Friday, December 13, 2002

Evangelism and God's Sovereignty (part 3)

We continue our discussion of the "antinomy" of God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility. We return again to a previous discussion of the different types of God's will. Specifically,
  • God's Decretive or Sovereign or Efficacious or Hidden Will. (This is just one type with many different names.) These are things that God decrees; they most certainly will happen.

  • God's Preceptive or Revealed Will. This involve things that God will not do Himself, but that He desires of man, such as to obey His commandments. Man can and does disobey.
(There can also be distinguished God’s permissive will but that is not relevant for this discussion).

In other words, God’s efficacious will has to do with His plan, while His preceptive will has to do with His law. Scripture generally uses will without any attendant adjective, but it is nevertheless clear. For example, we read
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. (Eph 5:17) and

Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. (Eph 6:6).

We understand that God does not decree that we understand his will, nor does he decree that we do His will (otherwise we would, in fact, understand it and do it perfectly), but he requires and desires that we do so.

On the other hand, we have:
he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—(Eph 1:5)
Where we have God’s Sovereign will in action.

We seem to grasp this conflict much better in prayer than in evangelism. We pray for someone to get well, while knowing that they may not. We pray for many things while acknowledging, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that we desire these things only if they are in accordance with God’s hidden will. (If we are praying for something in violation of God’s revealed will, something in violation of His commandments, we are truly in deep kimchee.)

We don’t very easily generalize this to evangelism. Yet in many ways prayer and evangelism are very similar. In fact, prayer is often tantamount to evangelizing (to) oneself. In both prayer and evangelism we try (imperfectly) to comply with God’s Law, and yet acknowledge that God has a plan (and it is a privilege that our prayer/evangelism be an acceptable part of that plan) which He will see to its conclusion, and to Him be the glory.

As I said, in prayer we have an easier time of this. In evangelism we struggle greatly. We speak in terms of our leading someone to Christ instead of presenting the gospel. (Note: we needn’t be sticklers about language—the phraseology "leading someone to Christ" is perfectly reasonable—though in our hearts we acknowledge that they were drawn, not led).

God’s Sovereignty does not affect the nature and duty of evangelism

First of all, we are commanded to evangelize:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt 28:19)

We will be punished if we don’t:
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16)

Clearly evangelism is part of God’s revealed will. And here is an important point: God’s hidden will can never, ever have an affect on how we respond to His revealed will. Oh how impertinent for the creature to say: You told me to do this, but that is for the "little people", I know what you are really about. I know that you have an elect that will be saved regardless of my efforts. I am in on to your little secret.

Woe to such a person—who goes by the unfortunate title Hyper-Calvinist.

There is a story about Spurgeon, perhaps apocryphal, that goes something like this: when asked why he didn’t preach just to the elect he responded something along the lines of he would if he knew who they were. It’s just a pointless what-if mind game, but if Spurgeon (who was a good Calvinist) did know who the elect were he would still be under orders to preach the gospel to everyone. So if Spurgeon did say this, in this context, then he was wrong in that instance.

Packer, in Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, points out four specific areas where evangelism is unaffected by God’s sovereignty.
  1. The necessity of evangelism. As we discussed earlier, the normative process for anyone to be saved starts with hearing the gospel. This is independent of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. God not only ordains the ends but also the means. This is evident in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) which ends with the profound verse telling us that many are called but few are chosen.

  2. The urgency of evangelism. The scriptures treat evangelism with a sense of urgency, such as:
    "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5).
    You believe in the elect? As Packer writes: It is wrong to abstain from doing good because it might not be appreciated. We are told to love our neighbor, not love the elect. Paul taught every man he could:
    We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. (Col 1:28)

  3. The genuineness of evangelism. God really, really, really does offer eternal life to everyone:
    We can debate over how one comes to call on the Lord, but nobody (but Hyper-Calvinists) can deny the offer is to everyone.

  4. The responsibility of the sinner. Scripture is clear that anyone who is lost has his own blood on his own hands. People are not lost because they are not of the elect, they are lost because they reject God (The Calvinist would only add "as would we all, apart from grace").
    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23).


It is hopeless to assume that we can understand an infinite God. Yet it is worthwhile to try. In the final analysis, antinomies, paradoxes, and mysteries abound. And not just for the Calvinist, but likewise for the Arminian (who must ask, why one chooses God while another, in a similar situation doesn’t, and what if nobody chooses God?). Yet we agree on the crucial point that God’s message must be told—Oh Lord, let ours be the beautiful feet that deliver it to the gates of a city desperately in need of good news.

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