A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are Calvinists More Mission Oriented?

My publisher, Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications, posts on a book he has recently published by Philip Hopkins on the missionary theology of John Piper. Henry is a United Methodist and not a Calvinist, so his disagreement with Piper on various issues is obvious. But, he nevertheless published the book and ponders the relationship between one's view of predestination and missions.
Now my regular readers and those who know me will realize that I’m not a Calvinist, and that I’m likely to disagree with John Piper on many, many issues. Let me just say here in passing that the range of ideas that fall within the publishing mission of my company, Energion Publications, does indeed include both Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the problems I see in the church is that we tend to look largely at ideas we find agreeable, and to the extent that we look at other ideas, we look to variations within our own tradition streams.

There is value in listening to those who agree with us on many things, and disagree on minor points, but there is greater value, I believe, in taking a close look at ideas that are more radically opposed. I can find many variations in soteriology amongst people who claim the label “Arminian,” yet they do not challenge me to the extent that reading Reformed theology does.

Even when I continue to disagree I can disagree with the actual position. Let me illustrate. One of the most frequent questions I hear from Methodists regarding Calvinists is why Calvinists would do missions. Since they believe that people are predestined to either salvation or damnation, what difference does evangelism make? Some assume that Calvinists won’t be interested in missions or evangelism.

But observation of actual Calvinists proves this isn’t the case. The Calvinists in my head aren’t necessarily the same as the Calvinists in the real world. One finds Calvinists involved in missions every bit as much as (and possibly more than) their Arminian brethren. I recall hearing John Blanchard, a Presbyterian evangelist, speak at a conference here in Pensacola. One of the questions he was asked was: “If you believe in predestination why would you be an evangelist? How can you accept both?”

His answer? “Predestination is a doctrine, and I believe it. Evangelism is a command, and I obey it.” I can appreciate that simple and straightforward answer.

I do have an additional hope, that Arminians, and particularly United Methodists will take the opportunity to look at this material and use it to hone their own missiology. The problem I see is that while I believe we have a very sound basis for missions, it has not been communicated to those in the pews as well as it might have been. We often wonder why Calvinists would pursue missions, but at the same time we often aren’t doing much to pursue them ourselves. What is it about our theology that we aren’t communicating? What is keeping us from acting on the very good reasons we have for missions?

That the notion that Calvinists don’t do missions is contradicted by some statistics cited in the book:

… Since then, Piper’s passion for God’s glory and missions have been inseparable. This can be seen in some statistics concerning missions emphasis and Bethlehem Baptist Church. For example, from 1987 to 2000 Bethlehem gave over $6.6 million towards missions. As well, in 1981, the missions budget was $62,270, 22% of the total budget, or $2.50 each week per Sunday morning attendee. In 1996, the missions budget increased to $439,661, 32% of the total budget, or $8.90 each week per Sunday morning attendee; a 356% increase in fifteen years. By 2005, Bethlehem’s missions budget was still about the same percentage of the total church budget, which had grown to approximately $2 million.
Yet I have been told that a United Methodist congregation that place 5% of its budget on missions is regarded as “missions oriented.” Typically the number is smaller. I served as missions chairperson for a church that had no budget for missions, and was also concerned with fundraising for separate mission money because the church itself needed to meet budgetary requirements. So perhaps a theological basis doesn’t necessarily result in action.
What do you think?

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