Jim Packer: his life, theology and faith

Alister McGrath writes: With the death of J. I. (‘Jim’) Packer, Anglican evangelicalism has lost one of its most significant theological voices, as well as a guiding figure of the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at the University of Keele in 1967, which many consider to have inaugurated a new phase in the history of evangelicalism within the Church of England. Although Keele never entirely resolved the question of how it was possible to be ‘Anglican’ and ‘evangelical’, it offered evangelicals a new vision of their role within the wider Church of England. When set alongside the death of John Stott in 2011 and Michael Green in 2019, Packer’s passing can be seen as marking the end of an important era in the history of evangelical Anglicanism.

As a student at Oxford University in the 1970s, I heard Jim speak many times at Christian Union events, and came to appreciate his terse verbal economy and his clear sense of theological depth. Like many, I read his Knowing God (1973), appreciating its spiritual depth, and realizing how this resulted from his own personal wrestling with problems of temptation, doubt, and uncertainty. Yet although I knew Jim’s writings, I did not yet know Jim as a person.

All that changed on a cold and misty morning on 22 February 1991, when Jim and I were passengers on the bus service that links Oxford and Cambridge. We recognized each other, and managed to find seats beside each other for the three-hour coach journey. As the coach meandered through the small towns linking the two university cities, Jim talked to me about his journey of faith – how he discovered Christianity at Oxford, how he came to love theology, why he was so fond of the Puritans, and how he became involved in theological education. I was, at that point, a tutor at Wycliffe Hall, and could easily relate to his concerns about how theology was taught. By the time we arrived in Cambridge, I had a much better grasp of why Jim was so significant – above all, how someone like me who believed in the importance of a good grasp of theology could learn from his life and ministry.

So who was this Jim Packer, who penned Knowing God, now widely regarded as an evangelical classic? As is well known, Jim spent most of his career teaching at Regent College Vancouver, a trans-denominational school of graduate theological studies which he joined in 1979, remaining there until his retirement in 1996. Yet although Jim soared to fame in North America, his views on theology and ministry were shaped in England.

Jim was born in 1926 in the cathedral city of Gloucester, the son of a Great Western Railway administrator. Jim won a scholarship enabling him to study classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University in 1944. Jim found Christianity uninteresting and puzzling while a teenager, and tended not to see it a serious intellectual option. However, one of his schoolfriends had discovered Christianity while a student at Bristol University, and urged Jim to give it a chance. As a result, Jim attended an evangelistic service at St Aldates Church during his first term at Oxford. The sermon spoke to him deeply, and led him to commit himself to Christ. As a student, he developed a love for Puritan writers, finding their spirituality to be both realistic and effective.

This discovery took place in 1945, when Jim was asked to curate a collection of books that had been given to the library of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. As Jim worked through the piles of books, he came across a complete set of the writings of the Puritan preacher and theologian John Owen. Jim found himself pondering the titles of two of Owen’s treatises, which seemed to address and illuminate his own spiritual anxieties: ‘On Indwelling Sin’ and ‘On the Mortification of Sin’. As he read these works, he realized that they seemed to speak to his condition. As he later recalled, ‘Owen helped me to be realistic (that is, neither myopic nor despairing) about my continuing sinfulness and the discipline of self-suspicion and mortification to which, with all Christians, I am called.’

It is tempting to see in that moment of illumination the basic themes which would preoccupy Jim’s teaching and writing over the next half-century. Jim came to love the Puritan writers, seeing in them a wisdom which could nourish and sustain the modern church. This led him to establish, with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Puritan Studies Conference, based at Westminster Chapel, London. This annual meeting expanded, and over time became of strategic importance for many evangelicals within the Church of England and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.

After completing his first degree at Oxford, Jim trained for ministry in the Church of England at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he gained First Class Honours in Theology. He also managed to secure funding for doctoral research on the Puritan theologian Richard Baxter. He served his title as curate of St John’s, Harborne, in the Diocese of Birmingham. He married Kit Mullett, a nurse, on 17 July 1954.

Packer then entered the world of theological education. He had spent a year teaching at Oak Hill College in Enfield, north London, before going to train at Wycliffe Hall, and had discovered that he seemed to have some natural aptitude for teaching. His first formal teaching appointment was as a tutor at Tyndale Hall, Bristol. While his students at Tyndale appreciated his teaching, it soon became clear that Packer also had a rare capacity to write well. Packer’s concise and perspicuous prose, evident in his early publications such as ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), secured him a growing international readership.

Meanwhile, evangelicals within the Church of England were wrestling with the question of how they could work with integrity within the national church. Along with John Stott, Jim played a leading role in convening the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at the University of Keele in 1967. At that time, Jim was warden of Latimer House, an evangelical Anglican think-tank in Oxford, which became the intellectual nerve centre of evangelical thinking about their identity and place within the Church of England. The Keele congress is now seen as a landmark in the history of evangelicalism within the Church of England, leading to many evangelicals moving away from their more traditional isolationist role, and becoming more active within and committed to the structures and ethos of the Church of England. This realignment was not without its difficulties, and led to a painful alienation between Packer and Lloyd-Jones.

Jim later returned to Bristol as Principal of Tyndale Hall, and played a significant role in the merger of three Bristol institutions of theological education (Clifton College, Dalton House, and Tyndale Hall) to create Trinity College, Bristol. It was during his Bristol period that Jim wrote his signature work Knowing God (1973). This originally took the form of a series of magazine articles, which attracted little attention. In reworking this material into the form of a book, Jim recrafted the text to maximize its coherence, and create a more rigorous correlation of theology and spirituality than had been possible in the original articles in the Evangelical Magazine. There is an emerging consensus that Packer’s chief legacy lies in this book, and the style of spirituality that it commends and embodies.

Knowing God caused a surge in Jim’s fame in North America, and led to multiple speaking invitations at seminaries, churches and conventions. It also led to speculation about Jim’s future, which many now realized lay in theological education in North America. Some expected him to relocate to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena; others thought his future lay at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. Jim’s decision to accept a chair of theology at Regent College Vancouver in 1979 surprised many. Regent was virtually unknown, had only been in existence for a short time, and its future seemed uncertain. Packer, however, believed it was the right place for him, partly because of the new college’s focus on providing theological education for the laity, with a strong emphasis on the importance of spirituality. One of the main reasons for Jim’s choice was his respect for the Oxford geographer James Houston, who had founded the college. Jim had got to know Houston while attending the local Plymouth Brethren Church in east Oxford during his first two years as an Oxford undergraduate.

Jim’s time at Regent College was the high point of his career. Although he had responsibility for the main theological lectures at the college, he was allowed time to travel and speak at American colleges and conferences. The quality of his teaching ensured that Regent College became familiar across North America, and helped it achieve significant student numbers during the 1980s and early 1990s. Jim’s inaugural lecture as inaugural lecture as the first Sangwoo Yountong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College on 11 December 1989 is well worth consulting to capture the nature of Jim’s approach, and its appeal to students trying to gain spiritual stability. Jim defined spirituality as ‘enquiry into the whole Christian enterprise of pursuing, achieving, and cultivating communion with God, which includes both public worship and private devotion, and the results of these in actual Christian life. And having given this definition of spirituality, Jim showed how it could be achieved and enacted.

Throughout his time at Regent, Jim emphasized the importance of Puritans such as John Owen for the modern church, expressing his view that we should ‘open the windows of our souls to let in a breath of fresh air from the seventeenth century.’ Jim expanded this basic idea in one of his most influential works, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (1990), which was widely read throughout North America – yet which originated in lectures given in London more than a decade earlier.

Yet Jim’s emphasis on the Puritans was part of a wider agenda. Like C. S. Lewis, who was a significant influence, Jim stressed the importance of ‘keeping regular company with yesterday’s great teachers,’ who can help us discern wisdom that might otherwise be denied to us, and challenge us about our own skewed or biased readings of the Bible. Packer developed a theoretical framework that allows us to see writers like Luther, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards as helpful in informing and nourishing our faith, without displacing or undermining the central place of the Bible for evangelical theology and spirituality.

During the 1990s, Jim became involved in the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ movement, which arose in response to concerns that the election of Bill Clinton as President of the United States might increase the public marginalization of Christianity. This fear was perhaps overstated, but it caused Christians throughout the region to consider working together for the sake of Christianity as a whole, rather than their own specific denominations.  ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ campaigned for closer collaboration between Catholics and Evangelicals, without demanding resolution of their outstanding theological differences. This led to controversy, with some considering that Jim had compromised his evangelical commitments, and should no longer be seen as an evangelical writer. Yet it also led to Jim forging some important new friendships, especially with Cardinal Avery Dulles.

