Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Word from J.I. Packer

Theologian J.I. Packer is always a man of great insight. His book, "Knowing God," is a classic in evangelical literature. It's very sad that in his twilight years, he had to be faced with the decision to leave his fellowship — the Canadian Anglican Church — due to its ever-increasing lurch into heresy.

In his blog today, Southern Baptist theologian Dr. Al Mohler discusses the Anglican meltdown in his usual astute way. But the quote he used from Dr. Packer really grabbed me. Substitute the name of any theologically liberal church for "Anglicanism," and you'll have a spot-on diagnosis of the problem at its root. A disdain for God's Word. Here are the words of J.I. Packer:

Sadly, however, the present-day reality of Anglican comprehensiveness is not like that. It is both more complex and more painful. There are two reasons for this.

One is that since biblical criticism, in the sense of systematic study of the origins, composition, literary character and purpose of the biblical books as human documents, established itself in the Protestant world a century ago, many Anglicans have ceased to view Bible doctrine as God’s revealed truth, and no longer let biblical thoughts determine their thinking. Allowing Scripture great human authority as a primary witness to archetypal Christian experience, they deny it divine authority as instruction from heaven. So at every turn we find them distinguishing divine realities from New Testament ideas about them, and refusing to concede that they lose touch with the former by questioning the latter.

But to those who believe that the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets and their apostolic counterparts, making biblical testimony as truly God’s utterance as were the words of the incarnate Son, and who take the fundamentals to be just what Scripture says they are, the claim to uphold those fundamentals while relativizing or recasting Scripture statements about them seems incoherent nonsense. Thus discussion of fundamentals falls into deep confusion, and the question whether there is essential agreement on what is essential to the essentials becomes-problematical to the last degree.

Wow! Just . . . wow.


Phil Perkins said...

No, Packer isn't a consistently wise, biblical, or even orthodox man.

"Theologian J.I. Packer is always a man of great insight."

He has lacked quite a lot of insignt at times. For instance, he claims that good Catholics and good Protestants, as defined by the doctrinal qualifications of their respective "churches", are brothers in "Christians together". He also endorsed Peter Kreeft's book, "Ecumenical Jihad", which morally equates Budhists, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and Christians as long as they seem to be "good" in the view of Mr. Kreeft.

I don't have the time to document all this today, but if you doubt me, I can do so later. Or you can check it out yourself.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Solameanie said...

Okay, perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "always." I know he's said some things in recent years that he shouldn't have. But his remarks in this particular quote are spot on. I have no desire to get into an argument over it.

Phil Perkins said...

Hey, Sola,
I apologize for being less than tactful. If I could wave a magic wand and have whatever I wanted it would be this: Saints would stop reading Packer, Warren, MacArthur, McLaren, et al.

We would again be voracious readers.

Of the Bible. Not the rest of the stuff. That ought to be less than 10 percent of our reading. LIVE the sufficiency of Scripture. Get it out of your doctrinal statement and live it.

Reading gobs of Scriputre and using the rest of it only to suplement or as research to better understand the Bible has revolutionized my life.

Phil Perkins

saunch said...

Sola, I'd agree with Phil that Packer has taken some stands the last 15 years or so that seem incomprehensible, especially when it comes to ecumenism. I'd also agree that we need to spend more time studying scripture than what other men write. But I'd never put MacArthur and Packer in any category where McLaren and Warren are. MacArthur was my Pastor for years, and much of Packer's writings are indeed classic. I would add to "Knowing God" his small book "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God". Neither man is always right or infallible, but both are much more substantive and credible teachers of the Word.

Solameanie said...

Hi, Saunch..

Yes, I think that is indeed my overall point to the post. When we get away from Scripture, we get into serious trouble. What is going on right now within the Anglican Communion and most of the mainline churches illustrates the peril. And sadly, a good dollop of the evangelical churches are falling into the same sad trap.

