I remember the first time I was exposed to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. It was like nothing I had encountered before. About ten years ago, I came across some online media by the late R. C. Sproul and was captivated. Like many others, Sproul was my introduction to “big-God theology”—as some have described it. However, unlike some who’ve struggled with this doctrine, I was swept away by the immensity and majesty of God. I was given “new eyes” to see Him in His Word. I was hooked. To be sure, I had many details to work through personally on my own, but I couldn’t get enough. I began listening to sermons by men like Paul Washer, Voddie Baucham, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, and others. You could say that the explicit doctrine of the sovereignty of God changed my life.
Today, the sovereignty of God is a hot topic of debate, particularly within Protestant, evangelical circles. Even bringing up the subject to some results in aggravation and even anger. This is sad and unfortunate. Why do Christians struggle with this doctrine? The answer is simple. Human beings are naturally born with a tendency toward self—not God. From a very young age, we’re inclined to please self over anything and everything else. We love ourselves. Even as adults, we’re obsessed with ourselves. This means that whenever we encounter something that competes with our self-sovereignty, we react defensively. Our natural instinct is that we want to play God. This is the result of sin’s noetic effects after the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Now, sin affects and infects every part of us. This is why even Bible-believing Christians struggle with this doctrine.
Furthermore, various groups/denominations within professing Christianity readily voice their support of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God but give no evidence of it in their lives and teaching. At a conceptual level, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Bible-believing Christian that would explicitly deny the sovereignty of God in a theological conversation. But, a further pressing of the issue would reveal that it is merely a theoretical understanding of His sovereignty. What you would find, though, is an underlying and fundamentally important doctrine to preserve and protect: the libertarian free will of man. Often man’s “free” choices are placed at a higher importance than God’s. Many believe that God must give man the “freedom” to choose. In these situations, the sovereignty of God shows itself to be more of an issue to be avoided than embraced. Some even understand the doctrine to depict God as unloving and unfair.
However, no other doctrine is more beautiful, life-giving, and peace-giving than the sovereignty of God. For the Christian, the sovereignty of God is the only beacon of hope in a godless society. So why is it that so many take issue with the doctrine?
Personally, I’ve found that most often the pushback on God’s absolute sovereignty comes from those who love the concept of libertarian free-will. This concept is the ultimate man-centered way of looking at the world and making sense of things that happen. Some even use man’s libertarian free-will as a viable way to reconcile the existence of God and the existence of evil in the world. Unfortunately, this way of thinking can only result is despair, not hope. The result of relying on this way of thinking ends with God being unable to impose His will on man’s free-will. Effectively, this position would claim that God cares so much for man that He would not ever force anything on man because man, as a moral and volitional creature, is free in an ultimate sense.
So, then, what can the reader expect? Why should you consider reading this book? In The Sovereignty of God, Jeff Johnson speaks from a personal and pastoral point of view. In the opening chapter, it’s clear that he cares deeply about this doctrine and for the one struggling to grasp it. Johnson also has a unique gift in taking something complex and making it plain without sacrificing the depth and breadth of a matter.
When people struggle with God’s sovereignty, they are not usually interested in being handed a reading list and told, “Come back once you’ve read everything, and then we can talk.” The issue of God’s sovereignty is a deeply personal issue for most. Johnson understands this and he handles his writing accordingly. He writes with warm sensitivity to win the reader and avoids unnecessary antagonism.
Before considering the book in closer detail, one more thing to note by way of introduction. This review is not intended as a critical or even in-depth review. Rather, it is more of a recommendation. I’m sure there will be others who may want to do a more detailed analysis of Johnson’s work. If that is what you’re looking for, this is not the place. I’m simply writing to commend this book to you.
First, the book has a beautiful cover and an attractive shelf appeal. It’s also relatively small at just under 200 pages. The size of the book itself can give the reader courage to open it and begin reading. The reader need not be intimidated! Again, Johnson writes to the average person who may not be a heavy reader and may not be academically inclined.
