Sunday, November 25, 2018

Analyzing 50 Years under the "Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible" (1968)


In 2011 Wycliffe Bible Translators were growing uneasy with the concept of computers replacing Bible translators.[1] With advances in Bible translation software came the reality that machine intelligence was replacing human Bible translators. Their concern was indeed valid—from 2000-2010 Wycliffe software engineers were completing work on two Bible software packages to speed up the digitization of Bible translation. They created “Fieldworks,” a software to be used by the missionary or linguist for inputting linguistic information. Fieldworks then accesses its “Language Explorer” to create four functions for the newly written language: Lexicon, Interlinear, Bulk Edit, and Grammar. Fieldworks then facilitates formatting, back-translating, error-checking, and exporting the final product. Once the Fieldworks phases are complete, the new Bible translation can be imported into “Paratext.” Paratext is the United Bible Society’s (UBS) proprietary software for all present and future Bibles that it publishes.[2]
Simultaneously the field of linguistics is exploding. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Eastern Michigan University partnered with Stockholm University to develop a Linguist List Map and MultiTree projects, now overseen by Indiana University. Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics runs www.ethnologue.com, a website containing information on “7,097 known living languages,” categorized as either Institutional, Developing, Vigorous, In Trouble, and Dying. Beginning with 19thCentury Protestant missionaries, Bible translation is now facilitating linguistic analysis of all the languages of the world.
But who controls the ethereal realm of the digital Bible? To gain an understanding of the complex web of cooperative agreements, we look back 50 years.
In 1968 the United Bible Society (UBS) was 24 years old. The UBS served to unite many major worldwide Bible Societies after World War II. Prior to that time these Bible societies cooperated on the basis of networks of comity agreements forged on the mission fields of the world in the 19thCentury. However, the 20thCentury ushered in an ecumenical wave. It was truly the “Great Century of Ecumenism.” The World Council of Churches organized in 1948. John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959. A new day of Christian cooperation reigned in Western Christianity—especially impacting mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches, and a group of Roman Catholic leaders.
Meanwhile, within Evangelical Christianity, the Bible reigns supreme. The Bible and its translation informs and edifies both the Evangelical theologian and practitioner. The hearts of the trained and untrained are fed by the words of the Bible—as translated. God speaks through His words—as translated. The “nerve center” of Evangelical Christianity is Bible translation. In these past two centuries Bible Societies have exerted important oversight over Bible translation, publication, and dissemination.
It all started in 1802 when the Bible Society Movement was conceived in the Board Room of the Religious Tract Society in London. On February 1, 1803, the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) was launched, its rules were adopted, and it became an official organization. Seventeen years later, in 1820, it reported, “The Auxiliaries of the Society itself amount to 265, and the Branch Societies to 364; forming together a total as of last year, of 629.”[3] The BFBS had grown exponentially as Evangelical Christians worldwide resonated with its Great Commission purpose of Bible distribution for the purposes of evangelism and discipleship.
Fifty years ago, in 1968, the modern Bible Society movement was 165 years old. Also in 1968, the United Bible Society (UBS), a different organization, was 23 years old.
In its 24thyear, the UBS became one of two official signers of the 1968 Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible. The other signer was the “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity” (SPCU). The SPCU was founded on June 5, 1960 by the Catholic Church. The Dutch cardinal, Augustin Bea, assumed its first presidency. The SPCU was organized for Catholics to participate in activities surrounding the “Great Century of Ecumenism.”
The Second Vatican General Council was called on Jan 25, 1959 and held its first meeting on October 11, 1962. However, the SPCU could not wait for Vatican II’s ecumenical decrees to begin its work. Four years after the founding of SPCU, on September 14, 1964, three mechanisms for ecumenical cooperation “were approved and promulgated by the Pope”:
  • Unitatis redintegratio (schemata on ecumenism); 
  • Orientalium Ecclesiarum (on the official view of other churches); and 
  • Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church). 

Then the doctrinal and organizational framework was in place for Rome to “catch the wave” of Protestant and Orthodox ecumenism.
