One of the arguments Arminians level against Calvinism is that it makes evangelism superfluous. After all, if your neighbor is part of the elect God will ensure that he comes to faith whether you preach the Gospel to him or not. As part of God’s elect, it would be impossible for him not to come to faith. Likewise, if your neighbor is not part of the elect, no amount of evangelism will be effective for his conversion. So why evangelize if Calvinism is true? What’s the point?
Calvinists typically respond by saying God doesn’t just predestine the ends, but also the means. While God may have predestined your neighbor’s salvation (the ends), He also predestined that your neighbor would receive that salvation in response to your evangelism (the means).
While I can appreciate this response in principle, how exactly is God using your evangelism to bring about your neighbor’s salvation? To speak of God using evangelism to bring about salvation implies that evangelism contributes to the desired end in some way. I fail to see how this is so, given the strict monergism of Calvinism. Let me explain.
On Calvinism, the spiritual death from which humans suffer makes it impossible for them to respond positively to God until after God has regenerated their heart. Asking the unbeliever to respond positively to God is like asking your deceased loved one to go to the movies with you. No matter what you do or say, they will never go to the movies with you because their biological condition is such that it is impossible for them to do so. Likewise, no matter what we say to the unbeliever, he will never respond positively to God because his spiritual condition is such that it is impossible for him to do so. Sharing the Gospel with your unbelieving (albeit elect) neighbor is impotent in itself to cause or contribute to His conversion in any way. Nothing will happen until God exercises His sovereignty to unilaterally regenerate his heart. Then, and only then, will your neighbor respond positively to God in faith.
If only God’s sovereign act of regeneration is causally adequate to change your neighbor’s heart, giving him both the desire and ability to exercise faith in Christ, then in what sense can it be said that evangelism is the “means” to God’s end? If evangelism does not contribute to that end, in what meaningful sense can it be considered a means to that end? It seems to me that the only sense in which a Calvinist could say God is using evangelism as a means to saving the elect is that God has chosen to exercise his sovereign act of regeneration in conjunction with the preaching of the Gospel. A temporal relationship between evangelism and regeneration, however, hardly constitutes means.
In the way of analogy, while I may choose to pick my children up only when someone rings my doorbell, is the doorbell the means by which I pick my children up? No, as evidenced by the fact that if ever decided not to pick up my children, you could ring my doorbell a hundred times but it will never result in my children being picked up. Whether they get picked up depends entirely on my will and my action, and nothing else. The ringing of the doorbell may be temporally related to my action, but it has no logical or causal relation to my action and thus cannot be said to be the means by which I perform the action. Indeed, the event that it is temporally correlated to my action is arbitrary. I could just as well choose to pick my children up only when the toilet flushes, only when a car drives by, or some other event. None of these events cause my action, and none of them are the means by which I perform the action. Likewise, a mere temporal correlation between evangelism and God’s sovereign act of regeneration is not enough to establish evangelism as a means to salvation. Calvinists need to establish a logical or causal connection between evangelism and salvation if they are to rightly speak of evangelism as a means to an end.
Far from demonstrating the necessity of evangelism, Calvinism renders evangelism arbitrary and irrelevant. It is arbitrary in the sense that God could have just as well chosen jumping rope as the occasion on which he exercises His sovereignty to regenerate the elect and the end would be just the same (since the end depends wholly on God’s act). It is irrelevant in the sense that God could dispense with evangelism altogether and the end would be just the same. It seems to me that if Calvinism is true, then evangelism is just an arbitrary, irrelevant formality we engage in.
While I see no way for Calvinists to counter the charge of arbitrariness, they could respond to the charge of irrelevance by arguing that God has commanded that we evangelize, and thus evangelism is relevant. While I would agree that God’s commands are relevant and should be obeyed because of God’s authority, this response misses the point. The charge of irrelevance pertains to the efficaciousness of evangelism, and given monergism, I fail to see how evangelism can be said to be efficacious in the conversion process. Perhaps the reason we need to evangelize is because God told us to, but this response fails to explain why God would command us to do so, and why the NT church considered this as such a priority if evangelism qua evangelism has on causal relationship to conversion.
In my opinion, only Arminians and Molinists can truly speak of evangelism as the means God has chosen by which the elect will come to faith, since on Arminianism and Molinism salvation is both temporally and logically dependent on evangelism.
If there are any Calvinists out there, I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
Indeed, there are many Calvinists who can confess that they heard the Gospel several times before they experienced regeneration. Why didn’t they experience conversion after the first Gospel presentation if God has chosen to regenerate the elect in connection with the preaching of the Gospel? It can’t be due to the fact that the Gospel was not presented well enough the first few times, because the presentation is causally impotent to affect the outcome. Salvation is caused wholly and only by God’s sovereign act, regardless of the quality of the Gospel presentation. It can’t be due to the fact that their heart was not ready either, because man’s heart is never ready. Only God can make it ready. So why didn’t He make their heart ready after the first presentation of the Gospel? If there is no causal connection between evangelism and regeneration, and the connection is merely temporal in nature, then there is no reason for not regenerating them after the first Gospel presentation. The fact that they were not regenerated after the first Gospel presentation is good reason to believe that Calvinism is false. Evangelism actually contributes to the end, such that the quality of the Gospel presentation and the state of a person’s heart at the time can determine the outcome.