Some Calvinists are not evangelistic
just like some Traditionalists are not evangelistic.

September 25, 2012

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3E

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen

3. Testimony of History.

Dr. Ascol now turns his attention to address the testimony of history and argues that Calvinists were among the greatest missionaries and evangelists. This cannot be gainsaid.  One of the mistakes often made by non-Calvinists is to assume or state that Calvinists are not evangelistic.  This is an over-generalization and as such is simply not true. Some Calvinists are not evangelistic just like some Traditionalists are not evangelistic. But to generalize that Calvinists are not evangelistic is false.

Ascol contends in the remainder of his chapter, “Far from being a drag on missionary endeavors, Calvinism has actually been a catalyst for them” (280). To demonstrate his thesis, he briefly discusses the following: Calvin and the Puritans, George Whitefield, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.

Ascol asserts that Geneva under Calvin was a missionary and church planting center, with hundreds of missionaries being sent out across Europe and many French refugees being trained to return to their homeland to plant churches. It is one thing to send missionaries “across Europe,” but quite another to send them to foreign nations. The Magisterial Reformers’ record on the later, including Calvin, is weak at best. Grosart’s claim, which Ascol cites, that Richard Baxter was the most successful preacher and soul winner England ever had (281), coupled with Ascol’s claim that George Whitefield was the “greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century, both stand in need of a two-word qualification: John Wesley.

The last four names Dr. Ascol discusses are all famous Baptists known for their missionary spirit. I freely grant his point that all these men were Calvinists who exhibited missionary and evangelistic zeal. I do not grant his presupposition that all these men were Calvinists of Ascol’s stripe, i.e., five-point Calvinists.

William Carey’s story is legendary. Ascol mentions the Serampore Compact of 1805 which Carey and his fellow missionaries drew up as a summary of their guiding principles and its stress on God’s sovereignty in the missionary enterprise (283). But consider what this compact says in one place:

Fifthly. In preaching to the heathen, we must keep to the example of Paul, and make the greatest subject of our preaching, Christ Crucified. It would be very easy for a missionary to preach nothing but truths, and that for many years together, without any well-grounded hope of becoming useful to one soul. The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand mean of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh, that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others. It was the proclaiming of these doctrines that made the Reformation from Popery in the time of Luther spread with such rapidity. It was these truths that filled the sermons of the modern Apostles, Whitefield, Wesley, etc., when the light of the Gospel which had been held up with such glorious effects by the Puritans was almost extinguished in England. It is a well-known fact that the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day make the atonement of Christ their continued theme. We mean the Moravians. They attribute all their success to the preaching of the death of our Saviour. So far as our experience goes in this work, we must freely acknowledge, that every Hindoo among us who has been gained to Christ, has been won by the astonishing and all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death. O then may we resolve to know nothing among Hindoos and Mussulmans [Muslims] but Christ and Him crucified. (

Notice Carey’s reference to “Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits.” Notice Carey includes Wesley with Whitfield who preached “these doctrines.” Notice his reference to the Moravians as being “the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day” and keep in mind the fact that they were not Calvinistic and affirmed an unlimited atonement. Notice finally Carey’s reference to the “all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death.”

Consider also this quotation from Carey in a letter dated April 10, 1796:

I preach every day to the Natives, and twice on the Lord’s Day constantly, besides other itinerant labours, and I try to speak of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and of him alone, but my soul is often much dejected to see no fruit. This morning I preached to a number from “to know the Love of God which passeth knowledge”. I was much affected myself, filled with grief and anguish of Heart, because I knew they were going to Idolatrous and Mohammedan feasts immediately after, this being the first day of the Hindu Year; and the new Moon Ramadan of the Mohammedans. They are going I suppose to their Abominations at this moment, but I hope to preach to them again in the evening. I spoke of the Love of God in bearing with his Enemies, in supporting and providing for them, in sending his Son to die for them, and in sending the Gospel to them, and in saving many of them from eternal Wrath. (The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, ed. Terry G. Carter [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000], 85. Emphasis mine.)

