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Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God

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If God is in control of everything, can Christians sit back and not bother to evangelize? Or does active evangelism imply that God is not really sovereign at all? J.I. Packer shows in this classic study how both of these attitudes are false. In a careful review of the biblical evidence, he shows how a right understanding of God's sovereignty is not so much a barrier to eva If God is in control of everything, can Christians sit back and not bother to evangelize? Or does active evangelism imply that God is not really sovereign at all? J.I. Packer shows in this classic study how both of these attitudes are false. In a careful review of the biblical evidence, he shows how a right understanding of God's sovereignty is not so much a barrier to evangelism as an incentive and powerful support for it.

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30 review for Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    I think that every professing Christian should read this book, or (at the very least) those who go on mission trips/evangelistic outings. J.I. Packer delivers a comprehensive, but still brief, explanation of the seemingly incompatible relationship between human responsibility in evangelism and God’s sovereignty in salvation. There are many Christians who say that believers who emphasize the sovereignty of grace and unconditional election do so to the neglect of human responsibility and divine ac I think that every professing Christian should read this book, or (at the very least) those who go on mission trips/evangelistic outings. J.I. Packer delivers a comprehensive, but still brief, explanation of the seemingly incompatible relationship between human responsibility in evangelism and God’s sovereignty in salvation. There are many Christians who say that believers who emphasize the sovereignty of grace and unconditional election do so to the neglect of human responsibility and divine accountability. (I used to be one of them!) Packer explains how this can be attributed to an incomplete understanding of these two biblical doctrines; they are actually “friends” and work alongside one another. Truly, God is our only hope for the salvation of our friends and family; there is no other way for a dead heart to be made alive or for blind eyes to receive sight but through the power of God’s grace! Yet we are still responsible as bearers of this good news! We must allow these doctrines to exist as they do in Scripture; side by side! Chapter 3 is one of the best essays on evangelism that I’ve ever read, and Chapter 1 is an undeniably effective argument for God’s sovereignty. Packer is thorough yet easy to understand in his points and takes care to avoid misinterpreted extremes in his theology. In reading this book, I feel like I have found a biblically sound explanation of these topics…and I think the Holy Spirit agrees! Thanks to my girlfriend for suggesting this one!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick Gibson

    A stout, plain-spoken defense of limited atonement and irresistible grace framed by a discussion of the necessity, technique, and goal of evangelism. Biblical fundamentals in an inclusive format, perfect for starting conversations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John Gardner

    I recently re-read this "classic" (if that word can apply to books while the authors are still living) since this year marks the 50th anniversary of its publishing. This is one of the greatest treatments on the subject of how Christians are to reconcile God's sovereignty with man's responsibility, and something I consider an absolute "must-read" for every Christian. Debate has raged for centuries about this topic, yet I know of no more helpful book to address it. Most Christians tend to overempha I recently re-read this "classic" (if that word can apply to books while the authors are still living) since this year marks the 50th anniversary of its publishing. This is one of the greatest treatments on the subject of how Christians are to reconcile God's sovereignty with man's responsibility, and something I consider an absolute "must-read" for every Christian. Debate has raged for centuries about this topic, yet I know of no more helpful book to address it. Most Christians tend to overemphasize either God's sovereignty or man's responsibility, to the exclusion of the other, but Packer explains that we must not do this. The Bible emphasises BOTH; therefore we must believe and teach both. One of the best sections of the book is Packer's explanation of the difference between paradox and antinomy. A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to unite two opposite ideas, a play on words which creates the appearance of a contradiction. A biblical example is Christ's teaching that those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who lose their lives for his sake will find them. The contradiction is in words only; we can see what Jesus meant by this teaching when we give it a little thought. Antinomy is different. As Packer writes, "it is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths". This describes the biblical position on God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. The teaching that God is absolutely sovereign over salvation, electing some to become his people before the foundation of the world, appears to be incompatible with the teaching that men are responsible for the choices we make, and will be judged based on our decision to accept or reject Christ as Savior and submit to him as Lord. Yet throughout the New Testament, these two concepts are taught side-by-side as both being true. Grasping the concept of antinomy is key to understanding how these two truths (or, in Spurgeon's words, these "friends") work together. Armed with the knowledge that God is sovereign AND man is responsible, Packer focuses on what this means for the evangelistic efforts of Christians: "Far from making evangelism pointless, 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." His thoughtful teaching is both practical and biblical, providing encouragement and impetus for personal and corporate evangelism that is marked by the gospel and driven by prayer. One interesting note about the particular edition of this book which I read comes from the copyright page. Listed among all the other legal jargon is something I don't believe I've seen before: Inter-Varsity Press has copyrighted the "Americanization" of this book in 2008. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but this is a very approachable (and short) book that deserves to be on every Christian's bookshelf.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Logan Maloney

