I recently determined to read some books on evangelism because it is both an area of conviction and personal weakness for me. I am ashamed to admit that most of my evangelism to date has been done electronically on my blog site or in the comments section of other people’s blogs or discussions. But there is a growing burden on me to share the gospel with the people God has placed in my life, and it is a burden I am praying God increases until there is no escaping it within my conscience.
“Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God” is the first of a handful books I have purposed to read to strengthen my resolve. I liked this little book by J.I. Packer. It was not overly long or verbose, about 125 pages in length. It is broken up into four chapters:
1) Divine Sovereignty
2) Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility
4) Divine Sovereignty & Evangelism
Packer begins with the premise and presupposition that God is sovereign, which may or may not be a point of contention for some. I liked the way he dismantled any argument against God’s sovereignty in the first few pages of the book, and I appreciated the little story about Charles Simeon’s account with a conversation he had with John Wesley in December of 1784. I won’t take the time to reprint it here. I enjoyed it all the more because I picked this book up and started reading it just a few days after a friend of mine from church related the story to me; I believe he had heard it on the Way of the Master radio program.
Packer focuses on the Apostle Paul and what we can learn from him concerning evangelism. Chapter 3 points out some of the different ways that Paul referred to his role of an evangelist: steward, herald, ambassador, preacher, and teacher. Packer gave some insight into the Greek words and meanings inferred, which I found pretty interesting.
The last chapter really made the book, though. He gave several scripture references along with his explanation of man’s sinful and spiritually dead state, and drove home the point that even if we are saved and sharing the gospel like we have been commissioned, we are still incapable of producing results by our own efforts. That does not mean that we should not make an effort, but it underscores both the underlying and overriding need for God to perform the work of bringing the dead to life. He does a good job of demonstrating both our responsibility and God’s sovereignty in the work of evangelism, and he also makes an excellent point that our evangelistic efforts need to be sustained and steeped in prayer. He writes:
“For about a century now, it has been characteristic of evangelical Christians (rightly or wrongly—we need not discuss that here) to think of evangelism as a specialized activity, best done in short sharp bursts (‘missions’ or ‘campaigns’), and needing for its successful practice a distinctive technique, both for preaching and for individual dealing. At an early stage in this period, Evangelicals fell into the way of assuming that evangelism was sure to succeed if it was regularly prayed for and correctly run.”
He adds a bit later on how we should be empowered by a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty, and that it should result in our being more bold, patient, and prayerful. He speaks to each one of those briefly but powerfully. In speaking of patience, I think he touched on something that is perhaps the most challenging work of true evangelism in our society today. Packer writes:
“We need to remember that we are all children of our age, and the spirit of our age is a spirit of tearing hurry. And it is a pragmatic spirit; it is a spirit that demands quick results. The modern ideal is to achieve more and more by doing less and less. This is the age of the labour-saving device, the efficiency chart, and automation. The attitude which all this breeds is one of impatience towards everything that takes time and demands sustained effort. Ours tends to be a slapdash age; we resent spending time doing things thoroughly. This spirit tends to infect our evangelism (not to speak to other departments of our Christianity), and with disastrous results. We are tempted to be in a hurry with those whom we would win to Christ, and then, when we see no immediate response in them, to become impatient and downcast, and then to lose interest in them, and feel that it is useless to spend more time on them; and so we abandon our efforts forthwith, and let them drop out of our ken. But this is utterly wrong. It is a failure both of love for man and of faith in God.”
He goes on to say, “The idea that a single evangelistic sermon, or a single serious conversation ought to suffice for the conversion of anyone who is ever going to be converted is really silly.” He discusses the need for persistence and patience with those whom you are evangelizing. But persistence and patience by themselves are still not sufficient; there must be prayer. As the last chapter draws to a close, Packer writes:
“We said earlier in this chapter that this doctrine does not in any way reduce or narrow the terms of our evangelistic commission. Now we see that, so far from contracting them, it actually expands them. For it faces us with the fact that there are two sides to the evangelistic commission. It is a commission, not only to preach, but also to pray; not only to talk to men about God, but also to talk to God about men. Preaching and prayer must go together; our evangelism will not be according to knowledge, nor will it be blessed, unless they do.”
Good book. I have a few others in the same vein to read, but I will most likely come back to this and read it again because I’m sure I will benefit from a second time around.
Peace & Blessings,