Jim remained an Anglican throughout his Vancouver period, finding a spiritual home in the large congregation of St. John’s Shaughnessy, under the leadership of its rector, Harry S. D. Robinson, who invited Jim to play a role in the church’s leadership were he to move to Vancouver. It was an important offer, as Jim was concerned that his ministry would be impoverished if he was unable to find a ministerial role in a local Anglican congregation in Vancouver, as he had earlier in Oxford and Bristol. When Robinson offered him such a role, Jim felt that this clinched his growing feeling that it was right to move to Vancouver. Jim remained a member of this congregation for the rest of his life.

Over time, however, the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster took decisions which seemed to Jim and many others to represent not merely departures from Anglican norms, but deviations from the gospel. Eventually, this led to the 700-strong congregation leaving their original building and entering into a shared use arrangement with nearby Oakridge Adventist Church – which did not worship on Sundays. Oakridge were more than happy to share their premises with this exiled community, now renamed ‘St John’s Vancouver.’

Although Jim retired from Regent College in the summer of 1996, the college had no intention of losing his wisdom. Jim continued to teach for Regent for the next twenty years in his new capacity as Board of Governors Professor of Theology, playing a particularly important role in its well-attended Summer Schools. Regent College honoured Packer in 2006 by establishing the ‘J. I. Packer Chair in Theology’, with the aim of continuing his legacy.

In his retirement, Jim also served as general editor of the English Standard Version, a new translation of the Bible published in 2001, and developed a new interest in catechesis. In 2010, he quipped that ‘Packer’s last crusade’ would be a call for the church to rediscover its lost art of catechesis. Effective catechesis would give rise to ‘Christians who know their faith, can explain it to enquirers and sustain it against skeptics, and can put it to work in evangelism.’ Underlying this move was a real concern that a new generation of Christians lacked a real knowledge of the core themes of faith, and were thus unable to benefit from them intellectually, and unable to defend them against their increasingly vociferous atheist critics. The rise of the ‘New Atheism’, which dates from this period, made this task increasingly urgent.

Jim’s health began to deteriorate in 2016, when macular degeneration made him unable to read, write or travel. He died peacefully in UBC Hospital, Vancouver, across the street from Regent College, on 17 July 2020, aged 93. Kit was with him at his death, which took place on the precise day of their 66th wedding anniversary. His funeral was held at St John’s Vancouver a week later.

How shall we remember Jim? I suspect there will be many answers to this question. I remember him as a critical friend, who helped me appreciate the theological importance of the past, and the need to connect theology with the realities of Christian living. Yet Jim had so many admirers that I suspect this list of virtues could be extended indefinitely. Perhaps the important thing is to be thankful to God for all that Jim gave, and reflect on how best it might be used. As I look back on the giants of the recent evangelical Anglican past – such as John Stott, Michael Green, and Jim Packer – I find myself wondering who has arisen who might take their place. Perhaps we might take some comfort from some words attributed to John Wesley, who remarked that, while God’s workers will pass, God’s work still goes on.

(This obituary is also published at Fulcrum, and it reproduced here with permission.)

Alister McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, with a longstanding interest in Jim’s theological achievements. He will publish a tribute to him in October entitled ‘J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought’ (Hodder & Stoughton).

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102 thoughts on “Jim Packer: his life, theology and faith”

  1. I remember as an undergraduate finding a copy of ‘Knowing God’ on a book trolley in my university library, ready for reshelving. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Jim Packer then but I grabbed the book and devoured it that afternoon. I don’t know how often I returned to that book over the years in sermon preparations. You don’t have to be sold on the Puritans to profit from Packer’s work. A later work he wrote, ‘Keep in Step with the Spirit’, has been equally useful to me in evaluating charismatic phenomena and understanding the Holy Spirit’s work in communicating the presence of Christ and forming holiness within us. I met Dr Packer just before he went to Canada, where he would work with Michael Green and John Nolland.
    What Professor McGrath diplomatically omits in this fine tribute is that the buildings of St John’s Church Shaughnessy were lost by that congregation to the Anglican Church of Canada when the congregation broke with the national church over homosexuality, and Dr Packer, along with the rest of the clergy, was actually defrocked or expelled from the Anglican ministry – or at least that’s what the Bishop claimed. IIRC, the bishop was Michael Ingham, who wrote ‘Mansions of the Spirit’ (or some such title), affirming that all religions lead to “god”. Jim Packer found this treatment – for taking a stand for orthodoxy and historic Anglicanism – painful but the price of discipleship.
    The Anglican Church of Canada is no different from Tec in its heterodoxy, and both are disappearing as its aging membership dies and is not being replaced in secular Canada.
    But I think Packer’s works will still be read when the ACC is shuttered.

    • I am grateful for this fine survey of a profound and Godly ministry and I look forward to the book. I also, for the record, lament the treatment of Packer and his church by the diocesan bishop at the time in Canada.
      But I note that earlier attempts at his exclusion were actually by fellow evangelicals – first in his insistence that evangelicals Anglicans should be more involved in the CofE not less. The Keele statement actually expressed repentance for evangelical negativity and defensiveness towards the wider church and declared – ‘We no longer wish to stand apart from those with whom we disagree’. It was not a forgone conclusion that Evangelicals in the CofE would, at Keele, move decisively towards greater involvement in a church that had marginalised them dreadfully for most of the C20 to that point. Martin Lloyd-Jones was the compelling leader of a wing of evangelicalism that defined itself more by holy separation than what was seen as compromise. ‘Come ye out from among them’. There are those today who believe that the Keele commitment was a massive mistake.

      Then some declared he was clearly longer an evangelical as he was in partnership with Catholics (this was a highly divisive issue among evangelicals at the time – at least as conflicted as issues we are facing today). Around that time I recall conferences using All Souls Langham Place as a venue were not allowed to have books on their bookstalls if they were by Catholic authors.
      So how did Packer see as possible Evangelicals and Catholics in fellowship together ‘without demanding resolution of their outstanding theological differences’. And can we learn from this now in the issues we are facing in our own time?
      So for me the most interesting and relevant point of discussion is how Packer thought we could be Anglican and Evangelical at the same time. He will have known this meant walking and praying with people you may strongly disagree with and was plainly willing for that. I hope Prof. McGrath’s book explores this more. The question is a relevant now as it was then.

      • David

        Quote [“So how did Packer see as possible Evangelicals and Catholics in fellowship together ‘without demanding resolution of their outstanding theological differences’. And can we learn from this now in the issues we are facing in our own time?]

        Packer walked alongside any who were orthodox on creedal doctrine and orthodox ethics. He walked away from Canadian Episcopalianism where he saw both doctrine and ethics being undermined.

        On why he felt he as a Protestant leader could walk with Catholics, he believed the lines were to be drawn not between Catholic & Protestants but “between theological conservatives who honour the Christ of the Bible and of the historic creeds and confessions, and theological liberals and radicals who for whatever reason do not.”

        When asked why he walked out, he answered, “Because this decision (to bless SS marriage) taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth. My primary authority is a Bible writer named Paul. For many decades now, I have asked myself at every turn of my theological road: Would Paul be with me in this? What would he say if he were in my shoes? I have never dared to offer a view on anything that I did not have good reason to think he would endorse.”

        The Anglicanism Packer decided to stay with at Keele was still, by and large, on paper, orthodox in doctrine and sexual ethics. I wonder if in hindsight he wondered if Lloyd Jones perhaps was right after all.

        That is a question I hope Alistair’s book probes.

      • Keele was 53 years ago, in which time the Church of England has changed significantly in at least three ways. First, attendance is about half of what it was then. Second, the Anglo-Catholic element has collapsed following the ordination of women and the creation of the Ordinariate. Third, the ordained ministry, in raw terms, is notably more liberal than it was then. This is due almost entirely to the ordination of women, the great majority of whom are liberal in their outlook. Most of these are in non-stipendiary ministry but they affect the makeup of the House of Clergy. At the same time, conservative evangelicals have been consistently excluded from the episcopate and from cathedral deanships. This has accelerated under Welby. It is hard to think that q man like Michael Baughen would be made a bishop today. And Packer – though McGrath is careful to avoid saying this – was outspoken opposed to women’s ordination. So I doubt whether Packer would have cared much for what the Church of England became since he left England. Not that he renounced Anglicanism. Rather he turned his attention to Gafcon and to the majority Anglican world. In North America, as well, he found a much larger and more vigorous evangelical world than he could in England, and there his message found a ready audience.

