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Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God: Chapter One

I point out again that this is a friendly Arminian chapter by chapter review of the book, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer.  I will admit as I have stated before that I enjoyed this book.  This book has been a source of great comfort for godly Calvinists who love the Lord and love to tell others of His grace.  I have no doubt that God has used Packer’s book to help Calvinists find a purpose in evangelism.  Behind Packer’s premise is the idea that the doctrine of unconditional election does not hurt evangelism but enhances evangelism as the disciple learns that God is sovereign in salvation and He saves sinners by His grace and for His glory and not by the works of the flesh.  This takes the pressure off as we realize that God saves sinners and not our work.  No Arminian would disagree.  Salvation is of the Lord!

In chapter one J.I. Packer opens by discussing Divine sovereignty.  He begins by pointing out that all Christians believe in the sovereignty of God and he knows this because of prayer.  Why do you pray if in fact you doubt the sovereignty of God?  You pray because you believe that God hears your prayers and He is able to answer your prayers.  He writes,

“When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our own independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands” (p. 11).

Packer goes on to write that it is prayer that shows that all Christians agree in the sovereignty of God.  He states that we not only ask God to meet our needs but there is another point in prayer that proves we believe in God’s sovereignty and that is that we pray for the salvation of others.  If we do not pray for others to be saved or if we do not pray for God to meet our needs, writes Packer, we likely are not saved.  It takes humility to pray because we recognize that God is holy and that we have no right to come into His holy presence except on the basis of the person and work of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).  When we pray, we are trusting that God is Lord of all and that He rules all things by His power.

Packer jumps from this to point out two basic facts about salvation: that we pray for others to be saved proves that we believe God is sovereign in salvation in Him saving us and secondly that He alone can save others.  Packer points out that we know deep inside that we did not save ourselves no matter how earnest we might have been in seeking salvation.  We could have read the Bible, study apologetics, heard Christian arguments or sermons but in the end, we know that it was not us who saved ourselves but that God saved us in Christ.  Jesus is our salvation and not our works.  And we know that Jesus alone not only saved us by His grace but He also is the One that we pray to for others to be saved.  We labor in prayer for others to be saved because we know that He alone saves.

No Arminian will find anything to debate in chapter one.  We fully agree with our Calvinist brethren that salvation is found only in Jesus (John 14:6).  We acknowledge with our Calvinist brethren that we are saved by grace through faith and apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We agree that the Holy Spirit is the One who drew us to Christ to be saved (John 6:44) and that He opened our hearts to the gospel (Acts 16:14-15).  We agree that in our total inability, mankind hates God and does not seek God (Romans 3:10-18) but rather He seeks us (1 John 4:10).  The Lord uses the gospel to save us by His grace (Romans 10:14-17).  Salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:11).

Secondly, we Arminians agree that we pray for the lost to be saved.  We do this because we believe, like our Calvinist brethren, that salvation comes directly from the Lord and without His grace, none can be saved.  We are asking God to draw people to Himself through the blessed gospel (John 12:32).  We do all this because Scripture commands us to (Matthew 9:37-38; Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6).

Packer ends the chapter by briefly discussing the issue of human responsibility and divine sovereignty.  Scripture, he admits, teaches both.  Charles Spurgeon was asked about how to reconcile human responsibility with divine sovereignty and he said, “You don’t have to reconcile friends.”  These are not opposed to each other.  That God is sovereign in salvation does not mean that man is not responsible to believe.  They are both true.  Only the hyper-Calvinist would deny human responsibility but I see both truths in the pages of Scripture.  God knows all things which would mean that He does foreknow all who would believe (Romans 8:29) yet while God does know who will believe, He does not force people to believe.  This is where Packer and I would likely disagree.  I reject irresistible grace.  I believe grace can be resisted but this does not deny that salvation is all of grace nor does this deny that God is sovereign in salvation.  God knows all things including the free will rejection of Him by humans.


Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/08/2012 at 10:22 PM

One Response

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  1. Well said brother! Grace is amazing!


    10/08/2012 at 11:23 PM

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