Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 4)

We are now getting into the topic of Evangelism. This is going to be one place where some of the really major misconceptions tend to arise, and I shall Lord willing try to correct any misconceptions you may have. Please gently bear with me as I try to clarify some things in response to your criticisms:

I think its funny that Calvinists are part of the “evangelical” sect of the Christian faith. If God chooses who gets saved without any input from humans, why fight against His will by evangelizing?

I think you should not forget that it was Calvinists (along with Lutherans) who were the original “Evangelicals” back in the days of the Reformation. :-)

When God draws people into saving faith, He uses means. I think it’s fairly obvious that God doesn’t just “zap” faith into someone’s heart so they suddenly start believing. God certainly has the power to do that, but He has chosen not to work that way. Rather, He has chosen to make use of the preaching of the word as His instrument in bringing people into saving faith. To say that we who preach “convert” anybody is a major misnomer: God is the one in the business of converting hearts, and He uses human preachers as His instruments. I mean sure, there are those rare instances where God bypasses that and reaches out to somebody via dreams or theophanies (which is what has happened to a lot of ex-Muslims who’ve converted to Christianity after seeing Jesus in their dreams), but those are extraordinary means, and God usually utilizes preaching as His method of drawing His children in.

A good example of this is Acts 10:44, where the Word is preached first and the Holy Spirit falls upon those who would believe. Another example is Acts 13:48, where Paul preaches to the Gentiles in Pisidia, and, as it says there, “as many as had been appointed [τεταγμενοι] to eternal life believed.” The order is important, as they believe because they were ordained, not vice versa, and any reputable scholar of biblical Greek can attest to this.

Now, I know some of the more extreme hyper-calvinists have this view that you’re not supposed to evangelize (somehow, the elect are supposed to just show up at your church door one morning), but the mainstream Reformed belief is not that. This is the reason why historically, Calvinists have been the most avid evangelists and foreign missionaries way back in earlier centuries. Don’t believe me? Well, who were the most studious among the reformers to spread the Word of God throughout Europe? Were they not the ones who came out of Geneva? Who founded the first Baptist Missionary Society? Were they not Reformed Baptists such as William Carey? Who were the most instrumental preachers of the Great Awakening? Were they not Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, who were both staunch Calvinists? Who was the prince of preachers? Was it not Charles Spurgeon, who was also staunchly Calvinistic? And how about all the Presbyterian missions that have made inroads in South Korea and other parts of East Asia in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I am pointing all of these things out to show that it is historically naive to suppose that Calvinism has had any detrimental effect on evangelism.

Do they lead unbelievers in a prayer and hope that God makes it “take” if He has already pre-determined that they should be saved?

First of all, I take strong exception to the idea that you evangelize somebody by getting them to “pray a prayer.” This "sinner's prayer" methodology has produced more false converts than any other method of evangelism.

Second, I already told you that God uses means to bring people into saving faith. Now how do you know if they are Elect or not? Easy: They come into genuine saving faith, and they will endure to the end. After all, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, ESV).

Also, do you ever pray for the salvation of your lost loved ones? If so, I submit to you that doing so does not make sense from an Arminian perspective. The main reason for this is that to pray for God to save someone is to assume that God has the power to do something about that unbelief—something that contradicts the Arminian freewill position. Charles Spurgeon put it best in one of his sermons:

But I tell you what will be the best proof of that; it is the great fact that you never did meet a Christian in your life who ever said he came to Christ without Christ coming to him. You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer - for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying,

"Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not-that is the difference between me and them."

That is a prayer for the devil, for nobody else would offer such a prayer as that. Ah! when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out. I ask you again, did you ever meet a Christian man who said, "I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?" If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, "My dear sir, I quite believe it-and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." Do I hear one Christian man saying, "I sought Jesus before he sought me; I went to the Spirit, and the Spirit did not come to me"?

Read the rest of the sermon as well. You might learn a bit from it. :-)

Of course, those of us who believe in free will see that the saving work of God must be performed by Jesus, preached by Christians, and accepted by sinners. Everyone has their role.

"And what hast thou that thou didst not receive" (1 Corinthians 4:7, KJV)?