        • Thank you for your various comments Simon and James. But with respect, you do not convince me. Some brief responses.
          The evangelical world at the time of Keele was uniformally much more conservative than today – so I the decision to commit to closer involvement within a denomination that had so long mocked and excluded it is the more remarkable. So I still wish I could ask Packer his answer to the question about how to be evangelical and Anglican

          Simon – to effectively claim that Packer and others only mixed with Catholics they agreed with is surely an over-simplification? Apart from anything else that kind of agreement across very different traditions only becomes apparent after meeting and careful with those who are self-evidently expressing faith and theology in very different ways – the mass, Mary, priesthood, papacy to name but a few – and who evangelicals have long claimed were part of heretical church according to the scriptures.
          Whilst it is true that Packer opposed ss relationships it is significant that he and his church did not immediately ’walk out’ when the diocese moved towards an including theology. They did not leave for six years as I understand it. This again suggests to me someone willing to live and work within a church facing painful differences over time – though in this instance the time came when it was no longer possible to stay. But when does such a time come? How do we know?

          Without offering any basis in fact, James’s claim that (what he sees as) the liberal tendencies in today’s church is mostly due to women is a sweeping generalisation and actually rather offensive. But then evangelical tradition has hardly been good news for women over the years. (The word ‘liberal’ is also used undefined – as it too often is in these discussions. At times I think it simply means ‘not conservative’).

          You both offer no comment on Packer’s experience of being disowned by fellow bible-believing evangelicals.

          • David – I think that Packer was disowned by extreme American conservatives of the “the Pope is the antiChrist’ brigade – I doubt Packer minded being disowned by them and I dont think there are many of those in mainstream evangelicalism today in the UK.

            You are right to point out his walk was delayed by some years until the doctrinal drift was liturgically enshrined and seemed that Episcopalian churches might be ‘required’ to participate in SS blessings. Liturgy reflects and directs theology. Once he saw that liturgy and thus theology was contradicting Scripture and undermining the gospel, he had to walk. It was a gospel issue. I dont think the Canadian Episcopal church sought to find a ‘twin integrity’ approach that English Anglicans have always sought to find, at least in a token way

            Packer was crystal clear in his own mind the gravity of the issues

          • David is or should be as well aware of the facts as I am. It has been known for many years that women clergy in the Church of England are significantly more liberal on homosexuality, abortion, medically assisted suicide, divorce and remarriage etc, as well as more inclined to reject the virgin birth, physical resurrection and other traditional doctrines. Massive evidence was provided years ago in a very large scale survey of beliefs and attitudes by Robbie Lowe of Cost of Conscience and nothing really has changed, except that many more women have now been ordained while several hundred Anglo-Catholic clergy have left for the Ordinariate. The pitch to the left was very obvious in the vote of the House of Clergy in GS in 2017 on “taking note” of the report on same sex relations. The pro-abortion views of Sarah Mullaly are not at all exceptional among women clergy but would be shocking among Catholic clergy. The swing to the theological and social left among Anglican clergy is real and has become ever more pronounced since 1994, and this is very much a fact of demography. And it isn’t at all surprising when you factor in as well feminist theologies. It is a simple observable fact – found all over Protestantism (look at Germany, Sweden Canada etc) – that the more a denomination is led clerically by women, the more it moves to the liberal-left theologically and ethically. Why is anyone surprised by this?

          • James
            You are still making sweeping generalisations while claiming to be presenting facts that people like me should be ‘well aware’ of. I think I informed and aware actually. We just disagree. That’s different.
            You point to the ‘The Cost of Conscience’ survey as if this clinches all you claim. It was conducted in 2002 by the highly traditional wing of the Anglo Catholic tradition that was totally opposed of the ordination of women. So Lowe was hardly an impartial interpreter. The tone of his reporting is relentlessly angry and dismissive. His report includes such wild assertions as – ‘the driving force of women’s ordination – secular feminism’. For him ordained women has no basis at all theologically or scripturally. For him the ordination of women is a symptom of all that is wrong with the church. Are we to assume you agree with him?
            Women were not ordained priest in the CofE until 1994 so numbers of the survey were still low however hard they skirt round it. And as a matter of fact the Evangelical tradition in the CofE was not noticeably to the fore in encouraging women in their ranks in those early years. It is only in the last few years that groups like New Wine have finally paid attention to their long-term bias towards men. This is another reason for doubting the weight put on the findings.
            One reviewer at the time rightly challenged the question categories. ‘Those surveyed were asked to score their assent or dissent from a range of credal statements according to five categories. The first two are plain enough “definitely don’t believe” and “not sure I believe this”. It then gets more tricky. The remaining three categories are “mostly believe”, “believe but not sure I understand” and finally “believe without question”. Cost of Conscience then makes the bold assertion that we can discount as inadequate all responses apart from “believe without question”. Only this response we’re told “implies a confidence to teach and preach the faith”.’ Well it doesn’t of course. No one believes without question – unless they believe without thinking either.

            But why only label this as ‘liberal’? That word only comes with negative baggage in this context. Why, for example, is the word ‘feminist’ only used pejoratively by Lowe and by you? It does not have one meaning. Careless labelling like this is a form of prejudice.

            So I doubt I will convince you but I see the process much more creatively. Some of it has emerged with views I might call ‘liberal’ but by no means all (and nor does that make them heretical actually). But with at least some of the topics you list what is being questioned and challenged are long held traditional conservative viewpoints and assumptions – even biblical ones. And I am among those evangelicals who, on the grounds of scripture, believe they need to be.

          • David, I know when and by whom that survey was made, but my understanding isn’t based on that alone. I know as well that hundreds of the most conservative Anglo-Catholic clergy have left the C of E since, with the rise of the Ordinariate, while revisionist views on homosexuality and pro-abortion views are espoused by almost all the women bishops who have let their views be known (Bishops Faull, Mullaly, Treweek etc). There may be women clergy with traditional views on sexual morality, marriage and the sanctity of pre-born life, but I can’t say you hear much of them in the Church of England today. The last conservative evangelical woman to speak up for the authority of the Bible and traditional sexual morality was treated very brutally by John Sentamu in General Synod.
            The response of the House of Clergy in Genefal Synod on “not taking note” was very much a case of liberal women members of that house rejecting traditional positions on sexuality. You can check the statistics on that.
            My observations have nothing to do with whether the ordination of women is God’s will or not. On that question I remain frankly agnostic, to be honest, because, for example, I have no problem with “lay” communion and I really doubt the institutional Anglican idea that “ordination” is fundamentally about controlling the eucharist. And truth taught by a woman is truth, and nonsense by a man is nonsense. I am more interested in what God’s will for His church is.
            Jim Packer himself rejected women’s ordination, taking a traditional Reformed Anglican view of the ministry (which once made him an ally of Graham Leonard and Eric Mascall). Other evangelicals of his time differed from him, perhaps thinking of the pioneering work of evangelism that so many women missionaries have done in the world ( maybe thinking functionally rather than ontologically, as catholics tend to do). My observation was simply that the Church of England’s experience with women’s ordination has made its ordained ministry and General Synod notably more liberal and this is exactly the same with almost all other Protestant churches in Europe, North America and Australasia. It is surely interesting to enquire why this should be so, don’t you think?

          • David
            you mis-cite me and misunderstand me. I did not say Packer only mixed with Catholics he agreed with – I said he was rejected by a few extreme conservatives who objected to him mixing with Catholics.

          • “The pro-abortion views of Sarah Mullaly …”

            James: you ascribe these views To +Sarah and other bishops but I wonder If you could provide me with primary source material please?

            As to GS in Feb 2017: the house of Bishops brought an ill prepared paper that they Introduced as being conservative and simply assumed would go through because it tried to satisfy conservative forces. It was Not conservative enough for those however, and failed because it didn’t satisfy anybody.

          • Simon. Thank you for clarifying. I think I did overstate and I apologise. I still think you oversimplify issues of likeness and difference involved in a meeting of catholics and evangelicals at that time – and the courage such an initiative would have needed on his part given his own constituency.

          • James. This continues to be a robust exchange.
            Since I believe, with my church, that divorce and remarriage (though tragic) may be permitted by scripture and that I believe that scripture does not condemn faithful committed same sex partnerships (among other issues) I obviously want to challenge your list of liberal tendencies in the church. I feel you use ‘liberal’ as a label for anything left of ‘conservative’. I am also genuinely puzzled you say you are neutral on the ordination of woman since you are wholly negative on their impact to today’s church and its beliefs. And the only survey you cite to support this is a wholly negative, widely criticised survey by traditionalist catholics. Andrew Godsall points out your misreading of the GS ‘take note’ debate – which you also blame on women.
            But we have probably got as far as we can here. Some debates need a more open forum for trust and understanding. Thank you for engaging. God bless you and your ministry. And please pray for mine.