Also consider this letter from Carey to Andrew Fuller dated November 1800 where Carey explains to Fuller how he shared the gospel with several of the people in one of the villages:

You and I, and all of us are Sinners, and we are in a helpless state but I have good things to tell you. God in the riches of his Mercy became incarnate, in the form of Man. He lived more than thirty years on earth without Sin and was employed in doing good. He gave sight to the Blind, healed the Sick, the lame, the Deaf and the Dumb – and after all died in the stead of Sinners. We deserved the wrath of God, but he endured it. We could make no sufficient atonement for our guilt but he compleatly made an end of Sin and now he has sent us to tell you that the Work is done and to call you to faith in, and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ibid., 149. Emphasis mine.)

In these two quotes, it sounds like Carey is making “the bold proclamation,” saying that God sent his Son to die for them (all in his lost audience) and other “enemies,” some of which (not all) are saved from eternal wrath. If Carey accepts limited substitution (limited atonement), he would have to be equivocating on the term “sinners” and fudge on the inclusive term “we,” as if he really didn’t mean all those in his audience.

I am not at all convinced that Carey was a full-fledged card-carrying member of the high-Calvinist order with respect to limited atonement as Ascol appears to assume.



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All Christians (whether claiming to be Calvinist or non-Calvinist) are bound by the Scriptures to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:”

To be evangelistic is to do this. Calvinists are evangelistic in every sense of the word. Baptists are famous for not evangelizing their own families while sending lots of money to Lottie Moon to evangelize the world. Baptists send their children for one hour of bible study on Sunday morning but then entrust their children to public schools during the week where the name of God cannot be spoken nor biblical morality taught and where the faith of children is destroyed. Baptists evangelize everyone except their children, so is it any wonder that we find our children ending up no different than the world.

The above article is good academic fluff but serve no useful purpose that I can see.

Calvin S.

I can relate to William Carey here: God puts on your heart to share the Gospel with people; thus you are confident that there must be elect people among them. You give the benefit of the doubt in every situation. You proclaim that Christ died for them. I’ve done the same often, though I am a 5-point Calvinist. If for no other reason, we know that Jesus died also for the sin of Adam–Original Sin–the sin of which all people have guilt. So in this sense at least, every 5-point\limited atonement believing Calvinist can say to every person “Jesus died for you.” Didn’t you know that about Calvinists?? This is common knowledge; nothing new.

But whether William Carey believed in limited atonement or not, there is no doubt that he was a Calvinist, and the founder of the modern missionary movement. Everyone of us owe a great debt to the Calvinist: William Carey. You traditionalists owe a great debt and respect to the Calvinist William Carey.


Calvin S.

What are the statistics of Traditionalists who share their faith? Isn’t it just 01% (only one percent) of you who share the Gospel?

That is the real shame in all this, not whether someone calls themselves a Calvinist or a Traditionalist, but that only 1% of believers are actually sharing the best news there ever was to share.

Ben Simpson

I’m glad to hear Dr Allen, who seems to have emerged as the theological heavyweight of the “Traditionalist” constituency, state unequivocally that “to generalize that Calvinists are not evangelistic is false.” That was the very truth Dr Ascol was trying to demonstrate in chapter 9 in WHW. As Dr Ascol demonstrates in the chapter, Calvinists were among the greatest missionaries and evangelists, and as Dr Allen concedes, “[The fact that Calvinists were among the greatest missionaries and evangelists] cannot be gainsaid,” or truthfully contradicted. I know it wasn’t the purview of the history section, but it must be said that today’s Calvinists are still among the greatest missionaries and evangelists. It would do the Southern Baptist Convention much good if other “Traditionalists” would agree with Dr Allen and never again state or insinuate that to be Calvinistic is to shirk evangelism.

Dr Allen seems to take issue with three things in the history section of Dr Ascol’s chapter: 1) Ascol’s assertion that Calvin’s Geneva was a missions hub; 2) Ascol’s opinion of Baxter was England’s best evangelist and that Whitefield was the greatest 18th-century evangelist; and 3) Ascol’s use of Carey as an example of a Calvinist missionary.

As for the first issue, Dr Allen tries to tarnish Geneva’s missions hub status by pointing out that they only focused on European nations. To which I would ask Dr Allen, is the North American Mission board less of a missions agency than the International Missions Board because it only focuses on the home continent of the SBC? Obviously, the answer is “no.” Therefore, Dr Allen’s issue holds no water. Calvin’s Geneva was a strong missions hub even though the field they focused on was Europe.

