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

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