Arminian Today

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Determinism and Evangelism

In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism.  Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism.  I appreciated that.  Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost.  Agreed with all that he wrote.  Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing.  W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life.  We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8).  We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food.  Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed.  Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).

I agree here with MacArthur as well.  Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot.  Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21).  When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).

Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional.  God alone is the first and ultimate cause.  God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2).  God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30).  God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13).  Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15).  God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48).  While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election.  To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory.  If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition.  If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition.  This is not consistent.

I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue.  Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well.  I appreciate Spurgeon much.  Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect.  Spurgeon even stated,

Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth.  Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism.  Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill).  The means is not a condition to salvation.  Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation.  They cannot be.  That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism.  The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live.  The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.

Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect.  The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible.  The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice.  The internal call of God is unconditional.  The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).  The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3).  J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace.  The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory.  The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).

Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism?  If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play?  In reality, none.  If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition?  How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?

I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call.  I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people.  God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8).  The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22).  The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5).  When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14).  This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).

Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power.  He does not need man nor does He even use man.  God alone saves His elect.  Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate.  Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.”  I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate.  In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian?  By God’s sovereign decree and timing.  In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life.  One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment.  Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not.  This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so.  While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.

Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct.  If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God.  As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!”  In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.”  How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them?  Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed.  Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel.  Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise.  In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd.  The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect.  The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter.  They will believe because God wills it so.  It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner.  Go back and read Spurgeon at the top.  God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44).  God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon.  This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism.  It is not practiced much but it is consistent.

Conclusion

Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong.  I may have.  I am not a Calvinist and have never been so.  However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist.  I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant.  I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system.  Calvinism is not practical.  Calvinism is not congruent.  Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved.  Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith.  Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching.  From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.

My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God.  I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air.  I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel.  Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel.  I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists.  I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord.  I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.

In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong.  I pray that God would show me where I am wrong.  I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me.  I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it.  I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome.  I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God.  Yet I am okay with mystery.  The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39).  Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.

In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37.  Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel?  We shall see.

May God be glorified in His Church!

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