          • ‘The pro abortion views of Sarah Mullally’: reference is sarahmullally.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/choice/

            It is a bit like a Disney villain musing over their victim: ‘Hmm! I wonder whether it would be more moral to kill you or not. An interesting moral question.” It sounds such a considered view, doesn’t it? As though it’s been carefully weighed. And all the while a wriggling little human is being summed up clinically and then ”dispatched”.

            But this is worse because she does not show the intellect to escape from the deliberately imposed and nonsensical framework / straitjacket of so called pro choice vs so called pro life. The parameters have been set for her and she has fallen right in.

            And it is doubly worse because this is the Chief Medical Officer of GB speaking!!

            And it is triply worse because she would not have been allowed to hold that office if she had a modicum of either compassion or logic in her assessment of the child.

            It has been said that to appoint a Bishop who says things like that would be shocking for the Catholics. To appoint a Bishop who lacks intellectual rigour in this way as well as displaying this compassionless attitude to children is doubly shocking.

            It is part of a trend. Julie Bentley was put in charge of the development and morals of growing girls at the Guides Association coming straight from the Family Planning Association where she had just ensured that numerous of those girls would never have the chance to live.

            If you want a Rubicon, this is it.

          • Sarah was never the chief medical officer and she is not expressing a pro-abortion view. Her words very carefully express her position. Anyone can read them. She describes a continuum between two views: pro-‘choice’ and pro-‘life’. The continuum is to do with particular circumstances. She expresses her own view as towards pro-life on that continuum.

            If you think Sarah was chief medical officer then this might explain why you are mistaken on other issues.

            James also says that other women bishops have expressed pro-abortion views. Could you give me primary sources for those as well please?

          • But that continuum is based on a cliche. It is based on a way the debate has been framed. Neither of the 2 terms means what it says, particularly the ‘pro choice’ (thanks for the ”choice”, dad and mum). The term ‘pro choice’ was invented cynically and its inventors were amazed when people swallowed it whole. This particular framing of the debate has it that for healthy child X to live or to die is 2 roughly equivalently good options. Etc etc etc..

            I mean Chief Nursing Officer not Chief Medical Officer. Nursing is about care, saving life, love for children etc..

            Oh, sorry – it’s often about the reverse.

            It reminds me of the Terry Gilliam sketch when the nursemaid with her pram turns evil.

          • Which are the other issues I am mistaken (or make an inadvertent slip) on, to which you are referring?

          • +Gloucester, +Derby, +Bristol, +Newcastle – in voting (or rather lack of it) all considered what many see as the defining issue (where else are anything like these quantities of innocent humans being killed?) as a matter of indifference at best. If any of these is pro life, I would be surprised, but they are free to say otherwise. (Correction: Recent voting patterns among bishops suggest they may not be free. Christopher Cocksworth is, alone among the 100+, allowed to vote a different way provided that he then says he didn’t understand the voting gadget. Julian Henderson is allowed to speak from any perspective he pleases provided that he issues an immediate retraction of whatever he just said.)

          • The claim was that these bishops expressed “pro- abortion” views. I have asked for primary sources whey the express these views. None have been provided.

          • Christopher Cocksworth was not voting about abortion at all.

            You have not sat and voted in the synod chamber. There is a device with a hundred buttons on and only 3 work with the voting system. It is possible to get confused and he clearly did – voting NOT TO TAKE NOTE of the HofB report. He apologised to his colleagues for not voting with them. But it was nothing at all to do with abortion. It was to do with human sexuality.


          • Wednesday 27 November 2019 Bps Newcome and Hardman in letter to The Times say they are ‘vigorously’ opposed to extension of the 24 week limit. Of the 0 week limit, or of any reduction from 24 weeks they say nothing at all, either ‘vigorous’ or ‘mild’. From reading it seems clear that they think that dispatching babies up till 24 weeks is about right. It is the dreaded over-24 that is the bad thing, not any dreaded ‘killing of babies’ as such.

          • When did I say it was about abortion? My topic was specifically about voting patterns and the possibility of forced unanimity in voting.

            Nor were the Julian Henderson cases about abortion.

          • Please do reproduce this letter then Christopher and we can decide what evidence it provides.

            As to Christopher Cocksworth voting – presumably you wanted him to vote against the further relaxation of inclusivity of Actively homosexual people in the church? Have you actually read what this was about? And have you read what the Julian Henderson apology was about?
            You are not being very coherent here I’m afraid Christopher and seem to be shooting yourself in the foot! It doesn’t help your case

          • Not at all. There were 2 separate occasions when Christopher Cocksworth was in a suspiciously small minority of 1. Not a minority that suggests that freedom of thought operates. The gadget issue could be thought to be apologising even for the existence of the 1, for the 1 not being a zero. Rather as the existence of Philip North or Rod Thomas as 1 mere bishop from their constituency is seen as a scandal by those who would prefer the 1 to be 0 and to have total control. And rather as Ruth Kelly merely abstaining was seen as a scandal when she did not even cast a vote against the government. The desire for total control over every last 1. That was my only point.

            Certainly my point had nothing to do with the actual topic of the votes. It is a point about voting unanimity or otherwise.

            On Julian Henderson a pattern emerged of making a point and immediately withdrawing it. This pattern (which we have seen recently numerous times among those who have said the most innocuous and often quite true things) suggests a felt compulsion to bow the knee to mysterious social forces. Again – where is freedom of thought; even, regularly, where is freedom to speak evidenced truth? It’s far worse that the mere quashing of freedom of thought; it’s often quashing of the most likely conclusion.

          • If you could provide details of the other occasion that Christopher Cocksworth voted in a minority of 1 it would help Christopher. Date? Debate? Reference? Evidence?

            And if you could supply a copy of the letter to the Times you refer to so that can checked for evidence as well it would be good.

          • I feel like an Oliver Twist in an office running around obeying orders (Yes sir, faster faster). The date of the Times letter was given, 27.11.19. I think Times is behind a paywall? So people would have to google. The salient details to the present discussion have already been given. But a political front of taking the party line was presented, though belied by the fact that the chief emphasis was on this odd 24 week figure of all things.

            The other one of the 2 occasions that Christopher Cocksworth was in a minority of 1 was the same year at the notorious York synod, final vote on Conversion Therapy (i.e. on the electric shocks and corrective rape that do not exist, but make sure you go on using the title Conversion Therapy and not defining what you are talking about nor whether such a thing exists). Boris Johnson: ‘We will investigate and then ban it!’ – how do you even know that there is an ‘it’ let alone that any such ‘it’ is ban-worthy in advance of your investigation? Thanks for the scholarly open mindedness and desire to learn.

            The earlier of the two Cocksworth votes showed a massive majority among the bishops and a minority among the clergy. Sounds fishy. That’s why I would call such a voting pattern political, upholding the official line, in defiance of conscience and of intellectual analysis.

            Sorry to diverge from the topic of JI Packer. My dad was fortunate enough to meet him once but not I. Oh the shallowness that forced someone like that out of his church. Knowing God as a synthesis was formative and reading it explains why so many hold theparticular Christian worldview that they do.

          • Christopher: It is not at all about you running around. You keep asking for precision and evidence, but asked to produce these two things yourself you are usually not able to do so.
            Please check the actual facts about Christopher Cocksworth. You are simply misinformed. Please produce the letter to the Times where Bishops express support for abortion. At present it simply looks like your interpretation and not actual fact. Evidence is important!

          • Ooh – you slavedriver.

            Did anyone else notice that (after I had accurately named the 2 Synod votes in question; and the date of The Times; and the emphasis on the 24 week limit etc in that letter) – see Anglican Ink 29.11.20 for the letter – Andrew commanded me to scurry around for evidence that could easily be googled?

            The word ‘misinformed’ was used. Misinformed on what?

          • Christopher: if asked in a court to produce evidence do you tell the judge that he can go and google it?
            I’ve found an Anglican Ink article about a letter to the Times. It isn’t from the two bishops you mention. It’s from a lot of people, including Ian Paul. Perhaps, if it is so easy to google, you could do so and provide a link to whatever it is you are talking about?

            As to Christopher Cocksworth voting issues: you weren’t there at synod. I was. It was a simple mistake. You are misinformed. Please check with Ian Paul. He was there as well. No conspiracy. No pressure to vote in any particular way. Just a mistake.

          • Ah now I have found what you refer to Christopher. Others may read it here:

            It’s not at all a letter speaking in support of abortion as you claim. It’s a clear restatement of the C of E position on abortion which can easily be read here:


            Very clear. As you were wrong in your claim About Bishop Sarah you are wrong again here. No wonder you didn’t want to produce any evidence.

