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!”
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?