Anglican Samizdat

November 17, 2008

Chatting with J. I. Packer

Filed under: ANiC,Christianity,The fall of the West — David Jenkins @ 8:42 pm

I first met Dr. Packer about 28 years ago. I was a fairly new Christian with all the naivety, enthusiasm and questions common to this affliction. I was fortunate enough not only to be next to the great man in the lunch line, but to sit opposite him during lunch. Having seen the fate suffered by someone who disagreed with him, I decided for the most part to keep my opinions to myself and simply ask questions. A lot of questions. One was this: the Anglican church appears to be bent on a course of self destruction; why stay in it? Dr. Packer is a gracious man, even to impudent whippersnappers, so he patiently explained to me the richness of the Anglican heritage and worship. So I stayed.

One of the things he said then stuck in my mind: I asked what had gone wrong. He said that, as a result of the Enlightenment, people had ceased to believe in God’s propositional revelation.  I reminded him of this last Friday; he said “hmm, I would probably put it differently now”. Which leads me to last Friday.

I was sitting in the first ever ANiC synod listening to financial statements, when I was asked if I would like to interview Dr. Packer or continue listening to the financial statements. With the enthusiasm of a man who has been reprieved from a tooth extraction without anaesthetic, I chose the interview. There were 3 journalists interviewing Dr. Packer – and me.

A lot was said; so much that there was a concern that it might be too much for Dr. Packer. He said, no, a professor likes talking to his students. Although physically a lot more frail than the last time I saw him, he has lost none of his mental acuity, nor his sense of humour, nor his graciousness. I referred to one of his arguments as “compelling”, something which, apparently, was kind of me.

Time passed and dinner arrived; we ate together. Dr. Packer was pretty insistent on procuring chairs for everyone, but he was persuaded to sit down and let others do it. Eventually, the other journalists left and I had him all to myself.

Nevertheless, so many questions, so little time.

I reminded Dr. Packer of his ‘propositional revelation’ remark of 28 years ago. Here is the argument today: Jesus is God in the flesh; did he use words to communicate? Yes, therefore, God uses words to communicate; can that be extended to Scripture? Yes, because Jesus did. How do liberals wriggle out of this? They refuse to engage the argument at all. They are implicitly Unitarian.

How can liberals keep referring to the Holy Spirit and yet get everything so wrong? Because they do not view the Holy Spirit as a person: to a liberal, the Holy Spirit is another way of saying “God in action”. Therefore, once consensus is reached, the liberal declares it to be a work of the Holy Spirit.

Theologians today tend to suffer from parochialism: they know more and  more about less and less. Their minds have been narrowed.

I have a habit of referring to the ACoC as an organisation that is no longer Christian. What does Dr. Packer think? He puts it like this: many dioceses and the ACoC itself have leaders that are sub-Christian. As a result, many of those they lead are also sub-Christian.

What about Tom Wright? It seems to me, I said, that he has placed church hierarchy above the gospel. You are not the first to say that, said Dr. Packer; nevertheless, he is a brilliant man. His large books are better than his short ones, apparently. He said more that I would rather not go into, but it included the words: ‘ego’ ‘blog’ and ‘Tom Wright’. And had Rowan not been given the ABC job, Tom Wright would probably have been next in line. Power corrupts – that’s my comment, not Dr. Packer’s.

Every week, Malcolm Muggeridge used to declare that Western Civilisation was about to collapse; what does Dr. Packer think? He agrees. We are living in a post-Christian era whose roots have been destroyed. We used to believe in the validity of Christianising an institution because we believed in the truth of Christianity; no more.

Does Dr. Packer really think that Rowan Williams should resign? He was not happy with David Virtue’s headline “J. I. Packer calls on Rowan Williams to resign”, later to be picked up by every other miscreant in blogger land. What he actually said was “he is not qualified to lead the Anglican Communion and enforce the rules laid down at the Lambeth Conference in 1998”. The reason for this is that he is attempting to publicly uphold the 1998 Lambeth ruling while privately disagreeing with it. At the very least, said Dr. Packer, on this issue he should defer to someone who is not subject to that dichotomy.

Another journalist asked Dr. Packer if he believes in demons. Yes, in the same way that C. S. Lewis did. And does he believe in spiritual warfare? There was an interesting answer: he does not believe that demonic forces engineer cultural trends, but that they take advantage of them. Dr. Packer thinks that a lot of damage has been done by those that believe otherwise. We didn’t have time to probe this further.

A lot more was said; I was the only person there without a tape recorder – an omission that led to a lot of self kicking.

J. I. Packer is now Theologian Emeritus to ANiC. We are in good hands.


  1. Thanks for this, David. Dr Packer has long been a leader for evangelical Christians and, as your post shows, he is still a very wise man.

    Comment by Scott Gilbreath — November 18, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  2. Thank you, David, for sharing this. It was good to get an update from Dr. Packer on his opinions and where he stands. he is a great encouragement to us.

    Comment by Deborah Pitt — February 17, 2009 @ 9:36 am

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