Perhaps you are familiar with this parable concerning the difficulties of affirming both man’s free will and God’s all-encompassing sovereignty.
A sign above the door to Heaven boldly proclaims “Whosoever will may come!” However, once through Heaven’s gates, an astute observer will notice that the flip side of the sign says, “Only those predestined before the foundation of the world may enter.”
There is more than a little truth to this parable. The first sign deals with salvation from man’s perspective. To the awakened sinner, the first sign gives hope that if he will but look, he will live. Calvinism pulls the curtain back on the awakened sinner’s soul and sees God’s Spirit at work in regenerating the sinner, and granting him repentance and faith, due to the second sign.
As I see it, Calvinism deals mostly with what goes on behind the scenes, so to speak, in respect to salvation. But let me stress that Calvinism is not prying into secret areas of God’s will. No, Calvinism responds to numerous Scripture texts. While they don’t claim to understand everything, Calvinists are bound to believe the five points due to their regard for Scripture. This is not something they enjoy “making up from thin air” so to speak.
A proper understanding of man’s part and God’s part in salvation will do much to help us sort through the sticky issues surrounding Calvinism and evangelism. Historically, some Calvinists (hyper Calvinists, actually) have claimed that we have no responsibility to evangelize since God will irresistibly draw His elect with or without our help. Furthermore, they have claimed that we cannot confidently tell anyone necessarily that if they will but believe and come, that they will be saved. Such hyper Calvinists, then, denied the first sign.
So it is due to extremists from within their own theological system, that Calvinists face such intense suspicion at times. Many people sincerely doubt that Calvinists believe in evangelism. And many go beyond doubt and actually claim that Calvinism will negatively impact evangelism.
But such claims are so utterly wrong! Historically, some of the greatest evangelists and missionaries, some of the most evangelical of pastors have been 5 point Calvinists. Names like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and many, many more could be given. In fact many missionary movements and revivals have been started in large part due to the work of Calvinists.
History aside, if one understands that Calvinism addresses the “behind the scenes” actions of God (God’s part), he will not see any contradiction between Calvinists rushing to do man’s part (evangelism). For Calvinists believe that every sinner who would be saved, must actually believe, and he must do this himself. Furthermore, we understand Scripture to clearly teach that no one gets saved apart from the gospel, and almost always people must be involved in spreading that gospel.
So for Calvinists, evangelism is about obeying God. And yet it is more. It is about joining God in His mission. It is about spreading God’s glory among the nations for His sake. Calvinists are encouraged that God is the one ultimately responsible for results. This gives us hope to minister in many contexts that might not provide immediate results, from man’s perspective.
There is one other point to stress here. Calvinists tend to understand salvation as a “work in progress”. It is that “work” which God has started in us and promises to complete. And so for the Calvinist, mere human decisions are not the goal of evangelism. Numbers of noses, and baptism tallies mean little. Calvinists see discipleship and spiritual growth as the goal of evangelism. [This is not to say that all non-Calvinists disagree with us here, by the way.] I say this because when numbers are expected, many a Calvinist might fail the test. But to a Calvinist, numbers aren’t the most important thing.
I hope what I have said makes sense and helps work toward an understanding of where Calvinists stand in relation to evangelism. And if it doesn’t I have several articles here from the last few weeks, which will help you really understand this issue. I provide them, because it was partly by coming across these that I was motivated to write this post.