    I read this book at the perfect time. I had been recently thinking through the questions that this book is all about. Definitely recommend it to anyone thinking through the relationship between God’s sovereignty and how that helps us understand evangelism better. Not the most exciting read but I learned a lot!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Very helpful, as I tend to be fearful in evangelizing, holding tightly to the idea that it just isn't my spiritual gifting. This book spurs me on to pray for more opportunities to share, to pray for those who will hear, and to pray that I would trust that His Word does not return void.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Tankersley

    Depending on the background of the reader, this book could be either eye-opening, infuriating, or a great way to refocus on the fundamentals of evangelism. Eye-opening for those who have never considered the sovereignty of God in evangelism, infuriating for those who strongly disagree with it, and refocusing for those who know it already. I was in the latter camp, so that is the perspective the review will be written from. The author takes the first half of the book to explain three truths can exis Depending on the background of the reader, this book could be either eye-opening, infuriating, or a great way to refocus on the fundamentals of evangelism. Eye-opening for those who have never considered the sovereignty of God in evangelism, infuriating for those who strongly disagree with it, and refocusing for those who know it already. I was in the latter camp, so that is the perspective the review will be written from. The author takes the first half of the book to explain three truths can exist together: God is sovereign in evangelism, Christians should evangelize, and those who do not follow Christ are responsible for their sin and lack of faith and will be judged. He then moves on to explain the definition of evangelism, and finally the method of evangelism. Reiterating over these fundamental principles of evangelism was beneficial. It's easy to lose sight of the importance of evangelism and forget that Christians should be enterprising in their evangelism, always considering better ways to love their neighbors through the method. That reminder made the book worth reading to me. As professional basketball players continue to work on layups and dribbling, we still need to review our fundamentals and ensure no bad habits have snuck in. I think, when it comes to evangelism, bad habits sneak in often. The second best was the reminder to pray. Belief in the sovereignty of God in evangelism should cause us to pray above all else, as we are not the cause of salvation - God is. I'm thankful for the reminder of my impotence and dependency on God, and I hope to approach evangelism in humility, following His plans, and presenting my greatest treasure, this salvation from Jesus Christ, to those whom are my neighbors.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    J.I. Packer has an amazing gift for explaining theology with great clarity and brevity. He begins by brushing aside objections to belief in God's sovereignty by claiming that every Christian who prays at all, who thanks God for their own salvation, and who prays for the salvation of others undeniably demonstrates belief that God is sovereign. In chapter 2 he outlines the classic antinomy of God's sovereignty vs human responsibility -- two concepts which are clearly biblical truths, but cannot be J.I. Packer has an amazing gift for explaining theology with great clarity and brevity. He begins by brushing aside objections to belief in God's sovereignty by claiming that every Christian who prays at all, who thanks God for their own salvation, and who prays for the salvation of others undeniably demonstrates belief that God is sovereign. In chapter 2 he outlines the classic antinomy of God's sovereignty vs human responsibility -- two concepts which are clearly biblical truths, but cannot be reconciled by human logic. Contoversy arises when we attempt to disregard one or the other to reach a resolution, whereas in fact we need to learn to embrace both together. If we overemphasise human responsibility in salvation, our evangelism becomes nothing but method and technique to manipulate a response. If we overemphasise God's sovereignty, our evangelism ceases all together as unnecessary. Chapter 3, the longest, is a thorough examination of evangelism -- what it is, it's message, motive and methods. Finally Packer delves into the most profound issue -- how do we view evangelism in light of God's sovereignty? Evangelism, he says, without God's sovereignty, would be a complete and total waste of time with no hope of success, but in fact God's sovereignty should fill us with great confidence as we share our faith. A short book, to read and re-read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Pynch

