What difference does Predestination or Freewill have on ministry effectiveness?

While there is certainly many ways to answer this question, Stephen Tomkins in his recent biography of John Wesley reflects eloquently on the fundamental difference between George Whitefield (a strong Calvinist) and Wesley.

The fundamental difference between Wesley and Whitefield was not the theological one that so exercised them both and sadly caused conflict in proportion to its inscrutability rather than its significance. They were both saving souls and whether that meant harvesting the elect or convincing the free made no difference to how or why they did it. The great difference in reality was one of job description [I would add the related point of a difference of personality]: Wesley was a preacher, pastor, leader, administrator and an architect of religious organization; Whitefield was a preacher. Although he founded some successful ‘tabernacles’, he had very little interest in organizing converts and left this mostly to others.

What is your response to this assessment?

I for one find the whole debate between Calvinism and Arminianism overheated. And I think one’s personality plays more a part than is admitted in what makes one predisposed to one side or the other of the proverbial aisle.  What’s more, I think Tomkins is correct that the effectiveness of ministry is unrelated to theological position on the question. For ministry effectiveness the question of free will or predestination is a moot point!

  • CF

    I agree that the debate is over-heated. There is more common ground than many realize, e.g., on total depravity, which many Calvinists don’t realize Wesley accepted wholeheartedly (it was the solution to this problem — prevenient grace and whether it is universal but resistible or specific and efficient — that there is a divergence). So there’s one of the so-called five points of Calvinism that the two sides actually agree on.

    Moreover, there are supporting proof texts for both views. The question is which is controlling or more fundamental? The Calvinists find the sovereignty passages to be objective (from the divine perspective) and the freedom/responsibility passages to be subjective (from the human perspective) and hortatory in character. Arminians generally take the opposite view, where the freedom/responsibility passages are God’s primary word for us to act on and the sovereignty passages are encouraging but less relevant to what we must do for God now.

    In the end, both of them have to chalk up the freedom and divine sovereignty to paradox, but in practice they each emphasize one side of the paradox more than the other.

  • Marie Peterson

    Very interesting! Iain Murray talks about how Wesley thought Whitefield was an inconsistent Calvinist. Though, at one time I thought he was inconsistent too! He was indeed a strong Calvinist, but he had no heart nor stomach for anything that smacked of hypercalvinism. My question, though, is what went wrong between Wesley and today’s easy-believism, carrot-and-stick type tactics? What led to the distrust in the passionate, Christ-centered, Spirit-anointed preaching of the free offer the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation?

  • Jason Hood

    Good thoughts Joel. I couldn’t agree more: the whole debate is way overheated. Free will and predestination are (generally speaking) moot points.

    But I reckon that one’s approach to free will or predestination is not. Both parties are capable of going overboard (hyper-calvinism is one famous example), particularly in the way they treat members of the other camp. In my mind that falls under ministry effectiveness.