Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. J.I. Packer. 1961/1991. IVP. 126 pages. [Source: Bought]

From the introduction: Always and everywhere the servants of Christ are under orders to evangelize, and I hope that what I shall say now will act as an incentive to this task.

From chapter one: I do not intend to spend any time at all proving to you the general truth that God is sovereign in His world. There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you believe this already. How do I know that? Because I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God's sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. 

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God was one of the first theology books I ever read. In the late nineties, I read a good number of J.I. Packer books, this was one of them. I loved it then. I love it now. I do think it's a great book on the subject.

Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God is divided into four chapters. The first chapter is "Divine Sovereignty." The second chapter is "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility." The third chapter is "Evangelism." The fourth and final chapter is "Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism."

The first chapter is the shortest chapter. Since Packer assumes that every person reading his book is a Christian, and since in his mind it would be impossible for a Christian to not believe in God's Sovereignty already, he keeps it brief. Essentially he argues, you already believe that God is sovereign in election because 1) you are thankful to God for your salvation, and don't try to take credit for it, 2) you pray for others to be saved. In 1961, when this was originally published, these may have been easy assumptions. I'm not so sure that is still the case today. Not that I'm saying he NEEDED to have proved God's sovereignty in the world, or in salvation. If a person, a believer, actually believes the Bible to be the Word of God, then, I think opening up the Bible will prove it soon enough. The Bible is extremely clear that God is God and that we are not. That God IS sovereign. He's always been sovereign. He always will be sovereign.

The second chapter is important. In this chapter, he presents two views, both straight from Scripture. These beliefs are a) God is King and b) God is Judge.
"Scripture teaches that as King, He orders and controls all things, human actions among them, in accordance with His own eternal purpose." (22)
"Scripture also teaches that, as Judge, He holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action he pursues." (22)
After establishing that the Bible clearly says that God is Sovereign and that humans are responsible to God, he focuses on two extreme reactions. One extreme, he notes, is to focus so exclusively on human responsibility that you essentially forget that God is sovereign even in election. When this happens, it is oh-so-easy to focus on methods and techniques and to put all the pressure on the evangelist, or the preacher.
If we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray. (27)
It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish. To do that is to intrude ourselves into the office of the Holy Ghost, and to exalt ourselves as the agents of the new birth. (29)
The second extreme is to focus so exclusively on God's sovereignty that you forget that God calls men and women to evangelize, that we are in fact the instruments God uses. The gospel must be proclaimed and shared. God uses us as his messengers. We give voice to the good news. We're part of God's plan. We have the privilege to be a part of his plan.

The third chapter is perhaps the MOST important chapter of all. It is dedicated to evangelism. It seeks to answer four questions:

  • What is evangelism?
How, then should evangelism be defined? The New Testament answer is very simple. According to the New Testament, evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel. It is a work of communication in which Christians make themselves mouthpieces for God's message of mercy to sinners. Anyone who faithfully delivers that message, under whatever circumstances, in a large meeting, in a small meeting, from a pulpit, or in a private conversation, is evangelizing. (41)
Evangelizing, therefore, is not simply a matter of teaching, and instructing, and imparting information to the mind. There is more to it than that. Evangelizing includes the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught. It is communication with a view to conversion. (50)
As love to our neighbor suggests and demands that we evangelize, so the command to evangelize is a specific application of the command to love others for Christ's sake, and must be fulfilled as such. (52)
  • What is the evangelistic message?
The four essential ingredients
1) The gospel is a message about God. (58)
2) The gospel is a message about sin. (59)
3) The gospel is a message about Christ (63)
4) The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance (70)
  • What is the motive for evangelizing?
The two motives of evangelizing:
1) Love for God and desire to be obedient (73)
2) Love for others and desire to see them saved (75)
  • By what means and methods should evangelism be practiced?
Packer discusses the pros and cons of "evangelistic meetings." But I think he has been answering this last question all along. In particular when he discusses personal evangelism and the importance of preaching/teaching.

