God Has Spoken 2: Reflections on J.I. Packer’s Book

“Some modern theologians say, ‘God doesn’t speak.’ Well, He says, He does.”

J.I. Packer from Lecture at Regent College

God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible 3rd Edition

Chapter Two: The Lost Word

Apparently, although I have not scientifically verified it, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Likewise there is more than one way to lose the Word of God.

Losing the Word

In the second chapter of God Has Spoken, Packer draws an analogy between the famine of the Word announced by the prophet Amos to the people of the Northern Kingdom in the eighth century BC and his contemporary situation. That is, while Creator God spoke to the people through the prophets to His people, there came a time when a refusal by the people (especially those with power) to listen to God resulted in God answering with silence. If you won’t listen, then I will stop speaking or I will make you deaf.

Christians have always affirmed the authority of the Bible. The earliest Christians affirmed the authority of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings which Christ and the apostles read as witnessing to the character, covenant and promises of the God of Israel and to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of those promises and climax of those covenants. At the same time, particular texts written by the apostles and their close associates were used in much the same way. These are commonly referred to as the Old and New Testaments, respectively.

It’s All Academic

Yet, while Packer affirms the value of modern biblical scholarship, he is concerned that in many ways the modern approach to the Bible “drove a wedge between revelation (the Word of God) and the Bible (man’s written witness to the Word of God). It viewed the Bible as a library of human documents, fallible, and often fallacious, and defended this as the only ‘scientific’ view.”(26) In the hands of academics, the texts became merely human. In some way, they witnessed to the Word of God, the scholars assured us. But, in what way? Well, we would have to wait for the scholars to decide?

As a result, while promising the Church that she will get her Bible back in a richer way, “by insisting that the Scriptures are not fully trustworthy word from God, biblical criticism has taken from the Church the Bible it once had.”(27) In the meantime, commentaries get longer and longer, and become less and less useful to the pastor, the average Christian, and frankly anyone outside the guild.

Loss of Trust

Packer notes that the real issue is one of trust. We are asked to trust ourselves or the scholars’ science rather than to trust the Scriptures. We are really asking, “are the New Testament authors trustworthy teachers? and was the Lord Jesus Christ a trustworthy teacher?”(28) In this way, Packer reaches a point which I make elsewhere both on this blog and in conversation. That is, it seems to me that it is a rare case that someone comes to Jesus Christ through the Scriptures. Rather, the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures are derived from the authority and trustworthiness of Christ. “We believe in these things not because we can prove them ‘scientifically’, but because we are assured of them by Christ and His apostles, whom we regard as teachers worthy of our trust.”(29)

Tautology or Trust

Of course, this sounds like a tautology to skeptics. Yet, in my own experience, I read parts of the Bible many times before I became a Christian. It did not lead me to Christ. Nevertheless, after I encountered Jesus, the Spirit moved me to read the Bible and it was new book. I trust the Scriptures because I trust Christ.

I am not sure what kind of analogy might work here. In a sense, it would be like coming across a photo album in a stranger’s home that you and your parents are visiting. You might casually flip through it but it is of little interest to you. Then, your parents return with the stranger and announce that you were adopted. The stranger is your biological mother. Now, that photo album has a new meaning and new hold on your attention.

When one begins to follow Christ, this ancient collection of books is “revealed” or “unveiled” as instruction about your Creator, about your history. It is the story that you find yourself in.

Being an Anglican in the Reformed Tradition, Packer appeals to the Church tradition, specifically, the Westminster Confession, to affirm and the traditional view of the Scriptures. I think, most evangelicals will find that Packer’s treatment of this Confession will resonate with their own views of Scripture.

Convincing or Confirming?

Again, this turn to affirmations and doctrines of his own tradition resonates with what I have suggested earlier. The majority of Christians do not come to the Bible tabula rasa but already formed by a community and a tradition (yes, even, the Baptists). That is, the majority of Christians do not work their way up from studying the Scriptures, to going to Church, to following Christ. Rather, they begin with following Christ or going to Church and the study of Scripture hopefully follows.

I think in much popular apologetics Christians often present things as though they happen in the reverse. I do not think this is intentional. I think it is simply forgetfulness. Nor is it exclusive to Christians or this subject, on many things we come to believe something before we have all the evidence or we are convinced by an experience and then the evidence seems to confirm our conviction. We then narrate things as though we were convinced by the subsequent confirming evidence, when, in fact, we were convinced before we ever learned or encountered the evidence.

Yet, if apologists are not aware that they have reversed the order, it is no wonder they are frustrated and shocked when the Bible verse which confirms their faith does not engender faith in another. It never worked that way in their own life.

You see now why I did not call this series of postings a review but a reflection. 😉

 

 

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