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Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

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When it comes to evangelism, it seems that Calvinists have quite a poor reputation in the church today. Most of the largest and seemingly most successful mission organizations were founded by Arminians and continue to be based around Arminian theology. Arminian churches seem to grow much faster than churches based on Calvinist principles. It seems that part of the reason for this is that Calvinists have such a high view of God’s sovereignty that it is easy for them to assume that there is no reason for Christians to evangelize. After all, if God truly is sovereign, if He does control absolutely everything, what reason is there to evangelize? If God has ordained someone will be saved, they reason, that person will be saved regardless of my efforts. Perhaps evangelism is even sinful, for is it possible that it actually denies God’s sovereignty?

It is against this backdrop that J.I. Packer wrote Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, a classic study on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the necessity of evangelism. A short but exceedingly powerful book, Packer shows that rather than precluding evangelism, God’s sovereignty provides the most powerful incentive and support for it.

Packer begins by presenting the concept of antinomy, which he defines as “an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary.” An antinomy we face as believers is that of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Somehow, although God is absolutely sovereign, He has ordained that we would be responsible for our involvement in His plans. Our obedient response to this antinomy is to accept it for what it is and learn to live with it. Any other response would be to minimize something God deems important and even necessary to a godly life. We cannot see Divine sovereignty and human responsible as opposites or principles that are in conflict with each other, but rather as principles that complement each other and are equally true.

The author turns to a lengthy discussion of evangelism where he defines what evangelism is and what it is not. He speaks of the message of evangelism as well as the motive and means for it. He concludes with an examination of how God’s sovereignty affects evangelism. Packer’s conclusion is that “We would not wish to say that man cannot evangelize at all without coming to terms with this doctrine [God’s sovereignty]; but we venture to think that, other things being equal, he will be able to evangelize better for believing it.”

For a book weighing in at a mere 126 pages, this one contains impressive depth and contains a thorough and satisfying treatment of the subject. I highly recommend this book for all believers and trust anyone will be able to learn and grow through it.


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