J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. Crossway. 432 pages. 2015
This is a well-written and researched portrait of the great evangelical theologian J.I. Packer, written by Leland Ryken, who teaches at Wheaton College. Throughout the book, which is divided into three major sections, Ryken calls out his personal connections to the 89 year-old Packer (teaching, writing, the Puritans), calling them kindred spirits. He writes about Packer, warts and all, with a great deal of affection, calling him a “modern day Puritan”.
Ryken approaches the significant task of writing about Packer’s life and accomplishments by dividing the book into sections looking at his life, Packer the person and life-long themes. Some, especially those who have read Alistair McGrath’s 1998 J.I. Packer: A Biography (which Ryken writes that he is indebted to and often references of which I have also read) will be familiar with the biographical details of Packer’s life. I was most interested in the controversies in Packer’s life (which Ryken details in the final section on lifelong themes), especially those which led to a breaking of fellowship with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and R.C. Sproul, two of my theological heroes. Both of those controversies were related to Packer’s ecumenism. Packer looks to the great preacher George Whitefield as his role model for ecumenism. Packer’s split with Lloyd-Jones came after his participation in the book Growing into Union. I didn’t know previously that the two had planned to meet in 1981, but Lloyd-Jones died before that meeting could take place. Packer’s split with Sproul, which is ongoing, was over his participation in the Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT) effort in 1994.
Packer sees his role as the General Editor of the English Standard Version Bible Translation Team as his most significant accomplishment. He has long been a member of the Anglican Church, having faced controversy in that church in England and Canada.
Ryken writes about the providential circumstances of Packer meeting his future wife, a nurse. Surprisingly, Packer’s wife is mentioned relatively little in this 432 page book.
Although Packer has had many roles, he sees his primary calling as theological education. He is best known for his 1973 book Knowing God. He moved to Canada and Regent College in 1979. He began a role with the magazine Christianity Today in 1958. He was evicted as a minister in the Canadian Anglican Church for his stance against homosexuality.
In part two on Packer the person, Ryken talks about Packer’s generosity, being a champion for the ordinary person, a traditionalist and a latter day Puritan. I enjoyed the insights about the lesser known Packer, including his love for jazz music and murder mysteries.
In part three on lifelong themes, Ryken looks at themes such as the Bible, the Puritans, writing, Anglicanism, theology, preaching and controversies.
The book ends with an Afterword from Packer himself.
This significant book is a detailed and respectful look at the life, work and person of one of the most significant evangelical figures of our lifetime. Ryken offers helpful summaries at the end of each major section.
Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 46 pages. 2015
This is the 22nd and newest entry into the excellent Crucial Questions series from R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust Publishing. These small books/booklets are available free in the Kindle version, and most are available for a small cost in paperback editions. Sproul writes that the key question in this small book is “Can I lose my salvation?” This is the doctrine of eternal security, also known as the perseverance of the saints, or the “P” in the famous Calvinist acronym TULIP. I was glad to see this book as Christians are divided on the issue of whether a true believer can lose their salvation.
Sproul writes that to fall into apostasy means to reach a position, but then to abandon it. To say that someone has become apostate, we are saying that they have fallen from the faith, or at least have fallen from their first profession of faith. Is it possible to become apostate? Sproul states that there are many texts in the New Testament that warn about this possibility.
He writes that Scripture has many examples of true believers who truly fall away, who fall into gross sin and, on some occasions into protracted periods of impenitence. Sproul calls this a serious fall. All Christians are subject to serious falls. But is someone who commits a serious fall eternally lost? Sproul states that church discipline attempts to keep a serious fall from turning into a total fall. Sproul writes that the challenge is to distinguish between a true believer in the midst of a serious fall and a person who has made a false profession of faith.
He addresses the concept of the “unforgiveable sin”, a sin that will in fact not be forgiven by God, not because God can’t do it but because He won’t. He states that the fact that people are wrestling with the fear that they have committed this sin actually gives significant evidence to the reality that they are not in such a state.
He then takes a detailed look at the difficult passage of Hebrews 6:1–6, which many point to as textual proof that a Christian can lose their salvation. After that, he looks at the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, preferring to use the description preservation of the saints, as God preserves His own. At the same time, we are called to work hard to persevere.
Another concept he looks at is that of the carnal Christian. This is a person who is a Christian, but whose life is still dominated by carnality. He writes that there is actually no totally carnal Christians, just as there are no totally spiritual Christians.
He concludes the book by writing about the intercession of Christ, our Great High Priest. This is the foundation for our confidence when it comes to our perseverance.
