Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Calvinism #2: Who needs evangelism?

I used to teach courses both at my church and my at-work Bible study on evangelism.  Lifestyle evangelism, explaining the gospel, the Roman Road, the Bridge to Life, etc.  But one part that always troubled me was the idea of asking people to believe something.  To choose to believe something.

I mean, belief is not a choice.  If I tell you that 2+2=4, you don't choose to believe or not.  You simply believe, or you don't.  When talking with my sister-in-law (see previous post) and her husband, I used her husband's blue shirt as an example.

To her husband I said, "Jeff, I know your shirt appears to you to be blue.  But I tell you it's really red.  And it's really important that you believe that it's red.  In fact, you will suffer eternal torment unless you come to believe that your shirt is red."  But if he looks at his shirt, and it still looks blue to him, what is he going to do?  Pretend it looks red?  Try to convince himself that it's red?  If he really believes that he will suffer, but the shirt still looks blue, what is he to do?

(Please don't push my example too far.  I know it's a grossly imperfect model of believing in the claims of Jesus.  All I'm trying to illustrate is that people don't choose to believe.  They simply believe or they don't.)

This contradiction, asking people to believe in the Gospel but knowing that belief is not a choice, drove me to the Scriptures.  The result of many months of work was another course called "The Theology of Evangelism", which was basically an introduction to the 5 doctrines of grace and their consequences for personal evangelism.  It's funny how when some Christians first encounter Calvinism, they think it makes evangelism unnecessary.  However, the truths of God's election and irresistable grace are not obstacles to evangelism, they are the hope of evangelism!  What other hope do we have for reaching the lost but that God Himself will draw in unstoppable power?

John Piper tells a story about a missionary he and his wife heard at an Urbana conference.  Both of them were young, rather tentative Calvinists.  A long-time missionary stood before the crowd and said "Twenty years ago, if I had been a Calvinist, I would never have gone to the mission field."  This caused their hearts to sink.  And then he said, "Now, after twenty years of dealing with the hardness of the human heart, I could never remain on the mission field if I were not a Calvinist."

Much earlier (centuries before Calvin!), Augustine noted in one of his letters the hope that irresistable grace brings to evangelism:
If, as I prefer to think in your case, you agree with us in supposing that we are doing our duty in praying to God, as our custom is, for them that refuse to believe, that they may be willing to believe and for those who resist and oppose his law and doctrine, that they may believe and follow it.  If you agree with us in thinking that we are doing our duty in giving thanks to God, as is our custom, for such people when they have been converted ... then you are surely bound to admit that the wills of men are preveniently moved by the grace of God, and that it is God who makes them to will the good which they refused; for it is God whom we ask so to do, and we know that it is meet and right to give thanks to him for so doing...
A final quote to end today's instalment.  George Whitefield was a great evangelist in the 18th century, drawing tens of thousands of people to Jesus.  He pleaded with John Wesley not to oppose the doctrines of Calvinism:
I cannot bear the thoughts of opposing you: but how can I avoid it, if you go about (as your brother Charles once said) to drive John Calvin out of Bristol.  Alas, I never read anything that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and His apostles; I was taught them of God.  (Arnold Dalimore, GEORGE WHITEFIELD 1, p. 574)
It was his belief in this glorious doctrine that enabled his evangelism:
The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus are daily more and more pressed upon my heart.  They fill my soul with a holy fire and afford me great confidence in God my Saviour.

I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus.  Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this.  All others leave freewill in man and make him, in part at least, a saviour to himself.  My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things ... I know Christ is all in all.  Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do his good pleasure.

Oh the excellency of the doctrine of election and of the saints' final perseverance!  I am persuaded, til a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself, but when convinced of these and assured of their application to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed!  (Dalimore, p. 407)
(Quotes from Augustine and Whitefield are drawn from Bethlehem Baptist Church's What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.)

Go and take the Gospel to those around you, asking God to open their eyes and effectually call them!

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