Are Calvinists Passionate about Evangelism?

By Nathan White

Over lunch the other day a friend of mine shared a rather common perception about many who label themselves ‘Calvinists’. Obviously, I am a Calvinist, and this gentleman was as well, but his opinion came out of a concern for what he sees within Calvinistic circles.

He said (paraphrased):

‘Have you noticed how Calvinists just aren’t as passionate about evangelism as the Arminians? Even when I was an Arminian, it seemed that I had such a greater fervor for witnessing and reaching the lost than I do now as a Calvinist.’

There is no doubt that this issue has been dealt with countless times, so I don’t plan to add anything profound to the conversation here. Let me make it clear, however, that whether or not the statement has any truth to it whatsoever by no means indicates whether Calvinism is indeed true or false. We affirm that scripture determines truth, not our own limited perception or experiences.

Consequently, I made it clear with my friend that I disagreed with his opinion -for several different reasons. But above all of the valid reasons that could be given to demonstrate this fallacy, only one lies at the heart of this matter, in my opinion. I believe that the offense of the cross is why A) this perception is favored by Arminians, and B) why this perception has some half-truths to it. Let me explain:

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” – 1 Cor 2

[A full study of this text and other scriptures on this subject reveals that the message of the cross, i.e. the gospel, is utter foolishness to the unbeliever. I move forward in this post with the assumption that all agree on this point.]

It is because of this foolishness of the gospel message that, A) Arminians see Calvinists as ‘less passionate’ about evangelism.

Generally, Calvinists do not see the need (much less the scriptural basis) for things such as altar calls, sinners’ prayers, the four spiritual laws, and other methods of ‘manipulation’ that Arminians often live by. Instead, the Calvinist strives to let God’s sovereignty (the fact that He calls sinners to Himself through the preaching of the Word and that alone) determine the proper methods for evangelism. So often times, there is no need for manipulative or other techniques with this understanding that God ultimately saves through the simply preaching of the gospel. Therefore, the Arminian often looks at these lack of methods as a lack of passion for the lost.

But I propose that quite the contrary is true. It is the Calvinist who cares more for the loss, because the Calvinist is interested in giving the unbeliever the only remedy for His sin, the gospel, and he will stop at nothing to remove all other hindrances of the gospel, less their faith rest ‘in the wisdom of men’ instead of ‘the power of God.’ Nevertheless, because the Calvinist will often refuse to use many popular or ‘fad-driven’ methods of evangelism, the Arminian concludes that they are simply less passionate about evangelizing the lost.

It is because of the foolishness of the gospel message that, B) this perception is half true.

I say half true because I do believe it has an element of truth to it. Calvinist do seem to struggle a bit more with witnessing to the lost (notice that I do not affirm that this is from a lack of passion). That is, the Calvinist understands point A above, in that manipulative techniques actually hinder the conversion of the lost and without the utter foolishness preached to the lost, the true gospel message has been distorted. With the knowledge that only the foolishness of the gospel is acceptable in God’s eyes, the reproach of men upon being confronted with the message is certainly increased.

Thus, witnessing to the lost is much more difficult to the Calvinist (as opposed to using the manipulative techniques of the Arminian) because he fully understands that the gospel is utter foolishness. He knows that the presentation of the foolishness is likely to bring anger and hatred from the confronted unbeliever, awkwardness with proposing such a truth claim in the culture, etc., and these discomforts do hinder many from sharing as they ought –because they are not sharing an easy gospel.

The Arminian, and others, on the other hand, are usually free to distort, manipulate, dumb-down, suppress the offense of and dress up the gospel to the point where the foolishness can been removed, because their ultimate goal is to generate a decision. They can and often do resort to techniques, to self-helps, to culturally-acceptable, easy to believe gospel proclamations, and thus it is much easier to proclaim an inoffensive message to the unbeliever. Since the message becomes easy to proclaim, the Arminian will find it much easier to witness with this easy message to anyone he runs into, and thus he looks on the Calvinist as lacking in evangelistic passion because he is not as carefree about this sort of witnessing.

Therefore, the Arminian is certainly more passionate about proclaiming his message to the masses, but the Calvinist is certainly more passionate about proclaiming the gospel to the masses -the foolishness of the cross and all.

Anyone can be passionate about reaching the lost when the message has been dumbed down to a culturally acceptable self help program, and thus that message is widely proclaimed by people claiming to be ‘passionate’. But it is quite another thing to be faithful in proclaiming the foolishness of the cross, knowing the response that is likely to follow.