Two months after these Vatican II decrees were in place, a meeting of three persons was held in Crêt Bérard in Lausanne, Switzerland in November of 1964. They met to discuss ecumenical cooperation in Bible translation. The three persons were: Olivier Béguin, Secretary, Prisoners of War and Bible Departments, World Council of Churches; Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the SPCU and rector of Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute; and Eugene Nida, Executive Secretary of Translations, American Bible Society. At that meeting, Nida took up pen and paper and handwrote the original draft of what was to become the Guiding Principles and then Guidelines. He devised principles by which Protestants (and Evangelicals) could be leveraged to cooperate as equals with Catholics in translating the Bible—all under the banner of the United Bible Society.[4]
Following this preliminary meeting these Guiding Principles began to circulate through various committees on both sides of the aisle, Catholic and UBS. Then, as if by magic, the following year, on September 14, 1965, after nearly 800 years of repeated prohibitions against Catholic lay persons reading the Bible, Vatican II allowed and encouraged Catholics to read the Bible. The Constitution Dei verbum (Constitution on Divine Revelation) allowed this change, all without the Catholic Church conceding any doctrinal changes.[5] The way was being prepared to market Nida’s Guiding Principles to Protestants and Evangelicals.
The Guiding Principles continued through another two and a half years of negotiations. Finally, on Pentecost Sunday 1968 (June 2), the Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible were jointly approved by the UBS and SPCU.
HIGHLIGHTS
The scope of Nida’s Guiding Principles was sweeping. The document considered what original language texts should be used. It discussed “borrowings.” It addressed cross-references. It recommended the makeup of translation committees. It covered copyright and the publishing of Bibles. The following illustrate salient points of the 1968 Guiding Principles,[6] as well as its 1987 revision, the Guidelines.[7] 
1.    Original language texts (OT and NT):
In order to facilitate “joint translations” the translators were to follow the Greek New Testament as published by the UBS. Byzantine tradition readings could be included when it was necessary for a certain constituency (1968). However, by the 1987 version, all Byzantine readings were to appear in the footnotes.
As far as Old Testament original language texts, the 1968 “Guiding Principles” recommended the Wurttemberg Bible Society text. By 1987, the UBS Hebrew Old Testament Text Project was to be considered.
2.    Canon (Apocrypha, yes or no?):
Decisions regarding the publication of Bible using the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books was left to the direct requests of respective churches.
3.    Exegesis:
The development of a “common exegetical base should be established.”
4.    Supplementary features:
Cross-reference systems: “run the risk of subjectivity.” 
Differences in Protestant and Roman Catholic interpretations: “it is better simply to omit reference in the interest of joint undertakings.” 
Anonymity of the Bible translators was encouraged: “It is not the practice of the United Bible Societies to associate the names of translators or revisers with translations of the Scriptures.”
5.    Borrowings
The 1968 document recommended that “borrowings should be kept at a strict minimum, for all such languages have a sufficiently large vocabulary or phrasal equivalence to make borrowing relatively unnecessary.”
6.    Procedures
It is in procedures where the “psychological climate” of various churches created difficulty as described in the documents:
Procedures will differ radically, depending upon the nature of the project (a new translation or revision), upon the level of training and education of the constituency, upon whether the psychological climate is conducive to cooperation, and upon the adherence of one or another constituency to its distinctive traditions”
Low education language groups are especially vulnerable to manipulation, according to these guidelines.
7.    Climate for cooperation
The first part of the “Procedures” explained how to approach the “Climate for Cooperation”:
“Whether a revision or new translation can be undertaken jointly in a particular area depends largely upon the climate established by the respective constituencies.
“The strategic importance of the psychological attitudes involves a basic policy and procedures of the Bible Societies, which, though they generally hold the publishing rights for the Scriptures, only do so on behalf of the churches. Therefore, any cooperative undertaking will need for its success as wide an agreement as possible on the part of the constituencies concerned.”
“Psychological attitudes” and “psychological climate” seem to be code words for “doctrinal climate” or “ecumenical climate.” In like manner, “distinctive traditions” appears synonymous to “doctrinal distinctives.”
8.    Organizational structure of translation committees
A landmark feature of the 1968 document was its principle of equal composition of Protestants and Catholics on translation committees overseen by and funded through the UBS.
For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a Working Committee, 2. a Review Committee, and 3. a Consultative Group. 
