Does Calvinism Hinder Missions?

An article by Kevin De Young.

The short answer (to the title of this post) is: it shouldn’t. In fact, Calvinism, properly conceived, is a great motivator to share the good news of salvation with the lost. But I understand it doesn’t seem like that at first blush.

“If God is decisive in salvation, then why bother presenting the gospel?  I mean, if they’re elect they will come to Jesus somehow, with or without me. And if they aren’t elect why bother in the first place?”

This objection makes some logical sense, but it is not biblical logic.  The Bible has no problem joining the absolute sovereignty of God with a zeal for evangelism.  For example, in Romans 9, where Paul declares “God will have compassion on whom he has compassion and harden whom he hardens,” Paul first says in verse 1: “I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit–that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”    He believed in election and his heart broke for the lost.

Same thing in Romans 10: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”  Wait a minute, is this the same Paul who quoted “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated?”  Of course it is. Paul was passionate about God’s right to choose whomever he wishes and he was also passionate about winning the lost.

In fact, election helps spur on faithful mission and evangelism.  That’s not to say that Calvinists haven’t misused election in the past to excuse inactivity, but that’s not what election did for Paul.  When Paul was in Corinth and had it up to here with those rascals and was ready to get out of Dodge, do you know what kept him there?  Acts 18:9-11 says, “The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’  So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”  A strong belief in God’s sovereignty is what will keep a missionary on the field when there seems to be no harvest.  As Paul said to Timothy, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim. 2:10).

God can work without means, or contrary to means, but he usually works through means; which means…he uses us.  If you get in a bad car accident, God could save you by angelic intervention, or he could save you by a miracle when you should have been dead, but he can also save you with your seat belt.  God uses means to achieve his purposes, and evangelism (and prayer for that matter) is one of those means.

God ordained proclamation to accomplish his purposes.  We share the gospel out of joyful obedience, and in hope that the God who appoints the end also ordains the means. Someone asked Spurgeon once, “Why do you preach if you believe in election?”  His response: “Because the elect don’t have yellow stripes down their back.”  In other words, we don’t whom the elect are, so we declare the gospel without discrimination, trusting that the sheep will recognize the master’s voice.

Actually, the only evangelistic hope we really have in a hard-hearted, disobedient world is that the Lord has elect sheep out there, wandering though they now may be, who will hear his voice when we open our mouths to speak on behalf of the Good Shepherd.

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