    "Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel." - J. I. Packer This book has challenged my approach in how I share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This has quickly become one of my favorite books. I plan on reading this again before 2017 is over! If you want a really good book on evangelism and the role that believe "Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel." - J. I. Packer This book has challenged my approach in how I share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This has quickly become one of my favorite books. I plan on reading this again before 2017 is over! If you want a really good book on evangelism and the role that believers play and the ultimate role God plays - I would suggest picking this book up and reading it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matt Kottman

    This is a short read and a helpful treatment of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. It help deconstruct caricatures of views of evangelism.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was an excellent treatment of the doctrine of God's Sovereignty and evangelism. I would recommend this to those who are new to the doctrines of Grace, or those (especially) who believe themselves opposed to the idea of God's Sovereignty in salvation and the implications on evangelism. I had one small quibble with Mr. Packer. On page 81/81, he goes into "friendship evangelism" suggesting that we have to win the right to share the Gospel in person to person evangelism. I wholeheartedly disagre This was an excellent treatment of the doctrine of God's Sovereignty and evangelism. I would recommend this to those who are new to the doctrines of Grace, or those (especially) who believe themselves opposed to the idea of God's Sovereignty in salvation and the implications on evangelism. I had one small quibble with Mr. Packer. On page 81/81, he goes into "friendship evangelism" suggesting that we have to win the right to share the Gospel in person to person evangelism. I wholeheartedly disagree, as does the Bible. This idea contradicts every example we have in the Scriptures, and even contradicts things he (Mr. Packer) goes on to say in his book. I think this is an unfortunate case of a great theologian getting caught up in the ideas of his time. Otherwise, an excellent tome.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    What an excellent read. Packer does an excellent job of connecting, as the title suggests, the sovereignty of God and evangelism. I won't attempt to summarize the book but rather will encourage anyone wanting to challenge their understanding of evangelism in light of who God is to read this great book. After reading this book, I feel encouraged to pray more, develop more meaningful relationships with others without such fear around sharing the gospel, and having patience in knowing salvation is What an excellent read. Packer does an excellent job of connecting, as the title suggests, the sovereignty of God and evangelism. I won't attempt to summarize the book but rather will encourage anyone wanting to challenge their understanding of evangelism in light of who God is to read this great book. After reading this book, I feel encouraged to pray more, develop more meaningful relationships with others without such fear around sharing the gospel, and having patience in knowing salvation is in God's hands and not my own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Kruizinga

    This book is a must read for every Christian. It provides a good balance between doctrine, theology and biblical insight into a very important topic.

  13. 4 out of 5

    C.H. Cobb

    To have published a single literary work that becomes a classic is a notable accomplishment. Publishing two gives the writer a corner on contemporary Christians’ reading lists. James Inverness Packer has accomplished just that. Packer is well-known for his landmark book, Knowing God , which first was published in 1973. This is not a review of that book, but if you have not read it you should. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (first published, 1961) is the other classic Packer has written To have published a single literary work that becomes a classic is a notable accomplishment. Publishing two gives the writer a corner on contemporary Christians’ reading lists. James Inverness Packer has accomplished just that. Packer is well-known for his landmark book, Knowing God , which first was published in 1973. This is not a review of that book, but if you have not read it you should. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (first published, 1961) is the other classic Packer has written, and it punches far above its weight (my copy is a 2008 reprint edition—it’s only 134 pages) in the world of biblically faithful Christian classics. The first chapter, Divine Sovereignty, makes the case that all believers adhere to a confidence in God’s absolute sovereignty. Packer calls the average Christian’s prayer life to the witness stand, and the testimony is irrefutable. If you are inclined to question this last sentence, just read the chapter and form your own opinion: it’s only seven pages long. Next, in Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Packer shows that these two poles of activity (divine and human) comprise not a paradox, but an antinomy: the assertion of two statements which seem to be contradictory, but both of which are logically necessary: “An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable” [26]. Packer goes on to show, with plenty of examples, that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are taught in Scripture. His advice regarding how to handle the conflict between the two is wise: “What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles not as rival alternatives but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other (such deductions would, for that very reason, be certainly unsound)” [28-29]. In his chapter entitled, Evangelism, Packer answers four questions in the light of the foregoing. “What is evangelism? What is the evangelistic message? What is the motive for evangelizing? By what means and methods should evangelism be practiced” [45]? The bulk of the book is found in this chapter, and it is excellent. Packer fully delivers on the promise to deal with the questions, and in doing so he faithfully and powerfully represents the biblical gospel. The final chapter, Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism, demonstrates that, far from being a damper on our evangelism, a good understanding of God’s sovereign role stokes the flames of our passion to tell the message. God’s sovereignty is, in fact, a guarantee of our success in evangelism. Without being disrespectful or polemical, Packer has dismantled the typical Arminian concerns regarding the doctrines of grace, as regards evangelism. This book is not a “gotcha!” to be used to win a debate; rather, it is a powerful, positive, pastoral accounting of what must remain a divine mystery: God’s absolute sovereignty, and our undeniable responsibility to evangelize.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Miroslav Balint-Feudvarski

