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Posts Tagged ‘J.I. Packer’

Challies 2019 Reading: J.I. Packer on Evangelism and God’s Sovereignty

February 18, 2019 2 comments

Going through my stack of paperback books, here is an interesting one: J.I. Packer’s early work (1961) on “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.”  This is an early work (originally published in 1961), preceding his “Knowing God” which made him an evangelical household name.  I find it especially interesting for the historical context of the mid-20th century, the era of “Forgotten Spurgeon” (see this previous post).  Much of what is said here regarding the two seemingly-contradictory truths of divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility, is found in the Charles Spurgeon sermon volumes — ideas brought out in a few sentences at a time over the course of many sermons, and well covered within Packer’s book.

I have not read any other J.I. Packer books, but relate much of what he says here to his comments in a lecture series on the Puritans (and this previous post about the Puritan Papers), in terms of overall ideas about preaching the whole gospel and its full range of application: addressing certain points in one sermon or setting and other doctrinal truths at other times, yet regularly addressing the whole counsel of God, so that people will get the full picture.

In addition to the topic of God’s sovereignty, Packer discusses “wrong” versus more biblical methods of evangelism:  the  Arminian-style special prayer meetings with use of emotion; and, positively, the need to present the full gospel, so that people know what they are committing to. He also describes and advocates what is now known as ‘friendship evangelism’, of the type that presents all of the word of God–as contrasted with the manipulation method of inviting an unsaved friend to a special prayer meeting.

Describing the antinomy between the seemingly conflicting truths, Packer describes the mystery and transcendence of our creator God:

We ought not, in any case, to be surprised when we find mysteries of this sort in God’s Word. For the Creator is incomprehensible to his creatures. A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Another great quote from Packer:

For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. – J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Near the end, Packer addresses the implications of God’s sovereignty in evangelism, as an answer to the discouragement of evangelicals at this point in the mid-20th century, a discouragement brought about by nearly 100 years of “revival” type evangelism campaigns and the dismal results.  Noting the early success of D.L. Moody and others of that era as occurring “not because they were always well planned and run, but because God was working in Britain in those days in a way in which he is evidently not working now,” yet even then the campaigns experienced the law of diminishing returns.

 We had come to take it for granted that good organization and efficient technique, backed by a routine of prayers, was itself sufficient to guarantee results.  We felt that there was an almost magical potency in the special meeting, the special choir and soloist, and the special preacher.  We felt convinced that the thing that would always bring life into a dead church, or a dead town, was an intensive evangelistic mission.  With the top of our minds, many of us still think that, or profess to think that…. But with the bottom of our minds, in our heart of hearts, we have grown discouraged and disillusioned and apprehensive.  … we do not know what to make of a situation in which our planned evangelism fails.

After acknowledging the disappointments (failure of converts) through these methods, Packer brings home the underlying reality:

First, we must admit that we were silly ever to think that any evangelistic technique, however skillful, could of itself guarantee conversions; second, we must recognize that, because man’s heart is impervious to the Word of God, it is no cause for surprise if at any time our evangelism fails to result in conversions; third, we must remember that the terms of our calling are that we should be faithful, not that we should be successful; fourth, we must learn to rest all our hopes of fruit in evangelism on the omnipotent grace of God.

This is a well-written book for layperson reading, a short book yet very informative, with a lot of solid Christian teaching as to how evangelism has been done and what we need to remember about how it should be done.

 

Carl Trueman on John Owen

November 30, 2015 2 comments

Following the topic of church history and the Puritans, and having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation History lectures, I have now listened (available on sermon audio here to a 5-part series (with two additional messages after these five) from Trueman, on John Owen.

Much of the content is actually about the Puritans generally, with some overlap of the Reformation series as to the overall historical setting, along with descriptions of Owen’s theology in particular. Of note, Reformed theology in Owen’s day was more complex, more developed than in the 16th century, in part due to the heresy confronted in the 17th century: Socinianism. Owen’s view of the atonement comes out in a more detailed response to Socinianism. While John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and Twisse (the chairman of the Westminster Assembly) saw the atonement as not necessary–God COULD have provided redemption in another way, but He chose to do it that way—for Owen the atonement had to be done in that way, the blood sacrifice of the God-man, as necessary due to the character of God.

