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2009 Conversations

Sara Groves

Keith and Kristyn Getty

Jesse Miranda

Heather Bland

Cathleen Lewis

Robert Leathers

Ravi Zacharias

Scotty Gibbons

George O. Wood

George O. Wood

G. Robert Cook Jr.

Michelle LaRowe Conover

Janet Boynes

Kirk Cameron

Laura Wilkinson

Melody Rossi

Randy Travis

Maylo Upton-Aames

Chuck Norris

Francis Xavier 'Chip' Flaherty Jr.

Ben Carson

Robert H. Spence

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

James K. Bridges

Manny Mill

Brock Gill

Robert Burt

Gerry Hindy

J.I. Packer

Stanley Horton

Linda Mintle

Joanna Weaver

Buck Taylor

Debra Risner

Bill Glass

Edward Gilbreath

Rob Seagears and Andy Casper

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

Conversation: J.I. Packer

Knowing God is a lifelong process

Technically, theologian J.I. Packer is retired. Yet he's still teaching a couple of courses this semester at Regent College, the Vancouver, British Columbia, institution where he has been a professor since 1979, following 27 years of teaching and preaching in his native England. His latest book, Guard Us, Guide Us, came out this month and he has three more books in the works. Packer is the author of more than two dozen books, the most renowned of which, Knowing God, has sold 3 million copies.

Through the years, Packer has consistently been able to convey scholarly insights to a popular evangelical audience. He has played a key role as a defender of biblical faith in various debates among Christians. Packer, at 81, continues to offer penetrating answers to theological questions. He recently spoke with TPE News Editor John W. Kennedy.

tpe: Why is the Church relevant today?

PACKER: Because the Church is the fellowship of the people who know God and are new creatures in Christ. They're entrusted with the message that tells everyone else how they can come to share this blessing.

tpe: Are you still gaining insights into God's character?

PACKER: I believe I am. The outline of what I believe goes back many decades. But it's like getting to know anyone with whom you have an ongoing relationship. For example, spouses get to know each other better as the knowledge of the other person constantly deepens, and as you deal with that person and that person deals with you. It's the same if you are seeking to share your life with God, specifically with the Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead and present with you by the Holy Spirit according to His promise.

tpe: What primary attribute of God do many Christians seem to be missing?

PACKER: The least well understood is God's justice, which is simply His resolve, indeed His nature, to maintain the supremacy of what is right in His universe. When there is wrong, sooner or later there will be retribution. God blesses those who wholeheartedly give themselves to pleasing Him.

tpe: Has the concept of sin fallen out of fashion, even in much of the Church?

PACKER: I think it has. The word "sin" has been cheapened in our daily talk. If you say "sin," people usually start thinking about some form of sexual misbehavior. But sin in both the Old Testament and New Testament is presented as a vivid reality first and foremost as sin against God. In essence, we creatures whom God has made don't appreciate Him, don't acknowledge Him, don't give thanks to Him, don't love Him and don't obey Him.

The Bible is full of teaching about the kind of behavior God wants to see and the kind of behavior that breaches the order of what is right. The Bible tells us that sin is a power that has hold of the human heart. It works like any sort of habit, almost like instinct. The behavior of sin in the heart produces a disregard of God and disobedience to God. Every time I see a "self service" sign at the gas station, I think of sin.

tpe: What is the biggest threat facing the Church?

PACKER: It's going with the world rather than challenging the world, and so representing Christianity as if it's a call to be the nicest people we can be in accepting the rules and expectations of our culture. But the truth is that Christians are not called to be "nice" people in that way; we're called to be obedient people and God's rules challenge the whole system of our culture, which is drifting away from God very fast.

tpe: How can Christians have a peaceful disposition yet stand for truth?

PACKER: A person who has come to Christ in faith and repentance through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit finds a spirit of gratitude to love others, which simply wasn't there before. As the 17th-century Puritan Richard Baxter said, "If people see that you love them, you can say anything to them." That is the key to witness that is irenic, courteous, respectful and going to be heard. If you love someone, you help them along at whatever point they need help. That sets the context for which you can tell them about the Lord Jesus and their own sin, without them feeling as though you are simply expressing your own conceit and condemning them.

tpe: How did your brush with death as a child impact your life?

PACKER: When I was 7 years old I ran under a truck. The truck cracked my head in the way that an egg spoon cracks an eggshell when you hit it with the firm intention of taking the top off. In the providence of God, there was a first-class brain surgeon at the hospital in the British town where I lived, and he pulled out the bits of broken bone very successfully. I now have a hole in my head.

When this happened I wasn't a believer. I didn't come to a living, saving faith until I was 18 years old (at Oxford University). When I look back and increasingly appreciate that God saved me from death, I think that He saved me for service I was to render. I was called to teach, speak and write, and I've been trying to fulfill that agenda for nearly 64 years.

tpe: Why is Pentecostalism growing around the world?

PACKER: The Pentecostal emphasis on life in the Spirit, which became a big thing at the turn of the 20th century, was absolutely right. It was an emphasis that hadn't been fully grasped by other evangelicals for a long time. The up-front quest for fellowship with God that grabbed the whole of the heart and therefore had emotional overtones and the openness to a recurrence of some of the signs of the Kingdom was right. In the early 20th century evangelicals didn't accept Pentecostals, and Pentecostals found themselves tempted to say, "We're the only fully fashioned Christians in the world today." Only during the last 50 years has real partnership and mutual respect become reality.

It's simply a marvelous work of God that when the Pentecostal version of the gospel has been preached all around the world for the past half-century there has been a tremendous harvest. It's a wonderful work in our time, which we can set against the decline of Christianity in North America and Western Europe. Most notably in Africa and Asia, Christianity has been roaring ahead through the Pentecostal version of the Christian message and life in the Spirit. I celebrate it and thank God for it. There have been older evangelicals who have set themselves against distinctive Pentecostal emphases as if there's something wrong with it. I have not lined up with those folk and indeed have argued that their attitude is mistaken.

TPExtra: Read an excerpt from J.I. Packer's new book, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life's Decisions.

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