For my church history class, I had to read Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition for a group discussion and report.  Andrew Purves examines texts considered classical to the pastoral tradition from five pastoral leaders through the church’s history and how they have understood and addressed their pastoral role.  One of the biographies was that of Martin Bucer.

Martin Bucer was a dominican theologian studying on the heels of the protestant reformation.  He was impressed with the earlier works of Martin Luther, which began making an impact on his theology.  His meeting with Luther in 1518 at Heidelberg, served as the catalyst that would change his life and solidify his position in the reformed camp.  He left the monastary in 1521 to become a parish priest and later would serve as pastor parish starting in 1524.  As the reformation fully blossomed, he would become of the leading pastors and theologians of the movement.  For twenty-five years until his exile to England, he made a significant impact on the theological colloquies and politics of reform in Germany.  Purves indicates that Calvin was very much influenced by the work of Martin Bucer.

According to Purves and not surprisingly, election and justification shaped the whole of Bucer’s theology and especially the doctrine of election.  Bucer embraced and espoused unconditional election, believing that salvation is completely the work of God choosing whom He will and has done so before the foundation of the worlds (Ephesians 1:4).  Election is God’s sovereign choice.  God is the one who calls, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies (Romans 8:29).  Sound familiar?

Bucer was also an evangelist and believed strongly that those who take the pastoral office should have as their chief concern salvation of the lost.  Not only pastors, but Bucer believed that all Christians were to be pastoral evangelists.  Purves notes:

“The evangelical heart of Bucer’s theology leads him to see evangelism as a primary feature of pastoral care, an evangelism directed both to those who have not yet heard and responded to the word of Christ the Lord, as well as those who have been part of the body of Christ but who have fallen away.  Not only are the lost sheep to be sought, but also the stayed sheep are to be restored.  In such a way, according to Bucer, pastoral care must have as a primary responsibility a concern for salvation of the sinners lost and strayed who are still God’s elect…Bucer insists that pastoral evangelism is to be pursued with the highest diligence and unremitted effort” (Purves, pp 88-89)

I think this is interesting.  Many non-Calvinist equate belief in unconditional election with apathy towards evangelism.  I think Bucer points to the fact, that belief in unconditional election should in no way deter evangelistic efforts.  According to Purves, he recognizes that election then is of no consequence and citing that the ones who are not elect will not respond.  But that should not be our concern because he believes that Christians should have such a compulsion in pressing the gospel, that the elect have no choice to respond.

Bucer’s position teaches everybody a lesson.  It should motivate the Calvinist to not rest on the laurels of unconditional election for an excuse not to evangelize.  It should motivate non-Calvinist to cease from mis-identifying Calvinism with apathetic or non-existent evangelism that rests on unconditional election.   He definitely serves as a model for all concerning evangelism.

PS:  I personally believe that every pastor should read that book.

    21 replies to "Bucer, Evangelism and Unconditional Election"

    • Great post! One of the things I have come to love about the church I attend is that we have an entire service set aside as an evangelistic service, as well as numerous outreach programs…and all with a very strong Calvinist belief. Like I once heard it said, “Election ought not to be the enemy of evangelism but the friend of it”

    • Bruce Russell


      In Calvin’s institutes, the doctrine of election is expounded at the end. This was very wise, because it’s treatment in the New Testament only occurs as a reflection by believers living a holy life in conformity to Jesus.

      Be diligent to make your calling and election sure!

      Whom He forknew, them he also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.

      From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness,

      Calvin’s approach was abandoned by English Puritans and Reformed Baptists who consider election at the beginning of their theological systems and permit the powerful intellectual influence of philosophical determinism color their interpretation of the Bible.

      Sure, I’m a Calvinist, but the admonitions of scripture compel me to seek the comfort of election from the standpoint of a good conscience and a faithful life.



    • #John1453

      Election is irrelevant to evangelism, as it is to Christ’s command to go into all the world.

      Under Calvinism evangelism is a command to believers that is irrelevant to the salvation of the elect except as a means.

      Whether one evangelizes or not will neither add nor subtract one person from the elect. One could, as hermits often did, stay in a cave one’s entire life and that would not change the number of the elect. Just as many people would get saved.

      One evangelizes not so that the unelect become elect, but only because God has chosen that route as the means by which He will save the elect. So, the evangelist actually does not do anything to save anyone; it’s all of God. Those who are unelect and hear the preaching of the evangelist will remain unelect and unsaved, those who are elect and hear his/her preaching will then have God first regenerate them and then give them faith to believe.

      Furthermore, since under Calvinism God’s foreknowledge comes about because of His foreordination of all things (simple foreknowledge is an Arminian concept), whether one stays in a cave one’s entire life, or whether one preaches has been foreordained by God.

      No Calvinist should feel any guilt about “passing up” and opportunity to witness. God had foreordained that you would pass up that opportunity (though He still holds you responsible), and if that person was not elect, your witnessing to them would not have made any difference whatsoever to their “final destination”. Similarly, if that person is elect, God has foreordained that someone else will preach to that person.


    • Perry Robinson

      Of course as someone who had read Aquinas, Bucer knew that Catholicism via Aquinas also taught unconditional election.

