Calvinism and Evangelism
I recently received an e-mail from a gentleman by the name of Abel who seemed to have severe mis-givings about Calvinism, especially regarding its practical ramifications in evangelism. I will not quote the entire e-mail discussion but I thought others might be interested in reading some of the exchange. It is cordial and friendly, even if we strongly disagree. My response to Abel is in bold so that it is more easy on the eye... - John Samson
Abel writes.... The purpose ... is to get directly to the practical applications of the doctrine of election as it is widely taught, and to illustrate how it determines what we really believe about the Bible and how we witness to the lost. This is an area most Calvinists rarely, if ever, discuss or even recognize.
I am not sure I would agree with this.. Ligonier ministries just had its National Conference on the theme of "Evangelism according to Jesus."
For example, did Jesus die for all mankind? This is a simple question that deserves a simple answer. This is what a lost person wants to know.
Sir, why do you start with a statement never made in scripture and hold it up as the standard for what is to be done in evangelism? Why is it so hard to just use biblical expressions rather than man made ones? The apostles certainly never used this phrase. Just because you do and many others do, does not make it a biblical expression.
They don't want some long -winded, drawn out explanation of how the Bible really doesn't mean what it says on the surface and that you really need to dig much, much deeper to get to the â€˜hidden' information only the most skilled and educated can decipher. They want a simple yes or no.
:-))) Of course all want this... and many things in scripture are extremely clear and plain, but as the Apostle Peter noted about Paul's writings, some things are "hard to understand".
"just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." - 2 Peter 3:15-16
Unstable and untaught people still distort the scriptures in our own day which is why we are called to study dilligently to show ourselves approved by God.
Now, if I'm a believer in the doctrine of election (or a Calvinist) what does my honest answer have to be? My honest answer has to be, "I don't know" because I believe that Jesus only died for â€˜the elect' and I don't know if you are one of â€˜the elect.'
Traditions are so strong.. and as my good friend Dr. James White has said for years, "those most blinded to them are those who do not believe they have any." I was an Arminian for the first 20 years of my Christian life.. It was very hard for me to admit my traditions and allow scripture to shake foundational but unscriptural beliefs.
My honest answer is to proclaim what scripture proclaims. Christ died for sinners.. and all who trust in His work will be saved. We believe in the ACTUAL atonement of Christ that secured salvation for all for whom it was intended, not a mere POTENTIAL one that did not actually save a single individual unless man does something to make it count for something.. Jesus actually saved His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her (Eph 5)... (in a way He did not for Walmart - though I am sure God has His elect sheep even within the ranks of Walmart).... He layed His life down for the sheep (in a way He did not for the goats)..
I feel pretty secure in stating that no Evangelist, in speaking to group of lost people, would ever boldly proclaim for all to hear, "God loves some of you!" "God wants some of you to believe in His Son!" "God wants some of you to spend eternity in Heaven!"
interesting.. but again no one I know of proclaims the gospel this way.. I would say God's love for the world is seen by the giving of His Son so that all those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life.. (only the believers are saved).. only some will believe.. I am sure you agree.. why is this....?
Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
and what did our Lord say about this..
John 8:47 "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
John 10:25-28 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. 26 "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
According to Jesus, why do they not believe ? Answer: Because they are not His sheep.
Why do you think they are not His sheep?.. without trying to put words in your mouth - I would think you would say "because they do not believe.." but sir, this is the exact opposite of the Master's words here.
It would be even more courageous to proclaim the opposite point of view, "God wants most of you to be condemned to Hell for all eternity because it brings Him glory!"
The number of the elect is a vast number which no man can number out of every tribe, tongue people and nation..
This is the practical application of the doctrine of election, as it is taught, that no one wishes to discuss.
Are you willing to discuss your traditions Abel?.. I must admit it was very hard for me to admit my own.
So the Calvinist will preach, "Jesus died for you!" in attempt to win the lost for Christ. When in truth he believes, "Jesus died for some of you."
No he won't.. not if he is biblical... the apostles never preached "Jesus died for you" .. Jesus never told the Pharisees he was going to die for them.. what did the events on the Day of Atonement actually do for the Canaanites for example.. were their sins placed on the substitute Lamb? No, it was the people of God's sins, from the 12 tribes..
Jesus' interecession in the garden was not for everyone, but for those the Father had given Him (John 17) and His intercession and atoning work are strongly related.. "I pray not for the world but for those You have given Me"..
Elsewhere, this group is called "the many" - the many His atoning death ACTUALLY justifies..
Isaiah 53:10-12 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
Christ was satisfied because His death actually secured the salvation of "the many"
C. H. Spurgeon, the great evangelist and prince of preachers once said it this way - "Many divines say that Christ did something when he died that enabled God to be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly. What that something is they do not tell us. They believe in an atonement made for everybody; but then, their atonement is just this. They believe that Judas was atoned for just as much as Peter; they believe that the damned in hell were as much an object of Jesus Christâ€™s satisfaction as the saved in heaven; and though they do not say it in proper words, yet they must mean it, for it is a fair inference, that in the case of multitudes, Christ died in vain, for he died for them all, they say; and yet so ineffectual was his dying for them, that though he died for them they are damned afterwards. Now, such an atonement I despise â€” I reject it.
I may be called a Calvinist for preaching a limited atonement; but I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it. Why, my brethren, if we were only so far atoned for by the death of Christ that any one of us might afterwards save himself, Christâ€™s atonement were not worth a farthing, for there is no man of us can save himself â€” no not under the gospel; for if I am to be saved by faith, if that faith is to be my own act, unassisted by the Holy Spirit, I am as unable to save myself by faith as to save myself by good works.
And after all, though men call this a limited atonement, it is as effectual as their own fallacious and rotten redemptions can pretend to be. But do you know the limit of it? Christ hath bought a â€œmultitude that no man can number.â€ The limit of it is just this: He hath died for sinners; whoever in this congregation inwardly and sorrowfully knows himself to be a sinner, Christ died for him; whoever seeks Christ, shall know Christ died for him; for our sense of need of Christ, and our seeking after Christ, are infallible proofs that Christ died for us. [Spurgeon, C. H. -- The Death of Christ: Spurgeon's Sermons: Volume 4: #173
That is the reality of the doctrine of election or Calvinism is it not? Jesus only died for some as you explain in your article on limited atonement, â€˜The Divine Intention of the Cross.' This is where you and I disagree John. I can tell any lost person I meet with 100% assurance, "God wants you, specifically, to be saved and that Jesus died for you, specifically!" This is what the Bible clearly teaches. "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3-4.
all who??? Please read my short article here on the use of the word "all" in scripture: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/AllAlwaysMeansAllRight.html
Look up the Greek word (this is not to be technical, just accurate) and you will find that the word "all" does not always have the same meaning .. sometimes it certainly does mean "all without exception" but actually, that is rather rare... many times, it means "all of a certain type".. or "all within a certain group"... before you react Abel and say this is just theological hair splitting.. we do this all the time in the English language.. when a teacher asks his students "are all here?" or "is everyone here?" he is not talking about all Polish carpet cleaners or every Swedish bank teller, but "all" those enrolled for the class.. all within a certain group.
What I am about to say is not the only way this scripture has been interpreted by reformed people. John Piper, for example, provides a different way of dealing with the text in his article "are there two wills on God." However, I would say that the context of this verse in 1 Timothy shows the "all" referring to "all types" of people.. "all kinds of men"... We are told to pray for "kings, and for those in authority".. etc.. God wants all kinds of people saved.. including kinds and people with great influence and not just a certain type (the Jews only, or slaves only).. but people from all walks of life from every nation tribe and tongue..
"Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." Romans 5:18. These verses are quite clear.
Hold on for a minute Abel - If you interpret this "all" to mean "all men without exception" then you have universalism.. all people will go to heaven.. all justified people will be glorified according to Romans 8:29, 30.. and I am sure you would not hold to universalism - some people will indeed be in eternal torment in hell.
God wants all men to be saved and Jesus death on the cross represented an equal amount of justification for an equal amount of condemnation. If all men are condemned than all men can be saved, which would mean He died for all men.
Again, I realize that you disagree with my article and that's fine. Just so you'll know, I don't consider you my â€˜opponent.' I am not trying to win an argument. My only concern is finding the truth according to the Word of God, wherever that leads.
Me too.. believe it or not..
I am willing to listen to anyone's position as long as it's supported with Scripture. However, I'm really not interested in receiving emails with the sole purpose of informing me that I'm ignorant and I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm sure you are capable of much more constructive responses than simply calling someone names.
I was not aware that I called you names. I simply pointed out that you have not accurately understood the Calvinist position.. in your attempt to be simple you were not accurate sir.
I will leave you with another quote from C. H. Spurgeon:
Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty. I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood.
There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins.
Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood that seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished he sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!"
Take care and God Bless! In Christ, Abel
Every blessing brother, John