Calvinism Undermines Evangelism, Right?

If I have heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “A Calvinist evangelist? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Calvinism undermines evangelism.” This accusation has been repeated so many times that few make the effort to argue it. Instead, it is simply assumed. Never mind that some of the church’s greatest evangelists have been Calvinists. One need only be reminded of men such as George Whitefield, David Brainerd, or “the father of modern missions,” William Carey. “Yes,” we are told, “these men were great evangelists and Calvinists, but that is because they were inconsistent.” But is this true?

The fact of the matter is that Calvinism is not inconsistent with evangelism; it is only inconsistent with certain evangelistic methods. It is inconsistent, for example, with the emotionally manipulative methods created by revivalists such as Charles Finney…

Read the whole thing: A Calvinist Evangelist? by Keith Mathison.


tagged as , in Arminianism,calvinism,Christianity,Evangelism,Gospel,theology

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I’m not one of those who believes that Calvinism undermines evangelism.

But I am one of those who believes that it undermines assurance. And that it, unwittingly, helps to foster pride…or despair in the life of the believer.

2 D.R. Randle November 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I’m thankful for a new generation of Calvinist Evangelists like Paul Washer (HeartCry Missionary Society), Tony Miano (formerly of Living Waters / Way of the Master), Bill Adams (Sports Fan Outreach International), and my friend here in Athens, GA – Bobby McCreery ( ). These dear brothers are breaking the stereotype and pushing the envelope in Evangelism in ways I rarely see the “Traditionalists” do. They expose themselves to ridicule, mocking, and the constant threat of physical harm as they preach Christ for no monetary compensation in the open air. Interestingly, what I often see of the non-Calvinist Evangelists (especially those of the Baptist stripe) is men who go from Church to Church preaching at “revivals” for, at times, healthy sums of money.

I was even more encouraged to hear Bobby offer a praise last night at Church for the fact that over 100 people had signed up and paid money out of their own pocket to be a part of the annual Super Bowl Outreach event run by Sports Fan Outreach International. It’s amazing to see God raise up over 100 men (the vast majority of whom are Calvinists) each year to go into the streets of the city where the Super Bowl is held and preach the Gospel in the open air! It would be nice if some who claim there are no Calvinists Evangelists would go and check out for themselves events like this one.

3 D.R. Randle November 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Steve, I would disagree that Calvinism, in and of itself, helps to foster pride. I think that the Bible is clear that knowledge puffs up. In this day and age when Arminianism is the default view of Christians, one does not come to a view of Calvinism without immersing themselves in the knowledge of the Bible. Thus, they are susceptible to becoming puffed up. I’ve experienced the same thing being around men with Ph.D’s in Theology or other disciplines. It’s just another way Satan attempts to use what is good (knowledge) to tempt those who seek to follow Christ.

As for Calvinism undermining assurance or causing despair…again I would say that such a thing is not inherent to Calvinism itself. I believe it does depend on the individual’s personality and on how they understand Calvinism alongside of other doctrines. Personally, for me, the Doctrines of Grace are reassuring to me in my faith and don’t cause me to despair, but rather remind me of God’s graciousness to me – since there is nothing good within me that would cause God to save me and nothing I could do to tear myself from God’s grip. Since I am His, He has always pursued me, will always keep me, and will definitely bring me safely into His presence one day. Praise God – that’s something to rejoice in!!

Now, that’s not to say that some who are Calvinists don’t despair and don’t worry about their assurance, but it seems to me Steve that you cannot make the objective claim that Calvinism, itself, causes men to despair and undermines assurance, since you can only base that off of subjective data (how some Calvinists feel). And that is no way to make objective truth claims.

4 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm

D.R. Randle,

I think that because Calvinism has a doctrine which states that Christ only died for the elect, people wonder if they are really saved…or not. Then they are told to examine themselves (to look inward) to see if they are really believing enough. Have they done or are they doing enough good works (as proof), do they feel saved? This reliance upon the internal does not bring about assurance. Many will water down the law in their own minds or with the help of preachers, and they actually think that they are doing a fairly good job of the Christian life. There is pride. And then those who are really honest, realize that they so often do not feel saved, or do not have enough faith, or aren’t doing enough works, or many at all. These folks quote often are brought to despair.

