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Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God Paperback – February 16, 2012
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Whether you consider yourself a Calvinist, an Arminian, or somewhere in between, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God will stimulate your thinking about evangelism and increase your desire to join God in his work. It is easy to see why InterVarsity Press has republished this book as one of its "IVP Classics." (Todd Sauve, 1340mag Books (1340magbooks.com), April 2009)
"A short but exceedingly powerful book. Packer shows that rather than precluding evangelism, God's sovereignty provides the most powerful incentive and support for it. . . . [C]ontains impressive depth and contains a thorough and satisfying treatment of the subject." (Discerning Reader)
"I've often recommended this book to faithful Christians who are confused about how they are to think about prayer, missions, giving―any area in which our efforts could be wrongly pitted against God's own necessary action. Packer introduces us to clear truths, handles Scripture with exemplary care, and supplies us with just the right amount of illustrations and application." (From the foreword by Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.)
About the Author
J. I. Packer is regarded as one of the most influential evangelicals in North America. He is Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and his writings include books such as Knowing God, A Quest for Godliness, Growing in Christ (Crossway) and Rediscovering Holiness. He has preached and lectured widely in Great Britain and North America and served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible published in 2001, and theological editor of the Study Bible version. In 2014, Packer was named Author of the Year by the Association of Logos Bookstores. He is a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today and has written numerous articles published in journals such as Churchman, SouthWestern Journal, Reformation & Revival Journal and Touchstone. He received a BA, MA and PhD from Oxford University.
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In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer addresses the question: “if God is in control, why should we do anything at all?” (8) Packer answers the question by first observing that the apparent contradiction between divine sovereignty and human response is just that “an appearance of contradiction” (24), not a real contradiction, which arises because God is both king and judge (27). As king, God makes the rules; as judge, he holds us accountable. Packer writes:
“What the objector has to learn is that he, a creature and a sinner, has no right whatsoever to find fault with the revealed ways of God. Creatures are not entitled to register complaints about their Creator.” (28)
Because we are created by God as moral agents, we must not be tempted neither to believe that we alone are responsible for the Gospel’s effectiveness nor that God will sovereignly bring the Gospel to everyone on his own (30-40).
Packer sees evangelism as “to present Christ Jesus to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come” (44) to him in faith and as having only two motives—the love of God and the love of mankind (74).
The presentation of the Gospel message, according to Packer, has 4 parts: it is a message about God, sin, Christ, and a summons to faith and repentance (60-71). Of course, the details here matter. For example, Packer see the true conviction of sin as having 3 aspects:
1. Awareness of a wrong relationship with God;
2. Conviction of sins always includes conviction of particular sins.
3. Awareness of our sinfulness—complete corruption and perversity in God’s sight. (64-65)
Another obvious detail is that the person of Christ and his divine work should not be separated (66-67).
At the time of publication, J.I. Packer was a professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) and is best known for his book, Knowing God. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is written in 4 chapters:
1. Divine Sovereignty.
2. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.
4. Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism.
These chapters are preceded by a foreword, preface, and introduction.
One of the more memorable points that Packer makes, is also one of his first:
“…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the lordship of his God” (16).
Yes, yes, yes! Unfortunately, not everyone prays and prayer can be difficult in the absence of a clear theology to lead us. In a period of spiritual lethargy, when theology is held in contempt, this can clearly be a challenge.
As here in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer is distinguished by his clear exposition of biblical truth. Oftentimes, his clarity makes the Gospel seem simpler than the many theological controversies would lead us to believe—thank goodness.
Packer, J.I. 1993. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
1. Packer does not skirt the main issue. He deals with what he calls the "antinomy" - that is, two clear truths standing in apparent contradiction to one another. He humbly shows that Scripture, far from being contradictory, reveals truth that is sometimes irreconcilable for finite beings to exhaustively comprehend. Packer holds divine sovereignty and human responsibility together in tension, without letting one outweigh the other. This is the ground of the book.
2. Packer gives one of the best summaries of the gospel I've ever read. Without watering it down one bit, he simplifies the message to four main heads (namely, God, Sin, Christ, Summons to Repentance and Faith). In his usual style, he peppers in Scripture explaining it clearly along the way. In this, Packer is both explaining the gospel to future evangelists, but he's also demonstrating to those same individuals how to explain it to others. Simply brilliant!
3. The theology of this book, namely that God is sovereign (King) and that God is also righteous (Judge) is helpful for many areas of Christian living. The question of how God can hold sinners accountable and without excuse when he himself is the sovereign Potter, forming the clay as he purposes is applicable to other areas, like prayer. We are responsible to pray and petition God, and the fervent prayers of the righteous avail much, but God has an immutable decree that governs all. The Christian can have great confidence that their prayers lead to powerful results, not despite God's sovereignty but because of it. The sovereignty of God doesn't stifle prayer, but encourages it. Just so, the fact that almighty God sends laborers to his harvest gives great confidence of reaping a harvest.
My favorite thing about this book is watching how Packer does theology. He says elsewhere that theology is "for doxology and devotion" - that is, for the theologian to rejoice in worship and go deep in faithful obedience to their God. He does it here, even while dealing with one of the most difficult theological problems. As a loyal servant, he tethers himself to the Scripture and applies it with remarkable practicality for soul-winning. Far from saying one's Calvinism should preclude evangelism, he allows his meaty theology to have hands, feet, and a mouth to share the good news to a dying world.