Second, the book is simple in its format and table of contents. The reader can see exactly what Johnson has addressed. It has three larger parts with 10 chapters in total. Johnson’s overall organization of the material is also helpful. In Part 1, he covers the “foundation of God’s sovereignty.” This doctrine flows from who God is. Essentially, Johnson argues that if God is self-sufficient, all-powerful, and all-knowing, then he must be sovereign. In Part 2, he deals with the “nature of God’s sovereignty.” Here, he argues that we must seek to understand God’s sovereignty by seeking to understand how God operates in and through creation. Johnson addresses subjects like God’s divine decree and providence. Lastly, in Part 3, he deals with “the extent of God’s sovereignty.” Here, Johnson works through more practical issues in connecting the doctrine with life experiences and is where Johnson addresses many of the most common pressing questions and objections.
Third, throughout the book, the reader will find small group questions at the close of each chapter. Jeff wants the reader to consider and reflect upon the weight of God’s sovereignty. These questions make for good conversation starters or devotional kindling. Also, the book itself is full of both Scripture references and citations for further reading and examination. This book is biblical at its core. These things considered, it would make for a great discipleship resource to pastors and laymen alike. At a personal level, you’ll want to read through this book with your Bible open.
A Few Highlights
To conclude this recommendation, I’ll begin by pointing out a few specific highlights. The reader will find that Johnson deals with many issues within this relatively small book. Here’s a taste of what you’ll get:
God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are compatible. But even without reconciling these two concepts, we must admit that God has the moral right and the legal authority to control evil without being the author of evil. We must admit that God not only has the power and knowledge to be sovereign but also has the authority to be sovereign. God has the moral authority (as He is altogether holy and without sin) and the legal authority (as the Maker and Sustainer of all things) to rule over all things.1An excerpt from chapter 3 entitled “Sovereign Over His Authority.”
What an amazing truth that is certainly hard to wrap one’s mind around. But, as Johnson points out, this is exactly what we find in the pages of Scripture if we simply let Scripture speak for itself. And, it is one of the many “divine mysteries” that we must approach with faith, humility, and trust.
Here’s one more quote from his chapter entitled “Sovereign Over Salvation”:
The elect are not forced to believe against their wills. Rather, God changes and renews and quickens their hearts so that they are willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3). Likewise, the reprobate are not prevented by God from coming to Christ. In fact, both the elect and the reprobate are called to come to Christ (Matt. 22:14).
God will not turn anyone away who sincerely comes to Christ in faith. The reprobate cannot blame God for their own unwillingness to come. Sinners are not wronged by God when He leaves them to the desires of their own hearts.
As you can see, Johnson isn’t afraid of addressing the difficult issues that plague believers and skeptics alike. Just how much authority does God really have? Does He force people to be saved? Does he drag sinners kicking and screaming into His kingdom? Johnson explores these questions, and many more, and invites the reader to take the journey with him. Further, just like an expert guide giving a tour in the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon, Johnson invites the reader to join him as he deals with difficult biblical issues and questions with precision.
To further whet your appetite, here are just a few questions/issues, among many others, that Johnson addresses:
- Is God’s power/plan/authority resistable?
- What does it mean for God to be autonomous?
- Who are we to bring a charge against God?
- God is self-sufficient.
- God’s knowledge is eternal.
- God is sovereign in His eternal decree.
- God’s eternal plan/decree is not based on foresight.
- What is God’s providence? How does it work?
- Does God sovereignly rule over all things created—even the hearts of mankind?
- Where does global/civil war fit into the sovereignty of God?
- Is God sovereign in salvation?
- Is God limited/restricted by anything outside of Himself in salvation?
Finally, to reiterate, Johnson writes with an immensely personal tone. The book itself is built on the framework of a personal family story from World War II. I believe this is the book’s greatest feature. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is personal to Johnson, and he addresses the deep, personal nature of these issues with his reader.
The only thing left to say is get this book. It will challenge and encourage you. It will make you think harder about the conclusions you already hold on this difficult subject. Pick up a copy for yourself and a few more to give away to a family member or friend. A ton of ink has been spilled in defense of God’s sovereignty over the centuries, but Johnson’s book is a welcome contribution. Far from being dense and academic, it is short, simple, easy to read, personal, theological, and practical—from “the pastor to the pew.” I heartily commend it to you.
|1||An excerpt from chapter 3 entitled “Sovereign Over His Authority.”|
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