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The short answer (to the title of this post) is: it shouldn’t. In fact, Calvinism, properly conceived, is a great motivator to share the good news of salvation with the lost. But I understand it doesn’t seem like that at first blush.

“If God is decisive in salvation, then why bother presenting the gospel?  I mean, if they're elect they will come to Jesus somehow, with or without me. And if they aren't elect why bother in the first place?”

This objection makes some logical sense, but it is not biblical logic.  The Bible has no problem joining the absolute sovereignty of God with a zeal for evangelism.  For example, in Romans 9, where Paul declares "God will have compassion on whom he has compassion and harden whom he hardens," Paul first says in verse 1: "I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit–that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh."    He believed in election and his heart broke for the lost.

Same thing in Romans 10: "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved."  Wait a minute, is this the same Paul who quoted "Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated?"  Of course it is. Paul was passionate about God's right to choose whomever he wishes and he was also passionate about winning the lost.

In fact, election helps spur on faithful mission and evangelism.  That's not to say that Calvinists haven't misused election in the past to excuse inactivity, but that's not what election did for Paul.  When Paul was in Corinth and had it up to here with those rascals and was ready to get out of Dodge, do you know what kept him there?  Acts 18:9-11 says, "The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’  So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."  A strong belief in God's sovereignty is what will keep a missionary on the field when there seems to be no harvest.  As Paul said to Timothy, "I endure everything for the sake of the elect" (2 Tim. 2:10).

God can work without means, or contrary to means, but he usually works through means; which means…he uses us.  If you get in a bad car accident, God could save you by angelic intervention, or he could save you by a miracle when you should have been dead, but he can also save you with your seat belt.  God uses means to achieve his purposes, and evangelism (and prayer for that matter) is one of those means.

God ordained proclamation to accomplish his purposes.  We share the gospel out of joyful obedience, and in hope that the God who appoints the end also ordains the means. Someone asked Spurgeon once, “Why do you preach if you believe in election?”  His response: “Because the elect don't have yellow stripes down their back.”  In other words, we don't whom the elect are, so we declare the gospel without discrimination, trusting that the sheep will recognize the master's voice.

Actually, the only evangelistic hope we really have in a hard-hearted, disobedient world is that the Lord has elect sheep out there, wandering though they now may be, who will hear his voice when we open our mouths to speak on behalf of the Good Shepherd.

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28 thoughts on “Does Calvinism Discourage Evangelism?”

  1. waynedawg says:

    “If God is decisive in salvation, then why bother presenting the gospel? I mean, if they’re elect they will come to Jesus somehow, with or without me. And if they aren’t elect why bother in the first place?”

    Is this what a hyper-C would say?

    First off, we are told to go. Go into all nations and preach the gospel to every creature.

    Secondly, and you answer it at the end of the post with a Spurgeon quote, we simply do no know who the elect are.

    I have my own fishing team where we go out on the streets and proclaim the full gospel to all we meet. We trust that God, through the proclamation ofthe gospel, will call whom He wills; and He gets all the glory for it.

    Good post.

  2. Reg Schofield says:

    I will tell you straight up that those within my home church that hold to the the five sola’s and hold to the classic TULIP formation of Calvinism , have the most evangelistic zeal I have ever seen. They are in no way hindered but have a heart to spread the gospel.
    Calvinism should be in no way a stop evangelism . If one says it does then they do not understand what the Calvin taught .

  3. david carlson says:

    Should it? No
    Does it? No

    What does discourage evangelism is individuals who, lets be honest, like their theology more than the plain language of the bible. That is not Calvinism

  4. Lane Keister says:

    Hey, Kevin, good post. One thing that has struck me is that Arminian evangelism often has to rely on gimmicks, since the conversion is dependent on the skill of the orator. Hence, Finney’s “anxious bench” syndrome. Instead of a simple reliance on the means of grace in their pure and simple form, we see fad after fad after fad with the latest method for bringing the people in.

    Speaking of the means of grace, I put in a plug for your recent commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism over on my blog, along with an alert for some of the other great things you’re involved with:

  5. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Thanks Lane! I hope we can meet face to face sometime. As for the first question, my hypothetical question was supposed to be from an Arminian critic.

