Dort and Evangelism

I had occasion last night to read through parts of the Cannons of Dort for a Bible study class at my church. The Cannons of Dort were written by the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. They lay out the system of doctrine that has been known as ‘Five-point Calvinism’ ever since.

We are doing the Amazing Grace study, and one of the sections is Calvinism vs. Arminianism, which concentrates on the Synod of Dort (see here, here and here for information on this synod). I was once again struck by the way in which Dort defined the issues.

One of the bitterest criticisms of Five-point Calvinism that has been leveled has been the idea that it undermines evangelism. I find this criticism hard to justify in view of these statements:

Cannons of the Synod of Dort:

The First Main Point of Doctrine, Article 3: The Preaching of the Gospel

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

The Second Main Point of Doctrine, Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

God sends messengers to share the gospel, and we should be involved in that endeavor (Matthew 28:16-20). This gospel is to be shared to all without playing favorites or looking for the work of the Spirit in their hearts. Dort would have us to know that God regenerates the heart through the Word of God, through means.

The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration

Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul...

Does Dort answer all of our questions? No, and they admit as much. But their statements should at least leave us with a question of our own.

Why do some insist that Calvinism stifles evangelism?

It cannot be from the statements or actions of Calvinists themselves (excluding the hyper-Calvinists). We have held the central role of evangelism since Calvin himself. A look at church history and the work of George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, William Cary and the like gives lie to the notion. And think of the work of modern Calvinists like John Piper and D. James Kennedy.

I, for one, would like to hear the case against Calvinists’ evangelism laid out carefully and critically in their own words. Do not tell me what the system supposedly requires. Tell me what the Calvinists have actually said or did.

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