Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Arminians don't evangelize!

Ok, so that's a provocative title. And it's probably the first time in history that anybody has ever used that phrase. (Google turns up no hits on it: guess I'll be the first!) However, I'd like to discuss the merits of this phrase versus the common refrain that Calvinists don't evangelize. I believe it was Wesley (cite, anybody?) who said that if Calvinism was true, there would be no reason to evangelize. If the quote is authentic, it shows me one thing only: Wesley knew very little about Calvinism, despite having been brought up on Calvinist doctrine. (That should not be surprising: how many today would call themselves Calvinists because they were brought up in the Presbyterian church, perhaps are even Presbyterian pastors; but could not give any substantive doctrinal differences between the 5 points of Calvinism vs. the 5 points of the Remonstrants? Or describe the key difference between monergism and synergism, and why it's illogical to cling to "once saved, always saved" and still be a synergist?)

However, I don't want to talk about Wesley. What I'd like to do is discuss on what basis a person would come to the strongly-held belief that either Calvinists, Arminians, or any other group don't evangelize, and whether Calvinists have just as strong a claim to say Arminians don't, as the other way around.

It seems to me that you can make the claim that any group of Christians (Calvinists, Arminians, Pentacostals, etc.) don't evangelize on one of three grounds. First, the experiential: who do you actually know who subscribes to the doctrine, and do they share the gospel with others? Second, the historical: have members of that group historically been evangelistic? Third, the philosophical: does the doctrine tend to discourage evangelism? All three of them have faults. Let's consider them in turn.

First, the experiential argument. Think for a second of other Christians you know. Then ask yourself two questions: (1) Do you really know where they stand doctrinally? (2) Do you really know whether or not they share their faith? I think you will find that you probably come out, as I did, rather poorly in both of these areas. First, I seriously doubt that you really know what most of their doctrinal beliefs are. There are beliefs of every stripe in every kind of church. I attend a Calvary Chapel, which I've noted before as being well-known for its anti-Calvinism; yet I know a number of monergists that attend there. We are pretty quiet most of the time, but we are here nonetheless. But in addition, I doubt you really know whether most of them share their faith. I have fairly recently (past year or so) become more convicted about sharing my own faith, so I purchased the Way of the Master video series and I am now leading a small group in this series. One of the assignments was to call some Christian friends and ask them whether they shared their faith. I was, frankly, very surprised at their responses. The wife, very outgoing and friendly (and strong in her faith as well) said she rarely did. The husband, on the other hand, is very, very quiet: yet he said that he shared his faith all the time, even seeking out strangers. (I believe he has monergist leanings as well.) I would bet most people have the same lack of understanding of their friends doctrines and evangelistic fervor.

So, the question next turns to the historical. This is even trickier, because the vast majority of people in the past we have no access to. All we know is the well known preachers and writers. And I submit that many of them in the past: Whitefield, Spurgeon, and Edwards, to name three, were both Calvinist and evangelistic. Even if it were true that there were more Arminians in the past who were evangelistic, that would have little bearing on whether it was the monergism itself that tended to produce less evangelistic fervor or some other factor. (Relationships, other philosophies, etc.) One might also compare against these against non-Christian groups (e.g. Mormons) and both Calvinists and Arminians would fare rather poorly in comparison, evangelistically-speaking.

Finally, we turn to the philosophical. I find, in practice, that most people who have used a variant of "Calvinism destroys evangelism" with me are basing their belief on the philosophical ground that the doctrine of election makes it useless to evangelize. I have argued elsewhere on this blog, of course, that this is a specious argument: but I will have to keep fighting this battle for a long time to come. However, the title of this blog is not "Calvinists don't evangelize", but rather "Arminians don't evangelize." And, following my many synergist friends, I want to put forth primarily the philosophical argument, because as I have pointed out, I know so little about other people's evangelistic efforts in the present or the past.

Now, the philosophical basis is dangerous too, because I've found that it's dangerous to assume you know how somebody acts based on his philosophy. I know atheists who are kind and loving even though logically their philosophy (some variant of "survival of the fittest") should dictate they should not be.

Nevertheless, let's consider how the typical Arminian sees God's foreknowledge. We all believe that God knows "the end from the beginning," and that He "elects" us in some sense. The most logical way these could be true, of course, is if He's ordaining them; but let's take the synergistic tack here. Let's say that God's looking down that "corridor of time" to see who will believe in Him, and electing them on that basis. Now, let's say that God foresees that some time in the future a given person will believe. Since God is perfect, He must have perfect knowledge of the situation, right? So, if God sees that the person will believe, why should I bother sharing the Gospel with him? God knows who will believe in him; if I don't share the Gospel with him, obviously somebody else will (since God has already seen that it will happen). Bingo! I'm off the hook!

Let's say, on the other hand, that God sees that the person will not believe. In that case, there's still no point in sharing the Gospel, right? No matter what I do, God has already seen with His perfect knowledge and flawless vision down that big "corridor of time" that the person will not believe. Again, why should I then bother sharing the Gospel with him? In fact, it seems to me that Calvinists and Arminians are in the exact same boat here. Either way, what the person will do is foreknown by God. In either case, one could argue there's no reason to share the Gospel with anybody. In fact, using this logic, the only people who would ever share the Gospel are Open Theists, those who believe that God does not know the things to come. They reject the "corridor of time"; and thus, they might argue, they need to share the Gospel because the future of the person cannot be known by anybody, either us or God.

