L, I, and Evangelism
The Doctrines of Grace, commonly called Calvinism, are commonly explained with the acrostic TULIP, standing for:
Perseverance of the saints.
Evangelicals who raise objections to these doctrines most commonly place special scrutiny upon the "L" and "I" of TULIP. Some argue that if the atonement is limited, and if grace is irresistible, then the basis for why Christians should evangelize is undercut. They argue that belief in a universal atonement and a resistible grace more properly motivate evangelism.
Considered more carefully, it becomes apparent that belief in a universal atonement and a resistible grace inescapably lead to contradictions which undermine Christians' evangelistic impulses.
L and Evangelism
Regarding the idea of a universal atonement along with the reality that (largely by means of Christians failing to take the Great Commission as seriously as we ought) many people never hear the gospel, Daniel Strange points out:
[I]n the category of the unevangelized, proponents of universal atonement are caught between a Scylla and Charybdis with no apparent path through which to navigate. On the one hand, if they accept fides ax auditu, that people can be saved only through hearing of Christ from a gospel messenger, then their definition of ‘universal’ atonement is called into question, especially if they wish to hold to its objective character. On the other hand, if they accept that all people must have the opportunity to respond to what Christ has done because of his objective universal atonement, then they must deny that it is only through the medium of the proclamation of the gospel by human messengers that salvation comes, and approve some other theory of universal accessibility, theories which seem to counter the biblical testimony and which lead to some problematic theological and pastoral conclusions for evangelicals. Faced with these uncomfortable alternatives, I would encourage them [that is, evangelical proponents of universal atonement] to look once again at the doctrine of definite atonement, which I do not believe entails these dilemmas. [Daniel Strange, “Slain for the World?” From Heaven He Came and Sought Her (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 600.]Strange raises the question of what-if anything-a universal atonement means given the readily demonstrable fact that there is not universal accessibility to gospel proclamation. Strange argues that the logic which leads a person to hold to a universal atonement would also inexorably draw that person to hold to an idea of universal accessibility. Since there are areas in which people are dying, yet there is no gospel witness, then either (at least experientially) the atonement is limited by God's providence (at least) in some way, or there must be a mechanism other than gospel witness by which people may be saved. It should thus be apparent that this idea of universal atonement undermines evangelism. Conversely, the doctrine of Limited atonement is consistent with the limited way in which God has ordained that people must be saved: through faith, which comes through hearing the message of Christ (Rom 10:17).
I and Evangelism
Regarding the idea that grace is resistible-along with the reality that all Christians have a God-given concern for their lost family, friends, and acquaintances, and they are prompted by the Holy Spirit (at least on occasion) to pray for their salvation-we must raise the question: how does a consistent proponent of resistible grace pray for God to bring salvation to others?
For if God is drawing all men to Himself equally, as some proponents of resistible grace would claim, then what is the use of praying for their salvation? God is already doing ALL HE CAN to save them, and it is up to their 'free-will' to either seal the deal or resist His grace. If this is not the case-if there are some men that God chooses not to draw to Himself-then proponents of resistible grace have a doctrine of irresistible reprobation that they must deal with as well. Except, instead of God choosing to irresistibly save some and leave others in their sin, the doctrine of resistible grace (if God does not draw all men equally) would have God granting some men the chance for salvation, which chance they must either resist or cooperate with by a free act of their will, while He also leaves some men without a chance, or at least with a greatly reduced chance at salvation.
And what if God is drawing some men to Himself with more fervor than others? If He does not make His grace irresistible for His elect, does He at least push against some sinners' resistance with significant force? And can those on whom He is exerting less energy still be saved? If this is the case, then it seems as if those who persevere to come to God with less "drawing"-those for whom He does less to overcome their resistance-would be given greater esteem for advancing toward God with less help. Can those whom He is not drawing still freely choose Him? If this is the case, then Pelagius (the heretic that said that God’s grace is a help to salvation, but not necessary for salvation) is vindicated indeed.
Yet all Christians know that God alone is given all glory for our salvation. We know this because of the Spirit-given conviction of our sinfulness that we have felt in reaching the humiliation by which we initially cried out to God for salvation, in a moment when we felt that His grace was irresistibly desirable. We know this because of the way in which we pray for the salvation of others.
The idea of resistible grace undermines evangelistic prayers, whereas Irresistible grace is consistent with truly evangelistic prayers. We do not pray, "God, please give my friend or family member a chance at salvation: a chance which he or she must either cooperate with or resist." Instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we boldly approach the throne of grace and cry out, "God, save my friend; save my family member! Take out his heart of stone; grant him a heart of flesh, that his love for sin and hatred for You would be miraculously transformed into a hatred of sin and a love for You!"
Conclusion: The Doctrines of Grace Matter
Theology matters. The Doctrines of Grace, even the most controversial of these doctrines, matter. Denying Limited atonement, accepting-instead-universal atonement, leads to inclusivism or universalism instead of safeguarding the exclusive nature of the gospel: that people must hear the message of Christ proclaimed in order to be saved. Denying Irresistible grace, accepting-instead resistible grace, leads to weak, ineffectual prayers to a resistible Holy Spirit, rather than to the One who is truly sovereign over salvation.