The fourth chapter focuses on God's sovereignty AND evangelism. How will a person's conviction that God is sovereign affect the way they evangelize?! Does it make a difference? Should it make a difference?

The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect
1) the necessity of evangelism (97)
2) the urgency of evangelism (98)
3) the genuineness of the gospel invitations (100)
4) the truth of the gospel promises (100)
5) the responsibility of the the sinner for his reaction to the gospel (105)

The belief that God is sovereign in grace DOES affect
1) our hope, "it gives us our only hope of success in evangelism" (106)
2) our boldness, "it should make us bold" (118)
3) our patience, "this confidence should make us patient" (119)
4) our prayerfulness, "this confidence should make us prayerful" (122)

The third and fourth chapters are the strongest and best, perhaps. But the whole book is well worth reading. One of the highlights, for me, was his making a distinction between personal evangelism and impersonal evangelism (81-82). He also writes of the three true signs of conviction (62-63).

The book is practical, relevant, and enthusiastic.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quoting Martyn Lloyd-Jones #10

One of the devotionals I am using this year is Walking with God Day by Day by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I thought I would share some of my favorite passages month by month. (JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust, September).

From October 19
Why did the Son of God ever come into this world? When we think about the Lord Jesus Christ and especially about His death on that cross on Calvary’s hill, what is its purpose? Is it just something about which we sentimentalize? What does it represent to us? What is the explanation of it all? That is the question that John answers here, and let me put the answer in a negative form. Our Lord did not only come to give us a revelation of God, though that is a part of the purpose. He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), and we also read, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). But that is not all, though He indeed revealed the Father and has come to do that. In the same way, He has not only come to teach us about God. There is incomparable teaching there, such as the world had never known before and has not known since, but He did not come only to do that. There is also, of course, the example of His life, a matchless one, but He has not come only to give us an example of how we should live in this world. He is not just a teacher or a moral exemplar; He has not come merely to give us some kind of picture as to the nature and being of God. All that is there, but that is not the real reason, says John. He has really come, he says, because of our sins, because of the predicament and the position of men and women, because of this whole question of law. He has not come only to instruct us and to give us encouragement in our endeavor and a great example. No; there is a fundamental problem at the back of it all, and that is our relationship to God in the light of God’s holy law.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Year with Spurgeon #43

The Day of Atonement
Charles Spurgeon
“This shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year.”—Leviticus 16:34.
God’s great day of atonement was appointed and predestinated by himself. Christ’s expiation occurred but once, and then not by any chance; God had settled it from before the foundation of the world; and at that hour when God had predestinated, on that very day that God had decreed that Christ should die, was he led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers he was dumb.
So, beloved, Jesus Christ, the High Priest, and he only, works the atonement. There are other priests, for “he hath made us priests and kings unto God.” Every Christian is a priest to offer sacrifice of prayer and praise unto God, but none save the High Priest must offer atonement; he, and he alone, must go within the veil; he must slaughter the goat and sprinkle the blood; for though thanksgiving is shared in by all Christ’s elect body, atonement remains alone to him, the High Priest.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: The Night Gardener (2014)

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
Sin always takes you further than you intended to go, keeps you longer than you intended to stay, and costs you more than you intended to pay. (Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God, 38)
Our sins are often as dear to us as our children! We love them, hug them, cleave to them and delight in them! To part with them, is as hard as cutting off a right hand or plucking out a right eye! But it must be done. The parting must come. J.C. Ryle, Holiness

The Night Gardener is probably my favorite 2014 publication, and, it's the only (new) book that I've read this year and already reread. It's that kind of good.

The book opens with two quotes. One is a quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost. The second is a quote from Aesop. Both give readers a thematic taste.
Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe.
We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified. 
I love The Night Gardener for many reasons.

I love the symbolism. I love, love, love it. I think this is a book that Christians of all ages should read again and again. Parents may want to read it before handing it to their children to make sure it's age-appropriate, of course.

I love the characters. I love how flawed they are. Both Molly and Kip are very easy to relate to. The first time I read this one, I was focused more on Molly. The second time I read this one, I focused more on Kip. Honestly, I love these two so much. I also was able to pay more attention to each member of the Windsor family. The mom (Constance), the dad (Bertrand), the brother (Alistair), the sister (Penny). I do still enjoy Hester Kettle (the storyteller).

