Do you want to know how to make a Calvinist angry? Do you want to know how to offend a whole room full of them? Just bring up the old line about Reformed theology being incompatible with evangelism. We have all heard it, we have all read it, we have all rejected it.
It’s the word on the street, though, that Calvinists make poor evangelists. Many people are firmly convinced that there is a deep-rooted flaw embedded within Reformed theology that undermines evangelistic fervor. Most blame it on predestination. After all, if God has already chosen who will be saved, it negates at least some of our personal responsibility in calling people to respond to the gospel. Or perhaps it’s just the theological-mindedness that ties us down in petty disputes and nuanced distinctions instead of freeing us to get up, get out, and get on mission.
We like to answer this charge with facts. We go to the Bible to show that the sovereignty of God is not the snuff that extinguishes the ember of evangelistic fervor, but the spark that causes it to burst into flame. We go to the pages of Scripture to show that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not incompatible, but that people truly are both free and bound, that God both chooses some while extending the free offer of the gospel to all. We go to history to show that the great missionaries, great preachers, and great revivalists of days past were Calvinists, and that Reformed theology was what fueled their mission.
Those are good and valid responses. But, to quote the Bard, perhaps the lady doth protest too much. The Bible and history answer the charge. But do our lives? Do our churches?
When I look at myself, I have trouble finding a clear line extending from my Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal. I can easily draw a line from my Reformed theology to my beliefs about evangelistic zeal, and I can go to history and look to other men and women to draw a line from their beliefs about Reformed theology to evangelistic zeal.
But in moments of honesty, I have to own it: My life does not consistently display it. Too often I am the cliché. I have got the theory. I have got the facts. I have got the history. But I don’t have the zeal. Not often, anyway. Not often enough.
There are only so many times I can point to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, or William Carey and the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century, or Charles Spurgeon and the countless thousands saved under his ministry. Sooner or later I have to stop looking at my heroes and look to myself. I can’t claim their zeal as my own. I can’t claim their obedience as my own.
It is my conviction—conviction rooted in close study of God’s Word—that Calvinism provides a soul-stirring motivation for evangelism, and that sharing the gospel freely and with great zeal is the most natural application of biblical truth. But it is my confession—confession rooted in the evidence of my own life—that my Calvinism too rarely stirs my soul to mission. The truths that have roared in the hearts and lives of so many others, somehow just whisper in me. The fault, I’m convinced, is not with God’s Word, or even with my understanding of God’s Word; the fault is with me.
Image credit: Shutterstock