“Working Committee: Consisting of 4 to 6 persons equally divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic constituencies…”
The language in this section was changed in the 1987 revision:
“For the most adequate development of a translation program, there is need for three groups: 1. a translation team, 2. a review panel, and 3. a consultative group. … 
“Translation team: Consisting of not more than six persons of high competence from the Roman Catholic and other Christian constituencies…”[8]
9.    Appointment of personnel
The text of the 1968 document reads as follows. May the reader make his own conclusions:
“To find the most qualified persons to constitute the Working and Review Committees, it is necessary to use informal decision-making procedures. That is to say, an extensive investigation is made by some qualified individuals so as to assess the technical capacities of such persons and the probabilities of such persons being able to work together effectively in a committee. After determination, in consultation with church leaders, of the availability of such individuals in consultation with church leaders, they may be formally nominated by their respective churches and appointed by the Bible Societies. Without careful preliminary investigation unsuitable appointmentshave sometimes been made to the detriment of the whole project.”
10.  Formulation of principles and translation consultant
The development of translation principles was determined to be vital in “collective efforts.” Prior agreements in translation methods can help avoid “a number of psychological problems” (1968). The 1987 edition of the “Guidelines” added the work of a “translation consultant.” This consultant would help choose and train the translators, as well as edit and submit the final edition.
These ten points identify poignant elements in these two documents. A half-century view of the long-term impact of these agreements is possible.
FIFTY-YEAR ANALYSIS
Societal Changes: The onset of Bible digitization has definitely energized Bible study:
  • Searchable digital Bibles have revolutionized the study of the Bible;
  • Open-source Bible software and non-copyrighted Bibles have even allowed the proliferation of low-cost and even free Bible study tools;
  • Although hard to prove cause and effect, in some parts of the world the availability of Bible software has occasioned a resurgence in conservative biblical Evangelicalism;
  • Both the pulpit and the pew have benefited from Bible software.

Even while significant spiritual gains have coincided with the advent of Bible digitization, the advent of Bible software created administrative vacuums which were being filled following the above “Guidelines.” The long-term impact of these “Guidelines” may not benefit the ongoing proliferation of Evangelicalism.[9] Surely the missional advice of Jesus applies to an analysis of biblical digitization:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.
Bible Digitization: The following suggests disconcerting aspects of the digital Bible revolution:
  • Digitization has inadvertently facilitated the centralization of editorial control of Bible translations to a smaller group of individuals;
  • The UBS’ proprietary software (Paratext) has served to advance its functional monopoly over control of wordwide Bible translations;
  • Copyright laws can be used to squeeze low cost Bible software in three ways: (a) charging excessive fees for books, fonts, and access, (b) requiring organizationally intrusive cooperative agreements for the use of materials, and (c) requiring access to software and personnel in exchange for the use of copyrighted materials;
  • In various language groups and places, digitization has resulted in the selective unavailability (or censorship) of certain Bible translations;[10]
  • Digitization has streamlined the ability for rapid changes to be made to many worldwide Bible translations simultaneously;[11]
  • The multitudes of untrained Christians worldwide can be misled through the Bible translations made available to them.

It is difficult to ignore that differences in Bible translation are often related to the doctrinal presuppositions of the translators or controllers of a Bible’s copyright. Therefore, the doctrinal makeup of those who control Bible translations do matter.
Exegetical Changes in Bible Translation: The following three points are circumstantial, deduced or inferred from the past 50 years of Bible translation:
1.     The Louw-Nida Lexicon (1988) has replaced Strong’s Concordance (1890) in worldwide Bible translation;
2.     First, the 1952 Revised Standard Version, and more recently, the 1991 Contemporary English Version, the Good News Translation (GNT, 1992) and the 1992 French Le Semeur, have replaced the King James Version as the exegetical standard for worldwide Bible translation.
3.     The UBS Nova Vulgata (1979, 1984, 1992) now rivals the UBS Greek New Testament as the original language text for worldwide translation by the 1987 Guidelines’ appointment of personnel:
a)    Allowing Latin-only translators to use the Nova Vulgata as their base text;
b)   Assuring Latin-only scholars were credentialed to sit on translation committees; and
c)    Opening the door for Latin-only scholars worldwide to populate every translation committee.
All of these decisions are made in total anonymity due to the UBS practice of not disclosing the names of translators with their work.
