THE J. I PACKER INTERVIEW
By David W. Virtue
You would think that British-born theologian Dr. J. I. Packer - a man with impeccable Anglican credentials, multiple accolades, numerous books and now in his 82nd year -- might just be permitted to kick back and listen to Jazz music (his favorite), write more theological tomes and exempt himself from the current culture wars in the Anglican Communion.
Not a chance.
The distinguished octogenarian Canadian, Anglican, theologian, teacher, author and priest, has experienced the culture wars first hand. At the age of 81 and with more than 60 years as a priest in the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Canada, he experienced the shock of being defrocked by a revisionist Canadian Anglican bishop and then re-ordained by an orthodox Anglican Archbishop from another jurisdiction.
A lesser man might have had heart failure and shuffled off to glory.
But this thoughtful, quiet, seemingly under-stated theologian has a rod of iron spine and a clarity of vision and purpose about the gospel and church that shines forth from the pages of his books, from his life, from the pulpit and from within the sometimes messy confines of a press conference.
In Virginia, this past weekend, he was the keynote speaker at the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) ( a division of CANA's) second annual Synod Council at the Church of the Epiphany in Herndon. Packer ripped a proposed covenant that would include "heretics" as an unworkable solution to holding the Anglican Communion together, saying that a North American Anglican Province was absolutely necessary for orthodox Anglicans in the US and Canada.
He hinted darkly that the GAFCON Primates might be forced to form their own Anglican Communion, free of the heresies of Western Anglicanism sunk in the mire of Tillichian Christianity foisted on the West by the German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher.
"Because of liberalism, the sort of liberalism that came into the church from the end of the 19th century into the 20th century, it was never challenged and corrected. If there is a weakness in historic Anglicanism it is a willingness to tolerate the intolerable and that has betrayed us. Tillich's position affected all the seminaries of North America. This is where we are today in the West."
In the pulpit and at a later press conference where VOL posed a number of questions, Packer put into perspective what he saw as the current state of affairs in the Anglican Communion today.
Question: What hope do you have in a Covenant as a solution to holding the Anglican Communion together?
Packer: I don't think it can be the solution as the matter is being handled from Canterbury, because the Covenant is being handled to include and provide for the heretics in the church and de facto what is coming out of the hopper is being drafted to keep everyone inside who are also outside of historic diocesan structures.
The liberals are maintaining positions not tolerable and need to be explicitly excluded in any future working basis. I am not thrilled at the process going on. From Rowan Williams' standpoint nothing else needs to be done. His position sympathizes with the heretics and he doesn't want appear to be dragging his feet. He doesn't want to see Anglicanism restructured or redefined so as to leave those people out. He encourages the covenant process, at the same time the covenant will be exclusive of some.
(Historically) what happened in the 19th century is that bishops and the archbishops of Canterbury began a pattern of tolerance with a standard of tolerance that became (over time) a virulent liberalism because of the teaching of (German-American) theologian Paul Tillich. Episcopal leadership has been ruined from that day to this.
This has been going on in TEC and CofE for the last half century and is something like suicide. It is a process of ensuring that the life is drained out of the church and the leaders do this by encouraging various forms of liberalism. This does not communicate life and it doesn't build up congregations, it only weakens and shrinks them.
Question: Are you in favor of a new Anglican province in North America?
Packer: Yes, I am and I hope that the movement that is underway is a non-geographic one both for the U.S. and Canada. I believe it is going to succeed. We must make it succeed. I hope it would be recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It will certainly be recognized by the majority of primates of the Anglican Communion.
(CANA missionary Bishop Martyn Minns said he hopes the Communion will recognize it. He said it would function like a province and work coherently and be recognized by GAFCON groups. Asked about a time line, Minns said a proposal would be submitted to the GAFCON Primates Council by the end of this year. It will be a short time line. By early next year recognition will come, he said.)
Question: What is your opinion of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Do you have any regrets calling for the resignation of Rowan Williams?
Packer: The Archbishop of Canterbury is an honest man and by being honest he has positioned himself over a barrel, and as long as he is the ABC he will be over the barrel. Is it comfortable? No. Is it helpful for the world Anglican fellowship? Again, no.
Yes, he has admitted before becoming ABC that he said and did things, which sanctioned gay unions. When he become ABC, he said as far as the gospel is concerned, he was going to fulfill the role of the champion of Anglican order and the Lambeth Conference.
The '98 conference declared itself categorically against homosexual unions and homosexual activity and anonymous marriage and the ABC said he must and will uphold the standard. But his moral credibility is shot. The gay way is ruinous in all sorts of ways. Anglicans have rightly to be concerned about this.
Personally he is not in a position to being himself or to encourage or bring discipline on bishops with such a point of view that he embraces himself. So he is over a barrel. It seems to me the best way out that the Holy Scripture recommends as wisdom is that following this Lambeth, he should be finished as archbishop and move back into the academic world. He is a fine scholar. There are many institutions that would be glad to have him on their faculties.
