J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991, 2012), pp. 122. $12.38
James Inell Packer is a world renowned scholar and theologian. He has written and coauthored over 50 books. Some of his most famous works are Knowing God and A Quest for Godliness. Packer currently serves as the Board of Governors Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Packer has had an extremely large influence in the Anglican Church and has impacted evangelical Christianity at large.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God was birthed at a Pre-Mission Conference of London Inter-Faculty Christian Union on October 24th, 1959. One of Packer’s reasons for writing the book, as he states in the preface, was to clarify the relationship between God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility, and the Christian’s duty to evangelize. Since its initial publication in 1991, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God has become one of the most definitive works on the relationship between God’s purposes and activity in salvation and the Christian’s duty to evangelize.
This book is broken down into four chapters. In the first chapter, Packer discusses divine sovereignty in the life of a Christian. Packer doesn’t try to prove the sovereignty of God. Instead, he asserts that if one is a Christian, then he or she should already possess a fundamental belief in a sovereign God (11). Packer draws this out in a discussion on prayer. Since God is sovereign, this should not affect our prayer life in a negative way but in a positive way. God’s sovereignty doesn’t belittle prayer; it empowers prayer.
Packer also discusses in chapter one that God is sovereign in the believer’s salvation. Packer points out that it is impossible for someone to save themselves on their own accord, but God has saved them by his grace and mercy. The Christian should see that he did not save himself, and that he needs God’s grace everyday. Since the believer has been born again, he or she should pray for the conversion of others (15). The divine sovereignty of God is shown to provide great confidence in the Christian life, rather than leading to fatalism.
Packer’s second chapter in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God discusses the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Packer provides biblical evidence that God controls all things. God is in control of the whole world, yet man is still responsible for their reaction to the gospel. Packer provides a text that shows both this confusing, yet biblical relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The passage is Acts 2:23, which reads, “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” God had planned Jesus’ death on the cross, but lawless men killed Jesus. God sovereignly planned. Man responsibly acted. God has made man responsible moral agents (34). Christians have a responsibility to make the gospel known. Packer states, “God who sent him, and is pleased to work with him, can do without him” (31). Although God can do without man, he has chosen to use the church as the vehicle through which the world hears the gospel of his Son.
Packer discusses what evangelism is and how it relates to the individual Christian in the third chapter. He states that evangelism is not a way to teach general truths about God’s existence, but evangelism is a means to present Jesus Christ (pg. 38). Packer points out three keys in the ministry of Paul towards evangelism: the first is that Paul evangelized as a representative of Jesus Christ (pg. 42), the second is that Paul’s primary task in evangelism was to teach the truths of Jesus Christ, and the third point we can learn from Paul’s ministry is that his ultimate aim was to convert his hearers to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul was not just throwing truth at men, but cared about what he taught because he had been changed by the power of the gospel as well (pg. 53).
Packer also points out in chapter three that the nature of the evangelistic message for the Christian discusses the character of God, the nature of sin, the goodness that is found in Christ Jesus as the perfect lamb that has taken away the sins of his people. Packer says that when the Christian evangelizes he should not separate the person of Christ from his saving work, or vice-versa. Our motives for evangelism should be to glorify God and to love our neighbor. If Christians love their neighbors, they will share the gospel. In the end of chapter three, Packer discusses the means to evangelize and share the gospel.
Packer ends his book in chapter four with the topic of divine sovereignty and its relationship to evangelism. As Packer has asserted the whole book, he does so again by stating, “Evangelism is the task appointed to God’s people everywhere” (pg. 92). The Christian is sent out into the world as Christ’s global ambassador. Our job is to tell other men and women the gospel and make it clear to them. Packer shows that God’s sovereignty does not nullify our evangelistic duty, but the sovereignty of God gives us our only hope in evangelism.
In Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Packer makes the Christian think about the purpose of evangelism and the sovereignty of God. There are two primary ideas that are seen throughout this work and effectually argued for. The first is that God is sovereign. Packer expounds the Reformed understanding of God’s absolute sovereignty. He accurately argues that all Christians submit to some level of sovereignty, especially when they pray. Since God is sovereign, Christians have a ruler in the heavens who is working out all of his purposes. This should not frighten the believer but encourage one to preach the gospel in the states and abroad.
The second idea shown in this book is that God’s sovereignty should not inhibit, but rather encourage the Christian to go to the ends of the earth preaching and teaching the good news. God the Sovereign is the only hope in our evangelism. The same God over the United States is the same God over the other continents and oceans. Christians serve a God who is in control of all things. So, when Christians offer salvation through the gospel of Christ to all people, they can be confident that those whom God wills to save will without a doubt believe. This should lead the Christian to take the Great Commission seriously. Since God is sovereign, believers can go to other nations and even risk their lives for the sake of the gospel. The Christian should tell of Gods wondrous works and deeds until he breathes his last breath on this earth knowing that the God who is sovereign saves through these evangelistic efforts.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God shows that Christians should not neglect the cause to preach the gospel simply because God is sovereign over salvation. God’s sovereignty is not an excuse to be lazy in evangelism. God’s sovereignty is our rockbed assurance that we can go and give with all our might to see the nations reached wight he gospel. The church should be the light to the world, an example, and a city on a hill. The Christian should share with men and women of all nations how he has been saved, how he has been raised from death to life. He has not been saved according to the works of his own, but by the work and person of Jesus Christ.
Evan Knies is an undergraduate student at Boyce College where he studies Biblical and Theological Studies. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, Lauren. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.