This semester and last semester, I took two evangelism classes. One was a single credit undergraduate class, and the other was a three credit Masters level class. At the end of these two rather enlightening and challenging classes, I still am convinced that anyone who holds to a form of Calvinism that pushes him away from evangelism rather than toward it either does not hold to a historic understanding of Calvinistic soteriology or is not living consistent with it.
I have held to this view strongly ever since having been introduced to Calvinism as a young Christian. However, I have never thought about whether or not a person who holds to a soteriological view other than Calvinism could practice a prayerful, Spirit-dependent evangelism in a way that is consistent with his soteriological perspective. I say “in a way that is consistent,” because there are many Christians who share their faith who are not Calvinists.
I understand that it is the default to say that it is indeed consistent for non-Calvinists to share their faith. As such, Calvinists are often, if not always, the ones who are put on the defensive in this regard. Not only am I arguing here that it is consistent for Calvinists to evangelize, but I am also arguing that Calvinistic soteriology is the only soteriological system consistent with the type of evangelism prescribed in the Bible. Any soteriological commitments other than Calvinism fall short in this regard and are thus inconsistent with biblical evangelism.
Prayerful, Spirit-Dependent Evangelism
The Holy Spirit’s work is essential in the work of evangelism. There is no corner of orthodox Christianity where this truth is denied. The question is, outside of a Calvinistic understanding of salvation, does the Holy Spirit truly have any power in evangelistic encounters? If He does, as nearly every evangelist will claim, who gives Him that power?
The reason these questions are important is that the natural response of most to the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work is to push the importance of prayer. Hence, professors, pastors, and parachurch gurus have long pushed church-wide prayer meetings, prayer walks, and persistent personal prayer for the lost. The idea is, if the Holy Spirit is not working alongside you in your evangelism, you have no reason to expect your evangelism to result in the making of disciples.
Here, our problem with a non-Calvinistic approach to evangelism arises. In this instance, it certainly seems as though a form of election is taking place, though it is obviously not divine election. In a non-Calvinistic framework, Christians, though they may not be able to elect people to salvation, can certainly elect them to reprobation through their unfaithfulness in prayer. According to many who write on the subject, Christians decide how effective their evangelism will or will not be based on how persistent they are in prayer.
Calvinism, More Consistent
But Calvinists must admit that they also hold to a strong view of prayer as it relates to evangelism. Spurgeon wrote on many occasions of the need for more prayer in order to see the gospel advance in the world. However, the argument is not that prayer is unnecessary for evangelism to be effective. It certainly is. The argument I am here making is that Calvinists are the only Christians who can account for such an emphasis on prayer without doing injustice to their soteriological framework. Calvinists have the only soteriology that makes sense of such fervent prayer for evangelistic effectiveness.
When a Calvinist prays for the salvation of unbelievers, he believes that one of two things is the case. Either he is praying in accordance with the will of God and, thus, God will work through his prayers to effect the salvation of the unbeliever in question, or the desired effect is not God’s will, in which case the Calvinist rightly prays, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” Two questions that naturally arise then are, What exactly is the non-Calvinist praying that God will do to make his evangelistic efforts more effective? and, Based on your answer to that question, why would his evangelistic efforts be less effective apart from prayer?
Divine or Human Reprobation?
The question in evangelism is not whether or not someone is elect or reprobate, but who elects them and who damns them. In virtually all non-Calvinistic frameworks, the lost seem to have no more choice in the matter than they do in the Calvinistic framework, unless they have heard the gospel from someone who is “prayed up.” At the end of the day, they still remain subject to powers outside their own control. If the Christian prays, he has a chance. If the Christian does not pray, kiss that chance goodbye. In other words, the Christian wields the power to withhold salvation from others, salvation the Lord had hoped to grant.
In the end, only a Calvinistic soteriology, which sees God working through secondary means like prayer and the proclamation of the gospel to accomplish His will, is consistent with prayerful, Spirit-dependent evangelism. All other soteriological frameworks are woefully flawed at this point. Those who hold to them can pray for the Spirit to make their evangelism more effective, and they can exercise a fair amount of dependence upon the Spirit, but none of them can account for the fact that they assume something outside of the hearers’ control that hinders them from repenting and believing.
The Christian’s prayerlessness, and subsequent lack of aid from the Spirit, works toward the hearers’ reprobation. The best such a person can say is, “At least it wasn’t God’s will that the hearers perish. It was simply not my will that they be elect.”
As a Calvinist, I would urge Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike to pray and ask God that the Holy Spirit would be at work in their evangelism. I certainly believe this to be biblical. I would particularly urge Calvinists to do this more fervently and persistently. It is only when Calvinists do not pray and do evangelism that I believe they are acting in a way that is inconsistent with their soteriology. I would also urge all who hold to a soteriological framework other than Calvinism to re-examine their beliefs to see if what I have written here is true. In the end, none of us pray enough or evangelize enough. So, if you think anyone who makes others reprobate is a monster, consider pointing the finger at yourself before you consider pointing the finger at the God represented in Calvinism.