J. I. Packer and the Church

Greg Strand – January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

J.I. Packer, just short of 90, has reached the end of his writing and speaking ministry. He recently suffered from macular degeneration to the point that he cannot see: J. I. Packer, 89, On Losing Sight, But Seeing Christ

Hearing how someone processes such changes, while trusting in the good, wise providence of God is an encouragement. It also serves as a model (1 Cor. 11:1) of how we ought to age as Christians (2 Cor. 4:16-18). There is, indeed, much about this interview I greatly appreciate, much of it focused on the sanctifying effect of godly disciplines engaged in for a life which produces the sanctifying fruit of the Spirit resulting in a godly life, which is evidenced, by God’s grace, in Packer’s life. There is a sweet aroma of Christ in and around Packer.

In light of our upcoming Theology Conference on the church, I appreciated Packer’s response to the question regarding the Young, Restless, Reformed movement, and his corrective statement of the necessity of becoming corporate in our emphasis rather than just individual. He rightly and helpfully distinguishes between individualism and individuality. Packer notes, “Remember that what God plans—what the whole economy of grace is shaped for—is the perfection of a church that will be the bride of Christ and, in a grand sense, the image of Christ. . . . Individualism, no. Churchliness, yes.”

His corrective parallels our final statement in Article 1 on God in our Statement of Faith: “Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” (emphasis mine).

Here are the questions to and responses from Packer:

How do you evaluate the Young, Restless, Reformed, and what word of encouragement and exhortation would you offer this fledgling movement?

Remember that what God plans—what the whole economy of grace is shaped for—is the perfection of a church that will be the bride of Christ and, in a grand sense, the image of Christ. And God is not in the business of individualism. There is a distinction that not all evangelicals pick up between individualism and individuality. Being a Christian ripens and extends your individuality, but individualism is a form of sin and, it seems to me, still a temptation for the Young, Restless, Reformed folk. The vital movements of Reformed Christianity—with their rediscovery of the doctrines of grace and the life of grace—all of that needs to have the individualism squeezed out of it, and as the movement matures that’s what’s going to happen. The folk involved in these movements need to be very clear all the time that God’s purpose is a church that celebrates his glory. If for the moment we are giving our time non-churchly or trans-denominational movements, well, that should be seen as step, a venture, towards churchliness rather than towards individualism. Individualism, no. Churchliness, yes.

Overall, would you say you’re encouraged?

Yes, I don’t see how any Christian under any circumstances can’t be encouraged who focuses on God. I don’t see how any Christian can be discouraged, because God is in charge—God knows what he’s doing, all things work together for good for those are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), and our hope is in Christ. Those things don’t change, and those are the things to focus on.

Going back to the centrality of the church, I suppose the Puritans are instrumental in bringing back our attention to the church.

The Puritans were churchly to their finger tips. They were intensely individuals. They made as much of Christian individuality as any community of believers have ever done, I think. But they were churchly. It was all for building up the church as the body of Christ and as the goal of all of God’s purposes of grace. I still think we need to learn that—and learn it for the first time, perhaps.

The great thing, which the Puritans saw as central, is communion with God, which they understood as communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They weren’t marked by the imbalance that you so often see even among Puritans supporters these days—I mean, people focusing on Christ to the exclusion of the Spirit, or on the Spirit to the exclusion of Christ.

The Puritans, I think, were wonderfully balanced. Their published work expresses it and is very maturing. There is the same relation to the goal of godliness as proper coaching, physical training, is to producing a player who is in full physical shape for the role that he is called to play.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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