The second issue Dr Allen takes with Dr Ascol is really just a matter of opinion. Dr Allen thinks John Wesley was England’s best evangelist and the greatest 18th-century evangelist while Dr Ascol thinks it’s Baxter and Whitefield respectively. Who knows who’s right because this issue is solely in the sphere of opinion, but let’s say that Dr Allen is right in that John Wesley was the greatest. Okay then, the Calvinists Baxter and Whitefield were the second greatest in their respective arenas. Dr Ascol’s actual point still stands in that Calvinists were leading evangelists in history.

In looking at the third issue, I’m a little confused as to what Dr Allen is trying to prove. Is he saying that because Carey was allegedly only a 4-point Calvinist (I say allegedly because Dr Allen’s evidence that Carey held to Universal Atonement was very weak), he cannot be held up as a Calvinist missionary? If that’s Dr Allen’s point, then Dr Allen seems to be missing what most folks know to be true, which is that the real dividing line between Calvinism and nonCalvinism seems to the doctrine of Unconditional Election. As I’ve often read nonCalvinist blog commenters say, “It’s the ‘U’ that matters, not the ‘L’.” So, even though Carey might not have been a 5-point Calvinist like Dr Ascol (Dr Ascol never made the assertion that Carey was, and Dr Allen hasn’t given enough evidence to prove that Carey wasn’t), Carey was nevertheless a Calvinist and a great example of a Calvinist missionary.

    Calvin S.

    Ben, your posts always make the most sense of any who post here. Thanks for bringing clarity to the situation once again.

    Ben Simpson

    Thanks for the encouragement, Calvin!

Steve Martin

Some do and some do not.

But none of us do it (evangelize ) like we could.

When it comes to being good stewards of the Word, we all fall short.

But the Lord uses our best and our worst for His purposes and He will get the job done, in spite of our lackluster efforts, at times.


I admit I am perplexed how any could see anything evangelistic about 16th Century Geneva. Would you care for some compelling magistrates with your church plant? One cannot seperate the political with the evangelical. It was one and the same.

Now if we want to look at “evangelical” for that part of the world, let us look at folk like Conrad Grebal, George Blaurock or Felix Manz. Those who put their lives on the line for truth without seeking to “lord it over” others. Those who went from town to town preaching and teaching while being hunted by the “Reformers”. The step children were the real evangelists.

    Calvin S.


    In contrast to the monarchies of surrounding territories, the city of Geneva stood in a unique situation as a republic. Therefore, when Protestants began being persecuted not only in France but also in England, many sought safe haven in Geneva.

    Protestants in England had fled to Geneva due to the persecution enforced by Mary Tudor beginning in 1553. With Mary Tudor’s ascension came the establishment of Roman Catholicism and the persecution of Protestants, earning her the infamous title “Bloody Mary.” Over 300 men were burned at the stake by the Catholic tyrant, ‘Bloody Mary Tudor’, merely for promoting the English Reformation. At least 800 Protestants fled to cities like Zurich or Geneva. The exile, which some would compare to the exile of Israel to Babylon, would last six years. Yet, these six years (1553-58) were not to be wasted but rather utilized to prepare, study and train for an awaited return to the homeland where the hopes of reformation would again grow into fruition. Such was the case with those Marian exiles in Geneva.

    On top of this, it is no exaggeration to say that the Geneva Bible (which was primarily translated by William Whittingham, the brother-in-law of John Calvin) was the central catalyst that catapulted England, Scotland and America out of slavish feudalism to the heights of Christian civilization.

    Now, I already know very well from reading at this site, that some Traditionalist will come along and try and paint the ugliest picture possible of Geneva. But why don’t you try once at this site, instead of turning everything to something ugly, apply the Scriptures: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:8)


      “On top of this, it is no exaggeration to say that the Geneva Bible (which was primarily translated by William Whittingham, the brother-in-law of John Calvin) was the central catalyst that catapulted England, Scotland and America out of slavish feudalism to the heights of Christian civilization.”

      Well, I think that is an exaggeration. Please take your own advice and do take Phil 4:8 to heart. The Geneva Bible has been a great influence to promote Calvinism (through it’s erroneous rendering and notes.) But that is something different from “heights of Christian civilization”.

        Calvin S.

        Holdon, no. Your statement merely reveals your bias.

        The Bible translated by Calvin’s brother-in-law and containing the notes, had surprisingly little Calvinism in it: “the number of such pure Calvinistic annotations in the 1560 Bible is not so great as one might suppose would have been the case.” (Metzger, “The Geneva Bible of 1560,” 348.)

        The Calvinistic flavor was made evident by several changes after the 1560 edition. It was Laurence Tomson (1539-1608) who added more notations to the Bible in 1576, giving the GB a more Calvinistic thrust. (On Tomson see Danner, “The Later English Calvinists and the Geneva Bible,” 496ff)

        Between 1579 and 1615 many editions included “Certaine questions and answeres touching the doctrine of Predestination, the vse of God’s word and Sacraments.” were added. They were NOT in the original.

        Therefore, Holdon, your attacks against “Geneva” are baseless. The Geneva Bible, and the notes, that came out of Calvin’s Geneva was fine. Changes were made latter, which cannot be held against the original contributors to that translation.


          Well, apart from being ignorant of history (that the Geneva Bible brough “the heights of Civilization to England, Scotland and America”, you must also be ignorant of this:

          “The cause whereof is the only will of
          God, for as much as of his free mercy he electeth some to be saved, and of his
          just judgment rejecteth others to be damned, as appeareth by the testimonies
          of the Scriptures” Geneva intro to Romans.


      “Therefore, when Protestants began being persecuted not only in France but also in England, many sought safe haven in Geneva.”

      Geneva was NO safe haven for those who did not want to baptize their infant or who did not agree the sacraments were a means of grace. Or who did not want to be forced to attend church or disagree with the church leaders. Or even those who did not want to be told how many courses they could have at each meal. They were FORCED to comply or face banishment, prison or a drowning in the Limmat..

      Now, please explain to me how that is ‘evangelical’? Seems all were “elect” in Geneva by force. So how in the world does the behavior of the state church jive with limited atonement? It was a phoney farce.

      I simply refuse to go along with this rewritten or “selective” history being hawked by the NC movement.


        It must be emphatically stated, and biblically shown, that the form of magisterial protestantism of Calvin’s Geneva was a political body and no genuine form of the Christian faith. To say otherwise is to romanticize history. Even the Lion of Judah, only lords over a willing people to which I gratefully belong. His kingom is said to be of love and his kindness exceeds that of Moses’.

          Calvin S.

          I would say Calvin’s kindness also exceeded that of Moses. It is not a hard thing to do, when the Mosaic law constantly calls to stone people.

Ron Hale

I am sure you are aware that the man who told William Carey to sit down was John Ryland, a Particular Baptist Minister. Some with argue that he (Ryland) was a hyper and others will argue that he was just a 5 pointer.

Were both men Calvinistic? Yes!

Did both men have the same passion for the lost? No!

The Founders seem to paint the picture that “real” Baptist Calvinists have historically been five pointers, therefore, join our club. They seem to use any and every Calvinistic leaning Baptist to prove their point.

Then and now … there are different kinds of Calvinists. Would you agree?

    Calvin S.

    Ron, and then others among the “Traditionalists” hold up Charles Finney as a great evangelist–the same Charles Finney who convinced thousands to put faith in their own righteousness, likely sending thousands with false hope and false assurance right to hell. And there are many Finney’s today too: Those who give false assurance after someone has prayed a sinners’ prayer, for instance. Thankfully all Traditionalists are not like Finney, but sadly, only Traditionalists are fooled by Finney. You will never find a Calvinist hold up Charles Finney as an example of an evangelist.



If what you say above is true, then we would adapt his name to describe ourselves such as Calvinists have. Finnyists. Finnyism.

“the same Charles Finney who convinced thousands to put faith in their own righteousness, likely sending thousands with false hope and false assurance right to hell.”

How is that possible according to the Calvinist interpretative grid? God chose them to be predestined to hell whether they have false assurance or not. According to Calvinism, it would not matter.


Calvin S.,

You…and those like you…are the poster boys of why so many of us have risen up against aggressive Calvinists, who are arrogant, rude, and “in your face” like you. You, and those New Calvinists like you, are the very reason why so many of us are speaking out against the extreme of New Calvinism, which has permeated the SBC.


    Calvin S.

    I’m not sure how to respond. Thanks?

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