Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" by J.I. Packer. Part IV

J.I. Packer's " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" has been the focus of the past few Friday evenings. Two chapters were read this past Friday: "Faith" and "Reason."

Faith: Having previously established Scripture as of divine origin and as the controlling authority in all matters of doctrine and conduct for the Christian, the next step is to receive this view by faith. (Packer only deals with the intellectual and cognitive aspects of faith here.) Faith conveys trust and the specific character of trust is defined by the object of our trust. One may trust in God, or man, or things. Yet the nature of trust in each case is different. Trust in God is unique because to trust in Him is to trust in the Creator who declares mercy to his creatures who have sinned against Him. The Bible speaks of faith in a two-fold manner: trusting in the words of God (God's truth) and trusting in the God who speaks them (God's person). The first is basic to the second; one must know something about God before one can know Him. Truth is fundamental to trust. While faith is more than belief in sound doctrine, for we are to believe in the person of Jesus Christ, faith is not any less than belief in sound doctrine. We trust Christ because of what Scripture says of Him is right. On what basis are articles of faith to be received? As of divine origin in the God who does not lie, according to Packer. He goes on to state:

"It is fundamental to the nature of faith to take God's word for things; acceptance in the authority of God is the biblical analysis of faith on its intellectual side. The first manifestation of faith is cognitive...". Whether the vehicle of truth is an apostle, a prophet, or Jesus Himself, that truth is the divine utterance of God. "Faith apprehends their testimony to God as being God's own testimony to Himself, and receives and responds to it as such."

The ground of faith then is Man's recognition of God's Word for what it is. But how does sinful man achieve such recognition? It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us concerning God's self disclosure. This illumination occurs, according to Packer, only in conjunction with the reading or hearing of God's Word. Only in such a context is faith born. Faith begins as an acceptance of the Word's articles of faith as truths of divine origin. Packer states:

"The evangelical certainty of the trustworthiness and authority of Scripture is of exactly the same sort, and rests on exactly the same basis, as the Church's certainty of the Trinity, or the incarnation, or any other catholic doctrine. God has declared it; Scripture embodies it, the Spirit exhibits it to believers, and they humbly receive it, as they are bound to do."

The birth of faith as Packer describes it lines up with my own experience. However, Packer maintains that after the cannon of Scripture was completed, there are no more direct revelations from God. What does he say concerning the testimonies of third world Christians who had little or no Christian witness and no access to Scripture yet claimed to have received visions from God commanding acceptance of the Gospel?

Packer ends the chapter with a quote from Calvin: "Whenever we are troubled at the small number of those who believe, let us counter that by calling to mind that none grasp the mysteries of God save those to whom it has been given." Packer is a Calvinist and no doubt Calvin's theology of predestination has influenced his thinking. Yet the truth of Packer's overall thesis concerning the divine revelation of Scripture, its infallibility and inerrancy, transcends theological systems. Some on the Wesleyan side would claim that inerrancy is a Calvinist notion born during the Fundamentalist/Modernist conflict. Some would like to cast the debate in such terms as Calvinism v. Wesleyan Arminianism, but such a framing of the issue has no intellectual validity.

Reason: Those who disagree with Packer claim that what he proposes concerning the divine origin of Scripture flies in the face of modern scholarship. To agree with Packer is to bury one's head in the sand. Instead, Packer's critics would say, the truth must be faced and Scripture must be approached with an open mind free of bias. Packer contends that these critics are the ones who fail to honor reason by not approaching Scripture with Christian reason. By denying what the Bible claims about itself, these critics reveal their own bias and discourage Christians from using their minds in conjunction with their faith. Christian reason is part of faith and to exercise it does homage to God. According to Packer, the proper relationship between Christian reason and faith is three-fold:
1. Reason is to receive the teachings of God as a little child. Then the Church and individual Christians, aided by the Holy Spirit, must think through the various strands of teaching in relationship to each other, as the Scripture teaches. Any critical approach to Scripture must appreciate it as it is, God's truth in writing. "The only biblical criticism which they can consistently regard as valid is that which takes as its starting point the Bible's account of itself."
2. Reason is to apply the teaching of God's Word to life. Christians must seek constructive relationships with other branches of knowledge and interests, working out what Scripture teaches in all aspects of ordinary life, whether we are contemplating moral, social, personal, political,or aesthetic concerns. Christians have failed to do this in the past, according to Packer, for three reasons: an overly individualistic preoccupation with personal salvation, an aggressive anti Christian attitude among secular intellectuals and an anti intellectualism within the Church which puts more emphasis on feeling right than thinking right. In fact, Christians have learned to compartmentalize; they separate their secular life from their religious one. Packer proclaims this to be an aspect of the ancient heresy Manicheism, which declares that only the spiritual is good, the material world is evil.
3. Reason is then to apply God's truth to others. Packer states: "Faith is not created by reasoning, but neither is it created without it." God created Scripture within an ancient Eastern environment and ancient Eastern thought forms. Scripture has to be translated into modern terms before modern men can grasp it. But we must remember that we are to present Scripture in modern terms, not present modern concepts in Scriptural terms. Our presentations of Scripture cannot be done on a rationalistic basis alone. Evangelicals dissent from modern Literary Criticism of the Bible not because they are willingly ignorant of its conclusions but because Evangelicals recognize its methods as illegitimate. They reject the attitudes that newer must be truer, the old is out of date, change is always progress and Evangelicals refuse to deny what Christ Himself has proclaimed concerning Scripture because the tenets of Literary Criticism are sacred cows. The Bible teaches a positive doctrine concerning the divine origin of Scripture and Christ incorporates that doctrine into His teaching.

I should finish " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word of God" this next Friday evening.

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