Should The Calvinist Blush for Preaching The Gospel? (revised)April 25, 2008
Many Arminians claim that Calvinists do not need to preach the gospel because Calvinists believe that God will save the elect (those whom God chooses to save) anyways. But is the fact that God will bring in His elect with or without our help a sufficient reason to halt evangelism altogether? Here are my thoughts:
I would argue that the Calvinist should be the most effective in evangelism. Because the Calvinist knows that God is the one granting repentance and is sovereign over changing a hardened heart to flesh, they ought not waver on the solid gospel of scripture (teaching on law, judgment, hell, while then sharing Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and grace). For the Calvinist should know that it is this message which God primarily uses to bring a walking corpse to life. As it is usually said “we are the means to God’s ends”. But not only are WE the means to God’s ends, but the MESSAGE we carry is the means to God’s ends! The message of the gospel is God’s message and is His primary means of saving the lost. We are simply the carriers of that message.
The Arminian’s hope cannot be in the message alone because people are autonomous. The Arminian’s hope is in getting sinners to recite “the sinner’s prayer”. Thus the gospel becomes dumbed down and more convenient in an effort to sway people to pray such prayers. Thus people aren’t genuinely saved because the gospel becomes less genuine. As the saying goes “ideas have consequences” and the ideas of Arminianism do not further the gospel in the long run but only damper it.
Secondly, because the Calvinist knows there is an elect, but does not know which unbelievers are elect, the gospel is to be proclaimed to everyone. Further, the Calvinist’s gospel stands in the form of “you MUST repent and believe to know you are right with God, otherwise you are not right with Him”, in which case the dead corpse sees the urgency of being right with God and seeks to know that he is.
But the Arminian supposes that a sinner can will themselves to love God, and therefore use their best judgment in regards to salvation. Therefore, the Arminian gospel is in the form of “take my offer of salvation if you will or leave it if you will”, in which case the dead corpse is told he will be saved if he follows through with a special thought, feeling, or action and will more likely walk away feeling bribed rather then exposed as one in need of Christ.
Again, Arminians usually attempt to catch Calvinists in a standstill. This is by pointing out to Calvinists, if they really believe God saves whom He wants, they are waisting their time evangelizing since God will save His elect anyways. However, Calvinists participate in brining in God’s elect. This is a perfect bases for not only evangelism but ‘right’ evangelism. Namely, evangelism that does not waver because it is known that God saves through the message. This is as opposed to believing God saves those who will give Him some kind of emotional, mental, or physical response. The emphasis for the Calvinist is the message, not the response, and rightly so. If we emphasize the need for a response then we try to find clever ways to manufacture that response. Rather, just sticking to the clear message, whether Calvinist or Arminian, is what is most needed.
Because Arminians believe that men’s wills are free, in the sense of being completely indifferent, it is extremely difficult to know if one is ever truly saved! Because Arminians deny total depravity, sinner’s wills are assumed to be more powerful then they really are. This creates a huge problem for the Arminian to know if he or anyone else is actually saved.
Has he willed to be saved enough as he ought? Has he un-willed it as much as he shouldn’t? No one can know for sure. Welcome to the nightmare of Semi-Palagianism (God’s efforts anticipating our efforts). If this is the grounds of one’s conversion then time will only tell when that person will be burnt out of trying to give God what He expects. The tormenting question will linger all the more if they ever gave God what He expects as they fully ought. It may even be subconscious.
Nevertheless, there are two other major points I want to raise in regard to the Arminian’s claim. That is, the charge that Calvinists do not need to preach the gospel because God will save His elect anyways. First I would point out that when a Christian shares the gospel, it IS God sharing it to them also. I am not equating the evangelist to God or God to the evangelist. I am saying that the church is the body of Christ. The church is about God’s business, namely His message (the gospel) and His mission (His kingdom). So God is ultimately the one evangelizing, but it is through us, His body, that part of the work is carried out. Christ carries out His work of evangelism, but does it through us, His body. Us evangelizing IS God evangelizing.
Secondly, we could easily turn the Arminians exact objection around and present it to them. If this is so, then the Arminian too has no reason but to evangelize for the same reasons the Calvinist does (the Biblical reasons I laid out above). The reason the Arminian does not have to evangelize is because the Arminian believes that 1. God has made Himself known to all men (Rom 1). The Arminian also believes that 2. the Holy Spirit “draws” all men, not efficaciously (entirely), but in a prevenient sense (anticipating and expecting a response from them). The Holy Spirit is “wooing” everyone to believe, in hopes that they will be saved.
If these claims are excepted by Arminians, then the Arminian is in the same supposed predicament that the Calvinist is in. If God reveals Himself to all men equally and non are without excuse for having denied His existence, and if God draws all men equally yet fails to save all because powerful sinners refuse, then why evangelize? Any sinner who rejects God’s general revelation of His existence and His universal drawing of all men have already denied God’s own exhortation of salvation, which WAS sufficient to save all other believers!
But does the Arminian still evangelize? Yes! Why? I suggest it’s for the same Biblical reasons the Calvinist does.
The Arminian shares the same “problems” with the Calvinist, but only in slightly different ways. I find that many times the Arminian has hardly examined all of the contradictory points within his own theology. If only the Arminian critiqued their own theology as much as they did the Calvinist’s then maybe we could all begin to have more unity, namely, unity in realizing that we are all in search of the truth.
Lastly, I’d like to point out one quick thing. I am so glad that I am no longer an Arminian, not because of any personal reason, but because when Mr. Atheist tells me “If God is omniscient then God knows what He would need to do to get me to believe in Him”, as a Calvinist I have a sufficient and consistent answer for this. The Arminian has nothing to offer the atheist if this were to be brought up. He is trapped in between his theology of God’s omniscience and man’s libertarian (indifferent) free will. The Calvinist can consistently say, “well you’re in fact dead in your sin and unless God changes your heart you will remain how you are. Apart from that you can’t and wont believe in Him.”
In the Calvinist view, we know why God allows sinners to continue in sin (and the reason is sadly offensive to some Christians, which is for God’s glory). In the end, sinners get what they deserve and God gives it to them. God remains just in the end, and sinners get what they deserve. In the Arminian view, God allows sinners to continue in sin (even those He knows will never choose Him – assuming they could), but there’s no purpose for it (God’s plans are eternally frustrated by sinner’s with powerful wills).
We must learn to defend the Christian faith consistently. We need to stop giving ad-hominem arguments and humbly approach Scripture and let it speak freely.
I would love to know what your throughts are about this!