Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of GodEvangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1991, 126 pp)

Personal evangelism has been on my mind frequently the last few months, as a Christian who ought to be thinking carefully how to better articulate the Gospel, and as a pastor needing to lead my congregation through the same thought process. I have read several articles and books during that time, all which seemed to reference J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, which I finished last week. Packer’s aim is to explain why personal evangelism and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty can and ought to coexist in our minds and practice. The 127 page book is broken down into four chapters of unequal length: “Divine Sovereignty,” “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility,” “Evangelism,” and “Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism.”

Packer’s explanation of God’s sovereignty in chapter one was as clear and compelling as any of his arguments in Knowing God. He asserts from the beginning that he has no intention of trying to “prove” the sovereignty of God to Christians, because he doesn’t need to. Every Christian deep down believes in God’s sovereignty:

“. . . I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have already, and all the good that you hope for in the future . . . In effect, therefore, what what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty.” (11-12)

I think this is precisely the way we should present God’s sovereignty in our preaching – not as a controversial doctrine to be defended, but from Christian experience and Biblical texts where it is simply assumed that the one who has created all things necessarily rules all things, and brings about every one of his own good purposes. It is not a point of controversy, and we ought not treat it as though it is. Alongside that, as Packer shows, we should display a passion for souls in evangelism.

I found Packer’s explanation of what evangelism and the message Gospel are to be one of the most helpful sections in the book. Packer tells us that the Gospel message is made up of at least four components: It is a message about God and his character, a message about sin, a message about the person and work of Christ, and it is a summons to repentance and faith. Packer’s theologically astute tracing out of each of these components provides an excellent resource for anyone preparing to go out and evangelize or who is training others to do so. 

Finally, Packer makes all the right practical points in his final chapter when he explains why a robust understanding of God’s sovereignty should always strengthen our passion for evangelism. It is the rock solid knowledge that God saves even the chief of sinners through the proclamation of the Gospel from the most fragile of vessels that should stir us and send us out. We are not like Encyclopedia salesmen having to convince people to buy something they don’t really need by our own power and cleverness, hoping against hope that we can win them over. Instead, we are heralds of the salvation of God. This means, as Packer notes in closing, that the work of evangelism must always drive us to prayer:

“. . . there are two sides to the evangelistic commission. It is a commission, not only to preach, but to pray; not only to talk to men about God, but to talk to God about men. Preaching and prayer must go together; our evangelism will not be according to knowledge, nor will it be blessed, unless they do. We are to preach, because without knowledge of the Gospel, no man can be saved. We are to pray, because only the sovereign Holy Spirit in us and in men’s hearts can make our preaching effective to men’s salvation, and God will not send His Spirit where there is no prayer.” (124)

This highly recommended book was an excellent read, and if you are at all familiar with the territory he is covering, it is a fairly quick one as well. Like Packer’s Knowing God, it represents the best kind of theological writing – the kind that drives us out to exalt Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel.

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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