The Sovereignty of God and Evangelism – Paul Helm

The Sovereignty of God and Evangelism by Paul Helm | Reformed Theology Articles at

For this Monday we feature two articles from the June issue of Tabletalk from which I benefited for my “Sunday-before-church” reading yesterday. This first is one of the main articles on the theme this month, “The Theology of Evangelism”, and is written by Paul Helm (see below).  He addresses one of the frequent criticisms leveled against Reformed evangelism, viz., that a belief in the sovereignty of God (especially election) rules out any need for evangelism. He answers this well, from Scripture and from experience. And he answers it from both sides, showing the need for the church to preach the gospel and for the sinner to hear the gospel.

I provide you with a few quotes here and encourage you to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

Many people struggle with God’s sovereignty in election because they believe it excludes the activity of evangelism. If people are eternally elected or not, they ask, what good will preaching do? What difference will it make? However, as Scripture teaches, God’s sovereignty in election and the activity of evangelism are not enemies but friends. Evangelism is rooted in election, and while man may plant and water the seed of the gospel, God brings the growth.

…It may seem that such a choice makes any human activity unnecessary. How could any creature affect anything? But consider this simple example: Suppose that God eternally wills that you receive a letter from me. For this to occur, other things must happen first. Obviously, I must write the letter and then use some means or other to get the letter to you. These activities — the writing and the sending of the letter — do not take place apart from the will and purpose of God Almighty but as part of His will and purpose. They are means to the end of you receiving a letter from me.

What does this show? It shows that in the divine purposes, means and ends are connected. Perhaps in electing people “in Christ,” God could have immediately glorified them. But according to Scripture, He has not chosen to do this. Instead, He uses means. He brings the good news of salvation to our attention. How does He do that? He could presumably have done this by imparting the news immediately to a person’s mind in a dream or by a “whisper.” But, in fact, He does it by the twofold agency of “Word” and “Spirit.”

…So, preaching is ordinarily an indispensable means for calling out God’s elect. In a parallel fashion, listening to and making an effort to understand gospel preaching is indispensable.

The reasoning that says, “Either I am elect or not; either way it is pointless to attend to the Word of God,” makes the very same mistake as does the belief that God’s eternal election makes preaching unnecessary. We separate the end of election — renewal in the image of Christ — from those means of communicating the gospel through preaching and the other ways God has ordained. It divides what God has, in fact, united. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”


Paul Helm is professor of theology at Highland Theological College in Scotland and teaching fellow at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is author of The Providence of God and John Calvin’s Ideas.

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