Packer: notes from a lecture

My sister Henriette went to hear theologian J.I. Packer yesterday at Regent College, here in Vancouver. Here are her notes from the evening:

Went to hear Packer presented as a free lecture by Regent College at UBC.  Amazing man, gracious, full of vitality with a mind and wit as sharp as a pin.  I tried to summarize some of his points, first of all to clarify them in my mind but perhaps you also might be interested in what his message entitled “Spirituality in the 21st Century” might hold for you.  Dale said Packer has been called the greatest theologian of the 21st century.  His message is intriguing in its simplicity and also its sense of timelessness, as he quotes Puritans and saints of the early centuries of the church.  It is unique and fresh to hear it spoken into our seeker/sensitive, “me”ism, type of church structure, although he is careful to refrain from making criticisms.  He directs his message to us personally as he said the best way to make change is to model it.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary as I had only jotted what I considered salient points down.   Some facts will be disjointed from the whole but bear with me.   Here goes:

Packer’s favourite theologians and authors:  Calvin, Owen and Edwards.

Packer was defined by his biographer as a catechist.  His definition, one who lives orthodoxy with vitality to lead people into a spiritual life, ie. spirituality.

He spoke of the inner life of the new Christian, given a new heart.  The inside struggle is to be motivated by spiritual disciplines.  The heart is the powerhouse, the driving force.

The outward story is developing Christian character, behavioural patterns developing, the fruits of the Spirit.  We are trying to live lives of influence and impact.

The above provides a brief context for below:

Packer looked at the Christian community in the 21st century and saw the following weakness:

-  Not really clear in the head (dry English wit), not having sufficient knowledge
-  Not understanding the “Trinitarian Plan”
-  Not humble in heart because not facing facts

Though we know God hates sin:

-  Many forget God’s character is as it was
-  His purity
-  His grace
-  Not understanding our sinfulness.
-  Not thoroughgoing in living a penitent life as we should be
-  Repent (military term) changes whole direction
-  Allowed to dream, then think, and drift along with the world.
-  Not as different as we need to be.

21st Century is:

-  Post-Christian
-  Secular – another word for worldly
-  Syncretistic – another word for idolatry
-  Consumed with “Selfism” – me and my happiness – got deep into us
-  Anti Christian era
-  Pride masquerades as intellectual perplexity.
-  Islamic drive for world domination

Packer said:  “What is key to faithfulness, fruitfulness, spiritual health and strength in the 21st century?”

What we need:  Renewed focus on “holiness”

His text – 1st Peter – As He who called you is holy, ……    In a Barna poll only 1/3 of evangelicals believe Christians are called to be holy.

Holiness means separation and contrast.  A technical term in Scripture, a quality that distinguishes God.  In terms of the attributes of God, it is called the attribute of all attributes.  It makes God awesome  and fearsome.

He also spoke of the love and loving kindness and mercy of God, the word he coined was “Holy Love”.
The holiness of God’s people – separation is the basic idea – separated to God in order to imitate Christ.  We practise love to God and neighbour.
-  Consecration
-  Commitment
-  Separation
-  Focus on God
-  Committed to live by the Bible.

Holiness starts in the heart.  -  Not legalistic asceticism, built on the supposition if outer behaviour is right, inner must be right, ie Pharisees, had hard hearts, were unloving and pride drove them.

Inside story – how holiness begins in the heart:

-  Rebirth, regeneration
-  God renews heart, we want to do what Jesus wanted to do, love, serve, exalt Heavenly Father.

Following dispositional acts practised:

-  Purity of God
-  Presence of God – practice it – what he called “hiking with the Trinity”, a journey that is not straight but has peaks and valleys.
-  Recognize the “ugliness” of sin – recognize self-service is a horrible thing.
-  Burden of sins is intolerable (taken from Book of Prayer – Anglican)
-  Recognizes urgings of a regenerate heart.
-  Heart resolves to practice friendship with God.  Quoted Gregory of Nisan, 4th Century, “Falling from God’s friendship is dreadful, becoming God’s friend is perfection”.

Friendship with God:

-  Conversation with God
-  Intimacy in prayer
-  Informality with God, speaking naturally from our heart.

Holiness grows downwards:

-  Grows into deeper repentance and humility
-  Model standard – template is Psalm 51 and the book of Job.  Job stayed faithful but at the end he acknowledged there were things he should not have said to God and he repented in dust and ashes.  We need to do this on a daily basis..

Opposite of Repentance and Humility is Conceit and Complacency.

Holiness looks ahead:

-  Truth of assurance of faith stemming from truth of Justification.
-  He spoke of the “Great Exchange” being the last judgement of God pronounced now.
-  Having assurance of faith makes you realistic about death.
-  He felt we concentrate on the blessings of this life.
-  We should have steady meditation and anticipation of life to come.
-  Most Christians are not ready to go
-  We should be “preparing for life at home, while travelling home”.
-  Quoted Richard Baxter, a Puritan who advocated a daily mediation of 1/2 hour on the glory of heaven.

Holiness absorbs hurt:

-  Life is full of suffering
-  Pleasure seeking world demand/expects right to pain-free life
-  Definition of suffering:  when you get what you don’t want
when you don’t get what you want
-  God uses suffering to sculpt our souls.
-  Keep sweet, steady and not to get bitter, looking to Jesus.

Holiness is “Habit become Character”:

-  If we practice the fruits of the Spirit, these are qualities that grow.
-  Fruits of the Spirit are the moral profile of Christ, to be reproduced in his disciples.
-  Love is a matter of habit – matter of serving others to make them great, God first and then man.
-  Joy is priming the pump of the mind.  The heart will rejoice when we think of things that make us rejoice.
-  (This is the most remarkable fact to me) – Habit becomes Character becomes You!
-  He lamented we have a great need of Christian people to honor.

His closing text in his quest for re-discovery of holiness was Psalm 139, vs. 23 and 24, “Search me O God and know my heart:  Try me and know my anxious thoughts:  And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way”.

He then said Amen and we all echoed that.  There were many young people in attendance last night and I found this very encouraging.

His ageold and timeless message resonated with all of us and I hope it will with you too.  May the quest for holiness begin with me and you.


Thanks for the summary, Henriette!