Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calvinists and Evangelism

Bill Hybels’ recent message at Willow Creek on Calvinism and Arminianism, referenced here, contains the charge that Calvinists* don’t evangelize. I saw a recent statement by a man who apparently thinks God left him in charge of finding everything wrong that said that Calvinists evangelize in spite of Calvinism and not because of it. Both of these statements contain some major errors.

First, as Hybels says (and virtually everyone recognizes), there is a good biblical case to be made for what is known as Calvinism. This being the case, the biblical commands to evangelize must fit with Calvinism. Which is to say, that the Bible commands Calvinists to evangelize. Therefore, Calvinists must evangelize because of their commitment to Scripture.

A case can be made that Calvinism is the only reason evangelism even works. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, if God is not opening the eyes of the blind, no one will see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Were the doctrines known as Calvinism untrue, evangelism would be utterly fruitless since no matter how bright the light is (or how clear the gospel presentation is), a blind man will not be able to see. Only God can open the eyes of the blind.

Second, this charge about non-evangelistic Calvinism shows an ignorance of history—whether intentional or not. Calvinists were staunchly behind the modern missions movement. Men such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Andrew Fuller were avowed Calvinists. Calvinists were behind much of the early church planting movement in America. Today, there is a resurgence of church planting by Calvinists and Calvinistic groups (Acts 29, Redeemer Presbyterian Church).

Why? Because nothing in Calvinism demands a lack of evangelism. It rather encourages evangelism by assuring the Calvinist that he is not laboring alone, but that God is working for us and in us to bring about his glory by the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).

Calvinism encourages the evangelist by reminding him that while he should be as clear as he could be, it’s not the “next sentence” that he utters that will make the difference between heaven and hell. It allows us to be faithful to the gospel, and all its hardness, and know that God is at work. So we can evangelize and walk away from the unbeliever, knowing that he is not continuing in unbelief because we didn’t use a better illustration, or because we forgot to use this verse or that verse, or because we didn’t continue for five more minutes.

So what’s the point? Simply this: Disagree with Calvinism if you are convinced by Scripture that you must, but recognize that Calvinists are evangelistic, and that is true both in terms of obedience and in terms of history.

And if you are a Calvinist who does not evangelize, repent immediately and start.

I have said before, and it bears repeating here, that lack of evangelism is not a matter of Calvinism vs. Arminianism (or “biblicism”). It is matter of obedience. People of all persuasions on this matter fail to evangelize.

When people do not evangelize, they are disobedient.


So repent, and evangelize, whether you are Arminian or Calvinist (or “biblicist”).


*When I speak of Calvinists or Calvinism, I am referring to a set of beliefs about soteriology. I am not referring to any thing else that is sometimes connected with Calvinism, such as John Calvin, infant baptism, reformed ecclesiology, or reformed eschatology. Nor am I not referring to people who follow John Calvin. While some may use “Calvinism” referring to all or any of these, I do not.

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