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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

It is often asserted that Calvinism creates a barrier to evangelism and missions. The accusation usually comes in the form of questions. How could those who believe the Scriptures teach predestination and election truly have a heart for missions? If God has determined who shall be saved, why would there be any need to engage in evangelism or missions? And yet, we can safely say that this is an argument lacking historical proof (and theological basis).

It must be acknowledged that Calvinists have not only robustly encouraged, engaged, and propagated missions, but have led some of the great mission’s and evangelistic movements in the history of the church. Even a cursory glance at the history of missions and missionaries produces a hall of fame filled with Calvinists. It could rightly be argued that Calvinism is not only not a barrier to missions and evangelism, but has actually proven to be a spur to missions and evangelism. In fact, it has often been the driving force in missions. This is just a sampling of the history of missions and some notable Calvinists, who have led the way into foreign fields. One doesn’t have to be a thorough going Calvinist to be struck by the impact of Calvinism upon missions.

  • John Calvin: Calvin sent missionaries from Geneva into France and as far away as Brazil. Most of these young men sent to France died a martyr’s death, but the church of Geneva continued to send them.
  • John Eliot: A missionary sent to the American Indians in the 1600’s. He is believed to be the first missionary among this people group. As many have said, if William Carey is the father of the modern mission’s movement, then John Eliot is its grandfather.
  • David Brainerd: A missionary to the American Indians in the 1700’s. Many historians believe that he has sent more individuals into the mission field than any other person in the history of the church via his diary, An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend David Brainerd.
  • Theodorus Frelinghuysen: The great evangelist and preacher, who set the stage for the First Great Awakening in the middle colonies.
  • Jonathan Edwards: The great theologian, writer, and preacher of the First Great Awakening. He was also a missionary to the Indians.
  • George Whitfield: The great voice and preacher of the First Great Awakening. He journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times and scholars believe he preached over 18,000 sermons.
  • William Tennent: He founded the Log College, which later became Princeton University. This college trained pastors and provided many of the revivalist preachers of the First Great Awakening.
  • Samuel Davies: The famous President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), preacher of the First Great Awakening, and evangelist to the slaves of Virginia. It is believed that hundreds of slaves came to saving faith through his evangelism efforts.
  • William Carey: He is the famous missionary to India and is considered the father of the modern mission’s movement.
  • Robert Moffat: The first missionary to reach the interior of Africa with the Gospel. He translated the entire Bible and Pilgrim’s Progess into Setswana.
  • David Livingstone: Arguably, the most famous missionary to the continent of Africa.
  • Robert Morrison: The first Protestant missionary to China and the first to translate the Bible into Chinese.
  • Peter Parker: An American physician and missionary to China who first introduced Western medical techniques to the Chinese. He also served as the president of the Medical Missionary Society of China.
  • Adoniram Judson: The famous missionary to Burma, translated the Bible into Burmese, and established multiple Baptist Churches in Burma. His mission work led many to enter the mission field and was foundational for forming the first Baptist association in America.
  • Charles Simeon: The vicar of Holy Trinity Church and the founding figure of the Church Missionary Society. This organization was instrumental in leading many students to the mission field. The Society itself has sent more than 9,000 missionaries into the world.
  • Henry Martyn: The renowned missionary to India and Persia. He preached in the face of opposition and translated the New Testament into a number of languages.
  • Samuel Zwemer: He is affectionately known as “The Apostle to Islam.” His legacy includes efforts in Bahrain, Arabia, Egypt, and Asia Minor. His writing was used by the Lord to encourage and mobilize an entire generation of missionaries to labor in Islamic countries.
  • John Stott: Scholar, preacher, pastor, and evangelist of the twentieth century. He was one of the principle authors and the influential leader in establishing the Lausanne Covenant, which promoted world-wide evangelism.
  • Francis Schaeffer: Pastor and found of L’Abri, which has been used by the Lord to draw many to saving faith as they intellectually wrestled with the tenants of Christianity.
  • D. James Kennedy: The founder of Evangelism Explosion, which many believe is the most widely used evangelistic training curriculum in church history.
  • John Piper: Pastor, writer, and theologian, who has been used by the Lord to define missions and send many young people into the mission field.

