Review of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (part 1)
There have been many books written on the subject of Christian Evangelism over the years. If you are interested in the subject, then you can find numerous books on the subject of that deals with everything from the precise phrases to use while witnessing to how you can evangelize others by just looking at them the right way (seriously).
While most of the volumes on the subject focus on the technique involved; few of them deal with the doctrinal foundation that our evangelistic efforts should be built upon. I recently finished reading J.I. Packer’s book “Evangelism and the Soverignty of God” for the third time; it is one of the few books that examines the subject of evangelism from a biblical/doctrinal perspective.
Evangelism and the Soverignty of God is NOT like most of the other books on the subject. The author does not serve up a ready made script you can whip out the next time you are in line at Starbucks. It is not practical or technique driven. What the author intends to do in this book is build a case for evangelistic effort based upon the Doctrinal foundation of God’s Sovereign work.
This book was born out of a series of collegiate lectures from Theologian J.I. Packer. Dr. Packer’s intention was to correct the fallacy that those who hold to a high view of God’sovereignty (those of the Reformed Tradition) do not activley evangelize. Of this he says “whatever we may believe about election, the fact remains that evangelism is necessary, because no man can be saved without the Gospel”. He goes on to teach that a healthy understanding of God’s control in the salvation of sinners will result in a healthy ambition for preaching the Gospel. Dr. Packer, speaking on our responsibility in the matter of evangelizing, writes “While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves…For if we forget that it is God’s perogative to give results when the Gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give Faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize.”
His cautions us to make sure that we do not think of evangelism in terms of the result. He defines evangelism simply as “…to present Christ Jesus” and trust God with the result of the presentation. He continues, “…the way to tell whether in fact you are evangelizing is not to ask whether conversions are known to have resulted from your witness. It is to ask whether you are faithfully making known the gospel message.”
What exactly is this Gospel message. Dr. Packer is careful to explain that it is “a message about Christ”. He makes the point that “We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work”. He has in mind here that so many are intrigued by Jesus as a iconic historical figure, but as evangelists we must preach Christ and Him crucified. “For the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus till you know about the incarnation…Nor can you make sense of His life till you know about the atonement.” He also makes the point that “We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person”. He has in mind here that some “in their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ…have expounded the summons to faith in these terms: ‘Believe that Christ died for your sins.’ The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust.” I can’t help but appreciate J.I. Packer’s careful empahasis that those who preach the Gospel do so correctly (Biblically).