One of the most controversial aspects of Christianity is evangelism and the sovereignty of God. As believers we all know that we are commanded to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”. (Matthew 28: 19) But understanding the sovereignty of God quite often creates a percieved paradox. In reality the bible teaches that these two doctrines are not in opposition to each other but allies. The sovereignty of God (and mind you the bible) teaches that a man is elected by God for salvation. That a man is dead in his sins and is made alive to righteousness only by the work of God. Many evangelicals claim that teaching the sovereignty of God in salvation deters Christians from evangelizing. This is actually the opposite for those who follow the doctrines of God’s sovereignty. If you understand that God is the One who saves and we are called to be obedient servants in this endeavor, we are more free to evangelize and let God do the calling.
In order to defend this doctrine and understand how to effectively evangelize I am attending an IBS (Institute for Biblical Studies) course at my local church Omaha Bible Church. Along with the bible we will also be using a book by J. I. Packer called “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God“, go figure. The first session, which was last Wednesday, we focused on the introduction and the importance of evangelism for the believer. We were introduced to the reference materials we will be using and we went through the course syllabus.
This past Sunday I purchased “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” in the church bookstore and used the time during our adult bible hour to read the first couple of chapters. Packer lays the foundation of God’s sovereignty by going over some common beliefs in Christianity through prayer that are attributed to the belief in a sovereign God. When we take the time to pray to God, how do we pray? Do we pray with the belief that God will act in his sovereignty? Do we ask God to save John and Suzi down the street or do we pray that John and Suzi will figure it out for themselves and in so doing save themselves? When we pray do we ask God for our daily bread? Do we thank Him for our salvation? Indeed we do. Because deep inside we know that God is the one who saves. God is the one who sustains our life. We know through scripture that these things are true. God gives us the very breath we breathe. If God is sovereign in these things would it not hold that He is also sovereign in the salvation of men and women?
Next posting we will get into the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, an apparent contradiction. Rock on!
September 18, 2007 at 3:42 am
One of the most poignant statements regarding prayer, evangelism and the sovereignty of God (which I think Packer makes in his book) is that only those who have a truly sovereign God can pray for the salvation of loved ones. For those whose God submits himself to supposed “free will,” what does prayer accomplish? Are they asking God to sovereignly override the unbeliever’s unbelief and grant him repentance? Certainly not. Are they, then, asking God to sovereignly orchestrate the events of an unbeliever’s life in such a way so as to bring the gospel to bear upon him? Only if orchestrating those events still leaves him with his “free will.” It seems that the question really is not how evangelism is compatible with the sovereignty of God, but how evangelism is compatible with supposed “free will.”
It is also fascinating that the most passionate evangelists throughout church history have been staunch defenders of the sovereignty of God. I’d love to see a post here about evangelism and the sovereignty of God throughout church history. I look forward to your discussion!
September 18, 2007 at 7:11 am
Great book, You seem to allude to the antinomy issue in your last sentence so I’ll look forward to your comments on the issue. Yes, I have read Piper on this issue. My choice to accept the two views separately knowing that in eternity the two come together. After all how can finite man understand these great truths in their entirety?
September 18, 2007 at 9:08 am
You’ve picked an awesome book. I love to do evangelism and at the same time defend the sovereignty of God in the entire process. I’m a Christian, strictly by the grace of God.
It wasn’t my upbringing, and I wasn’t even looking for a relationship with God before He interrupted my life. Too long of a story for here.
I look forward to some of your future posts.
September 18, 2007 at 8:28 pm
Thanks for the comment. You always seem to challenge me to keep digging. You idea is an excellent one. William Carey would be an excellent starting point or maybe David Brainerd in this country.
I appreciate your observation. Yes, I was alluding to antinomy and trying to save it for the next post. Although Packer does go into it right from the start. I look forward to the dialog in the coming weeks.
I think this is the first comment for you on BarryDean4Christ. For that you get a genuine welcome and hearty …. Amen brother! I will check out your site and possibly comment if you accept them. Thanks for commenting. I love the dialog.
If you have posted your conversion story somewhere I would love to read it.
September 19, 2007 at 12:09 am
Packer’s book is fantastic! I commend you to it. I like the quote by Spurgeon. when someone asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Spurgeon said, “I never try to reconcile old friends.”
I believe in election because the Bible teaches it and I have experienced it. Without the call of God, I would have never come to Him. Election also guarantees success in the evangelistic enterprise. The Book of Revelation states there will be an innumerable multitude of people from every tribe and nation around the throne of God worshipping the Lamb. Every person who will be saved, will be saved. God has ordained us as part of the means, we are guaranteed success, so let’s go find those lost sheep!
Keep up the study and do the work of an evangelist. Blessings to you.
September 19, 2007 at 12:35 am
Thanks so much for the comment. I also believe that God does the electing because the bible teaches it. I did not have the same complete understanding a couple of years ago even though I was raised in a church that taught the sovereignty of God in salvation. When I became an adult and started attended churches with my family I encountered teachings contrary to election. But it never rang true. It always flew in the face of what I read in scripture. I thank our sovereign God daily that He lead me to a church that teaches a high view of God and scriptures.
September 19, 2007 at 2:31 am
I’ve not written up my testimony for my blog, just bits and pieces. There are personal reasons behind that.
The basics are simply:
1. Happy irreligious family.
2. While a teenager, I wasn’t even searching for God. He found me.
3. Had to find a bible, didn’t ahve one
4. Began to understand what a decision to follow Jesus meant.
My salvation is totally the sovereign work of God. I wasn’t looking for it, didn’t want it, didn’t know I needed it. Now that I have it, I see God’s fingerprints in the whole process.
Nath @ Reformed Geek
September 19, 2007 at 9:49 am
Sounds like a great course Barry.
It is often said that Calvinism hinders the gospel, but I know, coming from an Arminian background, that Calvinism does not diminish evangelism, as I am more encouraged now to share my faith than before. What I find ironic about that accusation by Arminians is that by and large Arminians aren’t evangelising anyway. And when they do, they often leave out the gospel in the name of being ‘relevant’. Those who actively go out of there way to share the Biblical gospel with strangers still make up only a small percentage of the body of Christ, and I’d dare to say that a large number of those are Calvinists. It might be different in the US – but that’s my observations here in Australia.
September 19, 2007 at 10:16 pm
I would imagine the numbers are the same here in the US. I think most professing Christians cannot distinguish life prior to their “conversion” from their life now. So it is difficult for them to get motivated enough about seeing lives changed to share the gospel as they know it. I too came from an Arminian background to some extent, and the common form of evangelism used is to get folks to come to their church. There is seemingly nothing wrong with that if the preacher of the church is gospel minded. But if he isn’t then nothing is really accomplished.