          • But I was correct that it was Anglican Ink; I was secondly correct that the date was 29.11.19; and I was thirdly correct that the two bishops were Hardman and Newsome. Fourthly, I was also correct that the text there reproduced was of a Times letter of 27.11.19. The title of this Anglican Ink piece (reproduction) is: Church of England will oppose relaxation of abortion laws as proposed by opposition parties.

            In a court of law, yes. You have decided we are in a court of law now? You will be telling us next that you have appointed yourself judge.

            No-one doubts that Bp Cocksworth’s opposing vote on Take Note was a slip: indeed, he said so himself. However, it is interesting that the other time that (of all the Bishops) the very same one was in a minority of one (and minorities of one are rare) was in the same year on a closely related topic. What are the chances of that? That second time the contrary vote was apparently deliberate. So maybe there is a psychological or Freudian reason for pressing the wrong button the first time.

            Of course people are free to vote which way they want. And of course they are less free when there is a whip or a party line or an Archbishop whose thing is not truth but unity and reconciliation.

            Several of the things you said I was wrong on I never asserted in the first place.

          • You are rather confused about what you are and aren’t proposing.
            It isn’t a court and I’m no judge but if you want your claim to have support why not provide at least a link to evidence, especially as you say it is easy to find.

            If the title concerning the letter is that C of E bishops will oppose….. abortion, (and Anglican Ink of all people – not known For there liberal approach) are saying this, then it sounds quite the opposite of supporting abortion, which is what you claimed these bishops were doing.

          • “.,. an Archbishop whose thing is not truth but unity and reconciliation.“

            This is another remarkable assertion Christopher! Is it one you have any evidence at all for, or is it simply your personal opinion?

          • Didn’t want to produce any evidence? In other words I was lying first up. Was I?

            My pledge has always been the same: I will always quote the evidence that I know of. I will not be able to produce things that are behind paywalls, nor will many others. Some assertions rest on internal logic rather than on evidence, but these ones are in the evidence camp.

            What is the relevance of Anglican Ink’s ideology? Their post that I quoted was simply a reproduction of Bps’ Hardman’s and Newsome’s letter. In that point, therefore, you are mistaken.

            To lay far greater emphasis on the 24week limit (23.9 weeks ok, 24.1 weeks aargh!) rather than, as any sensible person would, on the horror of killing babies in the first place does not represent the official Anglican position. That is confirmed by the episcopal failure even to vote in once-in-a-generation votes on abortion which is arguably the most important issue or at least the one which involves the loss of the greatest number of innocent human lives.

          • On truth and unity,

            (1) Justin Welby is clearly the least academically qualified (and/or gifted) of primates within memory, though his gifts are not to be sniffed at.

            (2) He is also the most qualified in matters of reconciliation (Coventry, Liverpool).

            (3) He also presides over a bench of bishops where academic qualification is at an all time low and where some votes have clearly had a party-line.

            (4) Given his background in reconciliation he was deliberately appointed at a time of potential fissures in the Communion, as the man for the hour.

          • With this we contrast other recent primates. John Paul II was at the vanguard of the intellectual fight against the sexual revolution. So was/is Benedict against relativism and secularism. Rowan Williams was always respectfully listened to in academic debate, with Dawkins etc..

          • You seem to be obfuscating once again Christopher. Twice again actually.

            You claimed that various bishops expressed “pro-abortion” views. As yet, you have not provided any evidence to support this claim. Even the notably conservative Anglican Ink states that Church of England bishops “will oppose relaxation of abortion laws as proposed by opposition parties.“. The evidence is clearly contrary to your claim.

            Now you say that we have “.,. an Archbishop whose thing is not truth but unity and reconciliation.“ Implication: he favours unity over truth, or is to prepared to allow untruth if unity may be achieved. I have asked for evidence, by which I mean reported And verified occasions when he has done this, but you provide nothing but your opinions about his academic prowess or lack of it.

            From someone who claims for themself some academic prowess I find it really remarkable.

          • “He also presides over a bench of bishops where academic qualification is at an all time low and where some votes have clearly had a party-line.“

            Another extraordinary claim! Please provide evidence, solid facts rather than your own perception, and let’s get it tested.

          • 11.34 yesterday my list of some bishops was not to say they were pro abortion but to say that they did not turn up to vote in such a huge vote and one where the Christian voice is so needed.

            You are mistaken on ‘pro-abortion’. One contributor used the term but it was not I. My belief is close to that – they may as well be pro abortion for all the difference they are making and the amount they are seen to care; and certainly act as though they are not at all averse to abortion pre 24 weeks. But that is a bit different from a blanket term ‘pro-abortion’.

            List the recognised scholars in the bench of bishops? For example Helen-Ann Hartley is a PhD. Scholar bishops used to be more common.

          • For myself I would not say pro-abortion without qualification, but I would be splitting hairs. I would say ‘content to let abortion continue even when the reasons for it and quantity of it bear no relation to the ”strictly limited circumstances” of which they speak, nor have for over 50 years’. If someone calls that pro-abortion, I would say they are right, not that I was the one to use that term in the first place.

          • A large number of bishops have doctorates in various disciplines. This is against a background of its being common for students to take PhDs. Few are of international or national stature as biblical or theological scholars. After all, the episcopate is a distinct calling and a full time job.

            Bradwell (Perumbalath), Buckingham (Wilson), Chichester (Warner), COventry (Cocksworth), Dorking (Wells), Dunwich (Harrison), Europe (Innes), Grantham (Chamberlain), Grimsby (Court), Huddersfield (GIbbs), Kingston (Cheetham), Lancaster (Duff), Lichfield (Ipgrave), Walker (Manchester; cumulative), Oxford (Croft), Penrith (Ineson), Ramsbury (Rumsey, DThMin), Ripon (Hartley), Selby (Thomson), Sheffield (Wilcox), Sherwood-designate (Emerton), Stepney (Grenfell), Swindon (Rayfield). Retired – Forster, Redfern, Saxbee, Wright.

          • I should have been clearer in asking for clarification Christopher.

            You say “where some votes have clearly had a party-line.”
            Which votes?
            How do you know?
            Where is your evidence for this claim?

            You also claim we have “.. an Archbishop whose thing is not truth….”
            When has he not been truthful?

            Both these claims themselves seem to have little foundation in truth.

          • But I already answered the first: if bishops are unanimous and clergy vote the other way, then there must be an official party line (Take Note, early 2017).

            As for the second, for unity not truth to be a person’s thing (overriding concern) does not at all make that person untruthful. If truth and accuracy is not the main thing that drives someone, they might still be utterly unmendacious.

          • Ah Christopher now I see what you are saying: it has to be Colonel Mustard in the library with the candle stick. Why didn’t I see that before!

            The take note debate was about a paper brought to GS by the House of Bishops. All of them. Not a group or one bishop. But all of them. They had agreed their paper before it went to synod. Even the very liberal bishops were genuinely surprised it got trounced – which it did. Of course they all voted for something they’d already agreed! But come to GS when there is debate about matters not brought by the bishops and they vote all over the place.

            As to Justin Welby – please produce an example of what you mean. I have no idea what you are on about. It’s just a vast generalisation once again.

          • It was only something they officially ‘agreed’ as opposed to agreed.

            Everything we say is to a greater or lesser extent a generalisation. We could try to count and describe the various atoms or coastal contours but it would take a while. The broad lines of what I am saying are uncontroversial. (1) Justin Welby has a strong background in reconciliation; (2) reconciliation was a central need of the Anglican Communion at the time he was appointed; (3) his being of supreme academic standing was not the main concern at this point; (4) he would not claim to be of average academic standing among Archbishops of C; (5) the bench of bishops does not include world class biblical or theological scholars by and large at present though it has some very clever people; (6) there have been whisperings of managerialism, if we are to try and put our fingers on how all this differs from previous ages.

          • Yet still you can’t Provide an example

            “.,. an Archbishop whose thing is not truth but unity and reconciliation.“

            Where …when….has he put unity and reconciliation first in favour of truth. Please provide an concrete example.

          • James

            And the ‘hundreds’ of the most conservative Anglicans who have crossed the Tiber have not often been welcomed by RC clergy and laity who have no desire to be dragged back to the church of Ratzinger and ‘St’ JP II.

          • I can only repeat what I already said above: that to have an overriding concern (reconciliation) that is a different concern from the typical academic concern with truth and precision is one thing (each of us has different overriding concerns); but what has that to do with any actual *disregard* for truth and precision? Nothing. Are you saying that people are actually *opposed* to everything that is not their no.1 interest?? That means they are opposed to everything in the world apart from 1 thing. Not very likely.

            Doctorates: add Kensington (Tomlin).

          • All I can say to that Christopher is that academics very often reach different conclusions about all kinds of matters.

