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Book Review: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God J. I. Packer

Contributed by a Westminster Member

Synopsis

J.I. Packer seeks to provide us with a better understanding of evangelism in relation to the sovereignty of God. Packer begins his book by claiming that all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God, some just are not aware of it. For when we pray to God, when we thank Him for our salvation, and when we pray for salvation for others, we acknowledge His sovereignty. For none of us come before God and say that we ought to get some credit too for our salvation. So the belief in God's sovereignty should not be in doubt for any Christian.

However, it seems that we need to reconcile the apparent opposition between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the Bible. "God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are taught us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true." So in reality, these two truth do not need reconciliation rather we need to show some humility and admit that there are some truths in the Bible that we are not going to fully comprehend. It is a mystery that we don't have the right as creatures to demand to understand. But we must continue to affirm both truths. We are fully responsible for actions before God and at the same time God is completely sovereign over our salvation.

And why does it matter if we have the right understanding of these two truths? Our understanding of these two truths will manifest itself in the way we evangelize. If we emphasize man's responsibility at the expense of God's sovereignty then we will focus on techniques and doing everything possible to evoke a decision from man. If we emphasize God's sovereignty at the expense of man's responsibility then we will not think that evangelism is necessary at all.

Packer proceeds to tackle four questions. What is evangelism? What is the evangelistic message? What is the motive of evangelizing? By what means and methods should evangelism be practiced? Packer's answers to these questions are completely grounded in Scripture. He examines the life of Paul, the Great Commission, the parable of the Good Samaritan and other passages. While doing so, he presents us with a very succinct yet thorough definition of the Gospel. He also examines common pitfalls we face in evangelizing.

The last chapter of the book ponders the affect of belief in Sovereignty of God on evangelism. One of the conclusions he draws is the fact that God's sovereignty ought to free us and give us confidence in evangelism. For the conversions do not rest on our shoulders but on God's. And He will save in His own time. But we must continue to be faithful with the duty entrusted to us.

It is important to note that you will not find any techniques for evangelism in this book. According to Packer, evangelism must be personal rather than focused on short bursts of missions or organized events. And therefore it will be costly because it demands that we give ourselves to honest friendships with people.

In conclusion, it is amazing how much truth is packed into this little book. When you finish it, you will have a greater knowledge and understanding of Scripture, you will be better equipped to be faithful in loving your neighbors, and you will have greater knowledge of God. And then you will want to read it again.

Strengths

  • Easy to read with numerous references to the Scriptures
  • Theologically deep yet fully practical
  • Clear presentation of the Gospel
  • Asks hard questions that will cause us to reflect on our own lives

Shortcomings

While the book does not cover techniques, it also does not cover timeliness and common situations we might encounter as seek to reach out to others. It is important that our earnestness for evangelism does not result in us forsaking courtesy and wisdom. For more advice and guidance in this area, you will have to turn elsewhere, preferably a senior saint.

Quotes

p.17: "How, then, do you pray? Do you ask God for your daily bread? Do you thank God for your conversion? Do you pray for the conversion of others? If the answer is 'no', I can only say that I do not think you are yet born again. But if the answer is 'yes' - well, that proves that, whatever side you may have taken in debates on this question in the past, in your heart you believe in the sovereignty of God no less firmly than anyone else."

p.61: "To preach sin means, not to make capital out of people's felt frailties (the brainwasher's trick), but to measure their lives by the holy law of God. To be convicted of sin means, not just to feel that one is an all-around flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set him forth as the One who through His cross sets men right with God again. To put faith in Christ means relying on Him, and Him alone, to restore us to God's fellowship and favour."

p.78: "We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility which we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and to our neighbour. To start with, we all can and should be praying for the salvation of unconverted people, particularly in our family, and among our friends and everyday associates. And then we must learn to see what possibilities of evangelism our everyday situation holds, and to be enterprising in our use of them. It is the nature of love to be enterprising."

Purchase

Purchase Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer on Amazon

Related Books

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman