In seminary I first read J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty God as part of my reading in an independent study on evangelism with Dr. John Hammett at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Packer (Ph.D., Oxford) is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions. Packer is the author of numerous books, and is considered one of the most influential Christian theologians today. Here is an introduction to Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:
“Divine sovereignty is a vast subject: it embraces everything that comes into the biblical picture of God as Lord and King in His world, the One who ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. i. I I), directing every process and ordering every event for the fulfilling of his own eternal plan.”
“The only aspect of divine sovereignty that will concern us in these pages is God’s sovereignty in grace: His almighty action in bringing helpless sinners home through Christ to Himself.”
“I shall try to show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not to be daunted by temporary setbacks.”
“The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helpless dependence…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty.”
First, “you give God thanks for your conversion…because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.” Secondly, “You pray for the conversion of others…when you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith.”
“The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church- the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions.”
“This is because thinking through it we have to deal with an antinomy in biblical revelation, in such circumstances our finite, fallen minds are more than ordinarily apt to go astray.”
“It is an apparent incompatibility between two truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable…You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together.”
“An antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible…an observed relation between two statements of fact…Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it….think of the two principles as complementary to each other…Use each within the limits of its own sphere of reference.”
“Hearers of the gospel are responsible for their reaction; if they reject the good news, they are guilty of unbelief.”
“Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent.”
“The temptation is to undercut and maim the one truth by the way in which we stress the other: to assert man’s responsibility in a way that excludes God from being sovereign, or to affirm God’s sovereignty in a way that destroys the responsibility of man.”
First, “there is the temptation to an exclusive concern with human responsibility.” Secondly, “there is an opposite temptation that threatens us also: namely, the temptation to an exclusive concern with divine sovereignty.”
“Our evangelistic work is the instrument He uses for this purpose….it is God’s prerogative to give results when the Gospel is preached.”
“Only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.”
“God’s way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel, and the Church has been charged to go into all the world for that very purpose.”
“To evangelize, is to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”
“…evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Saviour, but of a divine command to repent of sin.”
“Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of the faith is God’s.”
“it is by teaching that the gospel preacher fulfills his ministry. To teach the gospel is his first responsibility: to reduce it to its simplest essentials, to analyze it point by point, to fix its meaning by positive and negative definition, to show how each part of the message links up with the rest- and go on explaining it till he is quite sure that his listeners have grasped it.”
“Evangelizing includes the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught.”
“Evangelism it to be defined, not institutionally, in terms of the kind of meeting held, but theologically, in terms of what is taught, and for what purpose.”
“In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ, and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel is a message about Christ, and a message about sin.
- Conviction of sin is essentially an awareness of a wrong relationship with God
- Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sins
- Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sinfulness.
A message about Christ.
- We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work.
- We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His person.
“The question about the extent of the atonement…has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message…” (Good discussion points)
On the summons to faith and repentance. “Faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises and mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ who gave those promises…repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place.”
- The demand is for faith as well as repentance.
- The demand is for repentance as well as faith.
“In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.”
“They [the Disciples] did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one’s family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them…it was a great privilege to evangelize.”
“personal evangelism needs normally to be founded on friendship. You are not normally justified in choosing the subject of conversation with another till you have already begun to give yourself to him in friendship and established a relationship with him in which he feels that you respect him, and are interested in him, and are treating him as a human being, and not just some kind of ‘case’.”
“The seemingly inevitable glamorizing of Christian experience in the testimonies is pastorally irresponsible, and gives a falsely romanticized impression of what being a Christian is like. This together with the tendency to indulge in long drawn-out wheedling for decisions and the deliberate use of luscious music to stir sentiment, tends to produce ‘conversions’ which are simply psychological and emotional upheavals, and not the fruit of spiritual conviction and renewal at all,”
“There is only one means of evangelism: namely, the gospel of Christ explained and applied…There is only one agent of evangelism: namely the Lord Jesus Christ…There is only one method of evangelism: namely, the faithful explanation and application of the gospel message.”
Questions to assess ones gospel preaching:
- “Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God?”…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to promote, or impede, the work of the word in men’s minds?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the doctrine of the gospel, not just part of it, but the whole of it?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the application of the gospel, not just part of it, but the whole of it?…
- Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious?…”
“Older theology distinguishes the two as God’s will of precept and His will of purpose, the former being His published declaration of what man ought to do, the latter His (largely secret) decision as to what He Himself will do. The former tells man what he should be; the latter settles what he will be. Both aspects of God are facts, though how they are related in the mind of God is inscrutable to us.”
“The sovereignty of God in grace does not affect anything that we have said about the nature and duty of evangelism.”
- It does not affect the necessity of evangelism.
- It does not affect the urgency of evangelism.
- It does not affect the genuineness of gospel invitations.
“It is true that God has from all eternity chosen whom He will save. It is true that Christ came specifically to save those whom the Father has given Him. But it is also true that Christ offers Himself freely to all men as their Savior, and guarantees to bring to glory everyone who trusts in Him as such.”
- It does not affect the responsibility of the sinner for his reaction to the gospel.
“The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism. It should make us bold.”
- It should make us patient.
- It should make us prayerful.
-  J.I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1991), 9.
-  Packer, 9-10.
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