Arminian Today

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Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God (Chapter Four)

I know I took a brief break from my review of J.I. Packer’s classic book, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, but now I want to spend time addressing chapter four.  Chapter four is the final chapter in the book.  For those who may have never read the book, it is not a long book (only 126 pages).  I want to emphasize again that I am grateful to God for the godly Calvinists who have read Packer’s book and found a purpose in evangelism.  Though I do disagree here and there with Packer, I do believe this is a good book and should be read even by Arminians.  Arminians agree with Packer’s main two premises and that is that God is sovereign in salvation (that the work of salvation is by God) and that man is responsible to believe the gospel (human responsibility).  We find nothing to argue with there.

My main problem with Packer’s book is that while I do agree with his arguments, Packer would better to come out and argue that he is arguing with Calvinists who would deny the necessity of evangelism or with giving a universal call to salvation.  The hyper-Calvinist view is that the Church should not preach for all to come and be saved.  We should leave that to God alone to save sinners and the elect will come to faith in God’s timing.  I call this “consistent Calvinism” as I see that as being consistent that if in fact God has chosen from eternity past whom He would save by His sovereign grace and will then it logically follows that the elect will be saved with our without the work of men.  None who hold to unconditional election can deny that God will save the elect by His power in His timing and is not based on the work of men including preaching.  If Jesus died to secure the salvation of the elect then it logically follows that the elect will be saved no matter what.  God will save them when He is ready and in fact He has already saved them in His Son.

In chapter four, Packer argues that belief in the sovereignty of God leads to effective evangelism.  He has two main points: God’s sovereignty does not negate the fact that the Church must evangelize and secondly, the grace of God in His sovereign choice gives us the only hope we can have in evangelism.

In the first portion of chapter four, Packer aims his pen at the hyper-Calvinists.  He argues almost from an Arminian perspective that evangelism is how people will hear the gospel and be saved.  How else can people hear and be saved if not for the Church preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14-17)?  Packer argues that the New Testament is clear that we are to make a general call to all men to repent and be saved (Acts 2:38).  The call of repentance and faith must go out to all (John 6:37).  Jesus’ commission to His Apostles was clear that all nations must hear the gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).  He argues that God’s Word is clear that He desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  Packer leaves no doubt that the call of God is for all to come and be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the second portion of chapter four, Packer seems to turn now toward us Arminians with his arguments for limited atonement and effectual calling.  Packer argues that the death of Christ on the cross for the elect guarantees that God will save those for whom Christ died.  Because of effectual calling, God will use the preaching of the gospel to draw in the elect.  Packer argues that to deny the doctrine of limited atonement or effectual calling would be to deny God’s sovereignty in salvation and to deny that God will draw all for whom Jesus died unto salvation that He accomplished on the cross.

The problem with Packer’s ending is that he is creating a circle here in his thinking.  Granted that 3/4 of the book has been written almost by an Arminian in describing the sovereignty of God, the necessity of faith, the necessity of preaching the gospel to the lost, etc. but now he turns around and says that Christ died only for the elect and that this leads to success in evangelism since God will draw in the elect by His own sovereign power (John 6:44).  So why witness?  Why evangelize?  Packer’s only solution: because God said so.  It is not because Christ died for all so that we might preach the gospel to all and all who repent can be saved.  We are to preach the gospel because this is simply the way God will draw in the elect.  And if we don’t preach?  God will still save the elect by His own power.

I have no doubt that God foreknows those who believe.  Scripture is clear that He does (Romans 8:29).  Yet God’s foreknowledge does not constitute necessity nor constraint.  God simply knows.  He is not forcing people to come to faith.  He is not dragging them to salvation.  He simply knows those who will be saved.  He allows people to make free will decisions, human responsibility, about His Son (John 3:36).  God does not force people into His kingdom (Acts 14:22-23).


Let me state again that I actually recommend Packer’s book.  It is good reading.  While I did disagree with Packer in the very last section, that is saying much right there.  That I would disagree with a Calvinist near the end of the book shows that Packer’s book is largely aimed at hyper-Calvinism than with Arminianism.  In fact, Packer never deals with Arminianism head on.  He possibly alludes to it several times without referencing it.

I praise God for the Calvinists who are out there daily preaching the gospel to the lost.  They understand that we must preach to the lost if the elect are to be saved.  We may disagree after someone repents about the nature of the atonement or election but we both see that mankind is lost and going to hell without Christ.  People need Jesus.  They don’t need Arminianism or Calvinism.  They need the gospel of God’s grace given freely to us in Christ Jesus.  May all of us be bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to all people.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/02/2012 at 10:00 AM

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