    Excellent!!! It is one of the most practical theology books (and only 127 pages!) that I've ever read! Every Christian should (re)read it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gerald

    A great book that answered a lot of big questions for me, especially as an evangelism coordinator for InterVarsity. J.I. Packer clearly explains the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility as an antimony; that is, both are true and from the bible and seem to contradict each other, yet they don't. Alas, Packer does a much better job unpacking (pun not intended!) this than I can. Packer then also connects this relationship to evangelism; what it is, what is its purpose/goa A great book that answered a lot of big questions for me, especially as an evangelism coordinator for InterVarsity. J.I. Packer clearly explains the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility as an antimony; that is, both are true and from the bible and seem to contradict each other, yet they don't. Alas, Packer does a much better job unpacking (pun not intended!) this than I can. Packer then also connects this relationship to evangelism; what it is, what is its purpose/goal, how it should be done, etc. Here are some quotes that I really liked: “The root of the confusion [about evangelism is in:] defining evangelism in terms, not of a message delivered, but of an effect produced in our hearers.” “According to the New Testament, evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel. It is a work of communication in which Christians make themselves mouthpieces for God’s message of mercy to sinners.” -p.41 “It was a message of some complexity, needing to be learned before it could be lived by, and understood before it could be applied. It needed, therefore, to be taught.” -p.47 “Evangelizing … is not simply a matter of teaching, and instructing, and imparting information to the mind. There is more to it than that. Evangelizing includes the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught. It is communication with a view to conversion. It is a matter, not merely of informing, but also of inviting.” –p.50 “Such was evangelism according to Paul: going out in love, as Christ’s agent in the world, to teach sinners the truth of the gospel with a view to converting and saving them.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric Fults

    Awesome and refreshing read. Packer does an awesome job at holding the two concepts of man's responsibility and divine sovereignty together in truth. He affirms that we are called to evangelize and that God's sovereignty in salvation does not remove our need to do so, but he also comforts and encourages that a belief in God's sovereignty in evangelism is our only hope of success, since God is the one who wields the power to change hearts. Packer provided awesome logical arguments for God's sover Awesome and refreshing read. Packer does an awesome job at holding the two concepts of man's responsibility and divine sovereignty together in truth. He affirms that we are called to evangelize and that God's sovereignty in salvation does not remove our need to do so, but he also comforts and encourages that a belief in God's sovereignty in evangelism is our only hope of success, since God is the one who wields the power to change hearts. Packer provided awesome logical arguments for God's sovereignty and human responsibility in evangelism and he also comforted and compelled me to take the gospel forth to the nations, reminding me that my job is to herald the good news while I trust that God (who promises that he is with me until the end of the age) will, in his wisdom, change chosen hearts in his appointed time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

    Great book on our role in evangelism, which is unquestionably the work of God. The author warns against both extremes (trying to evangelize on our own power using the latest techniques and foregoing evangelism altogether because it it God who turns hearts) and presents a solid Biblical middle ground. He argues that the doctrine of divine sovereignty and our evangelistic duty are not opposites, but work together for the salvation of souls in a Biblical manner. The only thing I regret about this b Great book on our role in evangelism, which is unquestionably the work of God. The author warns against both extremes (trying to evangelize on our own power using the latest techniques and foregoing evangelism altogether because it it God who turns hearts) and presents a solid Biblical middle ground. He argues that the doctrine of divine sovereignty and our evangelistic duty are not opposites, but work together for the salvation of souls in a Biblical manner. The only thing I regret about this book is that it was written prior to the Boston Movement. I would be curious what he would say about modern, post-1960s evangelistic winds of thought.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patrick McWilliams