He writes “We persevere because we are preserved, and we are preserved because of the intercession of our Great High Priest. This is our greatest consolation and our greatest source of confidence that we will persevere in the Christian life.” Amen!
This is an excellent treatment of this important topic, one that many struggle with. The Crucial Questions books/booklets are excellent tools to give to and discuss with unbelievers or new believers. You get the excellent Bible teaching of R.C. Sproul presented in a very easy to understand manner, one of the things I have most enjoyed about Dr. Sproul’s ministry over the years.
- New Iain Murray Book on J.C. Ryle. J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iaian H. Murray will be published soon by Banner of Truth.
- New Book on the Authority of Scripture, Edited by D.A. Carson. Justin Taylor writes “Years in the making, Eerdmans has now published The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, a 1,248-page tome edited by D. A. Carson.” The book includes contributions from two Covenant Seminary professors I had classes with – Dan Doriani and V. Phillips Long.
- On My Shelf: Life and Books with David Wells. Ivan Mesa interviews David Wells about the books in his life.
- Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves — A Book Review. I am currently reading and very much enjoying this book by Michael Reeves, who will be speaking at the upcoming Ligonier National Conference. Here’s a review by Carson Weitnauer.
- Gospel Coalition Bookshelves. I always enjoy hearing about what others are reading. Check out these bookshelves from leaders such as Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller.
- 5 Takeaways for Preachers from Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ. David Prince shares his reflections on 5 important takeaways for preachers from Sinclair Ferguson’s excellent new book The Whole Christ. This is part one of his series.
- Top Ten Books That Have Shaped My Faith and Leadership. Brad Lomenick writes “Leaders are readers. Pure and simple. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books over the years, and each of them continues to add to the fabric of who I am and how I lead.
- 1-on-1 with Jerry Bridges. In preparation for the release of Jerry Bridges’ new book The Blessing of Humility, NavPress publisher Don Pape sat down with Jerry to talk about his spiritual story, his books, and some of his favorite things.
- Strong and Weak. Here’s the trailer for Andy Crouch’s new book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing.
BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at Chapter 11: As Encounter: Seeking His Face
- We must not settle for an informed mind without an engaged heart.
- What kind of experience should be expected and how should it be sought?
- At one level, Christians have these things. At another level, they haven’t experienced them. It is one thing to know of the love of Christ and to say, “I know he did all that.” It is another thing to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.
- What is common to all these moments is that you sense the power of what you have been given in Christ so that your attitudes, feelings, and behavior are altered.
- You may have many specific problems and issues that need to be faced and dealt with through various specific means. Yet the root problem of them all is that you are rich in Christ but nevertheless living poor.
- We may mentally assent to the idea of Jesus’ love for us, yet our hearts are committed to finding love through popular acclaim. In such a case the inner being has not been affected by what the mind believes. The Spirit must prepare it to be reshaped and formed by the truth.
- He asks that the Holy Spirit will sensitize our hearts so that we taste these truths, spiritually speaking, or—as he says in Ephesians 1:18, when he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”—that we see them, spiritually speaking.
- Another aspect of communion with God is a deeper understanding and the appropriation of our family relationship with the Father.
- Part of the mission of the Spirit is to tell you about God’s love for you, his delight in you, and the fact that you are his child. These things you may know in your head, but the Holy Spirit makes them a fiery reality in your life.
- When the Holy Spirit comes down on you in fullness, you can sense your Father’s arms beneath you. It is an assurance of who you are. At a minimum this means joy, and a lack of fear and self-consciousness.
- If Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you are saved by grace alone, then my love is infinitely wide. It is wide enough for you.”
- Paul says to the Christians, everybody he is writing to at Philippi, “I am convinced…..that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Not “may.” Will. His love is infinitely long.
- God put his love on you in the depths of time, and he will never remove it from you. Why? Because salvation is by grace. It is not by works. It is not given to you because of what you do. It has begun in the depths of time and will last into eternity. It is infinitely long.
- The reason that the love of God in Christ is infinitely wide and infinitely long is because it is infinitely deep.
- Because of the gospel, you can know that God’s love is infinitely wide and infinitely long because it was infinitely deep.
- God’s love is also infinitely high.
- Spiritual experience consists of luminous truth and profound assurance of God’s fatherly love.
- To seek God’s face is not to find some place in space where God is located. Rather, it is to have our hearts enabled by the Holy Spirit to sense his reality and presence.
