Friday, October 16, 2009
J.I. Packer the "failure"?
Dr. Carl Trueman of WTS-Philly has a short video giving a critical appraisal of J.I. Packer. Trueman is genuinely appreciative of Packer for producing helpful books on Christian spirituality and theology and Trueman regards him as a success as a Christian intellectual. I don't doubt the sincerity of his affection for Packer and no Christian leader is beyond criticism as we look at their careers in retrospect. Yet Trueman regards Packer ultimately as a "failure" for two quite peculiar reasons. First, Packer never wrote a systematic theology. True, but it's not like there is exactly a shortage of them. Packer invested himself more in his students than into his own writings. He preferred the popular level works to the massive tomes with great effect. Second, according to Trueman Packer failed to be a leader of the non-conformist churches in the UK. Trueman is right that Packer would have been a good corrective to the "Doctor" and pushed the movement in a more confessional direction and given it more intellectual depth. But Packer could not do this as he did not share the sectarian ecclesiology of certain individuals associated with Martin Lloyd Jones circle. To give an example of the ecclesiology of this group, I will never forget reading an article in the Australian Presbyterian where Iain Murray said "Unity is overrated". I read that and the first thing that I thought to myself was: Was the prayer of Jesus in John 17, "that they may be one as we are one" overrated? Is the exhortation to unity 1 Corinthians 1 and Philippians 2 overrated? Are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 133 that brothers dwelling in unity is like "oil on the head running down on the beard" overrated? If Murray had said, unity at the expense of theological integrity is overrated, I could agree; but that's not what he said nor what he meant. So comparing an Evangelical Catholic like Packer with the more sectarian fundamentalism of certain non-conformist leaders like Murray is analogous to comparing apples and oranges. Trueman should have surveyed a wider constituency to determine the reception of Packer in evangelical and reformed churches and he would have got a very different point of view. Moreover, I think Trueman's assessment of evangelical Anglicanism is a bit over simplistic too as there is and has been for some time a rich and vibrant form of confessional Anglicanism (e.g., Moore Theological College and Oak Hill College come to mind). So thank God for J.I. Packer, may his legacy live on for many years to come!
Update: After re-listening to Trueman's spiel a few times, I confess that I have written too harshly. Although I find it hard to put the word "failure" into the same sentence as "J.I. Packer", I have modified what was written above with due apologies to Dr. Trueman.