    • Renton

      Did I miss your solution to this? Isn’t there a sort of logic problem here? A logical contradiction or incompatibility between evangelization and predestination/election?

      I.e.: if 1) we are saved/elected, not by virtue of our own efforts or works, nor likely 2) are we to be saved by the works of others – to include their evangelization. Then 3) there is no point in evangelizing others. Since they will be saved neither by a) their own work of inner conversion; or better said, nor by b) our work of evangelizing them.

      I think you hinted casually at ways to get around this. But what if we think hard and direct about the logical contradiction? Can we defend them in formal logic? Or does formal logic continue to insist to the end, on an absolute incompatibility between two major Protestant doctrines: election, and evangelization.

      One might say, as you perhaps hint, that we were predestined to discover our election, after being worked on by evangelists. But doesn’t that bring work back into the equation?

    • Jugulum


      I can understand why people sometimes see an apparent contradiction. But it’s not a “formal logical contradiction”.

      I think the answer is pretty easily seen in a particular Biblical story.

      Consider Philip & the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. God wants to bring the gospel to the eunuch, who is studying Isaiah. (I think we can agree that God knew the eunuch would believe the gospel–regardless of whether it’s because God had elected him, or because of a non-Calvinistic version of free will.) Maybe someone had been praying for the eunuch; I don’t know. Either way, God wants to bring the gospel to the eunuch, so that the eunuch will be saved. So God sends Philip.

      Would it make any sense for Philip to respond to God this way? “Meh. It’ll happen whether or not I go. If I don’t, you’ll send someone else.”

      Would it make sense for Philip to say, “My work of evangelizing is what saved him”?

      Perhaps–but only in the sense the God chose to use Philip to bring about what He wanted to happen.

    • Jugulum

      P.S. Part of my point is this: The solution I gave you is not a “Calvinistic solution”. It doesn’t depend on any thoughts that are uniquely Calvinist.

      It’s a basic point about how we should think about God, prayer, his commands, and his will, regardless of whether we’re Calvinists or Arminians or anything else.

    • Renton


      But then, our work is important, or plays SOME factor.

      God works PARTIALLY, though our work, it would seem.

      We must at the very least, demonstrate our faith, by faithfully doing an act, a work, that God orders.

      Thus our work is necessary. And election without regard to our works, is not true.

    • Jugulum

      Three things:

      1.) “Unconditional election” is about the person who trusts in Christ. It has never had anything to do with people who evangelize them. So when you raise this objection, it’s an objection to predestination in general, but it’s not an objection to what Calvinists mean by “unconditional election”. (This is just a minor point of clarification–it’s not a response to your argument, just a clarification of which beliefs you’re arguing with.)

      2.) In predestination, God often chooses to work through us.

      3.) When Calvinists talk about “it all depends on God”, they don’t mean that God doesn’t use us at all, when he brings about his purposes. Calvinists mean, “God guarantees that it will happen.”

      They mean, “God chose what would happen to bring me to salvation”, which typically includes a particular person witnessing.

    • Jugulum

      P.S. Yes, it means our work is important. Just like Philip’s work was important, even though God would have brought the Gospel to the eunuch even if Philip had refused to go.

      It’s our privilege to be part of the work that God is doing. It’s a gift, and a joy.

    • Renton

      So in what sense are we saved by “faith alone,” and not by works?

    • Jugulum

      Eh? I’m not saved because I evangelize other people. What are you asking?

      And whatever you’re asking, is it an objection to Calvinism, or to all views that say we should evangelize?

    • #John1453

      Renton, in discussions such as these, one must be mindful that Calvinists define “freedom of the will” in a completely different way than is done in normal conversation, or by anyone who is not a Calvinist for that matter.

      Under Calvinism the significance of one’s work is, in one sense, less than that of a hammer used by a carpenter to drive in nails.
      Whether the hammer is used by the carpenter is up to the carpenter and not the hammer, but without the hammer, the carpenter cannot drive in the nails. Whether a christian is used by God to deliver a saving talk of the gospel is up to God, and not the Christian (foreordination again), but without the Christian God will still save the elect (but so far unsaved) person.

      On the other hand, the significance derives solely from being chosen by God. “Gee, God used me to lead this person to Christ”.

      So, there is no actual logical contradiction, but the whole thing does seem rather pointless, which is why many people describe it informally as a contradiction.

      In regard to your post #11, under Calvinism God first regenerates an elect person, then gives them faith, and then saves them on the basis of the faith He gave them.

      Personally, I find the whole system as nonsensical as it sounds to most people, and contrary to God’s word as revealed in the Bible (and heartless, and loveless, and futile, and presents an ugly and unglorifying picture of God, etc.), but there are many who do not.


    • Lisa Robinson

      Renton, a Calvinist believes that a person does have to respond to the gospel. How are they going to hear the gospel unless someone is used to deliver it?

      You are confusing the work of evangelism with the work of salvation. They are two separate things.

