Another Step in the Relationship between Free Will and Evangelism

*Posted by Barry Creamer

Imentioned in my previous post that there are both philosophical and theological objections to believing in a radical free will. I disagree with those objections. That discussion can be found here.

Here is a more concise discussion of what that post is intended to preface.

If God intends the sacrifice of Christ to be available for the redemption of everyone everywhere always, and if God works (principally if not entirely through the Holy Spirit) to bring everyone everywhere at some point to the awareness of their need for redemption, and if any one of those people must hear the message of Jesus in order to accept it, and if that person must still respond in repentance and faith toward Christ as Savior and Lord in order to be saved, then there are two scenarios in which a person for whom Christ died would face eternal perdition.

Those conditions are, of course, hotly contested. But for the sake of the argument, grant them for the moment. In that case, Gods intent regarding Christs sacrifice for all is not lacking, and neither is His calling to the unredeemed.

But two things could still lead to that persons condemnation.

The second of the two is the point of the previous post. That is, a person could still be condemned simply because they reject the message about Jesus.

But the first of the two is that messengers could fail to carry the message of Jesus to the as-yet-unredeemed person. It is this issue about which I wish to make one point here.

Finally, then, here is the issue of this post: I believe some people can and will face eternal condemnation who could have been redeemed if only I had been obedient to Gods will for me to witness to them.

There is an objection I hear to this claim in almost every venue where I raise it. Simply put, it is unseemly to believe that God would leave something as important as a souls eternal state in the hands of some other fallible soul.

As I press for what provokes this objection, I normally hear one or two causes for it. (I am reluctant to commit at this point, because my interpretation of why people make the objection they do is probably tainted beyond the norm by my flabbergasted-ness that they consider something so obvious to my mind so ludicrous to theirs. But, such as they are, these are what I hear.)

The first cause I hear: The psychological pressure of bearing the responsibility for a lost soul facing eternity in torment is simply too great to accept.

I generally hear this response from someone who has not thought through the issue or who is not very mature in faith yet. The fact that a responsibility might seem more or less acceptable to disciples has little to nothing to do with whether they actually bear it.

One young Christian student heard me make this claim in a class one time and objected without thinking. If I believed souls could actually be in hell simply because I didnt witness to them then Id be witnessing all day every day and Id never be able to stop. He quickly realized the implication of his statementthat his belief that he was not responsible for the salvation of souls gave him cause to relax in his evangelism. He also accepted his own evaluation of what was dangerous about his thinking with notable grace.

Dont get me wrong. His view did not flow deductively and necessarily either from his reformed theology or his rejection of free will. But it did flow from those beliefs psychologically. His belief that God had already determined who would be saved (and by his inference who would not be) eliminated in him one source of motivation for diligent evangelism.

And dont get me wrong in another way. Nothing in the previous paragraph presumes that the motivation missing in that student is the only motivation for evangelism.

But it is one motivation. And in some less mature believers, its lack is a stumblingblock to evangelistic fervor. Further, its lack in any believer is at least one less reason to be evangelistic. (I do recognize that such a people-centered motivation is exactly what some reformed thinkers wish to avoid. I disagree with them, but that issue will have to wait.)

The second cause I hear: It is unjust for someone elses eternity to be determined by my disobedience.

Reformed thinkers are smart enough not to word the objection this way.

God can do whatever He wants and whatever He wants is just. So normally when I hear this objection it is stated as prima facie true, or with no support but the emotional repugnance of the idea. But upon pressing, the self-evidence or emotiveness of it comes back to an issue of justness.

It somehow seems unjust for people to be condemned after Christs atoning work on their behalf simply because a disobedient Christian failed to get the news to them.

The irony of this objection is that all of us, reformed or not, are (or ought to be) willing to accept readily Gods willful and purposeful act to condemn a guilty person. Yet for some reason we are unwilling to accept a humans unwilling complicity in the same act of condemnation by God.

Gods condemnation of all sinners is just. His requirement for their redemption is that they repent toward and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which they can only do if someone tells them about Him. If no one tells them they will remain condemned. My disobedience in not sharing the good news is unjust. But Gods justness in the act of condemnation is in no way shaken by my unjustness in disobedience to the great commission.

What is lost in the transaction is redemptions blessedness/happiness for the lost, and obediences blessedness/happiness for the believer people-centered losses in the selfish disobedience of man which could have been people-centered gains in the gracious provision of God.

Gods mercy is lamentably lost to those men. But Gods justness is unaffected.

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