            One of my favourite academic bishops of the past is probably one of your least favourite. Bishop John Robinson wrote this:

            By temperament, training or tradition most of us have allowed ourselves to become one-eyed or so monocular in our vision of reality that effectively our ‘lazy eye’, spiritually speaking, contributes nothing. And some people, not least religious people, deliberately close that other eye, because, in a sense that Jesus did not mean it, it is a cause of ‘offence’. They would rather be blinkered and bigoted. And if in that mood they pluck it out, it is scarcely likely to save them from hell, and their vision of ‘life’ will certainly be mean and narrow. (JAT Robinson, Truth is Two-Eyed)

            amen to that

        • James. Women clergy may be more liberal but if so why is this? Has that been explored? What are the reasons for this gender difference?

          • Perry, thank you for recognising the factual content in what I was saying. We could all speculate on why this is so, and all kinds of psychological and sociological assumptions could be made. Some might be plausible, others could be fallacious. Notwithstanding these explanations, you see a similar gender division in politics in the past generation, with women tending more to the left/liberal/green and men more to the right. I know this is a subject that Ian has explored elsewhere in this blog in the past, and you find reflexes of this in the kind of gender and employment issues that Jordan Peterson has explored from a psychological angle. No amount of social engineering seems able to change the fact that engineering, computing, physics, mathematics, international banking, warfare etc will remain 90%+ male, that primary school teaching will remain 90% female, and that law and medicine have changed in focus and style as these have become female-majority professions.
            What ever the explanation, it is clear that denominations that don’t ordain women to the priesthood or pastoral ministry (Roman Catholics, Orthodox, conservative Baptists) have remained more traditionally orthodox doctrinally and ethically. By contrast, look at the Church of Sweden with its lesbian archbishop.

          • It is because the range of male ‘normals / default settings’ is different from the range of female ‘normals / default settings’, on average or typically. People’s theologies are too often a projection of their psychologies. However, insofar as they are that, those theologies are suspect and not worth much.

            When it comes to theology or worldview the main question is ‘is it true/evidenced?’. Therefore the first contributions that we can screen out are those that do not foreground that question, or privilege relatively irrelevant questions like ‘Does it feel comfortable to me?’, ‘Is it part of my culture?’, ‘Is it part of my psychology?’.

  2. The behaviour of the Anglican Church in Canada has been utterly appalling. Hanging world class scholars like Packer out to dry over their refusal to accept their revisionist programme is why very few will mourn its inevitably swift demise.

    • Given the change in western societies’ views, I suspect more and more churches will be following. It may be the traditional churches will face decline as I get the impression that more young Christians today are more flexible on the gay issue.

  3. I eagerly await Alistair’s new book

    What a dear man Packer was – with an acute mind, a warm heart and a lovely sense of humour.
    I do think it disgraceful that he could not find a ministerial home in England and, like Michael Green after him, had to go to Canada. Thank God for Regent who had sense to create a base for a man of God.

  4. A Feast from JI Packer
    In the light of Packer’s Reformed and Puritan persuasions and well into the feast, which chews over the teaching, he draws the strings of doctrine together with what might surprise some who are robust in defence and promulgation of the doctrines, with this a taster of the 19th course of a 22 Course meal presented on the platter labelled, “Sons of God”:
    “What is a Christian?The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God for his Father.
    “But cannot this be said of every man, Christian or not? Emphatically no! The idea that all men are people of God is not found in the Bible anywhere….
    “Sonship is a gift of grace. It is not natural, but an adoptive sonship, Galatians 4:4f. Ephesians1:5 1 John 3:1f…
    “The FIRST point of adoption is that it is The Highest Privilege that the Gospel offers: HIGHER even than justification… (which is) the primary and fundamental blessing, which is not in question …because it meets our primary spiritual need…
    ” But this is NOT to say that it is the HIGHEST blessing of the gospel. ADOPTION IS HIGHER because of the RICHER RELATIONSHIP with God that it involves…
    ” God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater,
    “…It is a blessing that abides…absolute stability and security…the child’s position is permanently assured…adoption is itself a proof and gurantee of the preservation of the saints (with a ) health giving habit of dwelling in the abiding security of the sons of God.
    ” Our SECOND point of adoption is that THE ENTIRE CHRISTIAN LIFE HAS TO BE UNDERSTOOD IN TERMS OF IT”.Sonship must be the controlling thought – the normative category, if you like – at every point…our Lord’s teaching on Christian discipleship is cast in these terms.
    Packer expands on this with conduct, imitate, glorify,please , prayer, life of trusting faith in the Father – gospel holiness
    ” My proposal would be ADOPTION THROUGH PROPITIATION, and I do not expect to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that
    Adoption shows
    -the greatness of God’s grace
    – establishes a filial relationship .. a prospect is an eternity of love
    – the glory of Christian hope
    – a key to understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit- the Spirit of adoption into hearts, crying Abba, father :Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6
    – the meaning and motives of “gospel holiness” in contrast to “legal holiness”
    – it unravels a catholic/protestant dispute /divide over “assurance”

    Packer raises a toast to the 19th course with a reflection followed by a series of self examining questions,
    “It is a strange fact that the truth of adoption has been little regarded in Christian history.
    – Do I, as a Christian, understand myself. Do I know my own real identity?
    – My My own real destiny?
    ( I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every christian is my brother too.)
    This is the secret of the Christian life and a God honouring life.
    – Do I understand my adoption/
    Do I value it?
    Do I daily remind myself of my privilege as a child of God?
    Have I sought full assurance of my adoption? Do I daily dwell on the love of God to me?
    do I treat God as my Father in heaven. loving, honouring, obeying, seeking and welcoming his fellowship and trying to please him?
    Have I learned to hate the things that displeases my Father? Am I sensitive to the evil things to which he is sensitive.? do I make a point of avoiding them lest i grieve Him?
    Do I think of Jesus Christ, my Saviour and my Lord. as my Brother too, bearing to me not only divine authority but also divine-human sympathy/
    Do I think daily how close he is to me, how completely he understands me and how much as my kinsman-redeemer, He cares for me?
    Do I look forward daily to that geatfamilyoccasion when the sons of god will finally gather in heaven before the throne of God, their Father and of the Lamb their brother and their Lord?
    Have I felt the thrill of this hope?
    Do I love my Christian brothers in a way I shall not be ashamed ofwhen in heaven?
    Am I proud of my Father and of hisfamily, to which by His grace I belong.
    Does the family likeness appear in me/ If not, why not?

    God humble us; god instruct us; God make us his own true sons.


    • Profound questions. But one would hope that Packer (and we) today would be more conscious of writing in a way that fully includes the daughters of God too.

      • Thats it! I remember. His book was probably one of the first books I bought when I became a Christian. I must find it. It’s on a shelf somewhere. I will then make a film publicly disowning that I ever had the sexist ignorance to have bought it in the first place. I’ll burn it and confess I’m not politically correct. I wish I was like you; pure and righteous.

      • Is not part of the point of talking of ‘sonship’ (if that is what you are alluding to) is that in the society to which the Bible was written, ‘sons’ inherit, ‘daughters’ do not. Therefore, male and female are ‘sons’ in this way.

        I am less sure, but I suspect the adoption in view is the adoption of an adult man to inherit. It is not the adoption of small children. I have read that this is much the most common form of adoption now in Japan, which is designed to keep a business in the family.

        Our adoption is part of our being ‘In Christ’. As in Christ there is no male of female, this adoption to inherit is pretty radical in the context of the society. That radical nature would be lost if adoption were as ‘sons and duaghters’, the first to inherit and the second not to inherit.

    • The problem is, Geoff, a significant number of Christians, both leaders and lay, believe one can be effectively ‘unadopted’, thus leading to a loss of previously held salvation. Hence no sense of real security.

      Packer believed strongly in election/predestination (those who are saved were always chosen by God to be saved and therefore will be saved, and the rest not). But many dont accept such an idea.

      Im not sure what Ian Paul’s position on this is, but I dont think he would be as confident as Packer.


