Monday, July 20, 2020

Some thoughts on Dr Packer

James Innell Packer recently died on July 17, 2020, at age 93. He was one of the most influential theologians of the last century, perhaps best known for his two earliest books, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) and Knowing God (1973). He was also general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible.

His death occasioned many positive reviews of his life and work. Indeed, much of his writing is well worth reading for Christians, particularly the two above mentioned books. Dr Packer deserves to be remembered also for his firm opposition to same-sex marriage.

Yet there are also a few clouds. Early on, Dr Packer worked closely with Dr Martyn LLoyd-Jones. Both believed in the full authority of an inerrant Bible, and the necessity of Christians living this out consistently.

But Dr Packer was himself inconsistent. First, there was his support of evangelical ecumenism. In 1970 he co-authored (with two Anglo-Catholics) Growing into Union, which many evangelicals felt conceded too much biblical ground on critical doctrinal issues. This led to a break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer.

Later, in 1994, Dr Packer’s supported Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT): Toward a Common Mission. He seemed to make light of key biblical doctrines, such as justification by faith alone. ECT was strongly opposed by many Reformed theologians, including R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur.

Second, Dr Packer was inconsistent also regarding biblical authority. Unlike Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Packer rejected the plain reading of Genesis 1, which he considered to be disproven by science. He was willing to re-interpret Genesis to make room for theistic evolution. In 1978 he wrote:
"I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and I maintain it in print, but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other."[Packer, J.I., The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem (Oxford: Oxford-Latimer House, 1978), 5.]

He opted for a literary view of Genesis 1; Genesis 2 & 3 he took as real history, but history told in a symbolic way. For example, Packer held that the point of the story of Eve created out of Adam was to tells us theological truths (e.g., regarding marriage), rather than to give us facts about origins. For Packer's view on Genesis, see this transcribed lecture. Dr Packer endorsed several books promoting theistic evolution.

From 1979 until his retirement, Dr Packer taught systematic theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. Dr Denis Lamoureux relates how, while a student at Regent (where he received an M.Div. in 1987), Dr Packer's non-literal view of the first chapters of Genesis was instrumental in converting Lamoureux from creationism to theistic evolution. Dr. Lamoureux no longer believes Adam existed (nor in original sin); he believes Paul was mistaken in treating Adam as historical. Lamoureux lectures often on creation-evolution issues at Regent, where the entire faculty seems to be on board with evolution.

Thus, although Dr Packer started well, his legacy is marred by compromises on biblical truth, compromises that his students expanded further.

No comments: