach randomly that “Christ died for you that you might find forgiveness.” How can he appreciate such a sermon since the persons preaching don’t know (according to Piper) if Christ DID actually die for them.

    Again….Calvinists want it both ways. Theologize like Christ died for very few, but preach that He died for all.

  3. Thank you Leighton for the well thought out article pointing out another of the many, many, illogical, contradictory, messed up way you have to think on order to be a Calvinist.

    One other very important aspect of evangelizing is what a Calvinist, if he is consistent with what he says he believes, can and can’t say to an unbeliever when sharing the gospel with them. For example, a Calvinist should never say to an unbeliever or group that includes unbelievers, the most basic message of the gospel, “Christ loved you and because of His love for you died for your sins”. If a Calvinist makes this statement, according to his own systematic, if one on one, he very well may be lying to the person he’s talking to, or if a mixed group, he is almost definitely lying to at least some of the group. Thankfully most Calvinists I know are extremely inconsistent and don’t evangelize, pray, or live consistently with what they say they believe.

  4. How is it LOGICAL to assume words can convince a dead corps to wake up?

    FRACTURED LOGIC – is what one would expect to see
    When the process involves SUPERIMPOSING concepts into a language in which those concepts don’t flow naturally.

    When Paul tells Agrippa he wants to “persuade” him – what Paul *REALLY* means is – he wonders if Calvin’s god will *ZAP* Agrippa

    In those days – people must have used the word “persuade” instead of the word “ZAP” :-]

    This is why we continuously observe Calvinists today arguing that scripture means “UP” when it says “DOWN”
    And scripture means “LEFT” when it says “RIGHT”.

    Calvinists today are even brazen enough to totally manipulate statements from Calvin himself and from other Calvinist – as long as doing so serves a temporary need.

    What Calvin meant by that statement was (insert current Calvinist argument here)

    Its all totally about creating everything in their own image. :-]

  5. I’ve said this before but I thought I’d throw it out there again …
    My dogmatic Calvinist pastor (of the church we just left) is totally enthusiastic about evangelism, going to other countries (Muslim) to “spread the Gospel.” And I couldn’t figure out why a dogmatic Calvinist would be so zealous about missions (about calling people to believe in Jesus), until I found a couple articles written by him about his reason for it. He said that he used to be apathetic about evangelizing and didn’t understand the point of it (because of his Calvinist views, my words not his) until he realized the whole purpose of it … to make God famous. He says this is why God wants us to evangelize – to make Him famous so He gets the most glory possible. He also said, of course, that evangelizing is about calling people to repent of their sins, which is the message I think they resort to because they can’t really say “God loves you, Jesus died for you, you can believe in Him and be saved too.” But they can, keeping in line with their theology, genuinely say “repent,” knowing that those who are elect will repent, those who are non-elect won’t, and that they aren’t giving anyone false hope that they can be saved (or that God loves them, Jesus died for them, etc,) when they can’t be (the non-elect).

    But in his article, there was nothing about spreading God’s love for people, His desire for all people to be saved and to have a relationship with all people, Jesus’ s sacrificial death, etc. This is sad. To think of the half-picture they are getting of God because of this pastor’s evangelism. All the people get from him is “God wants to be famous and wants more glory” and “repent”. But it’s missing so much of the true Gospel, of who God is (a loving, relational, truly gracious, trustworthy Father), how Jesus died for all people, how we all matter to Him, how we are responsible for our response to God’s offer, etc.

    It’s no wonder this pastor goes to Muslim nations, where they already have a view of God as impersonal, wrathful, controlling, etc. They will be more “accepting” of a Calvinist god because he doesn’t sound too different from theirs. They will be much more likely to accept a Calvinist view of “sovereign” without questioning it. It’s sad, the parts of the Gospel they miss out on. Anyway, I’m just throwing this out there because it helped explain for me why a Calvinist would be so enthusiastic about evangelizing. To make God famous. But any god – or man – can be famous, for all the wrong reasons.

    1. Its funny this pastor is not mentally cognizant enough to realize that according to his own doctrine his choice to evangelize or not – was determined *FOR* him at the foundation of the world.

      Which means *NOTHING* about it is (or any other choice for that matter) is UP TO HIM.

      Isn’t it funny how DOUBLE-MINDED Calvinism is! :-]

    2. I suppose they could just say, ‘because it was given as a command to the apostles and as a command to all disciples’ (Matt. 28:18-20). And then just simply leave it at that.

      1. He would have infallibly done that – if him doing that were infallibly decreed at the foundation of the world.
        Otherwise that possibility would not be made available to him.
        In Theological Determinism, Alternative Possibilities from what is infallibly decreed to come to pass – do not exist.

