I recently re-read this “classic” (if that word can apply to books while the authors are still living) since this year marks the 50th anniversary of its publishing. This is one of the greatest treatments on the subject of how Christians are to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, and something I consider an absolute “must-read” for every Christian.
Debate has raged for centuries about this topic, yet I know of no more helpful book to address it. Most Christians tend to overemphasize either God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility, to the exclusion of the other, but Packer explains that we must not do this. The Bible emphasises BOTH; therefore we must believe and teach both.
One of the best sections of the book is Packer’s explanation of the difference between paradox and antinomy. A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to unite two opposite ideas, a play on words which creates the appearance of a contradiction. A biblical example is Christ’s teaching that those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who lose their lives for his sake will find them. The contradiction is in words only; we can see what Jesus meant by this teaching when we give it a little thought.
Antinomy is different. As Packer writes, “it is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths“. This describes the biblical position on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. The teaching that God is absolutely sovereign over salvation, electing some to become his people before the foundation of the world, appears to be incompatible with the teaching that men are responsible for the choices we make, and will be judged based on our decision to accept or reject Christ as Savior and submit to him as Lord. Yet throughout the New Testament, these two concepts are taught side-by-side as both being true. Grasping the concept of antinomy is key to understanding how these two truths (or, in Spurgeon’s words, these “friends”) work together.
Armed with the knowledge that God is sovereign AND man is responsible, Packer focuses on what this means for the evangelistic efforts of Christians: “Far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility — indeed, the certainty — that evangelism will be fruitful.” His thoughtful teaching is both practical and biblical, providing encouragement and impetus for personal and corporate evangelism that is marked by the gospel and driven by prayer.
One interesting note about the particular edition of this book which I read comes from the copyright page. Listed among all the other legal jargon is something I don’t believe I’ve seen before: Inter-Varsity Press has copyrighted the “Americanization” of this book in 2008. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but this is a very approachable (and short) book that deserves to be on every Christian’s bookshelf. Buy it here.