  6. TJ says:

    Should it? No.
    Does it? Sometimes. I often hear Calvinists (of the good, godly kind) speak of evangelism in the terms well written of here. They believe in ‘means’ and ‘instrumentation’, and they heartily concur with your essence, Kevin. So in tandem we should also ask for the practicum: “Are you purposefully, actively engaging the unbelieving community?” Does your Calvinistic orientation actuate real-time evangelism?


  7. Thanks, Kevin, for serving so many of us through your breakout session. And thanks for the autographed baseball. :)

  8. Dave Jenkins says:


    Thank you for your blog and ministry. I come here often to your blog to read and challenged.

    Kevin said, “Actually, the only evangelistic hope we really have in a hard-hearted, disobedient world is that the Lord has elect sheep out there, wandering though they now may be, who will hear his voice when we open our mouths to speak on behalf of the Good Shepherd.”

    The other way to say this is Calvinism (not just the five points or five solas) places the Gospel in its proper context that is it is not just man’s decision to come to Christ (which robs God of glory) but that it is God who did the work in His death, burial and resurrection, and now calls His elect people to Himself through the preaching of the Gospel for His glory. The preaching of God’s Gospel done in God’s power brings God glory. That Gospel is the only Gospel that really saves- all others are false Gospels. Keep up the great work Kevin, God bless you.

  9. Blaine Moore says:

    Understood properly, I think Calvinism should fire up evangelistic zeal, because there is such a strong emphasis on the Gospel. And when the Gospel is emphasized, there is joy in the heart of the believer and fervor to make that message known! :)

  10. Mike R says:

    Good stuff! I remember in my pre-Reformed days, the pastor of the Arminian church I was at said of unbelievers: “If you don’t reach these people, they might not be reached!” He meant that as an encouragement to evangelize, but I don’t know how that kind of thinking could do anything but fill you with horror. The idea that the eternal destiny of your friends and family is riding on your ability to present the gospel convincingly is certainly not an easy yoke or a light burden. What a blessing Calvinism is for evangelism! All we need to worry about is presenting the Gospel faithfully, the results are in the Holy Spirit’s hands.

  11. Ken Pierce says:


    Great thoughts as always.

    Awesome breakout at T4G –still processing.

    Didn’t get a chance to speak then.

    See you @ Integrity in a few weeks!

    Ken Pierce
    Trinity PCA
    Jackson MS

  12. Skeeter says:

    83 Q. What are the Keys of the Kingdom?

    A. The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance.

    Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.

    84 Q. How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?

    A. According to the command of Christ:

    The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in TRUE Faith, God, because of what has done, truly forgives all sin.

    The Kingdom of God is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them.

    God’s judgment, both in this life and the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.

    –The Heidelberg Catechism

  13. Malin Friess says:

    My heart is encouraged in your sincere defense for a zeal for evangelism.
    My soul is pleased in your emphasis in a brokenness for the lost.
    But my mind still leans towards a God who created us with strong sense of freedom and spurs us on in evangelism through His grace not to those who may be already determined elect, or unelect….but to those that don’t know Him and desperately need to know of His love.

  14. Bill says:

    Kevin, Interesting post. Do you believe that Paul’s heart was in anguish for the non-elect? Did he wish for something that God did not want?

  15. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Paul’s longed for his brethren to be saved. He did not know which were elect and which were not. His hope was that many would come to Christ. Grace and peace.

  16. Tom says:

    I understand that people rest in Calvinism to escape guilt-based evangelism (which I agree is very good) but if you assume that God ordains all things and holds people accountable for actions that He ordains them to do, how can you know that God hasn’t ordained the reprobation of someone through your failure to preach the gospel, thus making you responsible for their condemnation?

    I agree that guilt-based or gimmicky evangelism is wrong, but I don’t see right now how strict Calvinism can be the antidote.

  17. Tom says:

    I should say guilt-motivated to be clearer. People hearing the gospel should certainly be aware of their own guilt before God!

