The Fuzzification of Faith

This post is adapted from Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know by J. I. Packer. Watch a series of videos in which Dr. Packer reflects on his life, ministry, and key doctrines for the church today at JIPacker.com. J.I. Packer: What Is Faith? The word faith is used elusively and does in truth mean different things to different people, though this fact often goes unrecognized. Some churches—in an effort to be unitive—constantly refer to the faith as a common property held by all who worship, without defining or analyzing its substance, so that worshippers can go for years without any clear notion of what their church stands for. Theologians rise up to affirm that, in idea at least, faith goes beyond mere orthodoxy (belief of truth) to orthopraxy (living out that truth in worship and service, love to God and man)—and in saying this they are right so far. But when some think orthodoxy sanctions behavior that

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Five marks of revived churches

Ray Ortlund: J. I. Packer, writing in God in our Midst (Ann Arbor, 1987), pages 24-35, proposes that, among the variety of God’s ways, five constants appear in biblical revivals: 1.  Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.” 2.  Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.” 3.  Sensitiveness to sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.” 4.  Liveliness in community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.” 5.  Fruitfulness in testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by

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Why You Should Not Wear a Crucifix

Tim Challies: Crucifixes have long been a fixture in Roman Catholic worship. But in the past few years I have begun to see more and more Protestants wearing them as well, exchanging their empty cross for one that contains an image of the suffering Savior. J.I. Packer once addressed the issue of the crucifix, and addressed it well. What harm is there, we ask, in the worshipper surrounding himself with statues and pictures, if they help him to lift his heart to God? We are accustomed to treat the question of whether these things should be used or not as a matter of temperament and personal taste. We know that some people have crucifixes and pictures of Christ in their rooms, and they tell us that looking at these objects helps them to focus their thoughts on Christ when they pray. We know that many claim to be able to worship more freely and easily in churches that are filled with such

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He Knows Me

  What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it–the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort–the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates–in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point

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Our representative and our substitute

  God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber. The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin. A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free. — J. I. Packer “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16 (HT: Of First Importance)

Wisdom from Luther on doing theology

  J. I. Packer on Martin Luther’s approach to doing theology: When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119. There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian. The first is prayer for light and understanding. The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text. The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word. Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and

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Sam Storms on J.I. Packer’s New Book

J. I. Packer. Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 125 pp. Sam Storms: This comparatively short book with its strange title delivers a powerful blow to the rampant triumphalism that has infected much of the Bible-believing world. Using Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians as his principal resource, J. I. Packer has once again provided us with both the theological depth and practical wisdom necessary to live in a way that pleases and honors Christ. The reader should not draw false conclusions from the title. Whereas Packer advocates a form of “weakness” as the only way in which to live to the glory of God, he does not deny the proper place of spiritual strength. The subtitle reminds us that it is in and through our weakness that Christ’s powerful presence is made known. Packer’s decision “to take soundings in Second Corinthians” (p. 16) is a wise and helpful one, as it is in

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Penal Substitution, Central and Controlling

Sam Storms: In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point. Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence. “What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice

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Union with Christ – the taproot of our entire salvation

J.I. Packer: “But the taproot of our entire salvation, and the true NT frame for cataloguing its ingredients, is our union with Christ himself by the Holy Spirit. That is, to be more precise, our implantation, symbolized by the under-and-up-from-under of water baptism, into the twin realities of Christ’s own dying and rising (see Rom 6:1-11; Col 2:9-12). In this union we have a salvation that is not only positional through the cross in the terms just stated, and relational through our sustained faith-communion with our Lord, but is also transformational through the regenerating and indwelling Spirit, who stirs and motivates and empowers us to express our new hearts’ desires in new habits of action and reaction constituting Christlike character (‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5:22-23). ”Atonement in the Life of the Christian,” in The Glory of the Atonement, 417 (HT: Sam Storms)

The Holy Spirit as the “wellspring and taproot of all holy and Christ-like action”

J. I. Packer’s insight into the nature of godly living must be noted. He rightly insists that: “we can never hope to do anything right, never expect to perform a work that is truly good, unless God works within us to make us will and act for his good pleasure. Realizing this will make us depend constantly on our indwelling Lord – which is the heart of what is meant by abiding in Christ. Our living should accordingly be made up of sequences having the following shape. We begin by considering what we have to do, or need to do. Recognizing that without divine help we can do nothing as we should (see John 15:5), we confess to the Lord our inability, and ask that help be given. Then, confident that prayer has been heard and help will be given, we go to work. And, having done what we could, we thank God for the ability to do as much

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How John Owen Might Have Responded to the Modern Charismatic Movement

In an essay on “John Owen on Spiritual Gifts” in A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer points that spiritual gifts were not much debated in Puritan theology and that Owen’s Discourse on Spiritual Gifts (published posthumously) is the only full-scale treatment of the subject by a major writer. Some of the questions we are asking today were not even raised at this time. For example, Packer writes, “Seventeenth-century England did not, to my knowledge, produce anyone who claimed the gift of tongues. . . .” So how would the great John Owen have interacted with our contemporary debates? Packer writes: “it may be supposed (though this, in the the nature of the case, can only be a guess) that were Owen confronted with modern Pentecostal phenomena he would judge each case a posteriori, on its own merit, according to these four principles:” 1. Since the presumption against any such renewal is strong, and liability to ‘enthusiasm’ is part of the infirmity of every