May the Lord help us to be ever striving towards that end, the end of proclaiming the pure foolishness of the gospel, no matter what the consequences may seem to be.

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9 Comments on “Are Calvinists Passionate about Evangelism?”

  1. While this may be true for some people, I do not think it fair to say across the board. I know there are many people who most of us would categorize as Arminian (more properly, synergistic) who do preach a true gospel of the cross and repentance. And it is my experience as well that as a whole, the “average” one of these people is more passionate about sharing the Gospel vs. the “average” Calvinist (of which I am one). For example, although Calvary Chapelites are maligned by many Calvinists for their synergistic beliefs, I would contend that they both preach a full Gospel of the cross (their latent free willism only comes into play when they are discussing philosophy and theology), and that they are quite evangelistic about sharing that Gospel.

    I should hasten to add, of course, that (a) most synergists don’t share the Gospel either, (b) there are notable exceptions among Calvinists, and of course (c) many synergists do preach a watered-down Gospel. But we are talking as a whole, and I still believe, with your friend, that once you sift out all the false easy-believe Gospels, the “average” synergist is more evangelistic than the “average” Calvinist. And although I’d be thankful to be proved wrong, it is going to take more than philosophical and anecdotal evidence to convince me that I am wrong.

  2. Mike S Says:

    While it may be so that the Arminian seems more passionate about evangelism, the early history of Methodism shows that the Arminian
    John Wesley and the Calvinist George Whitefield were just about even
    when it came to their passion for preaching the Gospel.
    I say “just about even” since both men were so humble that each
    tended to credit the other as being more committed.

  3. My concern is that there are churches, that are dying because of the so called church growth movement, aka Rick Warren. They are sacrificing adherence to the strict use of the gospel, to making the message palatible to the hearer. I have also used the passage at I cor 2 for the same reason, Jesus said that he was set for “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” Matthew 10:34-36
    Personally I think that our Lord is opposed to the church growth movement for one simple reason. It places the emphasis on man, while at the same time lessening the importance of the faithful preaching of the Word of God

  4. Jason C Says:

    I have a question here.
    I believe in free will. That is I believe every human being who hears the gospel of Christ has a choice to either repent and believe or to reject it and remain lost. I believe God’s call to repentance is to every human.
    I will say also that classifying anyone who is not a Calvinist as an Arminian is much like classifying anyone who is not a Democrat a Communist, since true Arminians have many beliefs I do not subscribe to. There are more than just two views here.
    My question is, if God predestined everyone to either be saved or condemned regardless of anything (Unconditional Election), then why preach at all? I mean, isn’t it pointless to preach if God has already predetermined who will and won’t go to hell?

  5. Jason, good questions. First off, I would not call you an Arminian. I do not like to label people at all, but especially giving a label that does not really apply. I would call you a “synergist”. This word means “working together,” as in God and you work together for your salvation. (In fact, I don’t like the tendency a lot of Calvinists have of labeling any synergist an “Arminian”: it’s inaccurate and, worse, it turns people off.)

    We monergists (the opposite of synergist) have basically two reasons for preaching the Gospel: (1) God told us to and (2) it’s only by hearing the Gospel that people are saved. I would like to point you to a couple of postings on my own blog to more fully answer your question. I have written a bit about exactly the kind of question you ask, partly because I have run into this question from synergists many times; in fact, not so long ago I was a synergist myself, and I wrestled with the same issues I hear you wrestling with right now.

    Calvinists Don’t Evangelize!
    On the Two Wills in God

    Here’s a post where I talk about Arminians, synergists, monergists, etc:

    Are “Seeker” Churches Semi-Pelagian?


  6. Darrin Says:

    In response to Jason, although God has chosen who would be saved, it pleases Him to use the means of the preaching of the gospel. Although God knows who His elect are, we do not, and so are called to disseminate the message as widely as possible. In relation to free will, I do not believe there is anything in the Bible to support fallen man having a free will. Adam had a free will, and chose death, and so unless and until we are made alive by God, we have no choice but to do evil. A dead man cannot choose to become alive.

  7. Jason C Says:

    In response to Darrin.
    I did not make myself clear I suppose. You are right in that as dead men we cannot chose to become alive. God must call us to Him by His Holy Spirit, the Bible clearly says this. However, unlike you, I do not believe in Limted Atonement or Irresistible Grace. I believe God calls EVERYONE to be saved, but the choice is up to the individual.
    I also do not believe that we are all held guilty for Adam’s sin. Each of chose to go his own path, and leave God. We are at fault for our sins. It is true that Adam’s act brought the knowledge of sin to us, hence, holding us accountable for what we do. Find me Scripture and verse to prove otherwise.
    How do you reason the verse “God wills that none should perish but all come to repentance?”
    To say that preaching the Word is a mere formality, a dance of sorts to please God is illogical. Everything God does in the Scriptures is practical and reasonable. God is the Father of logic, after all.

