I have taken several months off from blogging. I have used the time to prepare a series of Sunday School Lessons on J. I. Packer’s wonderful little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. I will lead a discussion of this book at my little church in Troy, TN. I want to put in a plug for this book.
One of the things that put me off of Calvinism when I was first introduced to the doctrines of grace was the idea that Calvinism destroyed the motive for evangelism and missions. It took a long time for me to come around. There are many others who reject Calvinism for the same reasons.
Packer is clear in his book that the “antinomy” between God’s sovereignty (God’s control of all things) and man’s free will (man’s freedom of choice) is a mystery that will not be completely sorted out in this life. Along with others, (see John Piper’s short article here, and a discussion by R. C. Sproul in Chosen by God), I am somewhat troubled with the use of the word antinomy because it implies a contradiction in the ordinary use of the word on this ‘side of the pond.’
It is comforting that Packer says there is no contradiction between the two when he states:
What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as not rival alternatives but, in some way that at the present you do not grasp, complementary to each other…It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other. (P. 26, 28)
That seems clear enough.
Along with John Piper in the reference above, I am not entirely sure there is even the appearance of contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. I can see how they would both be true at the same time. John Gerstner was also helpful to me on this issue in his little book A Primer on Free Will. Both Piper and Gerstner depend on Jonathan Edwards for their views in this area.
Packer’s detailed analysis of the proper motives for evangelism is much appreciated. The motive that has kept me going in the twin tasks of evangelism and missions is the thought that I can be successful because God can change anyone’s heart. Many of my attempts have seemed to fall on deaf ears, and this has been very discouraging to me. This truth is comforting.
I will not attempt a detailed summary of the book because there is such a good one available here. I just want to recommend this modern-day classic to anyone, Calvinist or not, who has the same type of questions I did.
I reserve the right to post on this book in the future as we move through the Sunday School series.