By way of analysis, even while the Louw-Nida Lexicon’s organization into “semantic domains” was helpful, it did suggest doctrinally-focused readings.[12]
However, if point 3 is accurate, then it represents a 500-year alteration in Protestant Bible translation philosophy. Since Luther’s 1522 German New Testament, Protestant Bible translations lean toward a Greek NT textual priority. The 1987 “Guidelines” appear to reverse this 500-year precedent, reverting worldwide Bible translation efforts of the UBS to a Latin-textual preference. This explains why the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was simultaneously released in 1979 with the Nestle-Aland 26th edition, mimicking its textual variants. The Nova Vulgata appears to have been prepared to function as a parallel original language text for worldwide Bible translation.
This seismic return to a Vulgate preference in worldwide UBS Bible translation has apparently been overseen by the UBS and is now funded with its monies.
Therefore, while digitization has definitely revolutionized Bible translation, Bible software comes with blessings and concerns. Machine intelligence in Bible translation brings questions for future generations: How are Fieldworks and Paratext being programmed? Who controls the programming of doctrinal terms and concepts? How can doctrinal integrity be maintained in a digital world? There is another fundamental question that need to be addressed by friends of the Bible. How should Evangelicals address the contemporary Bible Society movement in light of the 1968 Guiding Principles and the 1987 Guidelines?


[1]Simon Crisp and Bryan Harmelink. “Computers as Translators: Translation or Treason?” The Bible Translator (2011) 62.59-60.
[2]Thomas P. Johnston, “Virtualized Biblical Authority: A 50-Year Megashift from Biblical Inerrancy to Automated Translation Work”; available at: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf (Online); accessed 24 Nov 2018; Internet.
[3]“British and Foreign Bible Society, Abstract of Sixteenth Report,” Christian Watchman and Baptist Register, 27 January 1821, 1.
[4]Thomas P. Johnston, “Worldwide Bible Translation and Original Language Texts: An Analysis of the Impact of the 1968 and 1987 UBS and SPCU ‘Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible’”; available at: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/ubs-spcu_text20090116b.pdf (Online); accessed 1 Oct 2018; Internet.
[5]“The Second Vatican Council wished to be, above all, a council on the Church. Take in your hands the documents of the Council, especially ‘Lumen Gentium’, study them with loving attention, with the spirit of prayer, to discover what the Spirit wished to say about the Church. In this way you will be able to realize that there is not—as some people claim—a ‘new church’, different or opposed to the ‘old church’, but that the Council wished to reveal more clearly the one Church of Jesus Christ, with new aspects, but still the same in its essence” (John Paul II, “Mexico Ever Faithful,” Osservatore Romano[5 Feb 1979], 1).
[6]“Guiding Principles for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible”; in Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., and John B. Sheerin, C.S.B., eds. Doing the Truth in Charity: Statements of Pope Paul VI, Popes John Paul I, John Paul II, and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity 1964-1980 (New York: Paulist, 1982), 166.
[7]“Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible”; Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/general-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19871116_guidelines-bible_en.html (Online); accessed 5 Oct 2018; Internet.
[8]Consider the functional authority when Roman Catholic translators are in a majority using the Louw-Nida Lexicon to translate the word “drink,” used in John 6:55:
5.6  πόσις, εως ; πόμα, τος n: liquids used for nourishment or to satisfy thirst – ‘a drink.’ πόσις: τὸ αἷμά μου ἀληθής ἐστιν πόσις ‘my blood is true drink’ Jn 6.55. πόμα: μόνον ἐπὶ βρώμασιν καὶ πόμασιν ‘these relate only to food and drink’ He 9.10.
Though in many languages the equivalent of πόσις and πόμα would be a verbal derivative meaning basically ‘that which is drunk,’ in other languages the equivalent may be ‘watery food’ or ‘liquid food.’
“In some languages, however, one cannot refer to ‘blood’ (Jn 6.55) as being ‘drink,’ since blood is classified as food rather than as drink. On the other hand, it may be possible to translate ‘my blood is the real drink’ as ‘my blood is real nourishment.’ The expression ‘food and drink’ (He 9.10) may be better rendered in some languages as ‘all kinds of food.’” (Louw-Nida Lexicon, Bibleworks 10.0.8.858).
The concept of transubstantiation looms large in the improper rendering of John 6:55. While the Catholic priest would be keen to  use of this verse to teach transubstantiation, the unsuspecting Protestant linguist may never understand that the issue under discussion in the priest’s mind in translating this verse is transubstantiation.
