Friday, October 16, 2009

Carl Trueman talks about J. I. Packer

Have a listen as Carl talks about his recent essay on Packer "An English Non-Conformist Perspective" in Timothy George [ed.], J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. You can read some sample pages here.


It seems that some folks are rather upset by Dr. Carl Trueman's description of J. I. Packer as "in some ways a failure." Try concentrating on the words "in some ways" rather than solely on the word "failure."

On the matter of the "lost leader" that non-conformists needed bear this in mind:

One commentator, in 1977, wrote of Packer’s diminished influence among evangelical Anglicans. They had, quite simply, moved on. This assessment is also given by his biographer Alister McGrath, “Increasingly, Packer felt he was a ‘pelican in the wilderness’. Nobody seemed to want him very much.” He was left with no institutional role in evangelical Anglican leadership circles. I think you have to understand Dr. Trueman’s comments against this historic background.

I don't suppose that my following comments will make any sense unless you have watched the video clip. Perhaps they won't make any sense even if you have watched it.

I have heard Carl talk about some of these issues before, and he is surely right about the lack of a systematic theology from Packer. That said he has given to the church a remarkable written legacy. As a sixteen year old I heard Packer preach in Cardiff on the doctrine of hell. I have listened to the recording many times since then, and had no appreciation at the time of what I was listening to, or who Packer was. I must find a way to get that message from audio cassette to mp3.

I have yet to read Carl's essay and so have no idea about the connection between my comments and what he has written as they appertain to Packer and Lloyd-Jones. The break with Lloyd-Jones came in 1970 and not in 1966. Indeed this Sunday will mark the 43rd anniversary of that definitive moment in post-war British evangelicalism when Lloyd-Jones, the speaker, and John Stott, the chairman, publicly disagreed over evangelical policy on ecumenism at the Evangelical Alliance meeting.

The break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, in 1970, came after the publication of Growing into Union. The book was written by four authors, two evangelicals and two Anglo-Catholics. But the positions advocated were representative of a common mind ("We are all four committed to every line in the book...and we are determined that no wedge be driven between us." I am referring to a footnote by Iain Murray in Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace and am not able to verify what has been omitted from this sentence).

Certainly from Lloyd-Jones' standpoint the parting of the ways was due to Packer's ecumenical commitment expressed in Growing into Union. Lloyd-Jones expressed his concerns to Packer in a letter dated July 7th 1970. Referring to a discussion about the book at the monthly ministers' Fellowship (the Westminster Fellowship) Lloyd-Jones wrote:
The general opinion there, without a single voice to the contrary, was that the doctrinal position outlined in the book cannot be regarded as being evangelical, still less puritan. The three of us [the free church members of the Puritan Conference committee] therefore feel, most reluctantly, that we cannot continue to co-operate with you in the Puritan Conference. To do so would be at the least to cause great confusion in the minds of all Free Church evangelical people and indeed a number of Anglican people.

This I feel sure will not come as a surprise to you as you must have known that the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.
Packer, of course, continued to follow this trajectory, culminating in the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, of which he was an endorser. That document contained the joint affirmation that "we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ," an affirmation notable for the omission of the Reformation's solas. This, above everything else, was surely the great failure.

It is somewhat ironic that the pursuit of a wider ecclesiastical unity, a pursuit that could never be fulfilled by a policy of temporarily suspending the practice of gospel essentials in order to achieve more visible agreement, has been the cause of the open divisions among evangelicals in the twentieth century.

Lloyd-Jones' letter also stressed something of Packer's literary failure that Carl noted in the video:
You have known throughout the years not only my admiration for your great gift of mind and intellect but also my deep regard for you. I had expected that long before this you would have produced a major work in the Warfield tradition, but you have felt called to become involved in ecclesiastical affairs. This to me is nothing less than a great tragedy and a real loss to the Church.


Reformation said...

Please pursue this thread to the end of the world. I am a Reformed and Confessional Anglican who will tolerate a Bishop--if solid. Please do worldwide Anglicanism a favour and puruse this. All ears.


Reformation said...

The link won't open here. Nuts!

Reformation said...

Further attempts end in failure. A Canadian friend attempted to help, but it won't open.

Phil Swann said...

To calm the nerves of any conspiracy theorists out there, the section omitted by Iain Murray from 'Growing into Union' is, "except the signed Appendixes".

Anonymous said...

You can make the YouTube video fit the space you have by going to edit posts and find the entry you need to edit. Change the width and possibly the height. If you read through the embed code you will see that both occur twice. If you change only the height do it in both places. Republish the blog entry and you will see that from now on you can make blog entries with videos fit the place you have for them.

Here is my blog if you want ot ake a look.

Martin Downes said...

Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

I always liked J.I. Packer and his way of addressing the spiritual - The Holy Spirit which gets zero attention in the Reformed faith.
Sort of relegated to the bottom of the closet, but not completely thrown out with all other "superstitions"

I know you won't moderate this and that's ok. I just dropped by when I saw Packer's name.

Against Heresies - the favorite past time of the Protestants...calling each other heretics and apostates who've fallen from the faith and failed.

How sad. You said sola scriptura, but what you mean is sola scriptura - sola me...