I love the story. This one has it all: atmospheric setting, suspense, mystery, and action. It is a book that is almost impossible to put down. It is intense. It is emotional. It is one that I just connected with from the very start.

I love the writing. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the writing. I do. It is one of the best written books I've read all year. The language--the phrasing--is beautiful. It is rich in description. And did, I mention, the symbolism?!

I love what it's about. I love that it is about lies and truth, good and evil, right and wrong.

I love the world-building. I love, love, love the legend within the book. This legend "of the night gardener" is found in chapter thirty-one. (209-213)

I think it's a book that anyone can fall in love with. I think that Christians can take away something from it--find spiritual depth in it, find food for thought. But I think that everyone can take away something. Believer or not. I think the book works on many levels. I think readers can walk away from it thinking it is a deliciously spooky gothic tale.

First sentence: The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.

Descriptions of 'the tree':
"There's something about this land that draws folks in, even when every bone in their bodies is telling them to run far, far away…" (107)
He had noticed a number of low branches around the base of the trunk, which he thought might provide a boost to reach the higher limbs. He reached for a branch but stopped short of touching it. The branch was dark and smooth and slightly curved. It wasn't a branch at all--it was the handle of an axe. The handle looked very old and had become a part of the tree. Kip could see the swollen knot of bark where the tree had swallowed the axe head. He stared at the other "branches" sticking out from the base: a crude hatchet, the stub of a hunting knife, a rusted bucksaw, even what looked like the hilt of a broadsword. Some of the handles looked centuries old, others looked more recent--but every one of them had failed in its purpose. "It's like a regular battlefield," he said, his voice a whisper. (129)  
"So you think he's tied to the tree, like a leash?" "I think it's deeper than that. I think they're connected…He's a slave to that tree, and the only way for him to on livin' is to keep it alive." "I hardly call that livin'." Kip pulled his coat tight. "But that's how the tree works, ain't it? It gives you what you wish for but not in a way that makes things better. I suppose that's the difference between what you want and what you need." Molly nodded. "Maybe that's what Hester really meant when she said it takes your soul." (273)
Descriptions of the house:
The air smelled stale, like an attic. Dust and dry leaves crowded the corners. Cobwebs dangled lazily from lamps and furniture. But strangest and most alarming by far was the presence of the tree, which seemed to have insinuated itself into the very architecture: crooked limbs grew straight through the plaster walls, thick roots pushed through the floorboards, and a broad, twisted branch hovered just below the high ceiling like a black chandelier. She stepped over some muddy tracks, peering into the unlit hallway. (19)
Molly took a shaky breath. "If this house is makin' you sick, then why do you stay?" Constance creased her lips. "I could ask you the same thing…but I already know the answer." Her dark gaze drifted to Molly's side, "Those letters you keep in your pocket--" Molly started. "You know about the letters?" Constance waved off her alarm. "Not their precise contents, mind you. I've seen you pouring over them when you think you're alone. But, of course, no one's ever alone in this house, not truly." She glanced toward the branches towering over the roof. "I remain here for the same reason you do. I would no sooner leave this place than you would burn those letters." Molly put a protective hand over her apron pocket. "Never…" Constance smiled. "Exactly. Without the tree, without its gifts, we would be completely unmoored." She sat back in her chair. This time, when she took her teacup, she used both hands so it would not shake. "I should think that a touch of fever is a small price to pay for such a bounty." She sipped. "Wouldn't you agree?" (221)
Descriptions of 'the night gardener':
He was real tall, dressed all in black, with a tall black hat. (42)
He walks through the whole house, room to room, and then he's gone. I asked Mummy about him, and she said I just made him up. But I'm sure I didn't, because some mornings I see the footprints he's left behind. They're muddy and shaped wrong and I don't like them." (64)
The man was working at the foot of the big tree. his clothes were tattered and worn, but his skin was as white as soap…the man's gaunt face was half-hidden behind a long, unkempt beard. The wells of his eyes were darker than pitch--like a shadow's shadow. The man carried with him a collection of old gardening tools. (120)
When he comes, you can feel it. Like when a song goes off-key. (179)
On storytelling:
For as long as Molly could remember, she had possessed a gift with words. It was not magic, exactly. Rather, it was a way of talking that made other people believe in magic things, if only for a moment. (22)
"There's nothin' so great about me," she said. "I'm just a servant. And you're just a beggar."
Hester shook her head. "Don't confuse what you do with who you are, dearie. Besides, there is no shame in humble work. Why, Aesop himself, the king of storytellers, was a slave his whole life. Never drew a free breath, yet he shaped the world with just three small words: 'There once was.'" (201)
A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide. (278)
About Kip's crutch:
His father had carved the crutch from the branch of a fallen wych elm on the farm back home. It was strong and thick and had just enough spring to be comfortable when he walked. His father had named it "Courage," saying that all good tools deserved a good title. Kip had always liked the idea that courage was a thing a person could hold on to and use. (15)
Other favorites:
To demand promises to to invite disappointment. (197)
Lizards aren't snakes, but they can still bite. Worse, they're bad luck in a garden. So folks have an old trick for gettin' rid of 'em. What you do is wait till just before sundown, when the air's cool but the lizards ain't yet gone into their holes. You take a red-hot rock from the fire and set it in the middle of the garden. The lizards--why, they hate the cold, and they'll come runnin' straight for that rock and curl up right on top o' it. Come mornin', you'll wake to find 'em still on that rock, their bodies cooked alive." She turned back. "You see: the rock saves 'em from chill only to kill'em in its own way." (231)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Looking Ahead to November

I'm super excited about Celebrate the Bible!!! And to clarify, you do NOT have to read Psalm 119 the entire month in order to participate. (You don't even have to read it once.) You participate by reading the Bible: any book, any chapter. Read anywhere you like in the Bible. I want to celebrate the Bible, celebrate Bible reading. Please consider participating! Share where you're reading throughout the month!

I will be writing first impression and/or bible reviews of the following:

MEV Thinline Bible

ESV Women's Devotional Bible

NKJV Adventure Bible

The Study Bible for Women, HCSB. Edited by Dorothy Kelley Patterson and Rhonda Harrington Kelley

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week in Review: October 19-25


  • Isaiah 30-66
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations


  • Genesis
  • Exodus 1-2
  • Psalms 90-150
  • Proverbs
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Luke
  • Acts


  • 2 Corinthians
  • 1 John 
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: While Love Stirs (2014)

While Love Stirs. Lorna Seilstad. 2014. Revell. 341 pages. [Source: Bought]

While Love Stirs is the second book in the Gregory Sisters trilogy. (The first book is When Love Calls.) Charlotte Gregory is the middle sister. She is a recent graduate of Fannie Farmer's School of Cookery. She is hoping to find work in a restaurant, as a chef. That is her big dream. It won't be easy. She knows that. Her sisters know that too. But she's determined to find a way to cook for others. Her dream may need to undergo some compromises…

Charlotte Gregory may not have been able to find a job as a chef in a hotel in her hometown. But there is someone at the gas company who believes in her, and wants to hire her to tour and lecture. She'll be helping to advertise and promote the gas company's gas stove. She'll be demonstrating how wonderful it is, how easy it is, how revolutionary it is. She'll also be showing off some of her cooking skills, advocating cooking by recipe and precise measurements. She'll meet plenty of interesting people…

But the one person who may change her mind about many things--her heart, her future, her goals--is a young, handsome doctor named Joel Brooks.

When the novel isn't focused on Charlotte, readers get a chance to know the youngest sister, Tessa. Readers learn that she wants to be an actress. I didn't exactly "love" Tessa's chapters. I was much more interested in Charlotte's story. I found it entertaining. I liked her taking part in a cooking contest. I liked the scenes where she's demonstrating and lecturing. I liked many things actually.

I definitely have enjoyed both books in this series. Recommended.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible