Thursday, April 29, 2010

Predestination and Evangelism

It is claimed that if God chooses who will be saved (Ephesians 1:4), it negates the need for preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). Scripture teaches that God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1:11), but it also teaches us we have a responsibility to obey God's commands (John 14:21). This is beyond human comprehension (Romans 11:33), but much about God is beyond human comprehension. God's normal way of communicating His truth is through a human preacher (Romans 10:14), and we have the obligation to be involved in this (1 Peter 3:15). If God has chosen who will be saved, He will see they get the message. But we are the agents He uses to accomplish this. If we refuse, God will still accomplish His purpose, but we are responsible for our disobedience. This does do away with motivating people by explaining how people will go to hell if we do not evangelize. But the guilt-trip approach seems as likely to overwhelm as to motivate. Also, it makes people so driven they may use any method, no matter how questionable, to get the job done.

But it is claimed that belief in predestination historically has been opposed to evangelism. The Protestant Reformers, who held this teaching, worked to evangelize all of Europe. John Calvin smuggled preachers and Bibles into France, others preached God's grace at the risk of their life, and some, like William Tyndale, gave their lives. That Protestants did not immediately send missionaries to foreign lands is not surprising. They were embroiled with troubles at home, and control of the sea was in the hands of the Catholic countries of Spain and Portugal. Even when nominally Protestant nations gained control of the sea, they were frequently more interested in making money off their subjects than spreading the truth of God. But William Carey, who started the missionary movement, was a Calvinist.

Much has been made of the opposition from Calvinists to William Carey's missionary ambitions. But in Carey's pamphlet defending his position he never mentions Calvinism, even to correct misunderstandings of it. In fact, the main issues that Carey addresses were practical, such as, "where will we get the money?" and, "the natives will kill us." Note that Carey was not asking them to agree in theory to preaching the gospel in other lands, but to actually send people out as missionaries. As for the famous incident at the beginning of Carey's career where he was told to sit down by the leader in charge of the meeting, it is not absolutely clear what was said, but one version suggests that the objector thought that the only way the gospel could be preached in far-off countries would be if the gift of tongues was restored. Again, this is raising a practical difficulty. Now it would be simplistic to say no one has ever taken Calvinism as a reason not to evangelize. But the thesis that Calvinism is generally opposed to evangelism does not hold up.

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