Posts Tagged ‘J.I. Packer’
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.
In continuing my analysis of J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, we now come to chapter 3. Packer has entitled this chapter simply “Evangelism.” In the chapter Packer will discuss four main points about evangelism. They are:
- What is evangelism?
- What is the evangelistic message?
- What is the motive for evangelizing?
- By what means and methods should evangelism be practiced?
The Arminian will once again find little to disagree with. Again, I note that I first read this book several years ago and believe that it is one of the best books on evangelism from a Calvinistic perspective and I applaud Calvinists who desire to preach the gospel to the lost. I know of several Calvinist brothers who share their faith and who long to see souls saved. I praise God for that fact! This book has been used by God to encourage Calvinists to share their faith and I rejoice in that.
In this chapter Packer simply speaks on his subject, evangelism and again he does a good job doing this. His message is not Calvinistic in this chapter. He does speak briefly on limited atonement but does not go into detail about this subject as of yet. The Arminian reading this chapter will simply acknowledge that once again we Arminians and Calvinists have much in common. Our message of faith and repentance in Christ is the same. We both desire to see people come to faith in Christ and we both preach that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in the precious blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-9). We both deny good works obtain or secure salvation (Titus 3:5-7). Jesus alone saves (John 1:12-13; 6:29; 20:31; Acts 15:11). Evangelism, writes Packer, is simply the proclamation of the good news that God has sent His Son to redeem us from sin which brings the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9). The delight for the child of God in evangelism is not simply preaching to lost sinners but it is much more than that, it is the glory of God that we delight in (1 Peter 4:16).
Packer does a good job laying out the essentials that must be preached with the gospel. He writes on sin, on repentance, and on the object of saving faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we fail to address sin, we fail to present the hope of the gospel in Christ. When we fail to address repentance, we fail to acknowledge God’s holiness and His just wrath against our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross (Isaiah 53:4-6). When we fail to preach faith in Jesus, we fail to show sinners the only way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus’ blood alone cleanses from sin and not good works nor being religious nor even acknowledging the existence of God or Christ but only the blood of the spotless Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18-19). The gospel encapsulates all those points and so much more! The gospel glories God because it is all about Him (Romans 1:1-5).
Packer’s points on the means and method of evangelism is very useful. He notes the means of salvation is faith and repentance and from this should flow our method: preaching faith and repentance to the lost. That is simple enough. And yet this is just what saves sinners: faith and repentance toward God in Christ Jesus (Luke 24:47). The Book of Acts is clear that the Apostles of our Lord preached faith and repentance from Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) to Paul defending himself in Acts 26:20. Faith and repentance must be our message and we must always proclaim those truths.
Are there any points in this chapter I take an exception with? The only quibble I might have with Packer in this chapter is simply that he proclaims (and rightfully so) that the Bible calls all to repentance. Packer points to passages such as John 6:29 or 1 John 3:23. Packer calls these passages “universal commands” to all and he says that all can come and be saved. I agree but my basis for this flows from my theology and not against it. I would argue that Packer is correct in preaching that all can come and be saved but he must acknowledge that only those whom God has predetermined to save will be saved. The Arminian simply preaches salvation to all and we believe that God, through His grace, will enable people to believe the gospel and be saved (John 6:44-45). This view is consistent with our view regarding the unlimited atonement of Christ where He gave His life for all that all might be saved through personal faith in His cleansing blood (1 Timothy 2:3-6; 1 John 2:1-2).
Chapter two of Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God is one that Arminians will rejoice in. Packer begins the chapter by discussing what is an antinomy. An antinomy is “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.” An example of an antinomy in our world is light. Light consists of both waves and particles. How can this be? Yet the evidence is there that light consists of both waves and particles. This is an antinomy. Both are true though they are not able to be reconciled with each other. Packer sees an antinomy in the truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. This could also be true of many other aspects of theology. How is Jesus both God and Man where He is not 50% man and 50% God but He is both 100% man and 100% God? How is it that the Bible teaches that God is one yet we find three persons in the one Godhead? This all doesn’t seem to make sense to us though it is logical.
The same is true of salvation. Humans are responsible to believe the gospel yet God is sovereign in salvation. When a person comes to faith in Christ, they realize that God alone saved them by His grace (John 6:44). The person didn’t come to Christ nor did they seek after Christ but rather He sought after them through His Spirit and His gospel (2 Timothy 1:9). Packer would assert that God predestined people to salvation yet He still holds people responsible for believing or rejecting the gospel despite the fact that He is sovereign in His choosing or His damnation though Packer avoids the reprobation of the unbeliever.
Packer spends the majority of the chapter dealing with this antinomy of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He alludes to both in Scripture. For example, Luke 22:22 has both in the same passage. Here Jesus states that He will be go as has been determined (in context by God) yet woe be to the man who betrays the Son of Man (human responsibility). Simply because God had predetermined the betrayal of His Son does not negate the sin of Judas in betraying the Son of Man. Packer sees both in the text. I would agree. Judas acted out of his own free will to betray Jesus yet he did so because God foreknew the events. That is truly amazing!
One point Packer makes here that we all can rejoice in is that our God is mysterious. Packer states that if you can understand your god, your god is not God. God has revealed much about Himself in the Scriptures but He is still mysterious to us even in the Scriptures themselves. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). The one common thread among cults is that they have their god figured out. They know his past and know just what he is like. Not so with Yahweh. He is mysterious and His ways don’t always make sense to us but they are good and just. Like Paul, at the end of Romans 9-11, he simply bows down to the greatness of God (Romans 11:33-36). So should we. I don’t begin to know everything about God. His ways are beyond me. His actions don’t always make sense to me but who am I before Him? He is holy, just, pure, and good. I, on the other hand, am sinful, selfish, impure, and tainted by sin in all my being. I bow down to His greatness and proclaim that He alone is God and all His ways are good (Psalm 111).
The temptation, writes Packer, is not to allow both truths to be apparent in Scripture. He admits that some have preached the sovereignty of God while not emphasizing human responsibility and have erred in doing so. Others have denied the sovereignty of God while emphasizing human responsibility. They too have erred. I would agree. In fact, I would argue that much of Western Christianity is man-centered and emphasizes human responsibility above the sovereignty of God. This semi-Pelagianism runs all through the evangelical Church. Our songs, our sermons, our books, etc. are man-centered and not God exalting. Our problem is that we have such a low view of God because we are no longer preaching the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. If the Bible is the Word of God, we should study it and delight in it and learn about this God the Bible reveals. When we see God in truth, we see ourselves as well and we often will see how sinful and wicked we really are (Romans 3:10-18). Mankind doesn’t love God nor do we want to know Him. We despise God and would kill Him if He came around us. This is why we need to emphasize the sovereignty of God in salvation. Apart from God’s grace, none of us could be saved. He must open our eyes to His salvation or we will not respond and be saved.
I agreed with Packer completely in this chapter. I believe both truths of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility are taught in the Word of God. God calls for us to repent of our sins and turn to Him to be saved (Acts 2:38-39). I agree. Yet the Bible also says that He draws us to Himself through the gospel (John 6:44-45). When we preach Christ, He draws sinners (John 12:32; Romans 10:14-17). This salvation is completely by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). The work of the gospel is to believe the Lord Jesus alone for salvation (John 6:29). The Spirit of God produces regeneration (John 3:3-7; Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:13-14). The Spirit of God seals us unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14). The entire work of salvation is God (Jonah 2:9). Works flow from our salvation (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-26).