I have known a great many Christians (Calvinists and others) who have fallen into those categories as a result of believing that maybe Christ did not die for them after all. Their errant doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ amplifies this in many Calvinists.


5 Les Prouty November 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm


“Then they are told to examine themselves (to look inward) to see if they are really believing enough.”

Here is what scripture actually says on examining ourselves.

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” 2 Cor. 13:5

6 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm


So, do you pass the test? Jesus said that “you must be perfect as our father in Heaven is perfect.”

By examining ourselves, would it not be better to say as the tax collector, “have mercy on me Lord, a sinner”…than to be looking for outward signs of obedience and faithfulness (as so many Christians do)?

And how can you know if you really are believing enough to know that you are one of the elect?

Do you see what I mean?

Calvinism is not helpful along these lines. I know many a Calvinist who have no assurance.

7 Les Prouty November 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm


No I don’t pass the test. Thankfully Jesus stands in my stead. He is my advocate pleading my case (1 John). Yes He said I must be perfect. I’m not. Every day I’m not. And thankfully my standing before God depends not on me and my actions or inactions. In Jesus I am perfect.

And I not often enough say as the tax collector. It’s not either or Steve. It’s both.

“And how can you know if you really are believing enough to know that you are one of the elect?” I will never have perfect faith on earth. Thanks be to God though for Jesus!

Do you see what I mean? No.

Calvinism is not helpful along these lines. I know many a Calvinist who have no assurance. I know many a non-Calvinists who have no assurance. Our anecdotal evidence really matters not.

8 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm

My point, Les, is that none of us passes the test when we look inward. And besides the people that I know who lack assurance of their Christian faith, just using common sense tells us that when you tell folks that “Jesus may have died for you”, and then you tell them to examine themselves for proof that they are His, you will end up with pride or despair. It’s all around.

9 Les Prouty November 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Steve, It’s not just inward where assurance (though that is part as teh Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God). It’s also fruit. This concept is all over the NT brother.

10 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm


There is all manner of law language in the New Testament.

Yes, there WILL be fruits. But quite often we won’t even know what they are. No one can look at a good work (outside of proclaiming Christ) and say that it is…or is not a Christian fruit or good work. The heathen and the Muslim are capable of doing all those works, as well.

So we walk by faith, and not by sight.

11 Les Prouty November 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Steve, we obviously disagree. But please can you tell me what this means? ““Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!”

12 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm

To me, it means ‘are you trusting in the finished work of Christ, or something that you do, say, feel, or think’?

Maybe that why when they asked Jesus “what is it to do the works of the Father?”, Jesus answered them, “this is what it is, believe in the one whom the Father has sent.”

13 Les Prouty November 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Steve, this is not from a Calvinist commentary…IVP NT commentary:

“Paul challenges the Corinthians, in preparation for his visit, to examine [themselves] to see whether [they] are in the faith (v. 5). In the Greek yourselves is placed first for emphasis: “yourselves, examine.” Examine translates a verb that normally means “tempt” (peirazo; 1 Cor 7:5; Gal 6:1; 1 Thess 3:5). But here, as in 1 Corinthians 10:9, it denotes “test.” The Corinthians have put Paul to the test. He has complied (11:16—12:6), and now it is their turn.

The kind of testing Paul envisions is that which proves the worth or genuineness of something (dokimazo; compare 2 Cor 2:9; 8:8, 22; 9:13). In this case it is the Corinthians’ faith that is to be proven. Pistis in this context denotes profession. The Corinthians have professed a belief in Christ, but does their life match their profession? If the life of the congregation is not in conformity with the trutes of the gospel, it negates any claim to standing firm in the faith (1 Cor 16:13). The challenge sounds foreboding. Yet true profession should issue in a life characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22). From all appearances, the Corinthians, on Paul’s return, will be found wanting on virtually every count.”

May I add 2 Peter 1:

“5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Steve, it is not Calvinistic to make sure we are in the faith. It is New Testament. I’m afraid the opposite of what I’m talking about is a perversion of “once saved always saved.” The perversion, all too common I’m afraid, goes like this, “Once professed faith always saved.” That is not assurance. That is fraudulent. It reminds me of a Baptist deacon I ran across years ago in Memphis doing door to door evangelism. EE. We didn’t know he was a Baptist deacon. But when we asked him the 2nd diagnostic question (are you familiar with EE?) he said, “Well, that’s a tough one. I guess I would say He should let me into heaven because…pause…pause…I’m a Baptist deacon and I made a POF when I was 13…pause…and I teach SS. And did I tell you I was a Baptist deacon?”

This man was lost as a ball in high weeds. He had no understanding of the gospel. Grace. Faith. HE needed to have examined his faith and made sure of his election and calling.

14 Steve Martin November 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm

“If you think that you see, then you are blind.” That’s also from the New Testament.

You still haven’t told me how you are sure of your election and how you have proven it.

For me, when I examine myself, I come up with a sinner who has not lived up to expectations. Who is not faithful. Who does not keep the Commandments. Who needs a Savior.

G’nite, Les.

15 Mark November 9, 2012 at 9:29 am

Wow, you guys have some discussion going. I’m sorry I have not been available to keep up. I need to catch up.

16 Lynn Mac September 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm

The purpose of preaching is to save, 1 Cor 1:21.  But if Calvinism is right and God, before the world began, already predetermined who would be saved and who would be lost, then that renders preaching useless voiding the purpose of preaching.

17 Chris Roberts September 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Lynn Mac Evangelism and salvation is one of the things God does with preaching; it is not the purpose of preaching. But either way, as I mentioned to you in another comment, when we evangelism – whether through our preaching or otherwise – the only way it will bear fruit is if God is at work. God must give the growth. I don’t cause them to grow, they don’t cause them to grow, God causes them to grow.

18 Lynn Mac September 9, 2013 at 10:22 pm

@Chris Roberts Lynn Mac
1 Cor 1:21 says the purpose of preaching is salvation.  Rom 10:14,15 one cannot believe what he has not heard and one cannot hear except there be a preacher.  No salvation without faith, no faith with preaching.
So hearing and preaching are a necessary part of salvation and Calvinistic predetermination makes them null and void.
1 Cor 3:6 “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”
No increase given if there is no planting and watering.  So man’s planting and watering (preaching and hearing) brings about God’s increase (salvation).  So preaching and hearing are a necessary part of salvation which Calvinistic predestination voids there purpose and necessity.

19 Marain September 9, 2016 at 10:24 pm

As I understand Calvinism, having read Calvin and various supporters, nothing can happen unless it is the will of God, and God has already ordained everything that ever has and ever will happen. I also understand that at the proper time, the Holy Spirit will regenerate the heart of God’s “chosen”, and the chosen person has no choice but to come to Christ. Therefore, if only God is involved in the process (according to Calvinism), what need is there for evangelism? The whole point to the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is to convey to us God’s love and His plan for our salvation. Calvinism reduces that plan to the level of a Publishers Clearing House lottery. Instead of “For God so loved the world”, the good news is “Congratulations! You may already be a winner!” How do you attract people with the “good news” that they are probably going to Hell and there’s not a thing they can do about it? I have heard the argument that Calvinists evangelize because Jesus commanded it. Now why would Jesus command us to do something that clearly has no effect whatsoever, knowing that it would do nothing to save anyone who wasn’t already slated to be saved? The answer is, He wouldn’t, and Calvinism is a load of hooey. Everywhere I turn in the Bible, Old and New Testaments alike, I see God or one of His prophets calling on mankind to repent. Why would God call on mankind to repent if He knew they were incapable of it (according to Total Depravity)? Or is God some sick, sadistic monster commanding us to do what He knows we can’t do, so that He will have something else to justify burning us in Hell for eternity? I have read Calvin’s statement that nothing has ever happened that was not God’s will, including Adam’s sin in the Garden. That would mean that God willed Adam to sin, therefore He created the sin nature for which we burn in Hell. And according to Calvin, this was done so that God could demonstrate His hatred for sin, “at His good pleasure”, for His own glory. Call it what you want, but burning people to death simply for the glory of a deity amounts to human sacrifice. I am reminded of the pagan god Moloch, whose followers used to burn their children alive for Moloch’s glory. From what I can see, there are only two differences between Moloch and the God of Calvinism: Moloch’s sacrifices were brought to him, and eventually died and their torment was over; whereas the God of Calvinism makes his own sacrifices, and their agony is never done. I thank God I was never subjected to this blasphemous heresy before I decided (yes, I decided) to answer the call of the Holy Spirit and came to Jesus Christ. I am not saved because I am among the elect, I am among the elect because I accepted God’s free gift of salvation.


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