Calvinism Encourages Evangelism
Anderson’s first problem with Calvinism is that Calvinism does not cause Calvinists to evangelize, or what he calls “soul-winning.” He admits Calvinists claim they should evangelize, but that they are all bark and no bite. He blames God’s choosing of men for salvation as the culprit for this negligence.
This is ironic. After all, Reformed soteriology is far more hopeful and encouraging when it comes to evangelism. In the non-reformed way of thinking, we are asking dead men who hate God and suppress the truth about Him to change their own hearts about God, apart from any divine assistance they did not already enjoy. Whatever grace God was giving them was insufficient to change their hearts, and no further efficacious grace will be given. That is the hope of non-reformed evangelism. The evangelists are asking hearts to change themselves (begging the question as to why they need a new one to begin with). In Calvinism, God is able to effectually use the means of preaching to, by His Spirit, through the Gospel, transform people.
Secondly, we can know that if someone rejects the Gospel, it’s not our fault. We do not have to hold the weight of guilt when people do go to hell. It is perfectly consistent in Anderson’s worldview to ask, “What did I do wrong?” every time a sinner rejects his gospel presentation. His methods must now be based on results, not biblical fidelity. The Calvinist never needs to fear this.
Many churches today have adopted bizarre, carnal approaches to outreach, and that all stems from pragmatism over biblical fidelity, and that pragmatism stems from a soteriology which places too much emphasis on the means, while castrating the grace which commandeers the means. In other words, bad evangelism is downstream of bad soteriology.
Calvinists Dominate Missions History
Anderson has obviously run into a Calvinist more than once, because he anticipates a common retort. Apparently, the Calvinists in his life have appealed to men like Jonathan Edwards and William Carey to disprove his claim.
Calvinists do this because the fact of the matter is that from the time of the reformation onward, Calvinists have dominated non-calvinists when it comes to missions and evangelism. William Carey, a devout Calvinist, was nicknamed “The father of modern missions” because of his missionary endeavors to India. Jonathan Edwards was instrumental in evangelizing North America. From the reformers, to Carey, to Edwards, to Whitfield, Calvinists have proven to be the most fervent Christians for preaching the Gospel.
So, how does Anderson respond to evoking great evangelists of the past like Edwards and Carey?
“[Calvinists] have to go back 250 years, literally, 250 years… Folks, can you give me something a little more recent?”
The problems with this response are legion. First, to whom can Steven Anderson beckon back? Even if we grant that the lack of modern examples is a problem, it is equally a problem that Anderson’s camp only has recent examples.
This is especially the case as Anderson’s entire point here in the sermon is based on Jesus’ words that bad trees bear bad fruit. His point being, since Calvinists don’t “soul-win,” they have bad fruit. Therefore, the tree of Calvinism is bad.
So, if the tree of Anderson’s non-reformed soteriology is not bad, where are its examples from 250 years ago? Was your tree a good tree then, or did it only just become healthy in recent days? God’s truth is unchanging; God’s way of salvation is changing. Thus, the lack of representation in relatively early history for non-reformed evangelism is just as damning as any lack of representation among Calvinists today would be.
Ironically, the most well known non-Calvinistic evangelists Anderson has are Billy Graham and Ray Comfort (Anderson wrongly calls Comfort a Calvinist in his lecture). The problem for Anderson is that those two examples are men he doesn’t even think are saved. He thinks Billy Graham is in hell, and that no one has ever come to Christ through Billy Graham. Anderson expresses a similar sentiment about Ray Comfort in his lecture. Thus, it appears Anderson has no well known evangelists to represent the fruit of his tree outside his own church. (Anderson would likely reject associating with Moody, Finney, and Wesley, though I do not know for sure.)
Also important as to why Calvinists recall popular names is because they are… wait for it… popular.
Modern evangelists would not be convincing because Anderson would not be familiar with them. Hundreds of Calvinists flood the streets every week across the globe, whose name should I call on to disprove his point? And how many of those names could he easily dismiss as anecdotal exceptions, or even doubt their authenticity? The nature of the challenge presented to the Calvinist requires someone like Edwards over and against my old college roommates.
Fallacy of Equivocation
A primary flaw of Anderson’s critique is how he smuggles in different definitions of “evangelism” throughout the lecture. He criticizes that Calvinists do not evangelize, but then switches the definition of that term to mean “door -to-door, NIFB, soul winning.”
It is true that Calvinists do not do a lot of door to door evangelism, akin to Mormon and Jehovah’s witnesses’ strategies. Rather, it is common in Calvinistic circles to place a higher value on open air preaching, and private relationship witnessing when it comes to public evangelism. Thus, hundreds of Calvinists are evangelizing every weekend, but Anderson thinks they are not because,
“Finding a Calvinist who wants to go soul-winning, it’s like finding a pterodactyl. I mean it might be out there, but it’s difficult to find.”
This may be true, but it does not mean it’s impossible to find Calvinist’s willing to evangelize to strangers. Anderson has animosity for street preaching, and therefore limits his understanding of evangelism to one particular method (one not common to the Apostles). If someone went looking for Calvinists to go street preaching with, or Calvinists that regularly share the Gospel with people in their personal lives, they would certainly not be dinosaur hunting.
Correlation Is Not Causation
At one point Anderson claims,
“Any honest Calvinist would admit, ‘We are super weak on evangelism.'”
I think this is true. It is certainly a problem for the Calvinist writing this blog. However, Calvinists don’t have an evangelism problem, Christians do. Being weak on evangelism is more so a problem within evangelicalism at large; it is not unique to Calvinism.
This is the fallacy of assuming correlation equals causation. All heretics drink water, but it does not follow from that that water causes heresy.
If Anderson’s standard for strong evangelism is being willing to go door to door soul-winning every weekend, he is probably correct in assuming not many Calvnists would sign up for that. However, an overwhelming number of Christians who reject Calvinism would also be equally hesitant to do so.
I was a pastor in a non-reformed church where Calvinism was not held by the majority of the leadership and was a minority view in the pews. Still, our lead pastor was constantly striving and praying for the wisdom to help the congregation “turn up their evangelistic temperature.” I would be willing to bet that an extremely small amount of non-reformed Christians in America ever engage in door to door evangelism. Thus, Calvinism hardly seems to be the cause of evangelistic apathy, seeing how so many anti-Calvinists can be diagnosed as having the same bug. (This is not at all a shot at my former church, or at non-calvinistic Christians. As I said, myself, and most Calvinists, would also claim we need to turn up the heat on our evangelism in most cases. The point is simply to say it is inappropriate to entirely blame one’s soteriology for a lack of evangelism when two opposing sides struggle with the same issue. As we discussed, soteriology matters in evangelism, but it is not alone responsible for a person’s evangelistic habits)
To use Steven Anderson’s expression, does Calvinism put a wet-blanket on evangelism? Not a chance. As we have seen, Calvinism provides the strongest theological foundation for evangelistic fervency, Calvinists throughout the centuries have dominated evangelism, modern day Calvinists are still active in God’s kingdom through evangelistic endeavors, and any apathy Christians may have can be explained by other causes.