Calvinism and Evangelism: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

I’m not a huge fan of labels.  Yet I also know that labels are often necessary to keep discussions from becoming annoyingly cumbersome.  So to make this post (and subsequent ones) easy to follow I will be employing various labels, in this case, Calvinism and Arminianism.  First, let me give a brief definition of each. 

Calvinism: the view that God is the ultimate deciding factor in salvation, that he has chosen from among sinners whom he will save; this is a monergistic view (God alone).

Arminianism: the view that individual choice is the ultimate deciding factor in salvation, that God does his part and people do their part; this is a synergistic view (two or more involved).

Please remember, use of these words has nothing to do with undo adulation of men and their theologies.  Both Calvinists and Arminians would take exception to various aspects of the theologies of Calvin and Arminius, respectively.  I’m only trying to keep things simple.  With that said I’ll begin.

Arminians of various stripes have often accused Calvinism of being anti-evangelistic. It is said to kill revivals, split churches, and keep people from being saved.  Now it would be tempting to answer such a charge by pointing out that Calvinists have led the way in many missions movements, historic revivals, and evangelism efforts.  And perhaps in a future post that history can be explored.  But for now I want to take a different approach and look at the logic of the argument itself.

Critics of Christianity have sometimes said the following: “It is illogical for Christians to pray to God if He already knows what you are going to say and what you need.” (Objection One)

 Those who oppose Calvinism argue similarly: “It is illogical for Calvinists to practice any kind of missions or evangelism because God has already foreordained who will be saved.” (Objection Two)

While these are separate subjects the structure of the objections are quite alike.  What is also very similar is how each objection is answered, for those who argue thus against Calvinism are quick to answer the nearly identical charge against prayer.  In the name of consistency Arminians should afford Calvinists the same courtesy to answer Objection Two that all Christians expect when answering Objection One.  Here’s how Objection One is typically answered, followed by Objection Two:

 Why Christians still pray even though it is alleged to be an illogical activity. 

  1. God has commanded it.
  2. It is a way of relating to God
  3. Prayer is God’s ordained means to bring about many of His purposes.
  4. The example of Scripture shows that Christians are to pray.
  5. It is affirmed that God is all-knowing, but instead of this knowledge discouraging prayer, it actually encourages it.

 Why Calvinists still share the gospel even though it is alleged to be an illogical activity. 

  1. God has commanded it.
  2. It is a way of joining God in His work.
  3. Evangelism and missions are God’s ordained means to bring about salvation.
  4. The example of Scripture shows that Christians are to share the gospel.
  5. It is affirmed that God is sovereign over salvation, but instead of discouraging evangelistic activities, it actually encourages them.

Some might object to answer 5.  After all, how can it possibly be that witnessing is further encouraged if it is true that God has already ordained who will be saved?  First, let’s look at how the Christian answers a similar objection to answer 5 of prayer.

How does God’s omniscience encourage prayer?  Because if God knows what I need and what I am going to say, then nothing ever takes Him by surprise.  If He knows our desires He can work to answer our prayers even before we ask.  It also demonstrates how much God cares for us in that He knows our concerns and works all things for our good.  Both sides would agree that this is a reasonable and biblical response to the question.

So how can God’s sovereignty over salvation possibly encourage missions and evangelism?  Because if God already knows those who will be saved He can lead us to them at the right time.  A “yes” or “no” response to the gospel never takes God by surprise.  Also, when we witness we can know that God is powerful to save.  It is comforting to know that salvation is not our work, but God’s alone.  As with the previous question, this one is also answered both reasonably and biblically.

What I’ve tried to show is that a belief in God’s sovereignty over salvation in no way hinders evangelism, missions, or revivals – on the contrary it encourages them.  Though it is a common charge that Calvinism is against such endeavors, upon closer examination we find the logic to be faulty.   Just as the argument against Christian prayer falters, so does the similar argument against Calvinism and evangelism.




Filed under Theology

2 responses to “Calvinism and Evangelism: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

  1. Thanks for sharing these very clear and interesting posts about Arminians. It does explain some behaviours. Not sure that people know they actually are Arminians themselves. God bless.

    • Thank you for the comment Nicky.

      You’re right that most people do not know they are Arminians, let alone what Arminianism is. The post was primarily directed toward those who know the terms, or think they know the terms. Where I live there’s much misunderstanding and hatred directed towards Calvinism, so I felt a need to reply to one of these charges. For those unfamiliar with the terms, I tried to define them as succinctly as possible. The hope is that through better understanding, less antagonism and better unity will be achieved.

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