Predestination and Evangelism

There was an old apocryphal tale of little Calvinistic churches that didn’t put up notice boards with service times because if you were part of the elect, then you were predestined to be at church at the right time.

I am not sure if anything like that has ever really happened.  However, this has been one of the bugbears of the predestination v free will debate.  What is the point in doing evangelism if God has already decided who the elect are and who will be saved? For critics of reformed theology, this is seen as one of the major holes in Calvinism.

I want to suggest the following reasons for why we should evangelise.

  1. Our duty is to obey God’s revealed will as seen in his precepts. When we evangelise, we are responding first to God’s specific command to go into all the World and preach the Gospel. We are also responding to his precepts where he evaluates what is good.  We have seen that God desires that none should perish. This is an example of his precepts evaluating something as good.
  2. Witnessing is an act of worship. When we share the Gospel, we are declaring God’s praises.  Whether or not people respond with saving faith, God is still glorified when the great truths of the Gospel are announced.
  3. Witnessing warms our own hearts. We are reminded of the good news and how and why we first believed.  It encourages us and builds us up.

Now back in the 18th Century, there were people who were saying that if there is an elect, then we cannot give an invitation or call to people to respond in faith to the Gospel unless we are certain that they are the elect.  This view is sometimes known as Hyper-Calvinism because it went over and beyond the beliefs of John Calvin and other reformed Christians.

I suspect that as well as wanting to have a tidy view of the Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, those people also wanted tidy churches too. If you invited someone to repent and put their trust in Jesus, there was the risk that someone who wasn’t elect could hear, be touched emotionally or even intellectually, but not reached spiritually and end up making some form of profession and joining the church.

I would also say, very carefully, that there may even be a good motive in this view point, a reaction to over emotionalised, high pressured evangelism techniques. However, even if people have good motives, they can get distorted by bad doctrine.

My reason for mentioning Hyper-Calvinism here though is that the three reasons I’ve described above are probably reasons that they could subscribe too. They would agree that Gospel proclamation is an act of worship that builds up the believer and is in obedience to God’s commands. They would, however, insist that the preacher should be very careful not to engage emotionally and certainly not to appeal to people to respond. In other words, Gospel proclamation in that view point amounts to announcing the bare facts that Jesus died on the Cross to bear the penalty of sin and rose from the grave.

When I talk about evangelism, I don’t just mean that we should give the bare facts. I expect to engage in apologetics, giving a reason for my faith. I expect what I say to speak to the whole person. So it will touch the emotions without becoming emotional (sometimes called “preaching to the affections.”) There will be an invitation to respond in prayer.  These things are modelled in the New Testament examples of evangelism. I believe we do well to follow them.

So here are some other reasons for evangelism that take us a little further

  1. When God wills and decrees something, he still works through human agents like you and me. In other words, if God intends to save someone, then he chooses to do it through the faithful witness of believers who love them, speak to them, engage with them, listen to them and respond to them.  God works through both a person’s intellect and emotions to speak to them and call them.
  2. Calvinists have always been careful to distinguish between God’s secret will and revealed will. We should not try to second guess who will be saved, but that is not a reason for stepping back from evangelism. Rather, this is a motive to go and share the Gospel.
  3. As we’ve seen recently, whilst we should not use human freedom and responsibility as a pretext to try and limit God’s sovereignty and freedom, that does not mean that human freedom and responsibility do not exist. We may not be able to work out how it all fits together, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are responsible for our response. So we do share the Gospel expecting people to respond.
  4. Because we are both accountable and liable before God, preaching the Gospel brings both grace and judgement. For those who do not respond in faith, the fact that they were given that opportunity will stand against them on judgement day.

If I could say one final thing on the matter, it’s this.  We’ve seen that the purpose of the Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty and Biblical teaching on Predestination and election isn’t to give us an excuse to squabble. It is meant to provide loving assurance that God is love and that he chooses to love us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. It is meant to encourage us that God is fully in control of history and our lives; we are safe in his hands.

In other words, if I’m thinking about predestination in terms of “Does that mean I don’t have to or need not bother evangelising?” then I’ve heard it in the wrong tone. Furthermore, the call to share the gospel should not be treated in a calculating manner. Rather, I should be moved in my heart and gut by the desperate state of the lost. Their need for a saviour and the wonder of the Gospel should compel me to preach it.