      • Peter,
        The chapter doesn’t consider perseverance from the usual scriptural systematic points but solely from the character of God as Father.
        He does expire the topic in the last chapter under the title, The Adequacy of God. This includes adequacy as our keeper.
        We do succumd to the tease, he loves me he loves me not, (that would depend on my performance) “For it is the Christian privilege to know for certain that God loves him immutably, and that nothing can at any time part him from that love, or come between him and the final enjoyment of its fruits.”
        “Nothing… can separate us from the love of God because God holds UST fast.
        ” Christian s are “kept by the power of God through faith into salvation (1 Peter 1:5) and the power of God keeps them believing as well as keeping them safe through believing.
        “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it.
        “You are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolve to hold you.
        “God is (also) Adequate for our end….
        ” The purpose of our relationship with God in Christ is the perfecting of our relationship. How could it be otherwise, when it is a love-relationship? So God is adequate in this further sense, that in knowing Him fully we shall find ourselves fully satisfied, needing and desiring nothing more.”
        This doctrine seems to exercise you greatly and as you will be aware it was a one that particularly was in dispute in the Catholic (which considered it to be presumptuous sin) and Protestantism even as today it exercises many protestants.
        And, as you know much more could be said, and has been on the topic.
        For sure, Jim Packer will have heard the only voice, the only “Well done ” that matters, no matter what any of us may seek to continue to dispute him.

  5. David,
    I think you are too quick to comment with a contemporary eye on gender.
    Surely the point is to delve into the meaning of sonship, and what Packer actually wrote, as well as scripture.
    I’d suggest the primary meaning is found in those who INHERIT and in contrast to servant and in further contrast to a natural birth as opposed to being born again, from above, born of God. (John 1:12 f)
    “As many as received him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them who believed on his name: which were born not of blood, nor the will of flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.”

    To expand the point Packer makes about “adoption shows us the glory of the Christian hope, teaching a guaranteed certainty, a PROMISED INHERITANCE HE HAS IN STORE FOR US.
    ” We are the CHILDREN of God; and if CHILDREN, then HEIRS; HEIRS of God, JOINT-HEIRS with Christ.” ( Romans 8:16 f)
    Packer again. “Our Father’s wealth is immeasurable, and we are to inherit the entire estate. Next the doctrine of adoption tells us that the sum and substance of our promised inheritance is A SHARE IN THE GLORY OF CHRIST…JOINT-HEIRS WITH CHRIST …THAT WE MAY BE…GLORIFIED TOGETHER. Romans 8:17

    To repeat Packer above, with emphasis added:
    ” God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His CHILDREN AND HEIRS and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater,
    “…It is a blessing that abides…absolute stability and security…the CHILD’S position is permanently assured…adoption is itself a proof and guarantee of the preservation of the saints (with a ) health-giving habit of dwelling in the abiding security of the sons of God.”

    As a Christian ruminant, chewing over the truth of scripture and doctrine, over what Packer has written, as Christ has fulfilled bringing me home, I’m filled. It is a meal for sharing, a feast to invite all to.

  6. Great recollections, Alister, thanks.
    I don’t see the problem working with Catholics; I suspect there is more doctrinal difference between all self-identifying Evangelicals now than there was between JI and Catholics. There has been the Charismatic arm of Catholics since the 60s; I worked with Catholics as a Street Pastor. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is one of my favourite authors: if his writings were anonymous I would have thought some of them written by an Evangelical.

    • I think one of the best and clearest books Ive read in the last few years is ‘The Case for Jesus’, by Brant Pitre, a Catholic scholar.


    • I’ve read only Ratzinger’s book on Jesus (the first one) and my conclusion was that everything he wrote there, an evangelical would warmly endorse.

      • The biblically literate post Vatican II catholics are those closest to the evangelical protestants precisely because of this biblical basis (and made capital from this in their ecumenical enterprises, true scholarship being both intrinsically ecumenical/eclectic and intrinsically intolerant of pluralistic approaches to truth). RE Brown, Fitzmyer, Raymond Collins, Vanhoye, Pesch, yes and Ratzinger (who like his predecessor really had the intellect as well as the character and holiness for his office). There is now a different trend: Protestants becoming Catholic and bringing their greater Bible knowledge to a willing and thirsty audience: Hahn, Cavins. Pitre is an admired representative of a slightly younger generation still of highly biblically literate Catholics.

        • Yes, some folk from conservative evangelical backgrounds like Dwight Longenecker have become Catholics, having decided they didn’t like the direction Anglicanism is taking.
          Thank you, by the way, for answering Andrew G. on Sarah Mullaly, and for spelling out the confused and anti- Catholic nature of her maunderings on abortion- an outlook which Andrew knows ( or should know) is very widely held by Church of England bishops, male and female , as was demonstrated when the UK government extended abortion on demand to Northern Ireland and hardly an Anglican bishop demurred for a second. So strange that they know *exactly what Almighty God thinks about Brexit and carbon emissions but have nothing at all to say about the taking of pre-born human lives. They are silenced by the fear of feminist disapproval.

          • That is true. Anglicans have recently outmanoeuvred Catholics as being the questionable form of Christianity among evangelicals. This manifests in school choices. One frequently ends up saying: ‘Wouldn’t some parts Catholic doctrine confuse her/him?’ ‘Yes, but if it’s a choice between Catholic and Anglican it’s clear which of the 2 is better now.’

            I cannot understand the logic of ‘not Anglican therefore Catholic’. How many other options are there? Why not just be a mere Christian and embrace (the good bits of) all?

  7. I note in passing that finding folk of conservative evangelical conviction here enthusiastically endorsing books by Catholic theologians is noteworthy in itself and a sign that traditions can explore and change in unexpected ways without automatically being labelled ‘liberal’. I was at Bible College in the years following the publication of ‘Knowing God’ and that generation of con evos would have found the comments above simply incomprehensible.

    • I can’t comment on what a Bible College was like in the 1970s but it isn’t odd for evangelicals to be pleased when a Catholic scholar like Ratzinger comes up with historically and doctrinally conservative conclusions about the New Testament. Moreover, Ratzinger, more than any other pope, has actually understood Lutheranism. Evangelicals have never differed with traditional Catholics over the Virgin Birth, the Gospel miracles or the Bodily Resurrection, so I am not sure this is an example of “traditions exploring and changing”. I think lots of American evangelicals in the 1950s appreciated Fulton Sheen and Catholics had time for Billy Graham (while the current Bishop of Sheffield repudiates his son). There were other changes in Catholic writings in the 1970s that evangelicals were less keen on: the embrace of Marxism by liberation theology or the inroads of liberal Protestantism into Catholicism in the work of Hans Kűng and Edward Schillebeekx. Ratzinger’s work was a significant repudiation of those trends.

      • I will add that Catholic clergy have always seemed to me to have a better grounding in philosophy and fundamental theology than Protestant clergy, no doubt because of their longer and more rigorous training, with large doses of Thomism (and latterly, maybe Phenomenonalism as well). Protestants usually seem a bit philosophically weak to me and not so well equipped to relate the Bible to dogmatic questions, which hinders them in apologetics well as in understanding the natural law tradition. Scratch a biblicistic evangelical and you will find a nominalist underneath. Yet I have noted some evangelical scholars, like Ronald Nash and R. C. Sproul, who had a good word for Aquinas. Some were even evangelical Thomists.

      • James I agree with you. But I can assure you it was not obvious to evangelicals then. Quite the reverse. The suspicion was huge and it was widely believed that the Catholic church was leading people to hell by teaching a ‘false gospel’. That’s all I am saying. And that is why I still claim that Packer was a brave and courteous pioneer in his ecumenical initiatives in his time.

        • I have never been to a Bible College (where I imagine the sterner anti-Catholic strictures of the Brethren and Baptists prevail – and possibly also folk memories of the horrible imperialistic ways that Anglicans treated Nonconformists – John Bunyan, Five Mile Act etc), but as a young evangelical charismatic in the mid 1970s I recall quite a bit of prayer and worship then with Catholic charismatics. Francis McNutt was beloved among Anglican charismatics then. We felt a fellow spirit with them as well in resisting abortion and the inroads of the permissive society, a battle that we lost culturally and politically when Labour abandoned its Catholic and Methodist roots for secularism.

        • Yes, I think you are right David
          the suspicion was huge and a whiff still remains. I was shocked when a very respectable evangelical leader of a former generation expressed his concern about Alpha and its use by the Catholics. Rather than a source of rejoicing he thought it boded ill for Alpha?!

          I think many factors have led to them being embraced by Protestants:
          1) the doctrinal and liturgical revisions since Vat II
          2) the courageous resistance to Soviet Communism esp in Poland
          3) the Catholic Charismatic renewal movement
          4) the brilliant publishing contribution of many Catholic scholars in Biblical & systematic studies
          5) the maintaining of historic Orthodox positions in doctrine and ethics despite the pressure of cultural norms and the landslide on such issues in most other denominations
          6) the attempt to get their own house in order over historic systemic abuse

          My aged dad, a lifelong strict Baptist, in my childhood subscribed to ‘the Pope is the antichrist & the CofE her illegitimate spawn’ and didn’t have communion at my ordination because he isn’t in communion with us. He said to me a little while ago “it comes to something when I have more in common with the Catholics than I do with the Baptists”.