Among other interesting points: the Puritans, as authors of the Westminster Confession, did not hold to the idea of “proof-text scriptures.” The Westminster Confession document originally did not have scripture verses associated with the confession statements. They added these only at the request of Parliament. Still, their thinking was more the idea of, look at the scripture reference, and then refer to the 100+ commentaries that had ever been written on that text. As J.I. Packer also noted (in this series), here also from Trueman, the Puritan era was one of strong expository preaching, of very strong exposition of biblical texts.

The idea of the Covenant of Redemption (the agreement in eternity past, between the Father and the Son) first showed up, in Puritan writing, in 1638. Yet a criticism of that covenantal structure has been that the idea is “not very Trinitarian.” Here John Owen contributed and expanded the Trinitarian view of the Covenant of Redemption: the Spirit’s role also in this covenant. Trueman recommends reading this work, Owen’s Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, even before reading Owen’s other works such as “the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” or “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.”

Also generally recommended, especially for laypeople, are the Banner of Truth reprints, abridgements of John Owen’s works.  For people with more limited time (non-pastors, those busy working other jobs in the world), Trueman notes that the abridgements will at least give you Owen’s conclusions (without reading the many hundreds of pages of reasoning to how he got to those conclusions). As a beginner-level, Trueman suggests J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” which includes Packer’s quotes from Owen.

As with previous material from Trueman, this “John Owen conference” series provides good and helpful material, a good introduction to the overall Puritan authors and particularly the key features of John Owen and his writings.

Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)

October 28, 2015 1 comment

From J.I. Packer’s concluding lectures on the English Puritans come the following insights on Puritan preaching. The Puritan preacher, a physician of the soul, had three areas of focus: preaching, catechizing the children (education), and counseling. The Puritans did not use the word ‘counseling’ or think of it as we do, yet that is what they did, and effectively so, through the “applicatory” part of their sermons, which was often a large part of the overall sermon. Packer observes the importance of this, something that has been largely forgotten and lost; much of what is now done in “Christian counseling” in the pastor’s office, could and should instead be done through the pulpit.

What Packer describes is exactly what I have observed in Spurgeon’s sermons, that very helpful, “practical” aspect which I first observed 5-6 years ago, when I began reading through Spurgeon sermons (along with J.C. Ryle), noting in agreement with another blog commenter (note this blog comment and later references to it, at this Pyromaniacs post from 2010) this feature of Spurgeon’s sermons; though Spurgeon is often known for his strong doctrinal stance quotes, in actual sermon reading this is what comes through. Not surprisingly, later on in this section of lectures, Packer himself noted Spurgeon as one who understood and exemplified this Puritan approach – that Spurgeon was experiential and applicatory from the word go.

As Packer further explained, in answer to a question: this approach was lost by the end of the 17th century, especially after the ejection of Puritan preachers in 1662, a time when the mood in England turned against serious preaching. The Anglicans were the only ones left as preachers, and the people generally went along with their method of stringing together three points, a light-weight approach to preaching. The Great Awakening preachers returned to the Puritan style – George Whitfield, John Wesley, and John Newton, as did Spurgeon in the 19th century and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. But as Packer notes: most have not thought it through; they haven’t seen how vital it is, and they think that “other forms (of sermon preaching) can make up for the fact that the preaching is weak.”

This application includes addressing the different types of people in the audience, with a word for each group. Each particular sermon may not address all the different people, but over a period of several weeks the various sermons will have something to say to each of the following groups:

  1. The “spiritually complacent” or hypocrites, who come to church as part of going through the motions; those who “need a bomb put under their seat,” to be awakened, to seek the Lord
  2. Those who are seeking in a general way, coming to find out general Christian teaching
  3. Those who “are not far from the kingdom,” who need specific guidance to come to Christ, to be taught the way of faith.
  4. Young Christians – often young in age, overall recent converts, the “little children” of John’s first epistle, who may be quite zealous for the faith though lacking maturity and greater understanding of doctrine.
  5. Mature believers. Often these are middle-aged or elderly, who need encouragement to continue, to keep on, to not flag spiritually as their bodies decline.
  6. Those in trouble, who have slipped badly in some moral issue, or are struggling with some temptation; though they may have kept it from others, yet they know of their failures. Perhaps they have almost yielded to a temptation, just generally struggling, or have experienced some personal trauma or disaster.

