For nearly fifty years, Jay Adams has been occasionally cited as a model for a theologian who supposedly discourages evangelism because of his understanding of election and the atonement. Said Adams in his well-known statement from 1970 in his book Competent to Counsel: “As a reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for he cannot say that. No man knows except Christ himself who are his elect for whom he died.”1
This isolated quote might cause one to assume that Adams never gave the gospel, but his very next sentence is this: “But the counselor’s job is to explain the gospel and to say very plainly that God commands all men to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ.”2 His counselees would have apparently heard the gospel and been made aware of their obligation to repent and believe.
In light of the first quote from Adams above, held in isolation, some assume that, should one have a view of election as Adams does, so also will he follow Adams (or Reformed theology in general) in holding to a limited atonement and therefore refrain from telling an unbeliever that Christ died for his sins, leaving the would-be witness to the gospel apparently crippled in his evangelism. (And in response to this, please remember the second quote above.)
But, suppose that one could hold to the belief that God chose only some unto salvation and is yet not quite where Adams was in all of his other Reformed, soteriological particulars (pun intended).
Suppose for a moment that the theological world of orthodox Christianity has some diversity when it comes to how to understand election, the atonement, and the relationship of these two to evangelism. And suppose that some of these people could believe that God chose some for salvation in eternity past and also find such a belief in complete harmony with having a passion for evangelism.
Suppose that, even when one believes that, in eternity past, God chose to create all things, allow the fall, provide salvation through Christ, place His saving love on some who would otherwise be left in their sins, predestine their salvation, and call them to Him through the means of a witness, His Word, conviction, regeneration, and their personal acceptance of the gospel―suppose that even when someone holds to these beliefs…such a one could actually be quite evangelistic.
Suppose that, even when one believes God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all and functions as a basis whereby to call whosoever will to salvation.
Suppose that, even when one believes God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that, while this choice was active, His allowance for the damnation of others was passive since, after all, He is not the author of sin and their damnation is only their just due for suppressing the truth about Him.
Suppose that, even when one believes that God chose some for salvation, such a one could also leave it to the unrevealed and likely incomprehensible mysteries of God as to how one can be passed over for salvation in eternity past and yet be held responsible for rejecting the truth in his day of judgment.
Suppose that, even when one believes that God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that God desires all to be saved, in keeping with an atonement sufficient for all, and therefore invites all to accept Christ as their Savior.
Suppose that, even when one believes God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that a delay in God’s judgment does not mean slowness on His part but actually patience towards all so that some might reach repentance.
Suppose that, even when one believes God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that God will keep saving for Himself these chosen until Christ comes again, meaning the Great Commission is never over until we join our Lord in the air.
And suppose that, even when one believes God chose some for salvation, such a one could also believe that, while not being ultimately responsible for an unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel, an unbeliever’s blood could be on the believer’s hands to some degree because the believer failed to give this unbeliever the gospel. For me personally, I wonder at times if some of the tears that my Savior will wipe from my eyes will be tears of mourning for those who I knew who died in their sins but never heard the gospel from me.
Do you suppose it could be so?
At least for me, I know it to be so because I am at least one such a one.3
I realize that my beliefs are my own and do not represent everyone who reads this article. I also realize that there are some theological tensions above that some would prefer to theologically diffuse while I would prefer to leave them as they are.
And I also hasten to clarify that I will gladly be a joint witness with those who give more or less stress to either God’s sovereignty or man’s freedom in light of their own convictions. I hope that others share this sentiment. May our love for one another create a collective, harmonious voice so that we might better sound the gospel of our glorious Christ in making disciples for Him.
- Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), p. 70. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- For a longer summary of these beliefs in soteriology, my position would be more or less represented by Bruce Demarest in his chapters on election and the extent of the atonement in his work The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), pp. 97–199. [↩]