In honor of Dr. J.I. Packer’s 90th birthday this July 22, I offer this review.
I’d like to start out by saying that there are some good books written, and published in Christendom still today, and this is one of them. I would contrast it with my most recent review of, “Audacious” by Beth Moore. One is a piece of fluff, with virtually no value at all to the reader. The other is a wonderfully educational book that enriches the reader. Of course, Dr. Packer’s book is the latter. It should also be noted, that I don’t affirm Dr. Packer’s ecumenism, views on evolution, or the age of creation. In light of these differences, I still recommend this work for your Christian education, as our differences are not of primary import, but rather of secondary or tertiary consideration. I think this book should be on the reading list for men going into seminary. I admire his passion for knowing God, strength of conviction, and his intelligence. Here is a link to a short bio if you are not familiar with J. I. Packer. I am also including this link, so you can read about his character.
In Dr. Packer’s book, “Evangelical Influences” he introduces us to three sets of men via short biographies and citations of their works. These three sets of men come from three distinct times during Church history. The first is comprised of Martin Luther, and John Calvin. They represent evangelicalism during the Reformation. The second group is Richard Baxter, and George Whitefield. They represent evangelicalism as Puritans. The third and last set is Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, and Francis Schaeffer who could be considered Dr. Packer’s contemporaries representing modern evangelicalism. One thing that impressed me most about the biographies is the kind affection that Packer expressed for, “The Doctor” Martyn Lloyd Jones. Even though they didn’t see eye to eye on every issue, the fond recollections Packer expresses are very touching. Sometimes we let our differences cause undue animosity towards one another. It is encouraging to read these fond memories.
The rest of the book is spent relaying historical information about the works of these men, and the effects those works had, and continue to have on evangelicalism. They have done much of the heavy lifting for us fleshing out the doctrines so that we could have concise expressions of them, which are precise and nuanced.
I especially like the section where Packer explains how we have benefited from Calvin’s work on the inerrancy of scripture. Through cited passages from Calvin’s work, we can read what he thought about scripture and how it should be thought of. Much of our conservative modern understanding comes from the work these predecessors did. In the 1970’s Rogers and McKim criticized Calvin’s explanations of inerrancy. Dr. Packer’s answers to their criticism are well worth reading. I think this conclusion on pages 166 and 167 expresses perfectly how Packer understands Calvin’s convictions “…For Calvin, Scripture was able to fulfil its God-given function precisely by virtue of its God-given form, and the Holy Spirit, through whose agency that function is fulfilled, was directly responsible for producing the words in that particular form. The Spirit teaches from a textbook that in effect he wrote himself. For Calvin, therefore, anyone who set the form and the function of Scripture, its givenness and its usefulness, in antithesis to each other, treating them as alternative rather than complementary theological concerns, would be talking a kind of nonsense, just as one would if one set food in antithesis to eating…” As you can see, Packer understood Calvin’s work differently than Kim Rogers and McKim. I tend to agree with Packer.
In the section about predestination Packer lists 10 things predestination does not mean. I found this helpful for explaining the topic to my 15 year old daughter. I hope she found it helpful. Many people have questions or presuppositions about predestination that make them biased against it, even though it is blatantly taught throughout scripture. We dare not disregard it. Number 6 said, “Predestination does not mean that the door of mercy is barred to anyone who actually wants to enter. To no such person does God say, ‘No, you can’t come in; there is no redemption, no mercy for you. You were predestined to stay outside, and outside you must remain.’ The reason why this never happens is because no one ever wants to come in except God’s chosen, whom he draws to Christ and brings to faith according to his predestining purpose. We are dealing, remember, with God’s action towards our fallen race, in which nobody naturally seeks God. Nobody naturally wants to come to Christ. One who wants to come to Christ is already the subject of a work of grace, and will find the Saviour whom he or she is seeking.” Instead of being a cause for distress or anxiety about predestination, this should give the Christian great peace.
Dr. Packer cites large sections from the works of these fellows. He does so to examine the work they did, and to provide the historical context, so we can see the effect they had on us. It is always noteworthy to me, to understand how our situation today isn’t much different from our predecessors. The issues that Luther and Calvin dealt with are still being dealt with today. By studying their works we can see how they recognized, understood, and dealt with them. Dr. Packer’s proficiency at engaging the reader, while simultaneously educating them is appreciated. Even though this material can seem a bit difficult to get through for some, I adjure you to read all of it. For the rest of us, who are accustomed to reading works laden with theology and history, I think you’ll find this to be a good read.
- ISBN-13: 978-1619701564