- Because of his shed blood and forgiveness, we can have a nearness to God that was not possible before. Jesus’ person and work is the breakthrough for any who want to draw near and seek God’s face.
- Throughout Owen’s writing, he returns continually to the subject of what has been called the beatific vision. The term describes the direct sight of the glory of God. This is what the redeemed will have in heaven fully, by sight, and what believers have now on earth partially, by faith and not yet with our literal eyes.
- Meditating upon the beatific vision is a vital practice for all Christians to cultivate,” because “our Christian life and thinking should be oriented toward the hope of the beatific vision, and shaped by the foretaste we receive of it here and now.”
- Owen held that, unless you learn how to behold the glory of Christ, you are not actually living a truly Christian life in this world.
- When Paul spoke of beholding Christ’s glory, he could not be talking of mere belief that Jesus was glorious. Rather, “the affecting power of it upon our hearts is that which we should aim at. . . . Doth it not fill and satiate. . . with joy, rest, delight…. and ineffable satisfaction?
- To behold the glory of Jesus means that we begin to find Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.
- He reasoned that if the beauty and glory of Christ do not capture our imaginations, dominate our waking thought, and fill our hearts with longing and desire—then something else will. We will be “continually ruminating” on something or some things as our hope and joy.
- Prayer became not just a time of going through his list of requests but also a time of adoration, confession, and simply enjoying God.
- If we want to be sure to experience this vision by sight hereafter, we must know it by faith now. If we want freedom from being driven by fear, ambition, greed, lust, addictions, and inner emptiness, we must learn how to meditate on Christ until his glory breaks in upon our souls.
- Owen promotes what could be called a radically biblical mysticism. It comes through meditation on Scripture, on theological truth, on the gospel—but it must break through to real experience of God.
- If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief.
- The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine.
- Owen believes that Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.
- It is possible to use techniques of meditation and imagination to create changes in consciousness that are not tied at all to the reality of who God is.
- Owen argues that wordless prayer, while sometimes occurring, is never prescribed or seen as an ideal. In Luke 11, Jesus told his disciples to use words. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul urged Christians to “pray with the mind” in words. That’s a remarkable thing for a Puritan to say. If we are going to be imbalanced, better that we be doctrinally weak and have a vital prayer life and a real sense of God on the heart than that we get all our doctrine straight and be cold and spiritually hard.
- With this in mind, I think Protestants who find the biblical mysticism of a John Owen or a Jonathan Edwards appealing should read the medieval mystics with appreciation but also plenty of caution.
- Nevertheless, (Carl) Trueman says of the medieval mystics, “There is a sense of God’s holiness and transcendence in these works that is significantly absent from much modern writing and thinking about God.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at
Chapter 24: Christ’s Teaching on Divorce
- Our Lord’s purpose was to correct the perversion, the false interpretation of the law which was being taught to the people by the Pharisees and scribes.
- The first principle He emphasizes is that of the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is not a civil contract, or a sacrament; marriage is something in which these two persons become one flesh. There is an indissolubility about it, and our Lord goes right back to that great principle.
- Because of the hardness of their hearts, God made a concession, as it were. He did not abrogate His original law with regard to marriage.
- The first principle leads us to the second, which is that God has never anywhere commanded anybody to divorce.
- The next principle is one which is of the utmost importance. There is only one legitimate cause and reason for divorce-that which is here called `fornication’.
- There is only one cause for divorce. There is one; but there is only one. And that is unfaithfulness by one party.
- Nothing is a cause for divorce save fornication. It does not matter how difficult it may be, it does not matter what the stress or the strain, or whatever can be said about the incompatibility of temperament.
- It is this question of the `one flesh’ again; and the person who is guilty of adultery has broken the bond and has become united to another. The link has gone, the one flesh no longer obtains, and therefore divorce is legitimate.
- Our Lord says that if you divorce your wife for any other reason you cause her to commit adultery.
- We can say not only that a person who thus has divorced his wife because of her adultery is entitled to do so. We can go further and say that the divorce has ended the marriage, and that this man is now free and as a free man he is entitled to re-marriage. Divorce puts an end to this connection, our Lord Himself says so.
- Even adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It is a terrible sin, but God forbid that there should be anyone who feels that he or she has sinned himself or herself outside the love of God or outside His kingdom because of adultery. No; if you truly repent and realize the enormity of your sin and cast yourself upon the boundless love and mercy and grace of God, you can be forgiven and I assure you of pardon.
…through the Bible, currently in Proverbs (using the Reformation Study Bible, ESV)