Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Three
In part one of this series I explained that I do not like the label Calvinist because both insiders and outsiders have misconceptions about what Calvinists actually believe. In this series, I hope to clarify some of those misconceptions. My goal is not to convince people to be Calvinists, but to make sure all of us know what we are choosing to accept or reject before we choose to accept or reject it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: In this entire series I am using the word Calvinist in the most general way possible. Rather than using it to refer to those who follow Calvin’s writings on every point of his theology of election, I am using it to refer to those who believe God pre-destined certain people to salvation, solely on the basis of his personal pleasure, and is Himself responsible for their conversion. While the term Calvinist may not be wholly accurate in the technical sense, it is accurate in the practical sense. If you believe God predestined a chosen group of people to be saved, you are presumed to be a Calvinist by other Christians, even if you would not ascribe that label to yourself.
Misconception #5: Calvinists Have No Reason to Evangelize
Calvinism is a threat to missions and evangelism. If God has pre-destined certain people to salvation, and is going to assure that they are saved no matter what, what’s the use of preaching the gospel to non-Christians? The elect will be saved no matter what, right? It seems that your Calvinism completely robs you of any reason or motivation to evangelize.
These comments arise from a sincere desire to see the lost found. Those outside of Calvinism genuinely cannot reconcile the powerful words of the Great Commission with their understanding of how Calvinists think about salvation. Yet, this inability to reconcile the two is due far less to any contradiction between the two than it is to a misunderstanding of how those inside of Calvinism think about evangelism. There are at least four reasons that Calvinism does not have this supposed negative affect on evangelism.
First, Calvinists evangelize for the very same reason Arminians evangelize: God commands it. Calvinists read and understand the Great Commission in the same way that Christians have understood it for 2,000 years — we have the responsibility to declare the glories of Christ to those who do not know Him. Even if our theology made it difficult to understand why Jesus would command us to do this, it would not excuse us from obeying His command to do this.
Second, our theology does not, in fact, make it difficult to understand why Jesus would command us to evangelize. Rather, it explains it. Calvinists believe God is sovereign over the entire process of salvation — from the very beginning to the very end. This means He is not only sovereign over electing whom He will save, He is also sovereign over electing how He will save. And He has sovereignly chosen to save His elect through everyday people proclaiming His gospel. Just as Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), the Bible also says “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). In other words, God not only sovereignly draws His people to Himself, he also sovereignly sends us to to preach to those He is drawing.
For the Calvinist, then, the dilemma of why a Calvinist would need to evangelize just simply doesn’t exist. Our theology tells us that we need to evangelize because that’s how God saves His elect: through the preaching of the gospel.
Third, Calvinists evangelize because it brings us joy to speak of the Lord who loves us. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment.” He goes on to explain how we are compelled from within to share our delight in a new author or a grand view of nature with others, just as we are inwardly driven to speak about our favorite restaurants and TV shows. We complete our joyful experience of each of these things by sharing them with others. How much more so is this the case with the God of the Universe who loved us, predestined us to be His through no merit of our own, and redeemed us for Himself at the cost of His own Son? Thus, even if we had no theological motivation to evangelize (which we do), we would do it because of our emotional motivation. We love to talk about the God who loved us.
Fourth, those who hold to a Calvinistic theology generally testify that far from hindering their commitment to evangelism, adopting this theology actually multiplied their commitment to evangelism. Knowing that God will draw His people to Himself relieves us of the pressure of trying to attract someone to Him with the beauty of our words, the power of our speech, or even the righteousness of our lives. Instead, we can present the gospel to the best of our ability with the confidence that the success or failure of our evangelism does not rest in our performance, but in the irresistible grace of God. This produces a courage to present the gospel even to those who seem most opposed to it, because we have the assurance that God’s irresistible grace can overcome even the most hard-hearted resistance and — if it doesn’t — we know it is not the result of some failure on our part.
In addition to increasing our confidence, many will say that adopting a Calvinistic theology has given them increased gratitude that produces more passionate and more consistent evangelism than they had before. This is not to say that an Arminian cannot be equally or significantly more motivated than a Calvinist. Many are. It is to say that when you embrace a theology that tells you God is even more responsible for your salvation than you previously thought, and that you are even less responsible for it than you previously thought, you cannot help but grow in gratitude. In many cases, that growing gratitude causes simultaneous growth in public praise and personal evangelism.
This is not just a theological issue for me, but a personal one. I am writing this post from my apartment in Mexico City, Mexico. My family and I left everything we know and love in order to live as missionaries in a foreign culture. We did not have to look outside of our Calvinistic theology to find a reason to do so. To the contrary, God used our entire theology (including the Calvinistic portions) to provide both the reason and the desire to do it. The idea that Calvinism hinders evangelism is based on a misunderstanding of what Calvinists actually believe, and simply does not hold up against the evidence of real-life.