Posts Tagged ‘packer’

My understanding of who God was tremendously increased by reading J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God.  God used this man to teach me about the Puritans in his excellent work The Quest for Godliness. And Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a brief but wonderfully profound text bringing Scriptural balance to that issue.

But I have been disappointed over the last several years in Packer’s signing and ringing endorsement of the document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and his signature on the recent “Manhattan Declaration.”

Packer’s book Rediscovering Holiness has also been an encouragement to me  in my pursuit of sanctification.  So I was sad to hear about this addition to his second edition.  Dr. Dave Doran of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater, discusses Packer’s praise of Mother Teresa in the book’s afterword.  Here is Dr. Doran’s blog post:

Shortly before the Manhattan Declaration came out I was very disappointed by a discovery I made at the back end of the second edition of J. I. Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness. This new edition contains an afterword entitled “Holiness in the Dark: The Case of Mother Teresa.” I scanned it quickly then, but did not make time to give it a thorough reading until this morning. Very disappointed is an understatement.

To cut to the chase, Packer wants to address the “problem of felt abandonment by God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, within the frame of full commitment to God: in other words, the desolation and seeming desertion of the deeply devoted” (italics original, p. 249), and he believes that Teresa’s struggles can be helpful for all of us—even to the point of thanking God “for Mother Teresa’s example, which points the way ahead for us all” (p. 263). In case you are unaware of her stuggles, Packer informs us that “after two decades of constant joyful intimacy with Christ, from 1948 on—that is, for 49 years, during the whole time of her leadership of the Missionaries of Charity—felt abandonment was the essence of her experience. Behind all the cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, Christ-honoring utterances that flowed from her during these years in a steady stream lay the permanently painful sense that, quite simply, God had gone, leaving her in aching loneliness, apparently for all eternity” (p. 250).

Packer bases the entire afterword on the premise that Teresa is a genuine believer, in spite of her devotion to Roman Catholic teachings. Packer tries to explain how she could experience such darkness and begins by explaining away several options:

  • “This was not an experience of doubt …. She was always sure of the historic Christian faith and of the grace that flows from Jesus, particularly as she believed through the Mass; she had no doubt about the administrative procedures of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church; she had absolute confidence in the love of the Lord Jesus for herself and for everyone else, including the poorest of the Indian poor, whom Hindu society wrote off as valueless; she was totally convinced that she was called to take the love of Christ to them; and she was ever a human dynamo in furthering this project” (p. 261).
  • It was not “passing through the dark night of the soul as Catholic tradition conceives it; for that darkness, however similar while it lasts to Teresa’s, is temporary, leading on to experiential union with God, whereas Teresa by her own testimony had known experiential union with Christ in particular for 20 years before the pain of inner darkness became her permanent condition” (p. 261).
  • “Nor, again, was she undergoing an experience of detection, God sending her pain to alert her to issues of repentance and obedience that she had evaded. Quite apart from the fact that the inner darkness spanned her whole half-century of leadership, it is safe to say that there were no problems of that kind in Teresa’s life” (p. 261).

This is so mind-boggling that I am not sure where to start. How Packer can conclude any of this is beyond my ability to understand—he is prepared to look into her soul and assure us that she had no doubt, that she truly experienced union with God, and that she had no problems with repentance or obedience? I know Packer is much more intelligent than I am, but I don’t think even he can see inside a soul with such clarity.

And his conclusions fly in face of sound theology. How can she not have doubt when her salvation is based on the administration of the Mass rather than the finished work of Christ? I’ve seen no evidence that Teresa believed the gospel of grace and significant evidence from her own words that would suggest that she didn’t. Packer seems to ignore the possibility that her devotion to Jesus was not gospel-based, or that it might not have even been the Jesus of whom Paul preached (cf. 2 Cor 11:4).

Some wonder why many of us are making such a big fuss about the Manhattan Declaration, and I’d submit that it is because some of us see a dangerous drift happening. Packer, who signed the MD and also the original ECT document, is representative of this drift. It seems, and this deserves further exploration, that Packer’s initial steps in this direction started in the mid-1960s, then bloomed more fully in the decade following. Packer’s biographer, Alistar McGrath, acknowledges that Packer’s support of ECT “can be seen to rest on precisely the theological foundations developed by Packer in England during the 1970s” (J. I. Packer, p. 160). Specifically, Packer took the side of evangelical ecumenism in opposition to Lloyd-Jones in 1966, then co-authored a work with two Anglo-Catholics in 1970 (Growing into Union) that many evangelicals felt conceded too much biblical ground on critical doctrinal issues. The publication of that work led to the formal break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, bringing an end to the Puritan Conferences.

I think this backdrop is important so that we see this issue in relation to the larger issues. Too many defenses of the signers of the MD err precisely by seeing only this document, not the larger questions on the table and trends at work. Once ecumenism has been embraced, common ground becomes the goal. That almost without fail means that differences are minimized or dismissed altogether. Perceived piety or devotion to good works gradually trump soundness on the gospel as the evidence of genuine Christianity. That seems like the only way to explain how Packer can claim that Teresa is a model Christian because “what one does for others is the real test of the genuineness and depth of one’s love to God, and specifically to Jesus Christ the Lord” (p. 262).

As I said earlier on this subject, the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing something about social issues. It seems clear to me that J. I. Packer has taken that step.

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What’s God up to in my trials?

