The Role of Persuasion in Reformed Theology

At the heart of many disagreements I have been having or have witnessed others having in Reformed circles lies a disagreement about the appropriateness of seeking to persuade people about the truth of the gospel. Even when two people agree on Reformed doctrine, you can often feel a very big difference in the way they two people speak and relate to others, particularly non-Christians. This difference also shows up in the tone of preaching.

It seems to me, that many who believe in predestination think that God’s sovereignty in bringing people to faith, or to put it differently, that God’s monergistic, gracious gift of regeneration and faith, negates and undercuts the practice of 1) seeking to persuade people to believe, 2) making arguments that appeal to people’s concerns, or 3) being careful not to unnecessarily offend non-Christians. In other words, for many people, it seems that Calvinism should lead to nothing more than a bold, confrontational, “let the Lord sort out hearts” attitude when it comes to our evangelism. Likewise, sound or solid preaching is considered to be bare explanation and proclamation of the Biblical text.

Tim Keller argues (video here & article here) that Christians and preachers ought to be persuasive, and I agree. He notes the difference between manipulating people (by playing on their fears, prejudices, or pride or by overwhelming people emotionally, intellectually, or socially) and appealing to people in such a way that their heart and mind are changed.

Reformed theology does not negate persuasion. God uses means to call his elect. We cannot manipulate people into the kingdom, but God does use wise words to call his people to Himself. We should understand the people we are evangelizing or preaching to.  We should relate the Bible to the questions, concerns, and ideas people have without compromising or altering what God has revealed in any way.

It seems to me, this is the way Jesus and Paul ministered (1 Cor. 9:19-23 & 2 Cor. 5:11).

I hope you’ll check out Keller’s fuller argument in this direction. He makes especially important comments about 1 Corinthians 2:1ff.