Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know, J. I. Packer #1

Packer2In this post we begin a new book by J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know.  In this book he discusses aspects of basic doctrine and why we need to re-commit as a church to the historic teaching and preaching of these doctrines .I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Packer says that this book is designed to be a catechesis. That is, it is an orderly instruction in the basic things that all Christians should know. I agree with him that this is a great need in all denominations in the American church today. The lack of biblical and theological knowledge in evangelical churches today is astounding. We need to know the basics of who God is and what He has done, especially in His ultimate revelation through Jesus Christ. We also need to understand biblically, the proper response to God; faith, repentance, hope and love.

I am increasingly burdened by the sense that the more conservative church people in the West, Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, are, if not starving, at least grievously undernourished for lack of a particular pastoral ministry that was a staple item in the church life of the first Christian centuries and also of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation era in Western Europe, but has largely fallen out of use in recent days. That ministry is called catechesis. It consists of intentional, orderly instruction in the truths that Christians are called to live by, linked with equally intentional and orderly instruction on how they are to do this.10

My prayer is that God may use this material (1) to ground thoughtful Christians more firmly and clearheadedly in their faith, (2) to stir them out of the sluggishness into which theological and spiritual undernourishment has brought so many of us, and (3) to help us all take to heart the marching orders given us by our Lord and his apostles—who charge us first to be and then to make disciples everywhere, starting from where we are. 15

In chapter 1 Packer asserts that we must return to "Taking Faith Seriously. He sees biblical faith as "two-toned." That it is "intellectual," it has a specific content; and it is "relational," it requires a life-commitment to a person, God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. The basic content of the faith is defined and circumscribed authoritatively in the Bible. The Bible is not the goal of faith and worship. It is both the "God-given and God-giving" means of bringing us into and growing our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our faith must be in the Triune, holy, gracious, authoritative God revealed in the Bible, because faith's effectiveness is only as good as its object.

What did the apostolic writers have in mind when they spoke of faith? Nothing less than what they took to be the distinctive essence of Christianity: namely, a belief-and-behavior commitment to Jesus Christ, the divine-human Lord, who came to earth, died for sins, rose from death, returned to heaven, reigns now over the cosmos as his Father’s nominated vice-regent, and will reappear to judge everyone and to take his own people into glory, where they will be with him in unimaginable joy forever. 19

The Bible is thus experienced as a book that talks, speaking for itself by pointing us to the Father and the Son, who speak for themselves as they offer us forgiveness and acceptance and new life. The authority of Scripture is not just a matter of God putting our minds straight, but of God capturing our hearts for fully committed discipleship to the Lord Jesus. 24–25

A robust return to the older wisdom about faith’s true object is urgently needed if the Anglican Church in particular is ever to impact the surrounding culture again. The same must be said of other churches with Reformation roots, both sides of the border, and elsewhere. All in these communities who take faith seriously should unite to work for this return. 31

The subject of chapter 2 is Taking Doctrine Seriously. Packer defines doctrine as "the revealed truth of God as defined and taught in the church, by the church, for the church, and for the world." (33) It is important that we, as Christians, should read the Bible "with the tradition" under the authority of scripture. We are foolish if we neglect 2000 years of the Spirit's guidance to the church within the basic core of doctrine contained in the creeds and teaching of the gifted leaders of the past. Doctrine provides the framework through which we construct our beliefs, ethics and mission.

Holy Scripture is in essence God testifying to himself via human witnesses and writers. This belief is basic to the concept of doctrine, which is to be formulated, communicated, and defended under the authority of biblical teaching throughout. The trust that doctrine expresses—that is, its account of how things are, and how God knows they are, relationally between us and him—comes to us from God’s own holy mouth. 34–35

Doctrine is the map that guides us on our cross-country journeying through the thousand-odd pages of the Bible, on the one hand, and the complexities of godly living, on the other. Doctrine is the spectacles through which we discern the stepping-stones across the rapids and through the swamps that keep our feet on the path of life. Packer, 37

Right living is a matter of behaving in a way that expresses and celebrates Bible truth, not defies it. The standards of right living are set by right doctrine. Christian morality is rooted in reverence for God’s revealed truth. 47

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