          I suspect JI Packer may well in his early years have been a hot-prot and strongly critical of Rome, but he certainly came to see that the serious concern lay elsewhere.

          • Simon Greetings. Yes you recognise well the tensions I am recalling. It is true that Con Evos and Catholics share a basic conservatism of approach and core theology. But when two groups are divided by deep and (often violent) historic suspicions, the journey towards meeting and recognising that mutuality takes real courage. And, as the ongoing discussions here show, such meetings still face challenges.

      • As mentioned, as soon as the Bible became the basis, among the stellar postVaticanII NT scholars, Catholic and Protestant had never been so close. Once the less intelligent have the ascendancy, the two are being driven apart. In my huge busy Christian shop, we are lucky if we sell any book on ecumenism more than once or twice a year.

        • And just check the stock of St Pauls Catholic vs Church House Bookshop. The two are vastly different. Not a lot of overlap.

    • For my part although I fully endorse just about everything Pitre says in his book, I disagree with specific Catholic doctrines such as that concerning Mary etc which I think he has written about in his other works.


  8. Christopher. Do you know Jared Wicks S.J. Investigating Vatican Two: Its theologians, ecumenical turn and biblical commitment” recently published. Wicks is a significant Luther scholar and I had the priviledge of doing a course with him when I was the Anglican student at the Gregorian in 1979/80.

    • I don’t know it but it sounds absolutely fascinating. There were giants in those days – biblically and doctrinally. Many thanks for the tip.

  9. I suggest this debate has at least the following components:
    1. What are the Roman Catholic doctrines?
    2. What are the Protestant Evangelical doctrines?
    3. What does any given person who regards himself as a Roman Catholic actually believe?
    4. What does any given person who regards himself as a Protestant Evangelical actually believe?
    Most would agree that we are not saved by our understanding. We may believe true things and yet not be Christians. We may be seriously in error in our beliefs and yet be Christians.
    It is also clear that 3 and 4 above may be the same, but 1 and 2 different at vital points. This would mean that 2 was different from 4 or 1 from 3 or both.
    I agree that all this can be undercut by saying that doctrine, truth expressed in words and sentences that have a definite meaning, is either philosophically impossible or a nonsense idea, or takes second place to experience.
    Sticking to the view that doctrine is real and important, the right way seems to be to systematically compare 1 and 2. Where there is essential agreement, it may be that one side or the other has grasped or expressed the truth more fully or clearly. In these cases learning from each other is possible.
    Where, after really testing for and eliminating misunderstanding or prejudice, there is essential disagreement, the way forward is for each side to be open to persuasion and for each side to try to persuade the other.
    In carrying out such a systematic comparison, we are trying to identify the major watersheds.
    For the doctrine of justification, the watershed is perhaps relatively easy to identify. It comes at the point where the ground of our justification ceases to be completely objective and external to ourselves (Christ’s propitiatory death on the cross and his righteous life) and starts to include at least something of what we are or shall be, or what we have done, are doing or will do; and because of that inclusion justification stops being complete and irrevocable at the point when God justifies the sinner, and becomes something which can increase or decrease and even be lost.
    That watershed is crossed when we pass from the Protestant Evangelical view to Roman Catholic view as set out in the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification (Chapter X – on the increase of Justification received). Over the past years earnest efforts have been made by the ARCIC groups to show that there is no real disagreement here – but disagreement there is, for those willing to look the facts in the face.

    Phil Almond

    • Phil, going by your definitions of justification it would seem some evangelical theologians such as Tom Wright take more of a Catholic view, in that he believes a person is only justified at the end of his life, as it is dependant on the life he has lead.


      • Peter
        Quite so. this is one of the fundamental disagreements, real disagreements, of the Reformation.
        Phil Almond

      • Yes, this is a major mistake on Tom Wright’s part. He misconstrues Galatians very badly on this and many other Pauline texts. Exegetically John Piper answered him very ironically but firmly and in terms of systematic theology, Paul Helm took him to pieces as well. Wright did a great job on the historical Jesus and the historicity of the Resurrection (although his academic work has always ben impossibly longwinded) but his explorations into justification took wrong turns and his grasp of Lutheranism is poor too

  10. Sadly Tom Wright is not alone. There is a whiff of the same doctrinal drift in:

    “The future tense of (Greek word) should probably be taken as a genuine future (cf.Byrne 1988:29), so that righteousness will be the possession of those who belong to Christ in the future. Nonetheless, righteousness is already a reality for believers (Rom. 5:1,9,16,18). These two ideas are not contradictory. Believers are already justified, because the eschaton has penetrated the present age. But in another sense justification will be completed only on the day of redemption (cf. gal. 5:5)” (Schreiner’s Romans Commentary, page 290, note 15)

    He should have said “salvation will be completed only on the day of redemption”.

    Phil Almond

    • Schreiner is disagreeing with Wright here – as does Douglas Moo. Justification and salvation can be used synonymously sometimes.

      • James
        They are not synonyms. Salvation includes sanctification which is a process. Justification is a verdict.
        Phil Almond

        • I agree that justification is a verdict- one that is given here and now. Salvation happens now but has fuller dimensions for the future. These include actual moral perfection (freedom from sin) and the resurrection of the flesh. A synonym doesn’t mean total equivalence of meaning, like different alphabets using different signs for the same sound. I use synonym to mean substantial overlap of meaning.

  11. This is getting to the meat of some of Packer’s theology as at out in Knowing God while not considering, wrath and propitiation.
    If what is being attributed to Wright is correct, it seems to be mixing sanctification and justification, basing our justification being dependent, conditional on our sanctification.
    And Packer clearly explained and taught Perseverance or preservation of the saints ( believers) and having that Blessed Assurance is in opposition to what was, in Catholic circles, considered to a sin of presumption.
    I’m not sure why it remains a bone of contention in some protestant circles, relying as it does in the all sufficient work of Christ and the power of God
    “He shall hold me fast”, was last night sung live? at Virtually Keswick (Convention)

    and if anyone wants to see some wonderful preaching to a camera, watch young scot Andy Prime preach on a passage from Peter last night

  12. And, of course, the approach of Wright also seem to take no account of the significant and substantial doctrine of a believer’s Union with Christ.

  13. And doesn’t our Union with Christ overcome, dispense with, the objection by some (including Wright?) that the doctrine of justification/righteousness is a legal fiction?

  14. In passing, and genuinely without any other agenda, I am enjoying following this informed discussion among deeply bible-centred believers – and who are disagreeing over expressions of core understandings of the faith.

    • Me too – but I’ve only just picked myself up off the floor having seen John Piper described as ‘irenic’.

        • In his response to John Piper in his book “Justification:God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision” Tom Wright himself describes Piper’s engagement with him as “scrupulously fair, courteous and generous” (p11). Interestingly, and getting back to the original topic of this thread, he also praises Jim Packer’s article on Justification in the New Bible Dictionary as offering “a much more fully rounded picture than many of his rivals” (p15), getting in many of what Wright sees as the key elements in Paul’s account of the doctrine that other similar articles leave out.

      • And I wasn’t being ironic. Have you read his reply to Wright? It’s book length and available for free on the internet. Something like “Justification in Paul” where he explores the texts and the meaning of “righteousness ” as divine character and not just saving acts. Even better is a recent doctoral dissertation (I forget by who for the moment) that analyses the origins of Wright’s idea (from a 19th century German Alttestamentler ) and decisively refutes it.

        • Charles Lee Irons, “The Righteousness of God ‘ , a Fuller PhD written under Don Hagner, now published by Siebeck. Wright depended on Cremer. Irons is very, very thorough, looking at the Psalms in careful context, the DSS and intertestamental and all the Pauline passages. Conclusion: contra Wright, dikaiosune tou theou is indeed a gift here and now, and the historical understanding fits the Psalms and Pauline corpus much better than Wright claimed. Wright committed the error of trying to make the Biblical texts fit his theory rather than the other way round.
          Of course this happens all the time – as in contemporary efforts to broker in the new sexual morality and still call it ‘evangelical ‘. That doesn’t pass Packer’s Pauline test either.
          Irons’ book is very thorough and deserves close attention in evaluating Wright’s claims.

  15. Leaving aside captious and contemporary comments on JI Packer’s theology, which hasn’t been explored in significant depth, and is well beyond the scope of the article by Alister McGrath and the comments section, Packer will have received an inheritance and welcome- home – rejoicing, “well done” and a reward, a share of a weight of glory he didn’t deserve from his Father, from the God, brought and blood bought by Jesus for the joy set before him, the God many don’t believe, who he wrote about.
    He now knows God with a sublime knowledge of intimacy and joy and glory.


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