As for Packer, who knows. Perhaps now that he's been forced to make the decision to dissassociate from the Canadian church, he might re-evaluate some of his past pro-ecumenical statements.

Phil Perkins said...

That's exactlty my point. I didn't put MacArthur in the same category with McLaren or either of them with Packer other than the fact that all of them (heretics like McLaren or straight guys like MacArthur) are extra-biblical. I was speaking of biblical things, and immediately the conversation was turned back to the religio-political. And if you wish to be biblical, Packer ought to be put out of the church for his dalliances and recommendations until or unless he repents. If you spent sufficient time in Scripture to think biblically, you'd know that. My guess is (and I don't want to be brutal here) that neither of you are really familiar with the biblical passages that require this sort of action. I know you've read them in the past, but they aren't really top of the skull material for you.

This is one of the ways the church must reform--going back to biblical holiness personally and corporately. Or it will remain dead.

Perhaps, if the church had confronted Packer earlier, he'd have turned back before he got so out there.

Just think, guys: If we had lived according to biblcal holiness, Zondervan would have stayed straight. Now they are publishing Emergent stuff up to our hair lines. Our schools and seminaries would be straight. Now they are a filter allowing only compromisers into the pulpits.

I could go on. There is a heavy price we pay for thinking outside the Book.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Solameanie said...


Aside from casting aspersions on my biblical literacy or ability to think biblically, you need to understand (again) my reason in posting the quote. Packer's diagnosis of the problem with liberal churches is quite right. Mohler's diagnosis is quite right. Liberal churches' low view of Scripture leads to their apostasy. It's really a no-brainer, but needs to be stated anyway.

My goal in posting the quote was not to start a rumble over Packer's theology, or the proper interpretation of Matthew 18, Matthew 5, or other church discipline Scriptures.

Phil Perkins said...

You do good work and I read you regularly. As stinging as it may feel, it isn't personal. And I don't doubt your motives at all.

Keep writing.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Phil Johnson said...

Phil Perkins: "voracious readers. Of the Bible. Not the rest of the stuff. That ought to be less than 10 percent of our reading."

Where'd you get the 10% figure? Is there biblical authority for that, or are you being extrabiblical, too?

Your point of view would seem to deny any significant role for teachers, the teaching gift, and the place of discernment in the life of the church. Here's a blogpost I once wrote to answer someone who said practically the same thing you say above.

And, incidentally, if you seriously hold the position you claim above, what in the world are you doing reading and commenting on a blog? If there really is a biblical principle that only 10 percent of my reading can be extrabiblical, I'm certainly not going to squander my ration in the blogosphere. Get thee to John Owen.

Solameanie said...

I have been waiting a few days to see if there would be any response to Phil Johnson's comment above. As they used to say when I was covering government meeting as a journalist, "hearing none, so ordered." Thanks, Phil, J..for the astute observation, and thanks, Phil P, for your comments and thoughts.

As there really is nothing more to be said as to Packer's quote . . . I think that really carried the day as to the original topic . . . let me comment on Phil J's point.

I certainly can sympathize with Phil Perkins' view that many are not engaged enough with Scripture. Far too long have churches and Sunday schools been too absorbed with the latest release from Zondervan, Harvest House, Baker, etc. . . or the latest video series from a well-known minister, pastor, author, etc. So many churches put the Bible aside instead of digging into it and engaging it directly.

Having said that, we must not go too far to the other direction, and not engage with anything out there at all. The Apostle Paul quoted pagan authors, which seems to indicate that he had some familiarity with their writings. In addition, there have been many, many writers throughout Christian history from whom we can imbibe tremendous blessing and insight, yet not accord them the same authority we would give to the Bible. I will not toss those books into the fire.

In addition, I would be less than a good apologist for the Christian faith if I didn't have at the very least a passing knowledge of what other belief systems taught.

In this day and age, when error is so rife within the church, I had better be conversant with the passing fads so I can at least criticize with some accuracy even as I uphold a biblical standard.