  6. Of course, whenever you bring up such contradictions inherent within Reformed theology, they can always conveniently fall back on the “…unsearchable ways of God” argument when necessary. It allows all kinds of incompatible and incongruent beliefs to coexist.

    You, meanwhile, will usually be accused of misrepresenting it, not understanding it, not articulating it precisely enough, etc. It makes me wonder exactly who is authorized to speak with finality on the topic. How many beatnik sessions over cigars and microbrews discussing string theory and deterministic theology are necessary before you earn your journeyman credentials – yet alone master craftsman credentials?

    I’m sure Dr. Flowers, Eric, and other former Calvinists here have had has to deal regularly with accusations of “you were never really one of us, because if you were, you never would have apostatized.” Sort of a “no true Scotsman” approach.

    Or perhaps, “if you had only understood it properly, you wouldn’t have rejected it – because once enlightened, you see its superiority and it becomes like the red pill.” Sort of a Matrix approach.

    1. mrteebs
      It makes me wonder exactly who is authorized to speak with finality on the topic

      br.d
      Nice post!
      On that question – I think the answer is – whatever Calvinist is currently speaking!

      There is the joke:
      God decided to make man in his image and John Calvin decided to return the favor.

      But that is more than just a joke for me
      I see the reality of it.

      And I think (especially the non academic) Calvinists have an internal sense that making god and Calvinism in their own image – is part of their spiritual inheritance.

      If you read Hutche’s posts long enough – you’ll see he has no problem being inventive.
      He’ll assert something in total contradiction to a statement from Calvin himself – or from a well known Calvinist.
      And in order to erase the contradiction he’ll take their statement and claim what it really means is (insert the Hutch image here)

      The whole thing reminds me of the children’s game “king of the hill”
      And the Calvinist’s way of playing that game is with subtle word tricks.

    2. MrTeebs writes: “Of course, whenever you bring up such contradictions inherent within Reformed theology, they can always conveniently fall back on the “…unsearchable ways of God” argument when necessary. It allows all kinds of incompatible and incongruent beliefs to coexist. End of quote

      GA: So true Calvinists have so many deceptive tools in their tool belt that there isn’t a truth in scripture that they can’t turn on it’s head and then to top it off when it still doesn’t work the “mystery, unsearchable ways” terms come out to cover over anything else that is still at odds with scripture. With those kind of tools you can make the scriptures say absolutely anything, why Holy God could even become the author of Evil. This system has all the tools in place to consistently Blasphemy Holy God and make the Blasphemer feel good that he has understood the “secret things” of God. It comes from Genesis “has God really said…..?”

  7. Excellent article as usual. Can’t help but ask… what’s with the two gay kids in the picture at the top?

  8. Why does superman stand still letting bullets bounce of his chest – but then duck when someone throws a fist at him?
    Because bullets bouncing off his chest is JUST IMAGINARY.

    Why is it that Calvin’s god intervenes to prevent an event – when that event CANNOT POSSIBLY even start to come to pass without him specifically decreeing it?

    Same answer as above.
    In Calvinism – any prevention of an event established to INFALLIBLY come to pass is JUST IMAGINARY

    In other words – ITS ALL FOR SHOW :-]

  9. If what John Calvin teaches is TRUE
    That a *HUGE PILE* of Calvinists were divinely decreed to have FALSE perceptions of their personal election
    And a *FEW* Calvinists hidden under that *HUGE PILE* were decreed to have TRUE perceptions of their personal election.

    Then there is a *HUGE PILE* of Calvinists running around talking about their personal election *AS-IF* their perception of it were TRUE.

    Just what percentage of Calvinism is nothing more than a FALSE perception?

    I think the answer to that question will surprise most non-Calvinists! :-]

  10. A Very Important
    Two-letter Word
    It’s found in each of the following
    Scriptures. What is it?

    Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews
    who had believed Him, “If you abide in
    My word, then you are truly disciples of
    Mine.” John 8:31

    Now I make known to you, brethren, the
    gospel which I preached to you, which
    also you received, in which also you
    stand, by which also you are saved, if you
    hold fast the word which I preached to
    you, unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

    What use is it, my brethren, if a man says
    he has faith, but he has no works? Can
    that faith save him? James 2:14

    And as they went along the road they
    came to some water; and the eunuch said,
    “Look! Water! What prevents me from
    being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you
    believe with all your heart, you may.” And
    he answered and said, “I believe that
    Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”And he
    ordered the chariot to stop; and they both
    went down into the water, Philip as well
    as the eunuch; and he baptized him. Acts 8:36-38

    “For if you forgive others for their
    transgressions, your heavenly Father will
    also forgive you. But if you do not forgive
    others, then your Father will not forgive
    your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15

    ANSWER:
    IF: on the condition that; in the event that

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