Does Calvinism kill missions? The evidence suggests something wholly other. This is just a small sampling of some of the influential Calvinist missionaries and mission’s leaders in the history of the church. Biblical Calvinists understand that God uses means to call His elect to salvation. Therefore, we don’t shy away from missions or evangelism. As history shows, Calvinism actually encourages missions and evangelism. In fact, many of the greatest missionaries and leaders in missions throughout the history of the church have been Calvinists.

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32 thoughts on “Does Calvinism Kill Missions?”

  1. Mark Criss says:

    As the Apostle Paul explained, he is “not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power [dunamis] of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). This is clearly part of the drive for those with a reformed view of salvation. Who does not want to be part of God’s power and purpose of regeneration? Who does not want to witness a divine act of conversion for the lost soul that was, minutes prior, an enemy of God? What a glorious act and a wonder of wonders! What an honor and privledge it is to share this gospel and witness the power of God.

    The divine act of freeing a man from the bondage of sin to become a slave to Righteousness never grows old. And, yet, God’s design is to work through weak vessels, as ourselves, to proclaim this divinely enabled Good News. Again, a wonder of wonders…yet glorious indeed! This, I suspect, is why so many “Calvinists” live a life of evangelism and service…a yearning to witness the power of God.

    To God be the Glory, Mark.

  2. Mike Mobley says:

    Great post Jason! Thanks for writing it!

  3. Lou G. says:

    I agree 100% with this post. However, if you spend some time reading blogs of some Calvinists today, there is a subset within our camp who seem adverse to the idea of evangelism, outreach and mission in our local communities, outside of the formal Church.

    This has always perplexed me, but interestingly, the ones I’m aware of actually do support their position partly using the doctrine of predestination/election, but the position is also a mixed bag of other misunderstandings.

    For instance, there is a misunderstanding of the calling of preaching. A few (example would be D. Hart) claim that evangelism is primarily a function of preaching, which is limited to those ordained to the pulpit ministry in the local church. They decry ministries that emphasize outreach and especially most types of paraministry. The idea is that God will bring lost souls to the Church and its sacraments, if He wants them saved.

    Obviously, I disagree with that line of thinking, but we do need to know that it is out there more than than we think and it does influence significantly how reformed people nowadays think about the Church’s mission.

  4. Tim Shaw says:

    This post’s timing was perfect. I am preaching through Acts and this week I’m in Acts 13 where Luke records in vs. 48, “As many had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The context of that statement is Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. Their view of God’s sovereignty in salvation obviously had no effect on their mission work. God appoints those to be saved and then he is gracious enough to let his servants join in the harvest. J.M. Boice makes a passing comment that almost all of the missionary pioneers believed in election. I’m printing this list to gives names to that comment. Thanks for sharing Jason.

  5. Mark Tubbs says:

    John Benton’s little Banner of Truth booklet entitled “Evangelistic Calvinism” is a helpful adjunct to Kevin’s post.

  6. Mark Tubbs says:

    Er, I mean Jason’s post. Silly me.

  7. Calvinism does not necessarily kill missions. This delusion is refutable from history. Point well taken. It certainly doesn’t kill evangelism in my life and ministry – it fuels it.

    Lack of love can really kill missions/evangelism. Unfortunately, this failing strikes the hearts of both Calvinist and Arminian brothers and sisters.

  8. Clark says:

    I have a problem with this article, please hear me out. It begins by posing the question: Doesn’t Calvinism somewhat curb the desire to engage in missions? But instead of answering that question from a Biblical perspective, it instead lists several Calvinistic evangelists who did missions work anyway. It doesn’t actually answer the question you opened the article with. If the original question had been: “Do Calvinists actually do missions work?” then the article would have accomplished it’s purpose, but that’s not the question it asked in the headline.

    I would have been happy with an answer as simple as: we should engage in missions because God told us to.

    Yes, it must be acknowledged that many Calvinists have done hands-on evangelistic work overseas- thank God for them!- but it must also be acknowledged that Calvinistic theology has killed some peoples’ drive to do missions.

    The question posed at the beginning of the article is something I’ve wondered about A LOT, and I’d really like to see a clear answer on it from you guys.

  9. Mark Criss says:

    Brother Clark…I thought, perhaps, I have partially addressed your concern on the question; “How could those who believe the Scriptures teach predestination and election truly have a heart for missions?” Please take a look at my prior response to the glory of God as a motivating purpose. Not the only motivation, although sufficient in itself, is why I am in the ministry of rescue at the City Rescue Mission of Lansing. Too see God glorified in bringing the lost to Himself, redeemed by the sharing of the Gospel. Your Calvinistic Brother, Mark.