You guys always make God in your own image and worship him. He's white, preferably American, and He also must have inspired the WCF.

You guys are fighting a losing battle I'm afraid. Your fight against unity always has you splitting into smaller and smaller groups. Our Lord prayed for unity...not Calvinism...not Arminians...

I really will pray that you all will stop witch hunting and realize you are in opposition to Our Lord when you keep dividing for the "faith".


Martin Downes said...


That's something of a drive by shooting, and with a shot gun at that.

I'm Welsh, so why would I want God to be American?

And seeing as the rest of your comment doesn't engage in any intelligent way with the video, commentary, or comments, I shall leave my response to you with that sole query.

Tim said...

Another passer by who happened to follow a link here. I don't agree with Ann's remark about making God in your own image, but I agree with her sentiment that this video and post have a divisive, somewhat nasty tone to them. What strikes me, both from the video clip and your comment to Ann ("your comment doesn't engage in any intelligent way") is that you at risk of worshiping at the altar of intellectualism. I feel this is a major problem in many theological colleges of today - a rather self-absorbed style of internal debate about secondary issues, while the world outside either looks on in bemusement, or more often simply doesn't notice at all. How sad. Case in point: so what if Jim Packer did not write (yet another) systematic theology tome? I simply do not understand the mindset that calls a man a "failure" simply because he did not write a particular book. I do not personally agree with all of Jim Packer's engagement with Roman Catholicism, but I would never publicly insult a fellow brother in Christ in the manner done here.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" - Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)

Martin Downes said...


Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate what you have written and wil take it to heart. It is certainly not my intention to publicly insult Dr. Packer. I have great affection for him. His writings have made an enormous impact upon my Christian life, especially during my days as an undergraduate. I'm really not sure that it was Carl Trueman's intention to publicly insult him either. In my estimation Packer was the greatest British theologian of the 20th century. Much of his writing has been aimed at giving responses to particular issues and has served us well. As far as I am aware producing an ST tome was intended but never happened.

Reformation said...

Ann's comment was poor.

JIP's signature of ECT and the subsequent defenses thereof have left, for this scribe, a rank odour over the rest of his work.

A great technician. But no ecclesiastical statesmanship.

Tim said...


Thanks for your gracious response to my comment. On watching the video and reading your comments again, I accept that neither of you intended to insult Packer. But the perception to others may be different.

Even just posting an article on Packer (regardless of the content) under a large banner reading "Against Heresies" sends out a fairly strong message (even if it's not the one you intended).

I'm not sure that Trueman's dressing up of his repeated uses of the words "failure" and "failed" (only some of which are softened with qualifiers) with an appreciation of some of Packer's books really softens the blow much.

My thought is that academics and others should stick to criticising the content of a person's work (e.g. his written arguments), rather than attacking his character or behaviour. To brand someone "in some ways a failure" seems to cross the line. More generally, it sounds like Trueman's essay (which I confess I haven't read) is directed at analysing Packer's actions, rather than his writing. If such essays are to be written at all, I would prefer they were done posthumously.

A test I always find helpful when discussing someone else (whether supposedly in a learned fashion, or tempted to gossip), is to imagine the subject of the conversation listening in over my shoulder. I can't help feeling that Packer, were he ever to stumble across this webpage, couldn't help but be a little hurt by it.

Anyway, that's my tuppence-worth. Thanks for responding so positively to my early comments. I have now very much enjoyed looking around some of the rest of your website. God bless.


Charlie J. Ray said...

I had an opportunity last year to hear Packer at the Wycliffe Hall/Reformed Theological Seminary lectures in Orlando Florida. Feb. 2009.

I asked Packer how Anglo-Catholics and Evangelical/Reformed Anglicans can walk together when they have a completely different reading of the 39 Articles. He was visibly miffed that I would ask such a question.

However, in my opinion, the issue of justification by faith "only" is not a secondary issue. This is why I have a problem with Anglicanism in general--even though I myself am a member of a congregation associated with The Episcopal Church here in the central Florida Diocese. My rector is David Knox, son of David Broughton Knox of Moore College in Sydney, Australia.

I think Ann's remarks are naive at best because it shows her commitment is to catholic unity at all costs and sound doctrine based on Scripture is out the window. The problem, as history shows, however, is that when the church has greater authority than Scripture all sorts of heresies creep in. The current state of the Anglican Communion demonstrates the effects of Anglo-Catholicism quite well.

I could mention the many heresies which at one time were the "official" doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in times past and in the present. Need I say more?

The problem with Packer as I see it is that he fails to tell us what he thinks is secondary and tertiary and what is primary. If we take the Anglo-Catholics in we have in effect compromised many primary issues, in my opinion.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Charlie J. Ray

Unknown said...

Wow, I'm currently reading Dr. Packer's Intoductory Essay to John Owen's Death of Death in the Death of Christ. There the Gosple is clarified as a Reformed doctrine and argued as the solution to the lack luster half Gosple that is currently preached in America. Brethren let us take a sober warning from this that our religion must be of the heart as well as of the mind. Our beliefs must be telt and felt. Please pray with me that we follow no other Gosple than that which we have received from the holy writ. Our Souls are at stake. Pray for Packer aswell.