  18. Hannes says:

    The entire Calvin / Arminius debate, whether on evangelism or anything else, is fairly tired. I also live in a country (South Africa) where the concept of election, taken to the extreme, caused more hurt and hatred than you can imagine. Love God and desire all people to hear and respond to His gospel. We do not need to add Calvin or Arminius to this.

  19. DLE says:

    Several thoughts:

    @ Lane K. – The shibboleth that Arminians are showmen and Calvinists aren’t is old and busted. George Whitefield was soundly criticized in his day by fellow preachers for his marketing techniques and his flowery, emotional oratory. In fact, one could make a solid case that it was Whitefield’s tinkering with the Gospel presentation that gave us the modern revival movement in the form that modern Calvinists so soundly criticize. Even Spurgeon drew criticism in his day for being showy.

    @ Mike R. – Your criticism of Arminians for feeling some compulsion to acknowledge that unless they go people will not hear, doesn’t jive with Scripture: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” —Romans 10:14-15

  20. DLE says:

    Concluding the thoughts I started above:

    @ Kevin D. – The question of evangelism in contemporary Calvinism is a good one. Thank you for raising it.

    I would contend, though, that there is a greater issue here that is seldom discussed.

    I’ve been in Calvinist churches for many years and in Arminian churches, too. What continues to strike me about the Calvinist churches is the lack of faces belonging to people of color or to the underprivileged.

    The Calvinist churches I have known have often been in neighborhoods of great diversity, yet the pews of those churches are filled with upper middle class or wealthy white people. Little of the surrounding neighborhood is reflected in the people in the seats of those churches.

    We cannot talk about Calvinist evangelism without asking why this is. What is it about the way Calvinists evangelize that leads to this outcome? Does not the Holy Spirit draw people of color and the poor, too? Why then are evangelistic outcomes by Calvinists so lopsided? And why does it appear that the poor and the people of color prefer the Gospel as presented by Arminians to that of Calvinists? Pentecostalism predominates in the developing world, not any of the denominations that ascribe to Calvinism.

    We cannot talk about this issue of Calvinism and evangelism without discussing this issue. It’s a big one. And I don’t hear anyone in Calvinism talking about it.

  21. Mike R says:

    @ DLE – My experience has been exactly the opposite. The Arminian churches I’ve seen have been full of white Yuppies, while the Reformed churches I’ve been in have been extremely diverse. Which goes to show that with anecdotal evidence you can prove anything, so making sweeping generalizations on the basis of anecdotal evidence is rather absurd.

    As for your comments on Romans 10, you’ve missed my point. Calvinists and Arminians agree that preaching the Gospel is essential. With Arminianism, though, whether someone *responds* to the Gospel might depend on how convincingly it was presented, which is a burden Scripture does not lay on us.

  22. DLE says:

    @ Mike R – It is not anecdotal evidence that in the developing world Calvinism has essentially lost to Pentecostalism most of the ground it once had, and that it is the Pentecostal flavor of the Gospel message that is being responded to, not Calvinism’s. (This well-documented reality would tend to bolster my “anecdotal” evidence about the racial representation in American Calvinist churches, though I have not seen specific breakdown’s in demographics among all Calvinist churches, as Calvinism is not limited to one specific denomination.)

    As to the comment about Arminian presentation skill being the overriding factor, you must not have read my response to Lane K. about George Whitefield. Really, the “argument from skillful presentation” is a dead horse unless one has keener insights into the moving of the Spirit and knows implicitly exactly what the Spirit is doing at all times in the lives of people He is transforming.

    Let’s also be honest here: If the cake is dry, no amount of tasty icing will change that reality. Likewise, if the cake is moist and wonderful, tastier icing will only make the eating of the cake all the more special.

  23. Kris says:

    Kevin, I know this is an older post, but regarding Calvinism, my friend brought up a good question tonight that stumped me. If we are chosen by God and cannot resist his call according to Irresistible Grace, how do we account for receiving rewards in Heaven if it was all by the power of the Holy Spirit? I guess it goes along the lines of, ‘if our receiving of the Spirit’s grace is irresistible, how free are we to still sin?’ Just struggling with how free is free will I suppose.

  24. Karine Ratsep says:

    great points altogether, you just received a new reader. What could you suggest in regards to your publish that you made some days ago? Any sure?

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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