Calvinism & Evangelism – Friend or foe? (part 2)
Calvinism & Evangelism – Friend or foe? (continued)
I will now move on to address one of the big questions that Calvanist theology brings up for me and many others. The question is, “If God is sovereign over who is saved and has chosen the elect before time began, then what’s the point of evangelism?”
The problem begins, I think, with our concept of what evangelism is. If we think of evangelism as our attempt at convincing someone to convert or respond to Jesus, then when we learn that it is God alone who can do that and God alone who has chosen who he will do that to, then the basic motivation for our evangelism has been made redundant.
We think that evangelism is ultimately about persuasion.
Thinking of evangelism as persuasion also leads us to think that people will respond on the basis of how persuasive we are. If they’re persuaded by the claims and concepts of the gospel then they’re converted and so our goal is to try to be as persuasive as we possibly can.
But Calvinism teaches that people are spiritually dead and so are completely unable to respond, no matter how persuasive you are. This makes our persuasion/evangelism feel like a waste of breath.
Also, Calvinism teaches that God has already chosen who will respond, no matter how persuasive we are, and in the end God is really the one who persuades them by his Spirit. It’s kind of like thinking you wereplaying bingo and God tells you that he and he alone chooses which ball will come up and unless he choses the ball, no ball will move at all! It sort of takes the fun out of the game, don’t you think?
What’s the point? Does God’s Sovereign choice mean that if I don’t evangelize, God’s chosen few will eventually come to faith anyway? If there’s no cost in not evangelizing, then why bother? There’s definitely a cost in doing evangelism, so what’s the point of going through the awkwardness, fear rejection and persecution, if God will do what God wants to do whether I’m involved or not?
These are great questions, and I honestly don’t know all the answers. But I do know that both the command to evangelize and the doctrine of God’s Sovereign election are both in the Bible, side by side. Any Christian who wants to take God’s Word seriously can not escape either of them.
The sad truth is that because of the difficulty we have in reconciling these two realities, Christians tend to emphasize one and neglect the other.
There are many Christians who find the idea of God choosing only some people to be saved makes God out to be cruel and fickle, and so they weaken God and say that he really wants to save everyone and hoping that everyone will respond to the gospel, but in the end he can’t force them and so he is at the mercy of the individual’s free choice about whether they should trust in or reject Jesus. Naturally, they can’t respond unless they hear the gospel and this is used as a motivation to evangelize. If you don’t evangelize then lots of people who would have responded to the gospel, won’t be able to. This view seems to say that the world’s real problem is not spiritual death and the judgement of God for sin, but ignorance, and so the guilt-inducing tactic is suggested that if only you evangelized a little bit more, or maybe a little bit more persuasively, then your neighbour or your father or your best friend would have been saved.
I have heard this motivation being pushed years ago by a preacher at the Hillsong Conference, with the little story of “A Letter from Hell”. If you’ve never heard it, you can check it out on YouTube here, although I warn you, I believe it to be emotionally manipulative and based on a false idea of a weak and uninvolved God.
The hard reality that the Bible teaches is that no one is in heaven or hell apart from the sovereign choice of God. He has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy (Romans 9:18) and although he has gone to amazing lengths to make it possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection for people to be forgiven and escape hell, he is ultimately the decider on who he will give that grace to.
We should not feel guilty that we could have saved someone from hell if we had just done more. That’s almost a salvation by works mentality where someone else is in the end saved (or not saved) by your work rather than Christ’s.
But although this is true, we should not let the pendulum swing in the opposite direction to far. Just because God is sovereign over the eternal destiny of every soul, does not mean that we are free from the command to evangelize. If our best friend dies an enemy to Jesus and ends up in hell, and we never shared the gospel with them, we should not feel guilty that we could have prevented their end, but we definitely should feel guilty that we disobeyed Christ’s command to tell people about him and we should feel guilty for our prioritizing of our comfort rather than Jesus’ honour. Like Peter warming himself by the fire (Mark 11:66-72) when we should speak up about Jesus and we don’t, we sin and dishonour Christ. When we speak up, we glorify God and lift up as worthy, beautiful and precious, the truth of the gospel. This is a Biblical motivation for evangelism.
So this tells us what attitude should be behind out evangelism, but it doesn’t help us see what the PURPOSE is for evangelism…
and so once again I will neglect to answer this central question and get to bed!
I think this is enough for you to chew on for the time being.
Sorry, if it’s frustrating, I just find I can write and write on this topic!
Anyway, again please leave comments and questions, and hopefully the next installment will be the final one! Only God knows!