  8. I believe God calls EVERYONE to be saved, but the choice is up to the individual

    Right, so ultimately it’s up to you whether you are saved or not. Since you do not believe in Limited Atonement, that means you’re saying that God is indebted to all men to try to save them?

    It seems to me there are at least two major problems with the synergist position that you are espousing. First, if it is ultimately up to me whether I choose to take God’s grace, how it is that no man can boast? Why can’t I say “I may not have initiated my own salvation, but at least I was smart enough/sufficiently spiritual to accept it from God.” Note that I am not saying that any synergist who is truly regenerated would ever say this: but you could. Paul’s statement would not make any sense in that light.

    Second, by saying you have problems with L and I, are you implying that you do not have a problem with Perseverance of the Saints or (more likely), “Once Saved, Always Saved”? Given a free will position, why should OSAS be true? If God is so concerned about giving me my free will, then once I’m saved, why does God want to take away my free will? Why can I no longer decide to be “not saved”? In other words, why is Grace only Irresistible once I have accepted it?

    I also do not believe that we are all held guilty for Adam’s sin.

    Well, then your problem is not with Calvin, but with Paul: I don’t see how you can take Romans 5 any other way.

    How do you reason the verse “God wills that none should perish but all come to repentance?”

    This is one of the linchpins of synergism, and one that’s dealt – and struggled – with by every Calvinist. Please don’t think that we Calvinists don’t understand your struggle with this verse. We absolutely do. We wrestle with the same problem. The difference is that, in the end, we have to take the overall counsel of Scripture and say we don’t understand 100%. Therefore, this issue has certainly been dealt with many times by Reformed writers: read Piper’s Two Wills in God or if I may tentatively suggest it, my own article On Two Wills in God.

    preaching the Word is a mere formality, a dance of sorts

    When have you ever heard a Calvinist say or imply that? The only time I have heard that kind of talk is when synergists parody what they think Calvinists are thinking. I have found it’s generally not a good idea to try and figure out what other people are thinking inside when I could just ask them and find out for sure.

  9. Darrin Says:

    No, you made yourself clear – I just disagree. You mentioned Arminianism earlier, but some of what you wrote falls more in line with the teachings of Pelagius, an early heretic. Augustine and others effectively opposed his views, but semi-pelagianism (if not full-blown) is still rampant in much of the church today. But I realize labels and names can be troublesome, whereas sticking with Biblical doctrinal issues is best. Surely God wills that none should perish, but could it also be said that He willed that Adam would not fall? And did it happen anyway? So there appears to be a promotive will and a permissive will of God. Scripture shows that in our natural unregenerate state we are not even able to comprehend spiritual things, so how can we accept them? We are in complete darkness until and unless God opens our eyes. And once He opens them, we cannot help but see. Consider Lazarus’ ressurection and Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones as pictures of spiritual birth – in either case, was there any choice but God’s? Did we choose to be born physically? Neither do we have say about being born again – God does it all. The doctrine of divine election glorifies God, not man. And as the potter, He has complete authority to do with the clay as He sees fit. This is hard to swallow because of our humanistic tendencies. God is completely logical, but we are not, despite our aspirations to the contrary. Therefore we must trust His word and His good pleasure, not our own understanding. I actually think that election and the other “Calvinistic” concepts help clarify so many things in scripture, whereas the concept of free will or “our part” in salvation is riddled with unresolvable issues. For example, if I choose to accept Christ and another guy doesn’t, what was inherently better in me that led me to that decision? Do I then in some sense deserve salvation? This would contradict scripture’s teaching that none do good or seek after God. I’ll round up some scriptures if you want. Some verses, when studied alone, seem to indicate that man can come to God (as in when he is called to repent) while others indicate that he is unable to do so. Since we need to always consider the whole counsel of scripture, we need to see that there is indeed a synthesis achievable between these seemingly opposing concepts. Again, God chooses us, but the means we see from our earthly perspective is acceptance of the gospel through it’s preaching. God is pleased to use the “foolishness of preaching” to this end. I’d be careful about calling it a mere formality or a dance of sorts – it appears to be God’s chosen method of calling His own.

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