I always know that I am going to get a book from Garrett, my husband, as a part of my birthday and Christmas present. It has become a sort of tradition for both of us: find a book that the other has been interested in reading or a book that is on a specific subject the other has been thinking a lot about. So, it was not surprising that this past Christmas my gift included a book on a topic that I had talked about extensively with him.
It is normal for me to have a persistent theological question mulling around in my head. Over the past year or so, I have been thinking a lot about God's sovereignty, human responsibility in evangelism, and how the two fit together. In a way, I was wrestling with a false dichotomy that I had created in my head in pitting the two against each other as incompatible realities. Many podcasts were listened to, passages of Scripture were consulted, and conversations were had concerning this topic. Most recently, I read through my Christmas present, a small, 122-page book devoted to the topic that had been consuming my thoughts: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer.
The title of the book summarizes the contents and invites the reader in to think through big topics in a succinct way. This quick and easy read leaves its reader more confident and clear on the topics of evangelism and God's sovereignty. In the following review I want to walk you through the highlights of the book's message and summarize the flow of thought. I hope this will help you get a 30,000 foot view of a book that has been really helpful for me in my personal life and ministry.
CONTRADICTION VS. ANTINOMY:
In the beginning of the book Packer defines the issue. Are evangelism and God's sovereignty contradictory or an antinomy? A contradiction implies incompatibility, while an antinomy only has the appearance of a contradiction. Thus, Packer spends a few pages helping the reader think through how evangelism and God's sovereignty are both biblical truths and, thus, "friends" not opponents.
THE CAUSE FOR THE MISUNDERSTANDING:
When something about God confuses us, we can be tempted to try to understand it fully on the basis of reasoning or experience and nothing else. Sometimes, this leads us to pit God's ultimate rule and control of his creation up against evangelism and the requirement for humans to respond to the gospel to be saved. Packer claims that we often desire a God who can be known exhaustively in his character and commands. But, he argues that "[a] God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man's image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all." If this is the case, Packer pushes further that we must leave room for "mystery and let God be wiser than men."
DEFINING THE TERMS:
The middle of the book focuses on the definitions of evangelism and what the evangelistic message is. Even with good intentions, man can reduce or overemphasize aspects of sharing the gospel or the gospel message itself. Packer spends some time here, making sure the motivation and the message remain intact according to biblical commands and definitions of the good news.
UNDERSTANDING AND APPLICATION:
The book is all tied together in the final chapter. This was my favorite part of the book. These pages were the most impactful on my understanding of how the Bible speaks of evangelism and God's sovereignty and how they fit together practically. I felt more equipped to explain and live out these truths in day to day life.
Packer describes believers as "vital links in the chain of [God's] purpose for salvation." We play a role in the effect of God's cause in bringing his people to himself, which is an enormous privilege. There are questions that come with this role that we have been tasked with, and Packer addresses many of them with biblical truth and encouragement for how to think well about them.
This book will help you sharpen your understanding of evangelism and the gospel message. It will help you reconcile the seeming contradiction of how our command to evangelize and God's sovereignty in salvation work together. You will walk away with a biblical motivation for and explanation of evangelism and how God works through us as vessels to save his people. I hope that reading this book will convict you of sin, ignite a passion for sharing the gospel, help you further formulate a biblical understanding of God's work in the salvation of sinners, and remind you of the unfathomable love God has for you - like it did for me.
"...the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility - indeed, the certainty - that evangelism will be fruitful. Apart from it, there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful."