Election Empowers Evangelism- Mark Dever on God’s Sovereignty and Soul-Winning

June 19, 2009

I love unconditional election.  I love evangelism.  At this point, I have now confused about 80% of Southern Baptists.  Thanks to the years of ignorance taught through sermons by revered Southern Baptist leaders most of the SBC pew sitters only know of election (no need of calling it unconditional since conditional election is clearly not what Scripture teaches) as ‘that doctrine that says we can’t do anything.’  Honestly, I have trouble finding Southern Baptist’s who both (1) disagree with election, and (2) know what the doctrine of unconditional election says in accord with the whole of Calvinist soteriology– and that is a problem.  (Note: see here for Grudem’s handling of the misunderstandings.)

With this in mind, I want to turn to a quote from Mark Dever in his excellent book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism to deal with the question, Are a zeal for election and a zeal for evangelism mutually exclusive?

Have you heard it said that the doctrine of God’s choosing some for salvation (the doctrine of election) undercuts evangelism?  It didn’t in Paul’s life.  As he . . . wrote to Timothy, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2.10).  Romans 10 contains Paul’s clearest and most impassioned plea for Christians to send out people to preach the gospel because it is the only way people are saved; but this impassioned plea comes after what many consider Paul’s plainest teaching about the doctrine of election in Romans 9.  He didn’t see any inconsistency that a sovereign God is also a saving God.

Somehow, Paul found the doctrine of God’s sovereignty an encouragement in his evangelism.  Do we need to recover this confidence in a day of increasing opposition to the public preaching of the gospel?  I think we do.  I fear that much of today’s evangelism will soon end.  As evangelism becomes more and more unpopular, I fear that some Christians will simply dilute it, water it down, alter it, or even stop sharing the good news altogether.  I think a better understanding of the Bible’s teaching on God’s election would help them.  I think it would give them confidence and joy in their evangelism. (pp.104-105)

Interesting.  He calls the doctrine of election a thing which can give “confidence” to our evangelism.  What could that ever mean?  Well, elsewhere Dever notes how when Paul was in Corinth, he became so frustrated in his gospel preaching with some who “opposed and reviled him” to the point that he “shook out his garments” and left them (Acts 18.6).  However, that night the Lord came to Paul in a dream and said to him,

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv.9-10)

This in turn encouraged Paul and empowered him to spend the next 18 months sharing the gospel message with the Corinthians (v.11).

Yep, the knowledge that God had elected “many in [Corinth as his] people” really sent Paul packing didn’t it?  He just threw up his hands and said, “Well, if God’s chosen them then there’s no need for me to preach,” didn’t he?  No!  This charged him.  He knew that God had chosen people to be saved and that he would be faithful to save them through the preaching of his word.  Paul understood that this meant, regardless of the opposition, God had fruit that he was going to bring forth.

In fact, without an understanding of election, there is no confidence!  If it’s all on you then there is no hope that your preaching is not in vain.  How could there be?  If God cannot awaken men’s hearts to repentance and faith, if it is solely up to them to choose faith in Christ, then nothing is guaranteed and all of your labor in the fields of evangelism might be useless.  It is only this promise that God already “[has] many . . . who are [his] people” and that he is powerful enough to “[cause them] to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3) that we can have any hope whatsoever in our evangelism!