[9]“The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations” (“Pontifical Commission on Biblical Interpretation”; available at: http://www.ewtn.com/ library/CURIA/PBCINTER.htm; accessed: 17 Oct 2009; Internet).
[10]Consider, for example, the unavailability of hard copies of any Greek Orthodox texts of the OT and/or NT in Greek in American bookstores.
[11]For example, the American Bible Society’s 1992 Good News Translation rendered ὑστερέω (fallen short) in Romans 3:23 as “being far away from one’s presence”: “everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence.” The French 1992 Le Semeur mirrored this unusual translation, “Tous ont péché, en effet, et sont privés de la glorieuse présence de Dieu.” Both translations betray a doctrinal bias in this translation.
[12]Consider the Louw-Nida Lexicon addressing the translation of the adjective θεόπνευστος (“breathed out by God”) in 2 Timothy 3:16:
“33.261  θεόπνευστος, ον: to a communication which has been inspired by God – ‘inspired by God, divinely inspired.’ πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν ‘every Scripture divinely inspired and useful for teaching’ or ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching’ 2 Tm 3.16. In a number of languages it is difficult to find an appropriate term to render ‘inspired.’ In some instances ‘Scripture inspired by God’ is rendered as ‘Scripture, the writer of which was influenced by God’ or ‘... guided by God.’ It is important, however, to avoid an expression which will mean only ‘dictated by God.’” (Louw-Nida Lexicon).
The last two sentences appear to influence the doctrinal result of the Bible translation.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five Ways the Doctrine of Election Encourages Evangelists

Five Ways the Doctrine of Election Encourages Evangelists;
Or: The Doctrine of Election as the Great Divide!
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18.
One of the most ardent sermons of John Wesley was his attack on predestination titled, “Free Grace,” preached in A.D. 1740. The heading for Wesley’s last point in this sermon was, “Predestination is a doctrine full of blasphemy.” In that section, Wesley discussed reasons he felt that adherence to the doctrine of predestination was blasphemous to the loving purposes of God as described in the Bible. For one thing, said Wesley, the doctrine of predestination paints Jesus as a deceiver of the people:
“To say, then, he did not intend to save all sinners, is to represent him as a gross deceiver of the people. You cannot deny that he says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.’”
That same year George Whitefield penned a response to Wesley, addressing him directly:
“When you were at Bristol, I think you received a letter from a private hand, charging you with not preaching the gospel, because you did not preach up election. Upon this you drew a lot: the answer was ‘preach and print.’ I have often questioned, as I do now, whether in so doing, you did not tempt the Lord. A due exercise of religious prudence, without [the drawing of] a lot, would have directed you in that matter. Besides, I never heard that you enquired of God, whether or not election was a gospel doctrine.”
Then, in his public letter, Whitefield went on to answer the arguments of Wesley’s sermon, “Free Grace.” 
Meanwhile a doctrinal guillotine had dropped. Divided were the evangelistic efforts of the two primary traveling evangelists of the First Great Awakening. The momentum of that movement soon mitigated.
This debate of theirs was not new in Christian circles. That same cleavage was canonized, with equivocal language, in the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529). Orange dissuaded any who dared believe in predestination by condemning its logical antithesis: double-predestination:
“We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.”
By anathematizing double-predestination, the Second Council of Orange tacitly anathematized predestination. Orange used a tactic called “plausible deniability”—thereby being capable of plausibly denying that it disaffirmed predestination—while turning the table on believers in predestination. Orange put believers in predestination on the defensive, forcing them to explain why and how they did not believe in double-predestination.
Meanwhile it is only logical that a state-endorsed church would need to adapt its doctrinal principles to include all citizens of that state. Hence, by necessity, Orange had to affirm general atonement. 
The position of the Second Council of Orange was clarified in a lesser known council that took place 56 years before Orange. The state-church’s clear antagonism to predestination was communicated in the AD 473 Council of Arles. A certain Presbyter Lucidus was required by this council to retract certain opinions on the doctrine of predestination. The following excerpt of Lucidus’ retraction is cited from Denzinger (2005 edition):
“From now on, according to the recent statutes of the venerable council, I condemn with you all this opinion: ...

