I got an excellent question the other day after we had finished up our Wednesday evening course on the Doctrines of Grace. The gist of the question was something like: “I can see how a Reformed understanding of God’s sovereign work in our salvation should not lead us to neglect evangelism or downplay intercession or stop contending for healing or become complacent about our own walk with God, but isn’t it true that precisely these results are what we have come to expect from churches/people that follow the Reformed faith? And if so, should that precedent temper our enthusiasm in embracing this theology?” We have all probably asked a question like this, or heard it asked, at one time or another. There are three quick points we can consider in formulating our response:
(1) Historically, Calvinism has produced more missions-minded prayer-furnaces than any other system. From Augustine, to John Amos Comenius who founded the group that would go on to be called the “Moravians”, to Wycliffe, to Calvin, Luther and Zwingli in the Protestant Reformation, to Evan Roberts in the Welsh Revival, to Whitefield and Edwards in the First Great Awakening, to David Brainerd and the founding of the modern missions movement with William Carey, a firm belief in the biblical doctrine of predestination and God’s free work in election has acted as fuel for the fires of missions, evangelism, and the effective intercession that must precede and accompany it. So any claim about the effect Calvinism “always” or “never” has should be tempered by a careful review of church history.
(2) At the same time that we should affirm these positive examples, however, it is also appallingly obvious that these same doctrines can be legitimately charged with producing groups who do not worship the Author of their great salvation with a commensurate enthusiasm, who do not work out their salvation with fear and trembling but presume upon the grace of God, and who are not energized by their real (if dependent) responsibility unto evangelism and intercession. What should our response be in this case? Briefly, we must insist that, in spite of what we may see, a belief in biblical truth should never lead one to unbiblical practices. Scripture commands us to do precisely these things (intercession, evangelism, etc) so where they are lacking, especially if we claim our theology has led us to this lack, we must admit that the truth of God has not been allowed to have its intended effect in our lives. At the same time, however, we must not abandon what Scripture teaches is true of God because we see others stumbling in its application. Using the truth of God’s sovereignty as an excuse to indulge our spiritual laziness is not right, but neither is it right on that basis to reject what Scripture reveals about God’s decisive and unconditional work in the salvation of individuals.
(3) This third aspect of my response is concerned with how we should pray when we see groups, like those listed above, who can articulate a robust orthodoxy but fail to engage in a radical orthopraxy. I believe we should pray that God would do again in our day what He did in the days of the Welsh Revival or the Great Awakening. The pre-revival situation in Wales and New England would have prompted the same kinds of questions we started with, because in both cases the people had been storing up Calvinist teaching “on ice”, getting doctrine straight in their heads but not walking out its implications in their lives. What happened, again in both cases, was that the Spirit of God breathed on the icebox orthodoxy in their head and joined it to the passion in their hearts to animate them into an unstoppable, fiery missions force! So that is how I pray when I see people “frozen” by their doctrine…not “stop emphasizing doctrine” but “release the wind of the Spirit to melt the ice around their doctrine and animate them into a passionate people ready to lay down their lives in contending for the faith, in intercession, in evangelism, in missions – unto the ingathering of the Great Harvest!” Would you pray that way with me?