Child Evangelism and Calvinism

December 3, 2014

Editor’s Note: We generally do not publish anonymous works. However, the desire of this author to remain unidentified while describing personal situations prompted an exception in this case.

I’m a former Calvinist who could really use some help. When evangelizing Jews, atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other type of person, there are a lot of resources to guide me. But I haven’t found any help on how to witness to a confused child—young or adult—of a Calvinist. I experienced the new Reformed movement without the influence of the non-Calvinist majority. I have seen it for the past fifteen years—long enough to observe its affects on the second generation. As I share examples from my former church, friends and relatives, I must keep these details vague in order to protect both their identities and mine. For this reason, I am writing anonymously.

The Problem with “Calvinism IS the Gospel”
Some children are taught and truly believe that Calvinism is the Gospel.

  • A tween who had renounced her former profession of faith was being evangelized. In an attempt to get through to her, she was asked, “How would you explain the Gospel to someone?” Her response was, “Well, first you have to be chosen by God…”
  • An older teen told his father, “Dad, you say either Christ died for me or he didn’t, and there’s nothing I can do about it—that either I’m elect or not, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just going to get on with my life.”

The Horrible Concept of Calvinism’s Decree
Some children balk at the concept of damnation without ever facing a genuine choice.

  • A happy-go-lucky teen says some nearly blasphemous things about God in a Calvinist discussion of Romans 9 and rejects Christ. In other words, since the ultimate outcome has been pre-determined, this teen feels no sense of personal responsibility.
  • A very tender hearted tween (different from the one above) had lost interest in the Gospel. While being evangelized, she burst into tears and said, “Please, let’s not talk about it.” Later when a more indirect approach referencing the Lord of the Rings trilogy was tried, she said, “I always feel sorry for the orcs. They never had a choice about being that way.”

Reformed Children Often Reject Calvinism’s Determinism
Theology is not the only factor involved in evangelism. Interpersonal issues are often involved. All churches struggle with young people who reject Christ. But I have repeatedly seen the children of the Reformed rejecting the Gospel. They are children of church leaders. They attend regularly. They are catechized and trained in apologetics and theology. They are raised to believe that the destiny of their soul has been fixed before the foundation of the world—and they have no real choice.

The Lens of Calvinism Can Blind Gospel Truth
These confused children may be interpreting gospel presentations through the lens of Calvinism. For example, a Calvinist says, “You’re a sinner and Christ died for sinners. All those who believe in Christ will be saved.” The regular person hears: “I’m a sinner, Christ died for me, and if I choose to believe in Christ, I’ll be saved.” But someone who knows Calvinese hears: “I’m a sinner, maybe Christ died for me, and if God chooses unconditionally to give me faith, I’ll believe and be saved.”

Are children of Calvinists able to hear a non-theologically biased presentation of the Gospel? Or whenever the gospel is presented to them, are they re-interpreting it through a Calvinistic lens?

  • A Calvinist mother is evangelizing. She sees the Gospel as milk and Calvinism as solid food and doesn’t bring up the latter until they have accepted the former. The problem is her teenage daughter is struggling with predestination. They attend a church where catechisms are used. A recent sermon spent a significant amount of time discussing unconditional election. So did her daughter ever really have the opportunity to hear the milk?

Limited Exposure to Non-Calvinistic Gospel Presentations
In Reformed circles, non-Calvinists are often looked down upon and may even be considered heretics and idolaters—especially when non-Calvinists are being evangelistic. For example:

  • When I was a Calvinist, I heard a debate between a non-Calvinist and an atheist. The non-Calvinist used the debate to present the Gospel and give a Gospel call. I’d never heard this done in any of the debates involving a Calvinist apologist. When I mentioned to a Calvinist who had heard the debate how impressed I was that the Christian used the debate to present the gospel, he gave me a dismissive look, saying, “Yeah, I saw how he tacked that on.”
  • While I was still a Calvinist, I listened to the audio book of Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. I mentioned to an elder at my church how impressed I was that Dr. Craig used all of his skilled arguments as an opportunity to present the Gospel through the Four Spiritual Laws. He gave a slight sneer and said, “It was only the Four Spiritual Laws.” Given the social nature of the discussion, I refused the temptation to say, “That’s more than I’ve seen from every Calvinist book and audio that I’ve come across put together!”

In witnessing to confused children of Calvinists, it seems to me that all the dismissive arguments and attitudes of Calvinists toward non-Calvinists are affecting them. I wonder if these children are using these “weapons” not to defend and promulgate Calvinism, but (consciously or unconsciously) to dismiss my presentations of the Gospel in favor of their own unbelief? After all, if the brilliant, elitist Calvinist scholar could not convince them, what hope does a “non-theologically minded, non-Calvinist” have? Calvinist kids pick up on more than just theology. They also pick up on attitude. How many Calvinist children are learning to be dismissive of non-Calvinistic gospel presentations that might otherwise be used by God to reach them if they would only open their hearts and minds to the simpler and clearer gospel presentations generally offered in non-Calvinistic preaching?

Compatibilist Free Will Essentially a Denial of a Genuinely Free Will
The concept of compatibilist free will defines free will as the ability to act from your greatest desire, which is a desire you neither choose nor can control. This can have a significant affect.

  • When I renounced Calvinism, I noticed a significant increase in my emotional self-control.
  • I was talking with a Christian who is a former Calvinist, and she said her belief that she had free will (libertarian free will) had affected her self-discipline “hugely—huge, huge!”

If Christians, who are children of God, in Christ, with the Spirit of God dwelling in them are thusly affected, how might unbelievers be affected by believing in compatibilist free will? If they’ve grown up in such a system, might they not see freedom itself as “now I can do whatever I desire the most and not what other people or society might expect from me?”

Questions About Sharing the Gospel with Calvinist Children
How can we best reach the children of Calvinists whose philosophical presuppositions have undercut any genuine sense of man’s personal responsibility or genuine free will? Have you come across this problem? How often have you seen it? What are some examples? Are you currently personally struggling with this problem? What are you doing about it? What has worked? What hasn’t? What advice would you give me? What resources would you recommend? What resources would you recommend for the confused children of Calvinists? Can you help me reach these precious lost souls with the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ?