J.I. Packer

Book Review: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Image of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
by J. I. Packer
IVP Books 2012
Paperback 122

J.I Packer’s little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a great resource. His aim is to show that divine sovereignty and personal responsibility to repent and believe the Gospel are not mutually exclusive. He explained, “The supposition seems to be that you cannot evangelize effectively unless you are prepared to pretend while you are doing it that the doctrine of sovereignty is not true. I shall try to make it evident that this is nonsense” (10).

This book is only four chapters long, but it’s probably the best resource you can give a Christian who wants to know more about this topic. Many readers know Packer has a thoroughly Reformed soteriology, and this is clear throughout the book. However, he takes a very irenic tone and isn’t interested in flying a particular theological standard. This approach makes this an excellent gift to Christians of all theological flavors.

Chapter One - Divine Sovereignty

He begins by discussing divine sovereignty. If you’re a Christian, Packer says, you believe God is completely sovereign, no matter what soteriological camp you belong to. You know God is sovereign, because you pray. Simple. You’re acknowledging you’re helpless, and God alone can help and comfort you. “The very act that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of His God” (12).

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Theology Thursday - Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Image of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
by J. I. Packer
IVP Books 2012
Paperback 122

Here are some wise words on the eternal controversy between God’s sovereignty and man’s personal responsibility in salvation from J.I. Packer, from his classic little book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Pgs. 16-17):

There is a long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it. 

What causes this odd state of affairs? The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church - the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.

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Review: J.I. Packer - An Evangelical Life

Image of J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life
by Leland Ryken
Crossway 2015
Hardcover 432

One of my favorite evangelical jokes showed up in a Christianity Today a number of years ago. It was an ad for a (fake) new book called The Collected Blurbs of J. I. Packer. The joke, if you don’t already get it, is funny on two counts: Packer is always blurbing books, and he’s always having his occasional works collected by editors.

Because Packer is so ubiquitous in evangelical literature, he’s one of those figures you think you know. But as I listened to his biography I put together the narrative which made much better sense of the pieces I’d gathered.

The Paradoxes

But not perfect sense. While the picture of a humble, godly, gifted, diligent Christian is quite clear, and fills me with genuine gratitude, there are these “paradoxes” (Ryken’s word): a man who helped bring the Puritans back and yet became one of the major architects of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a man who never separated from the Anglican church until it finally separated from him (he then joined another Anglican group). I was disappointed to hear Ryken at the beginning of the book disclaiming any necessity to explain these paradoxes, but I’ll come back to this.

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