  • That says that Christ our Lord and Savior did not undergo death for the salvation of all; 
  • That says that the foreknowledge of God violently compels men unto death, or those that are lost are so by the will of God; 
  • That says that after having legitimately received [infant] baptism are dead in Adam whosoever sins; 
  • That says some are assigned to death, and others are predestined to life.”

The Presbyter Lucidus signed off on these retractions to his views of predestination. So important was his retraction, that the Bishop Faustus of Riez immediately sent it to the thirty bishops of Gaule (France). As predestination was an issue in Fifth Century France, so it was also an issue in the 18th Century United States. The dictum of Solomon stands true: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
The rupture that rent Wesley and Whitefield tore apart Christians long before it divided Wesley and Whitefield.
For any evangelist wondering when chill winds fell on New Testament evangelism in the Western Church, the 473 Council of Arles and the 529 Second Council of Orange are good places to start. As the light of biblical evangelism dimmed in the Sixth Century Western Church, so the new believers saved by the light of the gospel proclaimed during the First Great Awakening dimmed in doctrinal dissension.
Evil purposes have long found beneficial to their cause the biblical axis where intersects God electing purposes and man’s freewill. This fulcrum has proven expedient in dividing born-again Christian brothers who believe the Bible.
These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven arean abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:16-19.
Sowing discord among brethren stands at the climax of the seven abominations to the Lord. The intersection of divine election and man’s freewill has been used as an ax-head to split the evangelistic momentum of revival movements since the beginning of the church. What was in the past continues into the present. Evil purposes do not sleep; they still sow discord in every generation of the church.
However, the practice of biblical evangelism demands that both God’s predestination and man’s freewill be held synchronously.
In God’s providential foreknowledge, both man’s freewill and God’s electing purposes must be maintained simultaneously. Each sheds divine light on the practice of evangelism. The doctrine of election endues evangelism with twofold realism:
  • Realism as regards biblical precepts and examples of evangelism; and
  • Realism as to evangelism counters in the present day.
With these two truths in mind, this article offers five ways that the doctrine of divine election encourages evangelists. Next it considers the importance of universality to the Great Commission purposes of Christ.
THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION
One
While generality can lead to unrealistic expectations of openness among lost people, the doctrine of election prepares the evangelist for rejection—in the same way that Jesus prepared His disciples for promised rejection in Matthew 10:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.” Matthew 10:16-17.
Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Matthew 10:21-23.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” Matthew 10:24-25.
Perhaps the first lesson impressed upon the evangelist is the small percentage of people who are genuinely interested in the gospel. This truth is taught when he encounters rejection or disinterest from most people. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson first hand from God. Paul explained this experience in his testimony to a hostile crowd in Jerusalem:
“‘Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a tranceand saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” Acts 22:17-22.
Paul very quickly learned that, although God loves the world, the vast majority of the world does not and will not love God back. 
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11.
Even years after the fact, Paul’s hearers in Jerusalem still burned with murderous rage at Paul. They pronounced on him an immediate death sentence because he dared evangelize, and to do so in Gentile territories—outside the reach of the Sanhedrin’s authority. By the time he shared his testimony before that hostile crowd in Jerusalem, Paul bore on his body many scars of the world’s hatred of Jesus.
Two
Whereas generality assures the evangelist the false expectation that all people will be saved—if only the gospel is properly communicated to them—, the doctrine of election counters by clarifying that only those with a “hearing of faith” will be saved.
The problem with a universalism comes at the point of a “hearing of faith.” Only a minority of those who hear the gospel will have a “hearing of faith” according to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. Universalism leaves the naïve evangelist with the false expectation that everyone with whom he shares the gospel should and will have a “hearing of faith.” When this false expectation is dashed in the laboratory of real life, fear and introspection can destroy any of his future efforts in evangelism. Through using harsh rejection of the gospel, Satan succeeds in closing many Christian mouths from ever sharing the gospel again!
But not all people have a “hearing of faith.” It is given to only a few. Paul explained the importance of a “hearing mixed with faith”:
“For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” Hebrews 4:2.
He also discussed the role of a “hearing of faith” in Galatians:
“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3.
The Bible clearly communicates in a number of places and in a number of ways that “narrow is the gate and difficult the way” that leads to salvation, and “few are those who find it.”
Three
Whereas generality can misplace the world’s hatred as being rooted in something other than rejection of the gospel—leading to an endless search for what we are doing wrong—, the doctrine of election reminds the evangelist that Christ continues to be hated by the people of this world.