At this point, an Arminian may demur and bring up the point that there are other reasons why he shares the Gospel, such as the following:
  1. God may have access to that "corridor" and know who will believe in Him, but we don't.
  2. We were told to share the Gospel in the Great Commandment, and it doesn't matter whether the person will ultimately believe or not. Therefore we need to share the Gospel with every man.
  3. Even if God can see that down His "corridor of time" that the person will not believe, being told the truth of the Gospel will make his eventual lot in hell worse, and rightly so.
And I would agree with him. However, one could make the point - and I have in other posts - that these exact same reasons can be used by Calvinists:
  1. God may know who His elect are, but we don't.
  2. We were told to share the Gospel in the Great Commandment, and it doesn't matter whether the person is ultimately saved or not. Therefore we need to share the Gospel with every man.
  3. Even if God has not sovereignly chosen to save that person from the condemnation he rightly deserves and even desires, being told the truth of the Gospel will make his eventual lot in hell worse, and rightly so.
So, you can't have it both ways. Either you believe that both Calvinism and Arminianism discourage evangelism (and become some form of Open Theist, whether the Christian variety, Jehovah's Witness, Muslim, whatever), or you give up on the old saw that Calvinists don't evangelize.

Postscript: I should note that none of this says anything about whether monergism or synergism is actually the true description of God's redemptive plan. After all, two of the most evangelistic groups today, with more evangelism per capita than either Arminians or Calvinists, are the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. They are evangelizing to a false gospel, but they certainly have fervor.


Will Riddle said...

The names of Whitfield, Spurgeon and Edwards continually come up because they are promoted by Calvinist historiographers. Moody, Torrey, Booth, Asbury, and others are not talked about even though their efforts would go toe to toe with those named. In reality the evangelistic impulse in Church History does come from the belief that God wants all to be saved, therefore most of the great evangelists of the past have held to either a modified Calvinism, or some kind of Arminianism. The consistent Calvinists like Gill and Owen really didn't have to bother with it.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Will, thanks for your comment, but please don't misread my purpose here. I am not claiming that Calvinists of the past have been more evangelistic than Arminians. I'm just illustrating the argument that Calvinists don't evangelize is false if you look at historical figures, and more importantly (for this article anyway) arguing that the idea that Arminianism discourages evangelism has as much credibility as Calvinism does so.

I don't know how you are so sure that Gill and Owen did not evangelize; but, even if that were true, if you think Spurgeon and Edwards not consistent Calvinists, I submit respectfully that you have a lot to learn about their beliefs, and about Calvinism (as opposed to hyper-Calvinism) in general.

Finally, how can an Arminian claim that God wants all to be saved, when there's His respect of our free will to deal with? The answer is usually that He both wants everybody to be saved and wants their free will preserved. In other words, Two Wills in God. We also say there's two wills in God, though we make it more explicit: God wants all to be saved, but His overriding desire is that His glory be increased. If you don't understand this, I submit that you totally misunderstand Calvinism.

Will Riddle said...

Gary, sorry I just discovered your response here. I'm not claiming that Edwards, Spurgeon, etc are not consistent Calvinists. My main point was that the historiography given by Calvinists is skewed in that it presents Calvinists as the sole evangelizers. Names such as those I mentioned I removed from history, or their Arminian belief is seen as an aberration.

Regarding two wills, I see this as a Calvinist problem. Arminians say God has one will -- he wants you to be saved. Mosts Calvinists, sparing the truly consistent, will have to resort to the two wills theory. What God really wants, and what actually happens. Otherwise you end up with questions like why babies are aborted. Did God will it?

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Will, thanks for your comments. We must be reading different things because I have never read ANYBODY present Calvinists as being the only ones who evangelize. I'd be interested to see a cite on that. OTOH, I've heard hundreds of times that Calvinism discourages evangelism, that all great evangelists of the past and present are Arminians. I don't doubt you, just wondering what it is you're reading.

Regarding two wills in God, I totally disagree with you. It is absolutely a problem for all of us. If God's only will is for all to be saved, why doesn't He just save everybody? The answer (which I've heard many Arminians express): because His higher will is that man's free will be respected. It's true that most Arminians I've talked to (I'm not putting you in this category) don't think it through far enough to posit a "two wills" theory. But if they did, they would have to.

In fact, many do, just not in those words: they rely (too heavily in my opinion) on the idea of active vs. permissive will. Now, I agree that idea has some merit; just pointing out that what is that, except a two-will theory?

Will Riddle said...

Gary, thanks. It's probably just my experience being brought up presbyterian. Calvinism was a tough box for me to break out of, sociologically, theologically and Scripturally.

I think where the Arminian discussion ends up is not about two wills but about omnipotence. You end up having to say that God chooses to limit his ability to save people because coerced love is not love. I don't see it as a two wills problem.

Some people have put it that Calvinism is God won't save everyone and Arminianism is God can't save everyone. Both are caricatures of course.