Archives For J I Packer

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.

J. I. Packer’s Living Epitaph

Greg Strand – November 16, 2015 3 Comments

J.I. Packer has been greatly used of God for many years. His books have served the people of God in the church of Christ for many years. I have read many of them, including his classic Knowing God numerous times. He refers to himself as an ecclesial theologian, i.e. a theologian of the church not the academy, and an adult catechist, i.e., one who teaches and instructs adults.

In conjunction with the release of a couple of new biographies of Packer, a 20 minute documentary was filmed of him. Although we do not determine what others will say about our legacy, what we say and the way we live our lives are what determine that legacy. We desire to be faithful to the Lord, entrusting ourselves to him, and we do not become concerned about what others will or will not say about us. The “well done” is sought by the Lord alone.

When Packer was asked how he would like to be remembered, he stated the following:

As I look back on the life that I have lived, I would like to be remembered as a voice, a voice that focused on

  • the authority of the Bible,
  • the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins

I would like to be remembered as a voice calling Christian people to holiness and challenging lapses in Christian moral standards.

I should like to be remembered as someone who was always courteous in controversy, but without compromise.

I ask you to thank God with me for the way that he has led me and I wish, hope, pray that you will enjoy the same clear leading from him and the same help in doing the tasks that he sets you that I have enjoyed.

And if your joy matches my joy as we continue in our Christian lives, well, you will be blessed indeed.

My gratitude to the Lord for this mentor/model from a distance only increases as I read these words from Packer.

The theme the past couple of days has been weakness, aging and death. Many of the dear saints who have walked with the Lord many years and served Him and His people faithfully, by His grace, are transitioning from this life to the next.

J. I. Packer (b. 1926) addresses the reality of weakness. This is not just the weakness we experience in the flesh and the need to learn and live the reality of God’s grace being sufficient, and it is not just the truth that our true spiritual strength is realized in our weakness. Both of those are true and real and ought to be our experience. But Packer also speaks to his increasing weakness as his body ages and wears out. In addition to Packer finding his strength in weakness, he also finds that his inner spiritual life is being renewed, and therefore he does not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16). This is a good, right and important truth and lesson for us all.

George Beverly Shea’s homegoing (1909-2013) to be “with the Lord” reminds us that this is not all there is to life, that all of us age, all of us die, and those who know the Lord transition joyfully from this age to the next. Though this aging process is marked by many losses, it is not just begrudgingly bemoaned but rather a cause of “boast[ing] all the more gladly of my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:9).

In Billy Graham’s (b. 1918) most recent book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), he notes something missing in most contemporary Evangelical writing in theology, discipleship and Christian living. Most Christians and books, he writes, address how to live, but they don’t talk about how to die. This is precisely what Graham attempts to do. There is much to glean and learn from Graham about aging and preparing to transition to be with the Lord.

It is one of the things I appreciated about Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). He stood strongly for the sanctity of life, all of life from womb to death. And then he modeled that in his own life in the way he aged, weakened and died publicly. This said very positively even while disagreeing with his theology.

I am not there yet, either physically, spiritually or age-wise. I acknowledge it is one thing to speak of biblical truth and the experience of others as if I truly “know” what this is like. I don’t. But I want to. I want to know from Scripture and I desire to learn from other godly men and women who have gone on ahead of me having been faithful to the Lord to the end. Then when that stage and season of life come, which it will as there are no exceptions this being the only path to glory, I will, by God’s grace, engage in that season of life faithfully manifesting that in this jar of clay, God’s grace will be personally precious and it will be seen “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). It is the vicarious learning that prepares us for the experiential living.

