motive for mission: love

About a week ago, someone retweeted a quote by Kevin DeYoung, a Reformed pastor, author, and blogger at (sigh) The Gospel Coalition into my timeline. He said:

The sovereignty of God and the mystery of election is the great motivation for missions and evangelism

I just got back from spending a weekend with my Confirmation students on their annual retreat. The theme of this retreat is always evangelism. We talk about the Story of God and His people, Israel, the Story of Jesus, the students’ own personal stories, and we learn how we can effectively share this Story with others. In this entire weekend, focused on missions and evangelism, do you know how many times I mentioned the “sovereignty of God” and “the mystery of election”? Zero. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong. But I don’t think I am.

You see, if I was to truly hold to a Calvinist perspective on God’s sovereignty (that He decides and renders certain all that happens) and election (that God predetermines some individuals for salvation and other individuals for damnation) then I don’t think I would be motivated to evangelize at all. People are either The Elect or they are The Reprobate. Evangelism, in this framework, seems more like playing roulette than anything else (“Five hundred bucks on elect!”). I don’t know who is elect, you don’t know who is elect, so anytime you share God’s word with someone, you are rolling the dice that God has elected them to salvation. If someone is elect, God will save them no matter what I do. If they are not, then they will be damned no matter what I do. If God’s sovereignty and election are what was supposed to motivate me to evangelize, then I probably wouldn’t. 

And why not? There is too much dissonance between motive/belief and behavior for my comfort. My actions in evangelism would to some extent betray what I believe about how salvation works. 

So, while I didn’t talk much about sovereignty or election on my retreat, I did talk quite a bit about something else: love. Love is our motivation for missions. Love for God as revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ. Love for our neighbor, who is missing out on the whole point of existence by not being in a relationship with the Creator. Love is our motivation, and if that’s not enough, then you are doing it wrong. It wouldn’t matter to me if someone was elect or not; if I loved them, I would do all that I could to help them know Jesus.

I believe love is our motivation for mission because it was God’s motivation for His mission in the world. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son…” Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The reason God’s sovereignty and the mystery of election are not proper motivations for missions and evangelism is because they aren’t even God’s motivation for reaching into this world and rescuing us. 

If love is our motivation, then we will be more inclined to live a life of selfless devotion to God and our neighbor in seeking to be God’s messengers of love, hope, forgiveness, and salvation in this world. Here, there is no dissonance between motivation/belief and action. 

We need to remember that God is love. If we are not about love, then we are not about what God is about. If we are not motivated to missions by his love for us and this world and our love for our neighbor, then we are not about what God is about.

 

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2 comments

  1. Ryan

    Hi,

    First time visiting your blog, and I wanted to comment as someone who subscribes to the reformed perspective to give you my thoughts on what you have above. Please understand that I say these things in love and respect, and I believe that we are brothers in the Lord.

    1.) Calvinists believe in the Great Commission. Jesus commanded that we go and spread the Gospel promiscuously, and to give the Gospel to all nations (Matt 29:18). I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “I don’t know who is elect, you don’t know who is elect…”. As a Calvinist, I say: “Exactly!”. God commanded us to proclaim the Gospel to everyone, so we do. This is not to be confused with a Hyper-Calvinist (technical term), who does not believe in God’s prescriptive will as it pertains to evangelism (John Piper has a good short thing on Hyper-Calvinism here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xttlK284nI). I think your statement: “If someone is elect, God will save them no matter what I do. If they are not, then they will be damned no matter what I do.” is actually that of a Hyper-Calvinist, rather than a Calvinist, because….

    2.) Calvinists believe that God ordains not just the ends, but also the means, of all actions. Some key texts here that illustrate God ordaining the means are Genesis 50:20 – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV). Certainly God could have snapped his fingers and kept the many people alive, but he chose to do it by using the sinful intentions of Joseph’s brothers to make a point. Isaiah 10 is also a good example. Here, God is declaring how he’s using Assyria as means to punish Israel.

    “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
    And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
    6 I send it against a godless nation
    And commission it against the people of My fury”(excerpted 5-6 NASB)

    Finally, Acts 4:27-28: 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy [t]servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the [u]Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

    The point of all the above is this: A Calvinist believes that God ordains that the elect come to faith through the preaching and evangelism of believers. There is a mystery and a wonder about this, as stated in the Kevin DeYoung quote, because we’re fascinated by what God is accomplishing through the ministry of his Church. The advantage I see to the reformed position is that you can proclaim the Gospel boldly, unapologetically, and completely because Calvinists believe that Christ’s sheep hear his voice and will know him and come to him (John 10:27, John 8:47). There is no need to worry about how people will take it, or whether or not they will immediately respond to the invitation, because it is ultimately God’s regenerating power that will save someone through the preaching of his word by believers.

    Hope this helps at least explain why a reformed person would feel that way about God’s sovereignty and the motivation for evangelism!

    • Steve

      Ryan, thanks for reading and for your well-written reply. I appreciated your tone, as often these discussions can get nasty.

      I understand all that you are saying. I have no problem with anyone wanting to affirm a Reformed view of election and sovereignty. I, myself, do not because my reading of Scripture does not lead me to those conclusions. I think this is an area of theology where good Christian brothers and sisters can charitably disagree.

      However, even if one was to ascribe to this particular view of election and this particular view of God’s sovereignty, I still don’t think that is what should be the great motivator for missions. It can be a motive, to be sure, but I still think the proper motivation to join God in His missionary activity in this world is love. Jesus was sent into this world because of God’s love (John 3:16) and was crucified because of God’s love for even those who were still his enemies (Romans 5:8). The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love one’s neighbor; surely this merits some attention in the context of missions and evangelism.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

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