Puritan writing often expresses the application in terms of “use,” often with the words “use 1… use 2” etc., a feature I have seen in reading Puritan authors such as John Bunyan and Thomas Watson. Each of these areas of “use” follows from the text; given what this text says, what we are to consider, to apply in our lives positively, or to (negatively) depart from certain ideas we have that are contrary to scripture. Six of these “uses” are:

  1. Use of instruction or information
  2. Use of confutation
  3. Use of exhortation
  4. Use of admonition
  5. Use of comfort
  6. Use of trial   (self-examination)

The 5th one, use of comfort, again relates to the “counseling from the pulpit,” in which the preacher deals with actual questions from church members, including depressed people – who are very skilled at reasoning that excludes themselves from what the word of God says to everyone. And again I see this so descriptive of Spurgeon’s preaching, his constant emphasis on promises from God’s word, and reasons to reject such notions of why I am not fit to come to Christ.

Packer well summed up this overall issue:

We devote our pulpit ministry to teaching evangelical doctrine against liberalism or secularism, and when we’ve done that we think we’ve finished. We don’t do any serious applying, and we certainly don’t do this sort of applying. We don’t get within half a mile of doing any of our counseling from the pulpit. I think the Puritans have got something to say to us about this. I speak as to wise men and women, you judge what I say.

Calvin, Beza, Supralapsarianism and the Puritans (J.I. Packer on the Puritans)

September 18, 2015 Comments off

Continuing through RTS’ (Reformed Theological Seminary) iTunes University collection, my current study is an interesting and informative series done by J.I. Packer, on the English Puritans and their theology, a set of 16 lectures done in 1988.

Having already studied this subject at a basic, overview level, including volume 1 of the Puritan Papers (see this previous post), it is nice to see that this series presents much additional information. Among the interesting features of the Puritans: they were Reformed Medieval, in several ways different from Reformed Moderns. Their view of church and state was still like that of Medieval times, understanding the difference in theory though not in practice. The Puritan era did not consider “plagiarism” as any offense; it was common, accepted practice to borrow from the writings of others without giving them credit – such a contrast from our day, that Packer observed that modern-day scholars are perhaps too “provincial” about their own contributions. The Puritans also were far more homogeneous in their thinking as a group – more interested in learning from and respecting the views of others within their “tradition,” not so individualistic as today’s evangelical scholars accustomed to “critical thinking” in terms of studying out issues for themselves and sometimes coming to different conclusions on particular doctrinal matters.

The earliest Puritans were greatly influenced by the early work of William Perkins, who popularized Calvinist teaching in the late 16th century. Perkins borrowed heavily from John Calvin’s successor, Beza (again, the Puritans were not concerned about plagiarism) and popularized Beza’s presentation of God’s sovereignty in election, complete with diagrams with bubbles, publications intended for the common man who in many cases was illiterate.

An interesting consideration here, a point developed by Packer through a few lectures: the order of presentation of theology matters. Calvin’s final version of the Institutes for the Christian Religion (1559) presents doctrines in the same order as Paul in Romans, starting with man’s depravity, later the topics of justification by faith and sanctification, coming to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election (Romans 9-11) only after these other other points have been presented. However, Calvin’s successor, Beza, preferred the idea of classical Greek thinking, that what is first in intent is last in execution.  Therefore, since God’s glory, and His election of His people is the first intent, this teaching should be presented first. In this way Beza introduced the concept known as supralapsarianism: that the decree of God to save some and damn others, came before the creation and the fall.  Perkins followed this, as the first to present the idea in English and popularize it, and thus supralapsarianism took hold of the Puritans for the next 50 years. Later Puritans, including John Owen, were infralapsarian, but the first generation held without questioning (again, Reformed Medievalism) to Perkins’ idea.  Packer also notes that John Calvin himself really cannot be classified as either infra- or supra-lapsarian, since neither idea itself was yet defined as a particular category and this just wasn’t an issue.  Calvin taught both God’s sovereignty in election, and God’s love and the promises of God to sinners who come to Him in repentance, and thus the argument can be made (and has by some) for Calvin being infralapsarian — but the issue wasn’t defined in such terms (infra versus supra) in his day.

From Packer’s explanation of this history along with his own pastoral ideas, I now better understand the differences between the two ideas (supra- and infra- lapsarian), in how it affects the presentation of gospel truth.  Perkins’ approach to assurance focused on the evidences a person could look to, the fruit in their own lives, as to whether a person is truly saved. Yet his approach neglected the scriptural truths of God’s love in providence (reference Acts 17:25-27, He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything), and ignored the “whosoever will” promises of scripture: the promise that those who come to Him, who look to Him for mercy, will never be turned away; the one who trusts in Him shall never be ashamed. Packer well summarized the infralapsarian approach (his view): to the unsaved we present the truths of the first part of Romans – man’s depravity, justification, atonement, God’s mercy to the sinner; we don’t begin with the teaching of election, telling unsaved people about God’s saving some while giving some over to reprobation. We teach election and what it means, to the family of God, those already saved. People understand assurance based on the scriptural promises, rather than wondering “if I am one of the elect or not.”

Packer’s lectures include more details about this issue and much more, the above is a brief summary of a few lectures up through number 7 in the set.  I look forward to the remaining lessons in this RTS iTunes series.

The Puritan Papers: Five Volumes About the Puritans and Their Theology

July 6, 2015 2 comments

From my recent reading: volume one of a collection called “Puritan Papers,” which I first learned about through a special offer from Westminster (WTS) publications, then available for reduced price in Kindle format; at the time I did not have a Kindle, but found a good price on a used copy of volume 1. These volumes come from a series of conferences, which took place from 1956 through 1969, with many essays that highlighted the Puritans and their theology. Edited by J.I. Packer, this volume includes many informative essays from the years 1956 through 1959 – a few authored by J.I. Packer, also Iain Murray, though most of the names are less known. (Each of the five volumes is available in used-print and Kindle format.)

The topics include important Puritan doctrines: sovereign election, assurance and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, law and the covenants, as well as essays explaining the Puritan view of the Sabbath and Puritan worship and “daily life.” Several essays feature particular Puritan writers, names I had not heard of, including “Mrs. Hutchinson and her teaching” (not the notorious Anne Hutchinson of American Colonial history, but English Lucy Hutchinson, author of “On the Principles of the Christian Religion” and “Of Theology”), plus an overview look at the writings of Thomas Goodwin, Stephen Charnock, Richard Baxter and others. The 20th century writers also note areas where particular Puritans erred, such as Welsh Puritan Morgan Llwyd (who believed in free will, the possibility of Christian perfectionism, and ideas that were favorable to the Quaker position).  Especially helpful in this area (where certain Puritans erred) is J.I. Packer’s analysis of observations made by Charles Spurgeon in an 1863 sermon (one I have read), “The Warrant of Faith.”  Packer acknowledges some areas of valid criticism, concerning the three men Spurgeon named — John Rogers, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard — who over-emphasized and went beyond scripture in the matter of “qualifications for coming to Christ.”

The reading content assumes at least basic understanding of the Puritans, from a Calvinist/Reformed background, and from that starting point, these are quite helpful, a good overview and introduction to the subject. The various 1950s authors were interested in returning evangelical Christianity to what it now lacks and has forgotten, the depth of theology and experience from the Puritan age, thus teaching the current generation about this great Christian era, for what we can learn from them. Considering the state of American Christianity over the last 50 years since then, the Puritan understanding of the Christian life is even more needed today.

J.I. Packer’s introductions (which were written some time after the conference, date uncertain) include some great quotes about the contrast between our generation and the Puritan era, as with these excerpts:

Whereas the Puritans demanded order, discipline, depth, and thoroughness in every department of the Christian life, the modern evangelical temper is rather one of casual haphazardness and restless impatience. We crave for stunts, novelties, and entertainments; we have lost our taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in our callings and in our prayers. … Whereas the Puritan outlook had God and His glory as its unifying center, and was in consequence a broad, balance, biblically proportioned whole, its modern evangelical counterpart has a different center. It revolves around the individual man, as if he were the real hub of the universe. . . .

and

In teaching the Christian life, our habit is to depict it as a life of thrilling feelings rather than of working faith. We stress supernatural experiences at the expense of rational righteousness. And even in dealing with Christian experience we are one-sided, for we dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontentment of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or any of the burdens and strains which the responsibility of living as a child of God brings with it. Thus the spontaneous jollity of the carefree extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, so that jolly extroverts in our churches are encouraged to become complacent hypocrites, while saintly souls of less sanguine temperament are driven almost to distraction because they find themselves unable to bubble over in the prescribed manner. From “Puritan Papers Volume 1” (introduction to the 1958 articles).

I also appreciated the sampling of quotes from Puritan authors, such as the following from Stephen Charnock:

To dispossess man of his self-esteem and self-excellency, to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin, as dear to him as himself, to hurl down the pride of nature, to make stout imaginations stoop to the cross, to make desires of self-advancement sink under a zeal for the glorifying of God and an over-ruling design for His honor, is not to be ascribed to any but an outstretched arm wielding the sword of the Spirit.

The “Puritan Papers” are good reading (at least the first volume, what I’ve read so far), informative and instructive, for anyone interested in learning more about the Puritans.