By God’s grace and for God’s glory, and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, may we live well in weakness, and may we die well in strength reflecting Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

The Apostle Paul: But he [the Lord] said to me,  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor. 12:9-10)

J. I. Packer: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

In a brief video, Packer explains his life of weakness, which is true of all of us, whether we realize it or not, whether we are in the prime of life or towards the end. In it all, the truth remains the same: God’s grace is sufficient for our weakness. How we respond to and live this truth reflects the degree of our sanctification/transformation/spiritual maturity. It is explained in the following way:

For Christians, weakness should be a way of life. Yet most of us try desperately to be sufficient on our own, and we resent our limitations and our needs.

In the video, J.I. Packer, renowned theologian and author of the forthcoming Weakness is the Way, reflects on his experience of weakness, having been hit by a bread truck as a child and now facing the realities of aging.

J. I. Packer has long considered himself a “theologian of and for the church,” writing as a churchman for the church. Packer is personally committed to the corporate life and ministry of the local church, and he writes for God’s people who make up that church. All of us who have read his works have benefited greatly.

Packer is a true ecclesial theologian, and he continues to worship the God he loves and serve the church of Jesus Christ purchased with the blood of Christ, even in his old age! I am grateful!

New City Catechism

Greg Strand – October 22, 2012 2 Comments

Here are a number of links for New City Catechism, a new catechism written by Tim Keller for Redeemer Presbyterian, but made available to a wider Evangelical audience.

New City Catechism

This Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers and is done in a format for both adults and children. Keller based it primarily on the Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter (107 questions) and Larger  Catechisms, and primarily the Heidelberg Catechism (52 Sundays, with 129 questions).  

The same Catechism is used for both children and adults, with the adults learning an additional sentence or two. The benefit is that it is all the same. In addition to the question and answer, you will also find a supporting Scripture passage, a commentary and prayer from the saints across the history of the church, and a brief video on which someone explains/comments on the question and answer.  It is also divided into three sections: Part 1 – God, creation and fall, law (20 questions); Part 2 – Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions); Part 3 – Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions). 

Here is how Keller explains the Catechism:

We decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

Attached to each question and answer there is a short written commentary from a historical preacher (e.g., Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video commentary from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition (e.g., Don Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, etc.) and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So the idea is to read a commentary from a historical preacher and then watch a commentary from a modern one.

Here is a sample:

Question 1:  What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:  That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Scripture:  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8

Commentary

If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us…. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

John Calvin (1509–1564). A theologian, administrator, and pastor, Calvin was born in France into a strict Roman Catholic family. It was in Geneva however where Calvin worked most of his life and organized the Reformed church. He wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion (from which this quote is taken), the Geneva Catechism, as well as numerous commentaries on Scripture.

From Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.VII.I., 690.

Further Reading

“Salvation” in Concise Theology, by J. I. Packer.

Prayer

Lord, here am I; do with me what thou pleasest, write upon me as thou pleasest: I give up myself to be at thy dispose…. The ambitious man giveth himself up to his honours, but I give up myself unto thee;…man gives himself up to his pleasures, but I give up myself to thee;…man gives himself up…to his idols, but I give myself to thee…. Lord! lay what burden thou wilt upon me, only let thy everlasting arms be under me…. I am lain down in thy will, I have learned to say amen to thy amen; thou hast a greater interest in me than I have in myself, and therefore I give up myself unto thee, and am willing to be at thy dispose, and am ready to receive what impression thou shalt stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! hast thou not again and again said unto me…‘I am thine, O soul! to save thee; my mercy is thine to pardon thee; my blood is thine to cleanse thee; my merits are thine to justify thee; my righteousness is thine to clothe thee; my Spirit is thine to lead thee; my grace is thine to enrich thee; and my glory is thine to reward thee’; and therefore…I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto thee. Lord! here I am, do with me as seemeth good in thine own eyes. I know the best way…is to resign up myself to thy will, and to say amen to thy amen.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680). An English Puritan preacher, Brooks studied at Cambridge University before becoming rector of a church in London. He was ejected from his post, but continued to work in London even during the Great Plague. He wrote over a dozen books, most of which are devotional in character, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (from which this prayer is taken) being the best known.

From “The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, edited by Rev. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 305–306.