In the Calvinist system, in order to give God glory, no one but God can do anything in the salvation process. So Jesus provided the redemptive work, He calls those whom He wants, and He forces sinners to repent.

He doesn’t "force" them. He changes their hearts and makes them willing (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Think of a woman who was so fantastically fat and ugly that you get repulsed every time you see her. Imagine then, that she had plastic surgery, lost all her extra weight and put on the finest perfume and make-up. Now she's the prettiest woman in the world. When you see her, you can't help but be attracted to her. This isn't the best analogy, but it helps illustrate what it's like for God to change a person's natural disposition.

So why is there so much in the Bible about sharing the Good News with the lost?

Because that is His ordained means of drawing sinners to the Saviour.

Also, God has not revealed to us who is elect and who is not. We don’t have special glasses that indicate to us who is elect and who is not, and we just preach to those who are elect. I don’t know why, but for some reason, a lot of Arminians I’ve met have this idea that Calvinism teaches that we must only preach to those who are elect, as if we had knowledge of God’s secret plans. Look at the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8, Mark 4:1-8, Luke 8:5-8). I am sure you would not disagree with me that there are different types of soil in the world. Now, if you pay close attention to the parable, you will notice that the sower does not just look for the good soil and scatter the seed there. Rather, he scatters the seed indiscriminately to see where they bear fruit.

The application for us is that we do not know who is the good soil and who is not. So we spread the Word everywhere and see where God makes the seed bear fruit. After all, though we may plant and water the seeds, it is up to God to make the seeds grow (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Romans 10:14-17 (which oddly enough comes right after Romans 9) very clearly says that the Gospel must be heard and mixed with the faith of the individual to take effect.

The fact that Romans 10:14-17 comes right after Romans 9 makes perfect sense when you take into account what I just said: God chooses, and He uses the preaching of the Word as the means to bring about what He has ordained.

Of course the Calvinist says that our faith comes from God. Yes it does. He is the giver of our faith but He doesn’t exercise it for us. Think about it – if God exercises our faith for us, why did Jesus reprimand the disciples and say, “Oh, you of little faith” 4 times in the book of Matthew? He should’ve been scolding Himself! We must exercise our God-given faith ourselves.

I don’t disagree with a single portion of this, and I challenge you to show me any Calvinist who thinks God exercises faith for us. You won’t find one, and even if you somehow found one who did, I would be the first one to say that he is wrong.

So here is my question – if the Calvinist construct is true and God carries out every detail of the salvation process...

Look at the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:28-30. God foreknows, God predestines, God calls, God justifies, God glorifies. At which point does man add anything of himself? Everything in there is something that God does. Simply put, you cannot break that golden chain.

...why are we commanded to spread the good news of redemption through Jesus? I actually saw where someone answered that question by saying that we should share the gospel out of sheer obedience because God tells us to, not because it does anything. How ridiculous!

I would agree that it would be ridiculous if that was the only reason why one should evangelize. Now, obedience is one good reason why we should do it, but it is just one of many different reasons. I gave you the rest of them earlier.


...or rather, the strawman version of Calvinism that you derived from a single person who happened to have an inadequate answer and does not represent what the vast majority of Reformed Christians believe...

...turns evangelism from a love-based action of mercy where we get the pleasure of partnering in God’s will, into a meaningless “test” by an unreasonable god. Revelation 3:20 is so simple. He is knocking. You must hear His voice and open.

Now, talk about taking scripture out of context. Revelation 3:20 is talking about the church in Laodicea, and how believers there were becoming lukewarm in their faith. Contrary to what many Arminians think, Revelation 3:20 is addressed to those who already believe, not those who are still outside of the fold.

Besides, lack of a doorknob didn’t stop Jesus from calling Lazarus out of his tomb (cf. John 11:38-44).

Anyway, there is a lot more that I need to say, but due to lack of time, I will leave you with this. I will continue writing the rest of my response at a later time. I’ll try to continue tomorrow. If I’m not able to, though, I’ll try for Sunday.

Grace and Peace.


PS: Since we're talking about evangelism here, I'm still doing some Gospel work involving Muslims. Perhaps you can include my work in witnessing to them in your prayers. Calvinist or Arminian, I think we can agree that this is something of utmost importance and supercedes our secondary differences.

No comments:

Post a Comment