Question (from VOL): Do you see GAFCON as a possible alternative Anglican Communion?
Packer: Speaking very cautiously, the answer is yes. One possibility will be that the orthodox Anglican communities will be organized in a fellowship which has GAFCON roots and has as its center the leadership of the Primates.
The churches of the old West are unable to enter that circle. We cannot walk together with heretics. These folk in the northern western world are heretics. What that means for the Church of England and provinces deeply infected with a lesser form of liberalism and what that means for the churches of North America is beyond me to guess. There is a sorting out going on and we shall all come out of the hopper better.
Question: What is your assessment of the Charismatic Movement?
Packer: I have assessed the Charismatic Movement and taking and looking at it piece by piece, the Charismatics really believe in exuberant praise. Praising the Lord is a central aspect of worship. It is a delightful activity, a powerful activity and the effect is charismatic. Am I cool to the charismatic movement? Oh no, I am not cool to the Charismatic Movement. I am very grateful for it, because it brought praise and giving glory to God. It is a group, corporate and needed in our personal lives. We need the Charismatic Movement to come and show us that.
Asked by VOL if this was a paradigm shift in his thinking from his Reformed theology, Packer said no. "This is not a paradigm shift. We (evangelicals) are not in the habit of giving glory to God. Charismatics help us emphasize the glory of God.
Question: Do you have any words of encouragement for the Diocese of Pittsburgh?
Packer: I have three words, VOTE FOR IT. Pittsburgh will be No. 3 diocese to leave The Episcopal Church. I hope they do come under Archbishop of the Southern Cone into a world of sunshine and peace.
Question: Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori says there are no goats, all are saved. Do you believe that?
Packer: Bishops should be guided by the teaching of the Bible. The Bible standard is that the human condition is lost and that we are without Christ. The Bible recognizes that there are those who are not saved. All of that determines our view. Faith in Christ is the path of salvation and without faith in Christ we are not in position to say anyone is saved.
DURING the course of his sermon, Dr. Packer said the following things that VOL believes are quotable and usable quotes:
"Our calling is be faithful and energetic in our walking and keep on keeping on...it is a life of steady walking..."
"We are walking home to heaven. We walk in company in, with, and under the Lord Jesus Christ..."
"The life of communion with God and with Christ is the path of holiness..."
"There are three questions we must ask when we read Scripture: "What does this tell me about God? What does it tell me about life's ups and downs, and what does this to say to me about my life today."
"Theology is for everyone...it is thinking together under the authority of scripture. It means we have access to God and we believe in the sovereignty of the living God."
"The glory of the Trinity as the divine team - Father Son and Holy Spirit...we praise the Trinity. "
"The sinfulness of sin cannot be over-emphasized. The world is convinced that the individual is basically good. We need to hammer away that we are sinners and the gospel is Good News for bad people."
"The Gospel stresses the sinfulness of sin and stresses the glory of Jesus Christ. He is loving, serving, ministering and going to the cross to bear our sins away."
"Don't be afraid of penal substitution...it is Christ in our place..."
"Penal means he endures the penalty of our sin. He takes the sort of separation from God that impenitent sinners face. He bears this.
"The lord lays on him the iniquity of us all..."
"Our guilt goes to him. His righteousness...and we start over with God...our sins are forgiven...our past is blotted out..."
"Stress the graciousness of his salvation...the supernaturalness of his church of being born again.
"Stress that God moves to draw near to us..."
"The hope of heaven should be stressed..."
"Stress the glory of God in creation, providence and grace."
"Glory is God's self disclosure."
"Praise to God for the praiseworthiness He deserves...God is adorable let us praise His name."
Packer said that catechizing had fallen out of use in teaching children. Kids can learn the basics of the faith from the age of 3. They can learn what their heavenly father can do.
"Christian doctrine is not a series of abstractions...."
"We become life-long teachers and life-long learners..."
"You never come to the end of the realities that Scripture presents to us. Keep learning and keep on applying what you learn to life."
ON BISHOPS: "When bishops are good value, they are very good value. When bishops become heretical, then parallel jurisdictions become favorable. As tensions increase for faithful Anglican congregations, they must come under helpful new bishops."
"Bishops are overseers of pastoral ministry in stated areas. That used to be the Anglican way. Episcopal oversight has had to be set up geographically alongside of Anglican pastoral structures in the same geographic area because of the present situation."
ON METHODS OF TEACHING:
"Monologue is basic."
"Q & A is the form of catechetical answer."
ON THE PRESENT SITUATION:
"I have re-aligned. CANA is part of the realignment. We are being overseen by Southern part of South America..."
"God is using the present situation to squeeze the liberal leadership out of the Anglican Communion..."
"We need to restore a sense of mission in a truly pagan world..."
"We are to be counter cultural..."
"We are called to live as the Early Church did...in the world we won't be understood."
"We are new creatures in Christ..."
"I see this as a temporary phase until Anglicanism restored to its former glory."