In order to align a general view of the atonement with the rejection faced in evangelism, the Christian is forced to seek out “What went wrong?” Because of general atonement, coupled with a misguided anthropology (that men will not by their sinful nature reject Jesus), the blame for rejection falls on the evangelist. Because of the fallacy of the original premise—being, “If I communicate the gospel rightly all persons should receive it warmly”—, an acceptable diagnosis for rejection is not possible, aside from abandoning the gospel altogether. The generalist evangelist is left “striving after the wind”—seeking a natural solution for supernatural problem, the problem of lost people rejection of Christ.
Yet Jesus warned His disciples of the rejection of the world:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19.
Four
Whereas generality can shift antagonism to the gospel to the means, manner, or method of the proclaimer, the doctrine of election assures the evangelist that lost souls will reject even a proper gospel presentation.
Paul reminded the Corinthian church of the foolishness of the message preached to the ears of those who are perishing:
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:21-24.
While God makes no efforts to make His gospel palatable to all men, some modern practitioners appear to make it their life’s goal to do so. Steve Sjogren, David Ping, and Doug Pollock began their book, Irresistible Evangelism (2004), proposing “A Fresh Outlook on Evangelism”:
“Most Christians want to see the people around them make faith commitments to Christ. Some are desperately looking for ways to become more effective at the task, but many others have given up.”
One of the three authors, Doug Pollock, was introduced as follows:
“His passion to see people experience new life in Christ compelled him to try out and evaluate just about every possible approach to evangelism. He has reached the conclusion that most of our methods for sharing the good news leave both Christians and pre-Christians with bad tastes in their mouths.”
While this book has many helpful ideas and suggestions, its use of “pre-Christian” seems to ignore the doctrines of total depravity and total inability. Rather they appear to communicate an implicit generality. This generalist view of Sjogren, Ping, and Pollock forced them to scan the horizon of their combined experiences to find a methods of evangelism that:
  1. Would not leave a bad taste in the mouth of the proclaimer or the hearer; 
  2. Would be irresistible to all people; and 
  3. Would allow the proclaimer to avoid persecution for the gospel. 
This book does not seem to consider that the Bible has abundant tutelage on methodology for sharing the gospel. Nor does this book consider a biblical understanding of persecution in light of evangelism!

Five
Whereas generality places the focus of the evangelist on his words, his personality type, his communication style, his cogent arguments, his persuasive techniques, and/or his cultural relevance, the doctrine of election drives the evangelist to keep his focus on the spiritual weapons of the gospel and the word of God.
Paul made a strong distinction between spiritual weapons and carnal (or worldly) weapons. It appears that false teachers were persuading the house churches in Corinth to focus on carnal weapons rather than spiritual ones.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare arenot carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-4.
Borrowing terminology from Jeremiah 1, Paul showed the need for spiritual weapons and methods over the need for the world’s weapons and methods.
On the other hand, in a frantic search to improve the world’s reception of the gospel, the rejected and misguided evangelist grasps for every source of truth he can find. Consider the words of the aging evangelist Charles Finney in his foreword to his Systematic Theology (1851):
“The discovery of new truth will modify old view and opinions, and there is perhaps no end to this process with finite minds in any world. True Christian consistency does not consist in stereotyping our opinions and view, and in refusing to make any improvements lest we should be guilty of change, but it consists in holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every quarter and in changing our views and language and practice as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information.”
Finney’s pitfall was to modify his old opinions “from every quarter … as often and as fast, as we can obtain further information.” This quote shows that the early Finney—the 1821 Finney with his Lectures on Revival—did not represent the later Finney. Once he lost the Bible as the sole arbiter and ground for truth, Finney no longer had an anchor.
For the evangelist who understands God’s electing purposes. The outcome is quite different. He is not blindsided by persecution, either to compromise his method to be palatable to a lost world or to shut his mouth altogether. He continues in humble submission to Christ who has given His gospel as the message and has taught how His gospel should be proclaimed.
The evangelist uses the spiritual weapons God has made available to him, including the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
When, however, the Bible no longer remains as the sole authority for faith AND PRACTICE, a vacuum is created, only to be quickly filled with ideas from “every quarter”—except for the Bible! The slippery slope is lubricated with concepts from public relations, marketing, sales techniques, and mass persuasion. The Finney quote above portrays the attitude that began the descent of this evangelist down a doctrinal slippery slope.