JT has some great thoughts from J. I. Packer on dealing with troubles.

In Knowing God (p. 97) J. I. Packer writes about how to understand the “unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things” that happen to us. What do they mean?

Simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and he is dealing with us accordingly.

(Suggestion: resist the skimming temptation and read that line over again.)

Then Packer ponders the possible purposes God might have in mind for you:. . . .

Read the rest and be strengthened by the grace of God in trials.

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”–Walt Disney

“Theology is for doxology, that is, glorifying God by praise and thanks, by obedient holiness, and by laboring to extend God’s kingdom, church, and cultural influence. The goal of theological Bible reading is not just to know truth about God (though one’s quest for godliness must start there) but to know God personally in a relationship that honors him.”–J. I. Packer, ESV Study Bible, p. 2568

“I know of no one who overstated the terrors of hell.”–John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 126.

“The Bible is an armory of heavenly weapons, a laboratory of infallible medicines, a mine of exhaustless wealth. It is a guidebook for every road, a chart for every sea, a medicine for every malady, and a balm for every wound. Rob us of our Bible and our sky has lost its sun.”–Scottish pastor Thomas Guthrie

“If God doesn’t rule your mundane, then he doesn’t rule you, because that’s where you live.”–Paul Tripp

Speaking of Mary, Jesus’ mother, N. Geldenhuys writes, “Her humble attitude opened for her the gates to true, deep and jubilant joy. He who elevates himself is constantly engaged in wrecking his own life. But he who is sincerely humble finds richness of life and happiness.”

“To read the Bible “theologically” means to read the Bible “with a focus on God”: his being, his character, his words and works, his purpose, presence, power, promises, and precepts”–J.I. Packer, ESV Study Bible, p. 2567

“For God’s people to sustain covenantal hopes and personal moral ideals as ages pass and cultures change and decay, they must have constant, accessible, and authoritative instruction from God. And that is what the Bible essentially is.”–J.I. Packer, ESV Study Bible, p. 2567

“Pray often!  Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.”–John Bunyan.

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Pray until you pray!

“Pray until you pray!” That is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that  persistence should mark much of our praying—though admittedly that is a point the Scripture repeatedly make.

What they meant is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single sessions, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we “pray until we pray,” eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will.

The words of Packer in this regard are worth pondering:  I start with the truism that each Christian’s prayer life, like every good marriage, has in it common factors about which one can generalize and also uniquenesses which not other Christian’s  pray life will quite match. You are you, and I am I, and we must each find our own way with God, and there is no recipe for prayer that can work for us like a handyman’s do-it-yourself manual or cookery book, where the claim is that if you follow th instruction you can’t go wrong. Praying is not like carpentry or cookery; it is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the way it goes is more under divine control that under ours. Books on praying, like marriage manuals, are not to be treated with slavish superstition, as if perfection of technique is the answer to all difficulties; their purpose, rather, is to suggest things to try. But as in other close relationships, so in prayer: you have to find out by trial and error what is right for you, and you learn to pray by praying. Some of us talk more, others less; some some are constantly vocal, others cultivate silence before God as their way of adoration. . . yet we may all be praying as God means us to do. The only rules are, stay within biblical guidelines and within those guidelines, as John Chapman puts it, “pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t”.

–D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation

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Probing our prayer lives

One of the most important ways for growing in a deeper knowledge of God is by faithful prayer.  Robert Murray M’Cheyne writing over a 150 years ago observed correctly, “What a man is alone with God on his knees before God, that he is and no  more.”

The consistency and fervency of  the prayer lives of most Christians, even most pastors, if revealed for all to see would be embarrassing.  To load with guilt, however is not the purpose of this blog, but rather to encourage you to be strengthened by God’s awesome grace. So here are some questions [from D. A. Carson] that might help us get off the dime in our prayers lives or make some significant improvements.

  1. How strong is your delight in our praying?
  2. How often do you sense that you are meeting with the living God, that you are doing business with God, that you are interceding with God with genuine unction before the throne of grace?
  3. When was the last time that you came away from a period of intercession feeling that, like Jacob, or Moses, we had prevailed with God?
  4. How much of your praying is largely formulaic, liberally sprinkled with cliches that remind you of the hypocrites that Jesus rebuked strongly?
  5. Are you better at organizing than agonizing in prayer?

Well, let me close with this quote from J. I. Packer who taught, “I believe that prayer is the measure of a man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.”

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“God’s promises are true:  circumstances change but God never does:  “Nothing can alter the character of God. In the course of a human life, tastes and outlook and temper may change radically:  a a kind, equable man may turn bitter, crotchety man; a man of goodwill may grow cynical and callous. But nothing of this sort happens to the Creator. He never becomes less truthful, or merciful, or just, or good than he used to be.  The character of God is today, and always will be, exactly what it was in Bible times.”-Packer, Knowing God.

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Discernment is “the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong” (Tim Challies).

If the above definition is true (and I think it is), where should discernment start? I propose that it starts with how one thinks of God. A. W. Tozer wrote in The Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He goes on to say,

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may so or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. . . .Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightest word in any language is its word for God.

Trace any error in doctrine or religion and you will see that it began with some wrong view of God. Our thoughts about God shape everything else.

So discernment starts with your view of God. This is discernment 101. If you want to be able to discern between truth and error, you have to make sure you know God or else, in the words of J. I. Packer, “you sentences yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”

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