A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 8: The Evangelistic Aspect of the Gospel Invitation
This is the eleventh of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
The notion of God choosing not to make salvation available to people through “election,” thus leaving them in their sinful condition and its penalty of condemnation, clashes with scriptural teaching which states that Christ did not come to destroy lives but to save them. Such a “gospel” delivers no “good news” at all to lost sinners. We learn from Ezekiel that God inspired prophets to warn the wicked (Ezek. 33:8-9). The text shows that the prophet could choose to obey God and warn the wicked, or the prophet could opt to disobey God and not warn the wicked (another excellent text arguing for the freewill of man!). Whether warned or unwarned, the impenitent wicked would die in their iniquity, but God would somehow require the blood of the unwarned from the hand of the disobedient prophet who refused to warn them. This implies that God did not want the wicked to die in their iniquity and suggests that they could do so, even though God did not want them to die in the grip of sin. This text also suggests the responsibility of the messenger to speak and of the listener to obey. This is, indeed, a compelling passage for promoting evangelism. Be reminded that Ezekiel was sent primarily to the chosen people; yet, they could die in their iniquity, chosen or not. We further learn from Ezekiel, as pointed out earlier, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that all people repent (Ezek. 33:11). Additionally, Jesus proclaimed that the Son of Man came not to destroy, but to save (Luke 9:56). And, we saw earlier that John the Baptist testified that Jesus is the true light, that all might believe (John 1:7).
The universality of mankind’s sinful condition demands the universality of the available cure, which must be personally appropriated. With Newport, I assert that, this side of heaven, nobody can be exempt from the possibility of redemption.1 With this understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God, therefore, W. R. Estep charges that Calvinism’s God resembles Allah, the God of Islam, because he is malevolent.2 But, make no mistake about it – the biblical triune God, unlike the God of Islam, is benevolent, not malevolent.
I truly believe that Christ and Satan are locked in a cosmic struggle for the affections and souls of mankind. This fight is not restricted only to some group called the elect. Satan’s targets include all of mankind. He wants to kill, spiritually and physically, the whole world. C. S. Lewis says, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”3 Newport insightfully asserts that Satan’s main objective is to frustrate the redemptive purposes of God.4 Conversely, and thankfully, Christ Jesus refuses to concede any, but rather, fights for all.
Now, stay with me here. By virtue of the fact that Satan desires to rule all, not just some, Christ also desires to rule all, not just some. If there are those “elected” for salvation and others “elected” (or left) for destruction, why would there be a cosmic battle? Over whom would the war be waged, since, if Calvinism is correct, everyone is accounted for? But, since there is obviously a war over souls which is raging, everyone is not accounted for; hence, the need for deception on behalf of the enemy, who would blind the hearts of all (2 Cor. 4:4), even the elect if he could (Matt. 24:24). The Bible openly states that the devil snatches away the word from the unsaved so that they will not believe and be saved (Luke 8:12). Estep argues that, logically, Calvinism is anti-missionary, and should rationally view evangelistic efforts as nothing more than exercises in futility.5 This rationale, as Estep and others point out, contradicts The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).6 History bears witness that this evangelistic contradiction has frequently led adherents not to extend invitations for the lost to be saved at the conclusion of services.7 Estep writes that Andrew Fuller penned The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation against the Calvinism of John Gill. Fuller noted that, “Had matters gone on but a few years, the Baptists would have become a perfect dunghill in society.” Estep further concludes that it was Fuller’s modification of Calvinism among Particular Baptists that paved the way for the foreign mission movement of which William Carey, labeled by John Ryland, Sr. as “a miserable enthusiast,” became the catalyst.8 Estep then reports that London pastor John Gill was proud of the fact that he never extended an invitation for a sinner during his more than fifty years of ministry there.9 What a tragedy.
Calvinism simply does not deal adequately either with the corporate or universal relatedness of mankind as a whole. This inadequacy severely undermines any theology of evangelism, which is certainly a biblical mandate not intended to be done merely out of obedience, as many Calvinists do, but out of a fervor to persuade men, women, boys, and girls to turn from sin and to Jesus Christ. Calvinism has a deplorable evangelistic weakness.
The next article in this series will explore the theodical weakness of Calvinism.
1John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 49.
2William R. Estep, “Doctrines Lead to ‘Dunghill’ Prof Warns,” Texas Baptist Standard, 26 March 1997, 12.
3C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 33.
4John P. Newport, What Is Christian Doctrine? (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1984), 97.