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Calvinism and Missions

One of the main objections to the Calvinist or Augustinian doctrine of election is that it is inconsistent with a robust doctrine of missions. Why evangelize if God is sovereign, has already chosen from eternity who will be saved and who will not, and will most certainly accomplish what He has ordained? These are important questions and more than just straw-man arguments, for some who bear the name Calvinist have followed these questions to their seemingly logical conclusion and rejected the Scriptural injections to proclaim the gospel to all without distinction.

If we allow Scripture to be our guide, we’ll find that election—rather than being the enemy of missions—is actually the very source of evangelistic zeal. Paul, the great missionary, labored “for the faith of those chosen of God” (Tit 1:1) and endured “all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10). It was confidence in the electing and saving God that motivating Paul to evangelize—even if it meant risking his own physical safety. The Lord Himself encouraged Paul not to be afraid, but to continue to proclaim the gospel, “For,” He said, “I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). These words echo what Jesus said in John’s Gospel: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Notice the juxtaposition of missions (i.e., “I must bring them also”) and the certainty of the salvation of the elect (i.e., “they will hear My voice”). The fact that God had given many to the Son, meant that those many would certainly come, but this does not eliminate the need to bring them in; rather, it creates it. The simple resolution to the apparent tension is that God ordains both the end (i.e., election to salvation) and the means to the end (i.e., evangelism). So according to the Bible, election does not undercut missions. Instead, it provides the very basis for confident evangelism.

One of the best little books on this subject is J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 1961). Also worth consulting is John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2001).

There’s also a great article on Calvinism and missions in the latest issue of Themelios: Kenneth J. Stewart, “Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited,” Themelios 34:1 (2009): 63–78. It’s worth a read.

Update: Here are a couple of other resources on the subject that look helpful:

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