What I struggle with in this chapter is not what Packer says but what he does not say. Packer is obviously passionate that Christians believe both on the sovereignty of God and human responsibility because they are both true. Yet he doesn’t spend time talking about the elephant in the room. Arminians do not struggle with this. Hyper-Calvinists do. So it is not Arminians who wrestle with the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility but it is Calvinists. And rightly so. If Calvinism is true about God’s omni-causality then human response is a myth or as Dr. Samuel Storms wrote, “Free will is a myth. It is not taught in Scripture.” If God causes all things then He even renders certain man’s rebellion against Him. John Calvin saw this and though he called it “the horrible decree”, he nonetheless agreed that since God is sovereign then He has decreed who is saved and who is lost or double predestination.
Calvin wrote on Romans 9:22:
But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.
In other words, God created these reprobates for one purpose: to destroy them for His glory so that those who are saved (the elect) will glorify Him even more for His grace.
So here is the issue that Packer does not deal with so far and that is that the logical conclusion for Calvinism is not that it should enhance our desire for evangelism but rather that God has already decreed who will be saved and He will save them in His timing. Human response is nothing in light of God’s decree. The hyper-Calvinist has that correct in my viewpoint. They bemoan evangelism because if salvation is a work of God where He draws the elect to Himself then the elect will come no matter what once they hear that inward call. God will regenerate the elect to believe. Calling people to make a response is not the duty of the hyper-Calvinist. The duty of the hyper-Calvinist is simply to allow God to draw the elect to Himself through the normal means of the Church and that mainly by teaching sound doctrine and allowing people to repent in God’s timing and not our own. Packer has to go out of his way to not discuss this though I feel this is what he is hitting at in this chapter.
Thankfully, the Arminian finds comfort in knowing that we can stress both the sovereignty of God in salvation and yet call people to repentance (John 6:37). This is not a struggle we face. Let us rejoice in the greatness of our God!
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.
“Calvinism leads to a demise in missions.” This has been the words of many non-Calvinists for hundreds of years. I will admit that hyper-Calvinism does lead to anti-missions views and, as far as I know, there are no hyper-Calvinist missions organizations. There probably never will be. And yet I argue that hyper-Calvinism is consistent Calvinism. I am thankful that most Calvinists are not consistent in their views regarding the preaching of the gospel and instead they obey the Scriptures and preach the gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15) and they call all to repentance (Acts 2:38-39). And for that, I am thankful.
One of the best books I have read by a Calvinist who argues for missions and evangelism of the lost is J.I. Packer’s book Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God. I first read this book several years ago and enjoyed Packer’s heart for preaching the gospel to all nations. Packer essentially argues in the book that the “doctrines of grace do not hinder but enhance evangelism” because, in Packer’s view, the doctrine of unconditional election guarantees success in missions since God has already chosen whom He will save for His glory (Romans 9:22-23). Since God is sovereign in salvation, this means that we need not concern ourselves with using gimmicks to see people saved but simply what God has given us in His Word and His gospel. I would agree though again I believe Packer is not being consistent with the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty meaning that He causes all things to come to pass and how this relates to human responsibility. He is being blessedly inconsistent here.
Over the next few posts I wish to go through the book chapter by chapter. Why? Because first, I appreciate the book. It is a good book. If you have never read the book, I encourage you to get the book and follow along with me. I hope to be fair to the book and to Calvinism in general. Secondly, I praise God for how this book has impacted Calvinist brothers and sisters in encouraging them to evangelism. Whether Arminians or Calvinists, we all need to fulfill the great commission from our Lord (Matthew 28:19-20). Third, because I have never read an Arminian critique of Packer’s book. Packer’s views regarding Arminianism that he coined in the introduction to John Owen’s book Death of Death in the Death of Christ has been written about but this book has not. Ironically, Packer seems to be gentle in comparison in Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God than in Owen’s book when it comes to evangelism. Perhaps he realizes that Arminian theology does enhance missions by teaching an unlimited atonement and human free will.
So join me as this Arminian looks at a great book and offers some friendly critique of the book. Again, I hope to be fair and hope to encourage you too to read the book and allow the Holy Spirit to empower you toward biblical evangelism (Acts 1:8). The world needs the gospel (Romans 1:16).