May 23, 2024

Augustus Nicodemus Lopes on Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Stephen Nichols & Augustus Nicodemus Lopes
Augustus Nicodemus Lopes on Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Since God has predestined His people for salvation, why should Christians involve themselves in evangelism? Today, Augustus Nicodemus Lopes and Stephen Nichols show that God’s sovereignty is the very reason we evangelize.


Dr. Stephen Nichols: Welcome back to another episode of Open Book. Once again, we are in the studio this season with Dr. Augustus Nicodemus Lopes. And just a word of some of the things Dr. Nicodemus has been able to be used by God and down in Brazil: you were involved in Mackenzie Presbyterian University—massive university.

Dr. Augustus Nicodemus Lopes: Yes.

Nichols: Forty thousand students these days, something like that?

Lopes: Yeah.

Nichols: And you served as chancellor, or we would say president, for a decade.

Lopes: Yeah, a decade—ten years.

Nichols: And we may talk about that in a later episode. You’ve also been very involved in the Presbyterian church in Brazil.

Lopes: That’s true.

Nichols: And also just involved in pastoring many churches.

Lopes: Yes.

Nichols: And you’ve written a few books of your own.

Lopes: That’s true also, in the free time.

Nichols: In your free time, that’s right—your hobby of writing books. So, you’ve written books on theological topics and commentaries. All in Portuguese?

Lopes: All in Portuguese.

Nichols: But you did write your dissertation in English?

Lopes: In English, yeah. It was about Paul and prophecy in the New Testament.

Nichols: Interesting. Well, I’m sure we’ll get into that because one of your books later is on Paul specifically, so maybe we’ll make some touchstones on that.

Well, we are at book number five, and the book you chose—I remember reading this book when I was a college student for the first time. It’s a little book.

Lopes: Yeah.

Nichols: J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. So, how did you first come into contact with this book?

Lopes: Yes, this book, actually, it was suggested to me by one of my professors at the seminary at the time, and he knew I was able to read English. I had the privilege to come to United States when I was sixteen years old in an exchange student program. So, when I was sixteen, I was fluent in English because of the time that I spent here in Wyoming. This is where they put me—in Wyoming. And it was beautiful. I went Yellowstone National Park, and it was a beautiful time.

Nichols: Sure.

Lopes: Then I went back to Brazil. I knew English, and that would serve me very well when I went to the seminary because, as I told you, there were very few books, Reformed books, translated into Portuguese. Calvin was in Spanish. Berkhof was in Spanish. All the other books, good books, were either English or Spanish.

And then this professor knew I was interested in Reformed theology, and so he said, “Why don’t you read this book of J.I. Packer on Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God?” At that time, I was planting churches. I was preaching the gospel in quite a few places and planting a church among the drug users, young people that lived in a city nearby. And I did have this: people came to me with the question: “Now, pastor, why should we plant churches and preach the gospel? You do say that you believe in election, you do believe in that God has predestined people to salvation. So, what is left to be done? Why should we preach?”

And I was looking for good answers to that question. Those questions were mine sometimes. I was discovering the Reformed faith and trying to relate to put things in order. So, this book came as an answer to me, and I think that Dr. Packer speaks in a very clear, biblical way, as it is his style. Actually, someone once told me—just a small thing here—that when he’s speaking, you sleep. He’s boring. But when he writes, you cannot. You won’t leave his book until you’re finished.

Nichols: You’re wide awake.

Lopes: But I don’t know if that is true because I never listened to—I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to him preaching. But his books are just extraordinary. He’s very clear.

And then he gave what would be the connection and the solution: Why should we evangelize in the light of God’s sovereignty? And the main thing was that God knows the elect; I don’t. And God uses my preaching to call His elect. This is one of the main theses of the book.

And so, that was very helpful to me, and I still use those arguments today when people come asking the same question. So, other Reformed people deal with the same question and give answers, but this book by Packer was the one that blew my mind, illuminated my understanding to get to the core of the issue and to understand how to give an answer. This is why I do prize this book, and it is in Portuguese, and I still tell people who have these kind of questions, “Read this book, and it will be helpful to you,” and it has been.

Nichols: The answer that God uses us as the means to proclaim the gospel is the helpful answer to that. It’s also a humbling answer, isn’t it, that God has chosen us to be that instrument of proclaiming the gospel.

Lopes: Yes, and also it’s very encouraging because I think one of the things that he says in the book is that if God had not predestined anybody, your preaching would be totally in vain. I mean, why should—actually, he puts like this: because God is sovereign, I evangelize.

Nichols: Exactly.

Lopes: That’s the point.

Nichols: And, you know, you look through the history of missions and evangelism, the people at the vanguard—we were talking about the Calvinists that made their way to Guanabara in 1555—the people who were at the vanguard of these missionary endeavors believed in the sovereignty of God. So, thanks for bringing that to our attention.

Lopes: Yes, I do hope other people read that. There’s been a revival of the Reformed faith in Brazil. A lot of people coming from other backgrounds are coming to the Reformed faith, and they do have these kinds of questions. And this book has been very instrumental of God helping those people.

Nichols: You know, you’ve said two things that I’ve just wanted to pick up on in our times together. One thing you said was the Reformation has just relatively recently come to Brazil.

Lopes: That’s true.

Nichols: And then you’ve also mentioned that when you were starting out, there just weren’t resources available in Portuguese—and now they are.

Lopes: There are many, so much.

Nichols: Many, many, and ministries that are faithful, that are producing resources. And Ligonier is very involved in its Portuguese website and so forth. It has to be very exciting for you to basically have seen this over the lifetime of your ministry.

Lopes: It’s true. Yeah, we were just a handful of Reformed pastors and evangelists like thirty years ago, and now you have them by the hundreds. I mean, the seminaries, the Presbyterian and Reformed seminaries are full of people coming to study the Reformed faith. You have so many books published, you cannot follow, I mean . . .

Nichols: Of the making of books, there is no end.

Lopes: No end, especially Reformed books in Brazil now.

Nichols: That’s great. It’s a good problem to have.

Lopes: You know, events and Reformed conferences are just all over Brazil. I’m invited to preach—just to give you an idea—I’m invited to preach to ten, twelve different Reformed faith conferences in different states of Brazil during one year.

Nichols: Wow.

Lopes: So, I cannot, of course, go to all of them, but this is just to show the vitality of Reformed faith right now in Brazil. It’s growing— and you know. You’ve been there many times, you know that.

Nichols: It’s remarkable, and I love just the enthusiasm for the gospel and just the sweetness of spirit of the Brazilian church. It’s all very encouraging for us to hear. Well, thank you for this time. I look forward to next week with you on another episode of Open Book.

I’m Steve Nichols and you’ve been listening to Open Book, a podcast about the power of books and the people they’ve shaped. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, consider checking out my other podcast, 5 Minutes in Church History. Find it on your favorite podcast app or visit—that’s the number 5. We’ll see you next week in the library as you join us for another episode of Open Book.