  10. Based on my own experience, I would say it does kill missions. In my church the Calvinists (especially the 5-pointers who delve deeply into theology) are always the ones who scoff at missions, refuse to take part in evangelism, and throw a wet blanket onto those considering a mission calling.

  11. Derek says:

    The issue that non-Calvinist run into is: Though God elected some to be saved, God also ordained that the saved preach the gospel. We must be faithful to preaching the gospel as Paul says in Romans 10

  12. Lou G says:

    But, Derek, if you read my previous comment, you’ll see that Romans 10 doesn’t actually seal it for many of today’s Calvinist thinkers. Some claim to be faithful to the preaching of the gospel, but do not participate in any kind of outreach outside the formal church. They tend to spurn attempts at lay members “preaching the gospel”/evangelism – especially if paraministry is involved. It can be quite problematic.

  13. Derek says:

    Lou G, point taken. My question is, is that the “majority” or the “minority”? Many non-Calvinist are in the same boat. We all fall short, we all can become set and apathetic towards missions/outreach.

  14. Labels can be helpful, and I am by no means hostile to theological reflection, inquiry and study, but do we have to keep defending Calvinism? Are we drawing lines too sharply, where the Bible does not draw them? Do we have to so strongly identify with a theological “system” that the systematization seems to be more important than the biblical theology?
    In reading Ephesians just this morning, yet another passage that talks about our role as witnesses to God’s truth – feet that are shod and ready to share the Gospel of peace. The Bible never lets one get far from that role.
    I believe it is the indwelling Holy Spirit that nudges, urges and pushes us on towards cross-cultural witness, regardless of our theological systems.

  15. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for posting this. I appreciate all that you have written. Lately I have struggled with being “fatalistic” towards evangelism, etc. b/c of what you just wrote – predestination and election. This has helped clarify things for me esp your line about God using us to bring the elect to salvation. Blessings.

  16. Timothy Verner says:

    Not to mention the Puritans. See the “Puritan Hope” by Ian Murray

  17. Kenny says:

    I really enjoyed this, but I wish you would have covered more of the theological reasons why missions matter. Thanks.

  18. Darius says:

    Totally anecdotal, and my experience is quite narrow – but as a missionary who works among an unreached people group, I would say more than 90% of the missionaries who work among this same people group are Calvinists. Again, not a scientific study, and it’s just my narrow experience…

  19. Glenn Davis says:

    First of all, I am sympathetic to Reformed thought, but did not consider myself a Calvinist. Second, John Stott was by no means in agreement with classic five points of Calvinism. I have read a good bit of Stott’s work and I would take him off the list. Francis Schaeffer is someone I deeply admire, but it could be said that his evangelistic zeal was birthed in him more by the thought of the Keswick-minded China Inland Mission than developed directly from Reformed teaching. Third, it is true that these classic forebearers were Calvinist, however, many of them held to an Evangelical Calvinism that is being lost by some in the present-day young, restless, and Reformed movement. In my view, the Evangelical Calvinism of Edwards/Whitefield is not the same as the Dort/Westminster creedal Calvinism that is being revived today. Many of these churches would accuse the missions-minded of not being Reformed enough. Fourth, my Calvinist friends in seminary tended to intellectualize Calvinism and be more concerned with purity of doctrine than with the need to reach lost souls. Last, the issue is not whether Calvinists in the past were evangelistic, but is the movement NOW sufficiency missionally- minded? Or, is the young, restless, and Reformed movement already becoming theologically ingrown?

  20. Jenny says:

    You might have shown that ardent Calvinists in the past were also passionate missionaries. However, the question remains: Were they theologically consistent?

  21. Ryan says:

    I too have written on a similar topic recently. My post dealt with divine election as motivation in evangelism. John 10:16 seems to say mission of Christians is to preach the gospel so God’s lost sheep can hear His voice. Christian missions is the gathering of the scattered lost sheep of God by the sharing of the gospel.

  22. Lily says:

    Great so they did missions…well as far as Africa is concerned Calvinism certainly did its part in helping racism/colonialism along. So yeah I guess they went places, but my what fruit…

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