Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Packer on the Christian Life

Packer on the Christian Life. Sam Storms. 2015. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Packer on the Christian Life is one of the books in Crossway's Theologians on the Christian Life series. It is the first in the series that focuses on a living theologian.

The first chapter serves as a biography and general introduction to J.I. Packer. Storms considers events in Packer's life that had the greatest impact on his life and led to him being one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. (Did you know that he was run over by a bread truck when he was seven? The head injury led him to wearing an aluminum plate over the injury, kept him out of sports--and a more social life--and most likely encouraged him to keep to himself and read, read, read. Instead of the bicycle he wanted, he got a typewriter.) The chapter also focuses on his conversion and Christian influences. (For example, Packer's discovery of the Puritans which would have a huge impact on him and his own work.) The chapter concludes with the briefest of overviews of Packer's own writings.

The remaining chapters--chapters two through twelve--focus on various aspects of Packer's theology.

The Central Reference Point for Christian Living: Atonement
Authority for Christian Living: The Role of the Bible
The Shape of Christian Living: What Is Holiness?
The Process of Christian Living: The Meaning and Means of Sanctification
The Struggle of Christian Living: The Battle with Indwelling Sin
The Catalyst for Christian Living: The Person of the Holy Spirit
Power for Christian Living: The Necessity of Prayer
Guidance in Christian Living: Discerning the Will of God
The Cauldron of Christian Living: The Inevitability of Suffering
The Hub of Christian Living: Theocentricity 
The Conclusion of Christian Living: How To End Well

As you can see, the topics are all excellent, all essential, all relevant. These are topics that every one of us could benefit from reading and applying. The more we understand these foundational aspects of the Christian life, the greater our response to God. In other words, growing in understanding can lead us to being more thankful, more in awe, loving and glorying more and more in God.

If you've never read any of J.I. Packer's books, Storms book is an excellent introduction. He covers these topics well. He's able to clearly summarize Packer's theology, and his work is enriched with plenty of Packer's own words. He quotes from most of Packer's best-known books.

If you have read J.I. Packer, you're still in for a treat. Storms does a good job illustrating just why Packer's books are so great, so worth-reading, so timeless and influential. He will make you want to pick up Packer again. To reread those books you've already read. To seek out those you still haven't gotten to yet.

I loved this one. I did. It is easy to recommend this one.

As far as Packer is concerned, there is but one explanation for why there is such a thing as Christian living. It is found in this singular truth: Jesus Christ died for sinners! Nothing in this book or in the theology of J. I. Packer makes sense apart from the fact that God the Son endured and satisfied the wrath of God the Father in the place of sinners who otherwise merit eternal damnation.
What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God— purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2: 14; Rev 5: 9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1: 7; Heb 9: 11– 15). How did that sacrifice have its redemptive effect? By making peace, achieving reconciliation, and so ending enmity between God and ourselves (Rom 5: 10; 2 Cor 5: 18– 20; Eph 2: 13– 16; Col 1: 19– 20). How did Christ’s death make peace? By being a propitiation, an offering appointed by God himself to dissolve his judicial wrath against us by removing our sins from his sight (Rom 3: 25; Heb 2: 17; 1 Jn 2: 2; 4: 10). How did the Savior’s self-sacrifice have this propitiatory effect? By being a vicarious enduring of the retribution declared due to us by God’s own law (Gal 3: 13; Col 2: 13– 14)— in other words, by penal substitution. ~ J.I. Packer
At the heart of Packer’s view of biblical authority is his insistence that we never think of Scripture statically but dynamically, that is to say, not merely as something that was spoken or recorded centuries ago but also as something God is saying today. The Bible speaks not merely to men in general but also to each particular person who reads or hears it in the present moment. Thus “Holy Scripture should be thought of as God preaching— God preaching to me every time I read or hear any part of it— God the Father preaching God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit.”
Packer often reminds us that the Christian life is more than merely a physical journey from the cradle to the grave. It is also, and more importantly, an inner spiritual journey into the knowledge of God and Christ. The proper and more biblically grounded course direction is into ever-increasing conformity to Jesus himself, to live and think and feel and act and react as he did. Jesus is himself the perfect man, the one in whom the image of God is most completely embodied, and our holiness is authentic only to the degree that we are progressively reshaped to resemble him in all ways. Thus, the aim for our lives must be his righteousness in us: his love for the unlovely, his humility in place of pride, his self-denial as over against self-seeking; wisdom and boldness and self-control, together with faithfulness to the Father and strength under pressure— these, says Packer, are among the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) for which we have been both created and, by new birth, re-created of the Spirit.
Simply put, if you don’t know God, you can’t pray to him, or at least not with any measurable degree of effectiveness. Knowing God— his character, personality, and patterns of behavior, together with how he thinks and feels and reacts— is the one thing that will make prayer a joy and a delight rather than religious drudgery. Packer would certainly agree that every problem in prayer is traceable to a misconception about God. If we pray less than we should, or not at all, it is probably because we are deficient in our knowledge of the true and living God. How we perceive God controls how we speak to him. Who we understand God to be will always control what we ask him to do.
Meditating on the Bible is absolutely essential for genuine and long-lasting Christian growth. We must soak our souls in Scripture until, as Spurgeon put it, “our blood is bibline.” We must also “traverse the Bible in terms of overall images of its nature as God’s communication to us, and of our due response as recipients of his messages. Images affect our imagination, and imagination is the midwife, if not the mother, of insight.” A typical lectio meditation might involve four steps. It begins with the reading aloud of a sentence or a paragraph of the biblical text. The reading should be slow, as one has opportunity to taste and enjoy the goodness of God revealed. It often helps to read the passage several times, perhaps with a slightly different emphasis each time through. The second step brings us back to the notion of meditation (meditatio) or brooding over the text. Here one ponders each word, each phrase, each image, all the while asking: What is God saying or doing? What is he asking of me? How should my life be different in light of this truth? How might I respond with humility and vulnerability to what God is showing me? The third step, says Packer, is oratio, or responding verbally to God by praying the passage itself or rephrasing it in the form of petition or praise or intercession. Lastly comes contemplatio, or contemplation, a time of peacefully resting in God, waiting in silence in the divine presence with alert, hopeful expectancy. A new sharpness of focus on something may not be given, but then again it may. Practicing lectio divina takes time, perhaps thirty minutes to an hour for a single verse. But this slow prayerful reading of God’s Word engages the mind and the heart with a refreshing force that the brisk march would easily miss.
Reading Packer is a wake-up call to anyone who may erroneously conclude that Christianity is little more than a worldview or religious philosophy or a commitment to embrace the ethics of Jesus in daily life. The essence of Christianity is neither a set of beliefs nor a pattern of behavior. It is “the communion here and now with Christianity’s living founder, the Mediator, Jesus Christ.”

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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