    • Thank you, Lisa. As a staunch 5-point Calvinist, I still understand that the means that God has appointed is the preaching of the Word as commanded by the Lord Jesus and further pointed out by the Apostles. The same Jesus who said “Go ye therefore…” was the same One who said “All the Father gives me will come to me…” and I fully affirm both – I proclaim the Gospel, life-on-life, assured of God’s promise that “all who come to Me, I will in no wise cast out”.

      Those who make statements like these…

      “Election is irrelevant to evangelism, as it is to Christ’s command to go into all the world.”

      are honestly laughable –

      “Election is irrelevant to evangelism” – if election = justification, which it doesn’t. The elect aren’t born saved – they still have to repent and believe…

      “as it is to Christ’s command to go into all the world” – nope, Christ’s command is Christ’s command. I don’t question it, I don’t make it fit my theology, but make my theology serve that command.

      For one (of many possible) example, look up the website of my home church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and listen to the evangelistic messages preached week in, week out. Minus the evangelical sacrament of the altar call, if you can honestly say that the Gospel is not being proclaimed in earnest to all who are listening, then maybe it is not the facts driving your fatc but a prejudice…

    • Renton

      Here’s the problem that I (and possibly John) are posing:

      1) Martin Luther said we are saved by “Faith alone,” and not by “works.”

      2) But if we are not saved by works, but only by the Grace/election/etc. of God, then that would logically imply that no one needs to undertake the “work” of evangelization. Since no one’s “works” are important.

      Seemingly, God will save us; whether we work or not. Whether or not a) we ourselves work on our own salvation; or b) whether or not others evangelize to us.

      I thank you for some commonsense answers to this question. But … what about this logical problem? There seems to be a firm contradiction, between the foundational hypothesis of Protestantism, by Martin Luther – “faith alone saves us; not works” – or for that matter of Calvinism – “only God saves us, not our own work” – and the claimed necessity, of the work of evangelization.

      Simply: why perform the work of evangelizing, if works have nothing to do with our justification and salvation?

      3) We might want to try to make a distinction – as Lisa does? – between “justification” and “salvation.” But the Bible seems to suggest that both are very closely related; perhaps indistinguishable. Or possibly even, the Bible and Protestantism
      might turn out to suggest that our “work” is unimportant, even to the most important thing: salvation itself.

      God saves who he wills. Whether they work at it or not. Much of Protestantism implies. Which would render all forms of our work – including evangelization – superfluous.

      So how do we logically square Calvinism’s emphasis on election and/or salvation, AND evangelization, with Protestantism’s insistence that work is irrelevant to our righteousness, and thence (almost automatically?) salvation?

      Maybe someone answered this above?

    • #John1453

      Re DKA’s comment 15

      DKA writes off certain statements as laughable without understanding what is meant by the statements.

      From a Calvinist standpoint the foreordained election of specific individuals occurs logically (not temporally) prior to the foreordained means of election. This entails that the elect people will have saving faith regardless of the means chosen by God to accomplish that aspect of his “will”. Furthermore, the number and identity of the elect is thus known before the means are chosen and the number and identity of the elect cannot be changed. In those senses, therefore, election is irrelevant to either evangelism or to Christ’s command.

      Evangelism, and Christ’s command to evangelism, are linked to the salvation of the elect because that is the means that God has chosen for the election to be made visible and actual. The selection of that means has a great deal also to do with the fact that God made us as thinking creatures, with ears to hear and mouths to speak. Though the selection of the means of election follows the selection of the elect, the relationship between a particular menas of election and the elect is not a necessary logical relationship.


    • Renton

      Want to kick Determinism/predestination around for a second? Like this:

      1) SUrely election would mean we are in effect, saved. Therefore election IS salvation.

      2) This election and salvation is not only logically, but also temporally early: God knows and determined who is to be saved, even before they are even born.

      3) It was all done in advance of our own birth; therefore we had no real free will or responsiblity here. (The dilemma of Determinism). Our works don’t matter.

      4) Specifically, evangelization is superfluous: if a) say the means of election is irrelevant, if b) in general our works are useless, and c) it was a done deal all along from the start, then there is no necessity for evangelization. (Or any other work)

      5) Indeed, if it was all determined in advance, effective evangelization is an illusion. It was a done deal, long before we ever evangelized others, or were evangelized ourselves.

    • #John1453

      Calvinists would agree that it was a done deal in the sense that no one can thwart the decrees of God, which includes His (alleged) decree of who is elect. They would also, however, go on to state that God’s will regarding the elect is joined to a decree that they be made physically actual, not just potential, and that their election occur in space and in time. Consequently, both the salvation of the elect through faith and their evangelization were necessary in order that the potential inherent in God’s will be actualized.


    • Renton

      I think Calvinists would have trouble a) proving it was all just “potential” early on; is existing in the mind of God, who “knew us before” we materially existed, not a real existence? Just a potential one? The mind of God is not real? Or full?

      Then too, Calvinism b) seems to be “deterministic,” to the degree that it supports predestination. And here again, there would seem little chance for many of us; we are automatons, created to following a script written for us before we were born. And be saved or condemned before we were born, by the Calvinist God.

      Would things like that, be part of your own objection to Calvinism?

      If any of this holds much interest anymore?

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