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Not all Cessationists are of MacArthur’s spirit

Important post from Sam Storms: Most are aware of the Strange Fire conference currently underway at John MacArthur’s church in California. It is specifically designed to argue that charismatics, broadly conceived, are guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Yes, you read that correctly. Today, my friend Michael Patton wrote an excellent article that can be read at the blog for Parchment and Pen (www.reclaimingthemind.org). Michael Brown also made an appeal to MacArthur on the Charisma News website. Although I’m tempted to throw in my ten cent’s worth, I defer to J. I. Packer. J. I. Packer is not your typical cessationist. That he is a cessationist is beyond question. But the wise, gentle, biblical, and loving way in which he responds to those in the charismatic movement is a model of Christian maturity and depth of character. In one place Packer responds to those who are offended by charismatic phenomena by pointing out that “we are very apt to respond

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Your sin does not want to die

Sam Storms posts: The Christian life, or sanctification, is partly a matter of putting “to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), what some translations refer to as the “mortification” of sin. “This too,” notes J. I. Packer, “is hard. It is a matter of negating, wishing dead, and laboring to thwart, inclinations, cravings, and habits that have been in you . . . for a long time. Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process” (Rediscovering Holiness, 175). But how precisely is this done? Packer helps us here: “Outward acts of sin come from inner sinful urges, so we must learn to starve these urges of what stimulates them (porn magazines, for instance, if the urge is lust; visits to smorgasbords, if the urge is gluttony; gamblings and lotteries, if the urge is greed; and so on). And when the urge

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The Hidden Floodlight Ministry of the Holy Spirit

J.I. Packer: The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit “was not yet” (John 7:39, literal Greek) while Jesus was on earth; only when the Father had glorified him (see John 17:1,5) could the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory begin. I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words “he shall glorify me,” seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed. When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it

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The Wrath of God and the Heart of the Atonement

Denny Burk: “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” –Isaiah 53:10 “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation in His blood through faith, in order to demonstrate His righteousness.” –Romans 3:25 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” –Galatians 3:13 “It is those who cannot come to terms with any concept of the wrath of God who repudiate any concept of propitiation… It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God

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Would You Know a Revival If You Saw One?

  J. I. Packer: Would we recognize a reviving of religion if we were part of one? I ask myself that question. For more than half a century the need of such reviving in the places where I have lived, worshiped, and worked has weighed me down. I have read of past revivals. I have learned, through a latter-day revival convert from Wales, that there is a tinc in the air, a kind of moral and spiritual electricity, when God’s close presence is enforcing his Word. I have sat under the electrifying ministry of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who as it were brought God into the pulpit with him and let him loose on the listeners. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry blessed many, but he never believed he was seeing the revival he sought. I have witnessed remarkable evangelical advances, not only academic but also pastoral, with churches growing spectacularly through the gospel on both sides of the Atlantic and believers maturing in the life

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The Best Book on the Doctrine of Scripture

Fred Sanders: The best book on the doctrine of Scripture has never been written, and is by J.I. Packer. Every time I teach on the doctrine of Scripture, I find myself reaching for a few J.I. Packer quotations that have coalesced in my memory to form a complete statement on bibliology. But when I reach for the book they’re in, I discover that they’re not in a book. They’re in three different books: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1965, rev 2005), and Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (1996). I don’t know how Packer or his publishers think of these books, but I think of them as his Scripture trilogy. They don’t exactly fit together tightly, and don’t seem to be part of a plan. There is a great deal of repetition among them. They were provoked by very different situations and aimed at different audiences. The ‘Fundamentalism’ book is feisty and contrarian, God Has

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Turn Your Back on Sterile Aberrations

J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958: “The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’ The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy. The world may call its compromises

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Packer: Too Many Churches in North America Are Playing the Number Game

J. I. Packer: “I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if (1) numerical increase is what matters most; (2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right; (3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does; (4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal. I detect four unhappy consequences of this. First, big and growing churches are viewed as far more significant than others. Second, parachurch specialists who pull in large numbers are venerated, while hard-working pastors are treated as near-nonentities. Third, lively laymen and clergy too are constantly being creamed off from the churches to run parachurch ministries, in which, just because they specialize on a relatively narrow front, quicker and more striking

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Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – A Match Made in Heaven

Sam Storms posts: What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to the “sovereignty” of God? Here is J. I. Packer’s answer to that question. As you read and reflect upon it, observe the beautiful harmony that exists between God’s causal priority in all things (as stated in the first paragraph) and human responsibility and moral accountability (as found in the second). They are gloriously compatible! The sovereignty of God, writes Packer, means that, “the living God, who created the entire universe and actively upholds it in being (otherwise it would vanish away, and so would we as part of it), knows everything that has been and now is and foreknows everything that will be just because, in a way that totally passes our understanding, he plans and decides and controls everything that takes place. From inside (and we are all insiders at this point) the cosmos appears as a huge interlocking system of cause and effect, the working

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