    Good book that successfully refutes the anti-Calvinist assertion that the doctrines of unconditional election, effectual calling, and particular redemption somehow impede the motivation of evangelism. However, the book cripples its own argument by an odd insistence that the truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility form an insoluble antinomy in Scripture. Ironically, I think Packer, in this very book, does a pretty good job of showing how the two doctrines logically cohere. (For a cle Good book that successfully refutes the anti-Calvinist assertion that the doctrines of unconditional election, effectual calling, and particular redemption somehow impede the motivation of evangelism. However, the book cripples its own argument by an odd insistence that the truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility form an insoluble antinomy in Scripture. Ironically, I think Packer, in this very book, does a pretty good job of showing how the two doctrines logically cohere. (For a clearer, more detailed study of this issue, see Gordon H. Clark's "Religion, Reason, and Revelation.) Aside from this misstep, Packer's volume is excellent.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Thomas

    This is an excellent book! Seriously, after personally hearing that those who hold to God sovereignty in salvation shouldn't believe in evangelism, this book does an excellent and fair job of completely destroying that false premise. I only wish I read it earlier, this has given me more confidence in my evangelism and soothed my soul for the times when there was no fruit visible when evangelizing. Whether you believe in election or not, this is a important read to combat against such a false pre This is an excellent book! Seriously, after personally hearing that those who hold to God sovereignty in salvation shouldn't believe in evangelism, this book does an excellent and fair job of completely destroying that false premise. I only wish I read it earlier, this has given me more confidence in my evangelism and soothed my soul for the times when there was no fruit visible when evangelizing. Whether you believe in election or not, this is a important read to combat against such a false premise that God's sovereignty and evangelism can't go hand and hand.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Evan Gartman

    Though some believe that a high view of God's sovereignty discourages evangelism and promotes fatalism, Packer argues in his book "... 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." I found this book to be very encouraging and refreshing to be reminded of the truth of the Gospel. God's sovereignty motivates me to go forth in boldness, declaring The Gospel, Though some believe that a high view of God's sovereignty discourages evangelism and promotes fatalism, Packer argues in his book "... 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." I found this book to be very encouraging and refreshing to be reminded of the truth of the Gospel. God's sovereignty motivates me to go forth in boldness, declaring The Gospel, knowing that some will be saved by His grace.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Micah Lugg

    I loved this book. There is a reason that it is an evangelical classic. Packer tackles some big theological territory in only few pages. It strengthened my belief in the sovereignty of God, encouraged me to engage in evangelism, and shepherded my heart closer to Christ. I highly recommend it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt Tyler

    Simply excellent! There are only a few books that I would recommend for all Christians to read. This is most definitely one of them. If someone asks me for a book on evangelism, I recommend this one. If someone asks me for a book on the sovereignty of God, I recommend this one. Truly a must read. You will enjoy it and be blessed.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Easily the best book I've ever read on evangelism. Packer is clear, concise, profoundly theological and yet practical at the same time. Only 122 pages yet brilliantly outlines how God's sovereignty fits perfectly with the commands to evangelize. Our evangelism (and our Christian faith) must hold together God's sovereignty and human responsibility in tension, as the Bible does.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marcel

    Saber que Deus é soberano na salvação nos encoraja, nos traz paciência, nos consola e nos traz perseverança para continuarmos a fazer a nossa tarefa, que é anunciar as boas-novas! Os frutos surgirão da graça divina e ocorrerão para a glória de Deus!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peter B.

    Packer does a good job dealing with the relation between evangelism and the sovereignty of God, namely, that God's sovereignty and man's responsibility do not conflict, but complement each other (despite the antinomy they create), and that God's sovereignty gives us our only hope in evangelism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Han

    Wrestling with some questions and this book is very helpful about a Christian believer's role in light of the doctrine of God's sovereign control over everything.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    I don’t think God has called me to be a Calvinist.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Hodge

    Packer simply answers the issue - if God has already predestined things, why evangelise? He answers it neatly and succinctly.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erika Schanzenbach

    This is an excellent little book. Focused. Helpful. Practical. It will be a good one to re-read periodically.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eric Durso

    Read back in 2011, and just read again in 2015. Went from a 4-star to a 5-star. Great book.

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