Thursday, June 19, 2008

If God is sovereign, why _________ ?

Last night, Brian Burgess, our Minister of Outreach, taught part two of his two-part series on "Things God Never Said About Evangelism." He did an outstanding job and I encourage you to listen to his remarks from both messages. In last night's Equipping University, one of the things God never said is "Since I am sovereign, I don't need your help in evangelism."

When Brian and I discussed this over lunch prior to the class, I told him that no true believer is really going to think God ever said such a thing. A hyper-Calvinist will believe that ridiculous statement but Hyper-calvinism is not Christian. A hyper-Calvinist is not a Calvinist who really believes the doctrines of Calvinism and don't let anyone tell you different (no matter how many degrees he has or what position he holds in a seminary). Now, back to the subject at hand...

However, believers will fall into different categories as to WHY they think God would never utter that sentence. Some would say that God is sovereign but has freely "given up" (not the best choice of words) part of that sovereignty to ensure that man engages with Him of man's own libertarian free will. I, on the other hand, would reject that sentence because God is sovereign and gives up none of it and yet that same sovereignty in no way interferes with man's responsibility for his sins. This is called compatibilism. God is sovereign in all of salvation, man is responsible, and Christians are to witness and pray.

Non-Calvinists will immediately ask me, "But why? If God is sovereign and He alone chooses who gets saved, then why witness? Does it really change anything if the end result is already decided in God's mind?"

Compatibilism teaches that God's sovereignty is compatible with man's will and responsibility (not at odds or contradictory to either). The primary texts used to buttress this theological position is Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 10; and Acts 4:27-28. But I thought of another Old Testament example that I think makes a good point. In fact, the same type of event occurs over and over in the Old Testament (see Joshua 1:3, Joshua 6:2, Joshua 10:8 and more). Here's just one example.

In the opening verses of Judges, Joshua has died and the people were worried about the plan to conquer Canaan without their faithful and courageous general. Read the following:
After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, "Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?" The LORD said, "Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand" (Judges 1:1-2)
The Lord chose Judah to fight and then told the Israelites that the battle was already won. God had already decided to give the land to Judah and it was going to happen just as God said (unless you want to open a can of worms and say God could be incorrect or ignorant of future events).

However, what if the tribe of Judah responded to these words for YHWH and said, "Whew, what a relief. The battle is already won. The land is ours. We can just stay here. We don't even have to fight. Thanks God, for winning the battle for us"? What would have been the outcome of that type of response. Well, we will never know because God ordained the ends (victory) as well as the means to achieve victory (Judah's ability to fight). We read later in the same chapter that
Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites (Judges 1:4-5).
One thing is for sure: the people of Israel were not sloppy theologians. They did not think that just because God has ordained/predestined a very real future that they had no part in that future. The same thing holds true for evangelism. God has promised us that His word will not return void. God has promised us that when His sheep hear His voice, they will come to Him. God has told us that He has chosen men and women from every nation on earth. That does not negate the need to witness, that gives power and confidence in the very task of witnessing! We cannot fail when we are obedient to witness. Our positive proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ will either serve as a just cause of the unbeliever's righteous condemnation or as the tool used by God to draw people to Himself.

That is why I - a Calvinist - evangelize.

1 comment:

Jim Pemberton said...

I have to consider that the fact that every other line that teaches grace is laced with admonishments to obedience, not that obedience saves, but that forgiveness through grace makes no sense if we were not once responsible for each sin.