Just as the doctrine of election gives staying power to the persevering evangelist, so also does the Bible’s universal appeal and man’s need to “Call on the name of the Lord to be saved.”
MAN’S FREEWILL
A hidden freewill is lodged in men that God reveals in the context of gospel proclamation. It outwardly appears that a person is receptive to the gospel OF THEIR OWN FREEWILL when one approaches them with the gospel and they hear, repent, and believe. Yet behind that open reception lies a host of hidden divine actions:
  • The Holy Spirit bringing life to the Scriptures;
  • God opening a person’s heart to be receptive to the gospel;
  • The Holy Spirit applying each word of Scripture to the heart in a proper way; and
  • The Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
God operates His predestined result through this hidden consortium of divine power impacting man’s soul. Meanwhile on the other side of the spiritual continuum, Satan himself comes to snatch the seed of the gospel before it can take root in the person’s heart (cf. Mark 4:15). Every seasoned personal evangelist has experienced these opposing results many times over. The spiritual battle is most evident at the point where the word of God is first being proclaimed and heard.

For the receptive heart, consider God’s powerful working in the heart of Lydia. She was found to be among several other women, the others apparently remaining unreceptive.
And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia was listening. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Acts 16:13-14 (My adaptation of v. 14).
Here the Lord operated as the Agent opening Lydia’s heart to attend and respond to the gospel that Paul was sharing with the group of women. The general group of women were untouched by the gospel Paul was proclaiming. Yet, through the same words, God wrought salvation in the heart of one hearer, Lydia.
From Paul’s perspective, it may have seemed like Lydia’s freewill was drawing her to Christ. Man cannot see the heart of others. Only God sees the heart:
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
What looks like freewill to man has been lodged in the purposes of God since before the foundation of the world!
General atonement is quite different. For general atonement, at the cross God opened the heart of all men. The divine power of God is not necessary to open individual hearts of men and women as they hear to the gospel. They just need the opportunity to hear the gospel. Then the choice is theirs.
The scenario where God works in every heart, leaving it to man to make a decision does not match with God’s working in Lydia’s heart. While man making the choice appears true, it overlooks all the divine elements mentioned above. Yes, Christ died for all men. But God does not act on all men. God did not open the hearts of all the women at the riverside. He opened Lydia’s heart to be attentive to the things spoken by Paul.
Even so, universality does play an important role in evangelism.
UNIVERSALITY
Universality is also found in the New Testament. There is a clear universality to the Great Commission. Christ commanded His people to preach the gospel to every creature. The New Testament makes it clear that God loves the whole world. Jesus’ death was the propitiation “not for our sins only, but for those of the whole world.” There is a universal aspect to the New Testament that cannot be ignored. It is not for the Christian to question what God has clearly communicated on the anvil of His word. Indeed, God’s universal mandate and Christ’s sufficient atonement drive intentionality and expectancy in evangelism.
  • With Intentionality we must go to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
  • With Expectancy we share with all that some will have a “hearing of faith,” repent and believe.
  • With Intentionality we proclaim the gospel with every possible person that we encounter.
  • With Expectancy we trust that some will repent and believe in Christ the very first time they hear His name.
  • With Intentionality we use the very words of the Bible because the Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation in the life of all who believe.
  • With Expectancy we understand that the Holy Spirit will work in, with, and by God’s word and the gospel of Christ.
  • With Intentionality we call receptive people to commitment in obedience to Christ’s command, and following the examples of Scripture.
  • With Expectancy we rejoice by faith in the plentiful harvest that Jesus promised.
Both intentionality and expectancy in evangelism are deeply rooted in God’s universal mandate and Christ’s sufficient atonement. Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.
“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10.
Both election and freewill have their place in God’s sovereign work through the preaching of the gospel. The greatest danger is allowing Satan to tear apart these essential Bible teachings and to use them as a wedge to split God’s people. The sword of the Spirit gives unity and power. The scalpel of Satan slices and dices, bringing discord, disharmony, and constant strife.
Enough of allowing the Evil One to use divine election and man’s freewill as a ploy to divide God’s people. Rather than spreading discord, may we work to be faithful proclaimers and peacemakers.