The Problem with Arminian Evangelism

24 Mar

I continue to wrestle with Romans 9 and God’s purpose in election. This week, I am wrestling with the “justness” of election, and next week I will wrestle with the relationship between free will and election. After that, I will wrestle with the relationship between election and evangelism and missions.

But regarding election and missions, one of the most serious criticisms of those who hold to the doctrines of grace is that a devotion to election will extinguish the light of evangelism. After all, if God has already determined on whom He will show mercy, then why bother sharing the good news to all mankind? And no doubt, that question is not an easy one to answer.

But, the Arminian position does not get a free pass on evangelism either. In fact, I would venture to say that the Arminian position has done more to harm the cause of evangelism in America than anything else. Quite a claim you might say, but hear me out.

Charles Finney, the father of revival evangelism, denied the orthodox doctrine of election, teaching instead that faith was a fundamentally human decision and that salvation was secured by the sinner’s own movement toward God. To Finney, the purpose of evangelism was to convince people to choose differently, to make a decision of faith using whatever means proved useful. In other words, evangelism was all about persuading a sinner to believe the gospel, to repent, and to accept Christ. And in persuading a sinner, the one sharing the good news had to package that good news in an appealing way to the sinner. And in shifting from Calvinism to Arminianism, the man centered gospel was born.

And here we are today, living in a culture that is consumed in a man centered gospel. “Look what God can do for you!” is the primary way we proclaim the gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, so you should accept Him. If believing in miracles makes it hard for modern man to accept Jesus, then lets demythologize the gospel to make it sell better. Or, if a belief in hell is offensive to post moderns, then lets package the gospel like Rob Bell, denying hell. If tolerance is the primary value of post modernity, then lets package Jesus as just one of many ways to God. If the treasures of this world is what you really want, then lets package the gospel “health, wealth, prosperity” style. After 150 years of preaching a man centered gospel, the church is in massive decline.

For all its difficulties, the Calvinistic gospel presentation is about the glory of God and the magnification of His name. In fact, God’s purpose in election was so that the gospel would not become all about mankind. God has mercy on whom He chooses to have mercy so that His name would be spread about the earth, not the name of humans who have chosen God based upon their self-centered, what can God do for me, evaluation of the gospel.

I will delve into this more later, but let’s not be too quick to dismiss Calvinism as antithetical to evangelism. It might be that God’s purpose of election is the only thing that keeps our evangelistic efforts on track.


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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


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