Reformed Evangelism

I recently started a personal blog on which I’ll be posting more generally Reformed/Presbyterian topics. The following post is from that blog:

A common objection to the Reformed faith is the claim that it kills the zeal for evangelism. The thought is that if God has ordained his elect to eternal life then there is no reason to go out into the world preaching the gospel since “God will save them without our help.” I want to address this objection from a few different directions to show that this objection, while common, holds no real merit.

1. A Historical Argument:

One of the simplest responses to this claim is to simply cite the large number of missionaries who have held to Reformed and Calvinist beliefs.

George Whitefield (December 27 1714 – September 30, 1770)
— Missionary to America
— Played a role in the First Great Awakening

David Brainerd (April 20, 1718–October 9, 1747)
— Missionary to the Native Americans

William Carey (17 August 1761 – 9 June 1834)
— Missionary to India
— Father of modern missions

Adoniram Judson (August 9, 1788 – April 12, 1850)
— Missionary to Burma

There are many more men such as these who held to Calvinistic beliefs and retained a heavy burden for world missions, in fact, one might say that it was their Calvinism itself that created such a burden, as we’ll note in our exegetical argument.

2. A Biblical Argument:

It is one thing to cite the historical Calvinist missionaries, it is yet another to prove that these missionaries were not acting in spite of their Calvinism, but because of it. That is what I’d like to prove in this section. The first text we ought to look at is Romans 10:11-17:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Oftentimes, this text is used in an attempt to refute Calvinism, however, there is nothing in the text itself that argues against Calvinist beliefs. Calvinists truly believe that all those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. The real question for us is “Who will call upon the name of the Lord?” We answer: Those whom the Spirit of God has granted faith and repentance.

The relevant portion of this text is the second paragraph. How is it that the elect throughout the world will hear of Christ and believe in him? Paul answers: God has ordained the means of preaching to spread the gospel to all the nations, both Jew and Gentile.

So, let’s, for arguments sake, assume that Calvinism is true. It’s true that God has, before creation, chosen a people for himself “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”(Revelation 7:9). He has also ordained preaching as the method by which he will bring those people to a saving faith in himself and he has commanded his followers to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15).

If one believes scripture from a Calvinist perspective, there is no exegetical or biblical reason not to evangelize, indeed, the Calvinist affirms just as strongly as non-Calvinists that Christians are commanded to preach the gospel.

3. The Argument from Zeal/Passion

The final argument I’d like to make deals specifically with the part of the claim that suggests Calvinists are not as zealous for evangelism. This is simply untrue, while our zeal might have a different foundation (I would argue a better one) it is no less real.

The non-Calvinist, it can be said, is zealous for lost souls for a few reasons, here are the three that I find most relevant:

1. Scripture commands it.

2. The preaching of the gospel brings glory to God.

3. They do not want to see people suffer the torments of hell.

Now, the Calvinist can agree with all of these points. Scripture does command evangelism, and the preaching of the gospel message brings glory to God. Since there is no identifying mark of election on those who will be saved, the Calvinist also will preach the message of salvation to all men in hopes that they will believe the gospel and be saved from the torments of hell.

However, the Calvinist has a fourth reason for his zeal or passion in evangelism:

4. God has chosen people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, to be his own.

Thus, the Calvinist can go into the darkest places on earth the most hardened against Christ and his gospel, the most uncivilized peoples and, with confidence, preach the gospel of Christ knowing that God will bring his people from out of the world and in to saving faith. The Calvinist need not water down his message or present a less offensive Christ in hopes of seeing more people converted, rather, he can preach the gospel without fear, knowing that God will save his own.

I hope this post helps you, whether Calvinist or not, understand that, rather than being damaging to evangelism, the Reformed faith feeds the fire of the passion and zeal for the lost in God’s people.

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