The following is an in-depth review of J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and the Practical Application for All Believers.
Summary: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
In 2006, as I was traveling as a guest speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, I grew obsessed with the study of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty in the role of evangelism. We were seeing men and women saved in mass proportions at all of our events, just as Billy Graham had seen for decades in previous crusades. The results were inspiring, and it was hard to not grow consumed with trying to answer the question of who is saving these people — are the efforts of human responsibility saving them, or is God divinely persuading them to come? After seeking advice from mentors and pastors, one man told me to read J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1961]. With great excitement, I ordered the book and soon, thereafter, consumed it.
It has been over a decade since my first read of this powerful little book. After reading it again this month, I was thankful for this succinct, and sufficient, explanation of God’s vast attribute of sovereignty and the role (or reaction) of our responsibility. The majority of my friendships, pastoring, and reading are with men and women who would consider themselves reformed. In these circles, it is easy for us to allow our high view of God’s sovereignty to be overly emphasized. J. I. Packer does not allow for our views of sovereignty to get in the way of the urgency (97-98) or the necessity (98-100) of sharing the Gospel message. His aim in the book is to combat the belief that sovereignty hinders our personal evangelism; rather, it should strengthen the case for us to continue to evangelize (8, 10).
The book has four parts: Divine Sovereignty, Divine Sovereignty and Responsibility, Evangelism, and Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism. The author makes the case that we already believe in God’s sovereignty if we have prayed:(1) thanking God for our salvation, and (2) asking for the salvation of someone else (12-15). He challenges our thinking that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are somehow opposing ideas. He explains that divine sovereignty and human responsibility, working together, is a mystery and antinomy (24), but they are not opposite ideas (19-20). Striving to make too much sense of one over the other will lead to the exclusion of one, rather than the joining together of both (25-36).