“If God is totally sovereign over people’s salvation, why bother with evangelism? I mean if God has chosen who will be saved, then it doesn’t matter whether or not we share the gospel with others, right? If Calvin was right, can’t God just bring them to salvation without us?”
Questions like these are quickly brought forward as arguments against the doctrine of divine election. A reformed understanding of the doctrines of grace (a.k.a. predestination, Calvinism, etc.) is regularly charged with deflating efforts in evangelism. Is this necessarily true? Certainly a hyper-calvinistic belief system which thinks real human responsibility is pure fiction would lead to an anemic or non-existent passion for evangelism. But biblically, historically, and experientially, I can say with full confidence that a firm belief in God’s sovereign saving grace will actually bolster one’s tenacity for calling sinners to Christ. The biblical arguments for this position are carefully laid out by J. I. Packer in his classic work, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
Clearly less convincing than Scripture but still significant, the history of missions and evangelism is also filled with the stories of soteriologically reformed men who had a tenacious zeal for gospel-telling. One such man was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.” He was certainly one of the church’s greatest evangelists – a Baptist/evangelist extraordinaire – and he was (gasp!) a “Calvinist.”
Did Spurgeon believe in the reformed doctrine of election (i.e. Calvinism)? Hear his own words:
“There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer–I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views” (A Defense of Calvinism, C.H. Spurgeon).
But doesn’t belief in the doctrines of grace lead to passivity in evangelism? Again, hear Spurgeon:
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for” (Spurgeon At His Best, compiled by Tom Carter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991 reprinted edition, first published 1988), 67).
So the rock-solid belief that God must sovereignly work to bring men and women and children to salvation does not stifle evangelism, but rather fuels it. It gives us hope that the gospel’s heralding WILL be fruitful.
The big issue, however, is not how we “feel” about evangelism, but are we “doing” evangelism? Are we actively and rightly telling others the only way to the Father through the Son? We have been commanded by God to preach the gospel. We have been commissioned to make disciples. Am I obeying my Lord by ordering my life (time, resources, and energies) around these commands?