Dr. J.I. Packer: What Are The Essential Ingredients of The Gospel?

Dr. J.I. Packer: What Is The Gospel Message? 


4 Essential Ingredients of the Gospel

In a word, the evangelistic message is the gospel of Christ and Him crucified, the message of man’s sin and God’s grace, of human guilt and divine forgiveness, of new birth and new life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a message made up of four essential ingredients.

1. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures. It tells us that we owe our very existence to Him; that for good or ill, we are always in His hands and under His eye; and that He made us to worship and serve Him, to show forth His praise and to live for His glory. These truths are the foundation of theistic religion; and until they are grasped, the rest of the gospel message will seem neither cogent nor relevant. It is here with the assertion of man’s complete and constant dependence on his Creator that the Christian story starts.

We can learn again from Paul at this point. When preaching to Jews, as at Pisidian Antioch, he did not need to mention the fact that men were God’s creatures. He could take this knowledge for granted, for his hearers had the Old Testament faith behind them. He could begin at once to declare Christ to them as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. But when preaching to Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Old Testament, Paul had to go further back and start from the beginning. And the beginning from which Paul started in such cases was the doctrine of God’s Creatorship and man’s creaturehood. So, when the Athenians asked him to explain what his talk of Jesus and the resurrection was all about, he spoke to them first of God the Creator and what He made man for. “God…made the world…seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made…all nations…that they should seek the Lord” (Act 17:24-27). This was not, as some have supposed, a piece of philosophical apologetic of a kind that Paul afterwards renounced, but the first and basic lesson in theistic faith. The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us. Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is, and only when we see what sin is can we understand the good news of salvation from sin. We must know what it means to call God Creator before we can grasp what it means to speak of Him as Redeemer. Nothing can be achieved by talking about sin and salvation where this preliminary lesson has not in some measure been learned.

2. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard, how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. It tells us that the reason why we sin continually is that we are sinners by nature, and that nothing we do or try to do for ourselves can put us right or bring us back into God’s favor. It shows us ourselves as God sees us and teaches us to think of ourselves as God thinks of us. Thus, it leads us to self-despair. And this also is a necessary step. Not until we have learned our need to get right with God and our inability to do so by any effort of our own can we come to know the Christ Who saves from sin.

There is a pitfall here. Everybody’s life includes things that cause dissatisfaction and shame. Everyone has a bad conscience about some things in his past, matters in which he has fallen short of the standard that he set for himself or that was expected of him by others. The danger is that in our evangelism we should content ourselves with evoking thoughts of these things and making people feel uncomfortable about them, and then depicting Christ as the One who saves us from these elements of ourselves, without even raising the question of our relationship with God. But this is just the question that has to be raised when we speak about sin. For the very idea of sin in the Bible is of an offence against God that disrupts a man’s relationship with God. Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. For sin is not a social concept; it is a theological concept. Though sin is committed by man, and many sins are against society, sin cannot be defined in terms of either man or society. We never know what sin really is until we have learned to think of it in terms of God and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives.

What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself, your failures, and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants: “Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need”—as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother or a super-psychiatrist…To be convicted of sin means not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One Who through His cross sets men right with God again…

It is indeed true that the real Christ, the Christ of the Bible, Who [reveals] Himself to us as a Savior from sin and an Advocate with God, does in fact give peace, and joy, and moral strength, and the privilege of His own friendship to those who trust Him. But the Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ—in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation. We must be on our guard, therefore, against equating a natural bad conscience and sense of wretchedness with spiritual conviction of sin and so omitting in our evangelism to impress upon sinners the basic truth about their condition—namely, that their sin has alienated them from God and exposed them to His condemnation, and hostility, and wrath, so that their first need is for a restored relationship with Him…

3. The gospel is a message about Christ—Christ, the Son of God incarnate; Christ, the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ, the risen Lord; Christ, the perfect Savior.

Two points need to be made about the declaring of this part of the message: (i) We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work. It is sometimes said that it is the presentation of Christ’s Person, rather than of doctrines about Him, that draws sinners to His feet. It is true that it is the living Christ Who saves and that a theory of the atonement, however orthodox, is no substitute. When this remark is made, however, what is usually being suggested is that doctrinal instruction is dispensable in evangelistic preaching, and that all the evangelist need do is paint a vivid word-picture of the man of Galilee who went about doing good, and then assure his hearers that this Jesus is still alive to help them in their troubles. But such a message could hardly be called the gospel. It would, in reality, be a mere conundrum, serving only to mystify…the truth is that you cannot make sense of the historic figure of Jesus until you know about the Incarnation—that this Jesus was in fact God the Son, made man to save sinners according to His Father’s eternal purpose. Nor can you make sense of His life until you know about the atonement—that He lived as man so that He might die as man for men, and that His passion, His judicial murder was really His saving action of bearing away the world’s sins. Nor can you tell on what terms to approach Him now until you know about the resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session—that Jesus has been raised, and enthroned, and made King, and lives to save to the uttermost all who acknowledge His Lordship. These doctrines, to mention no others, are essential to the gospel…In fact, without these doctrines you would have no gospel to preach at all.

(ii) But there is a second and complementary point: we must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: “Believe that Christ died for your sins.” The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical thus to isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself—the placing of our trust in the living Savior Who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made atonement. We must not, in presenting the gospel, isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ Whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” said Paul (Act 16:31). “Come unto me…and I will give you rest,” said our Lord (Mat 11:28).

This being so, one thing becomes clear straight away: namely, that the question about the extent of the atonement, which is being much agitated in some quarters, has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point. I do not propose to discuss this question now; I have done that elsewhere. I am not at present asking you whether you think it is true to say that Christ died in order to save every single human being, past, present, and future, or not. Nor am I at present inviting you to make up your mind on this question, if you have not done so already. All I want to say here is that even if you think the above assertion is true, your presentation of Christ in evangelism ought not to differ from that of the man who thinks it false.

What I mean is this: it is obvious that if a preacher thought that the statement, “Christ died for every one of you,” made to any congregation, would be unverifiable and probably not true, he would take care not to make it in his gospel preaching. You do not find such statements in the sermons of, for instance, George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. But now, my point is that, even if a man thinks that this statement would be true if he made it, it is not a thing that he ever needs to say or ever has reason to say when preaching the gospel. For preaching the gospel, as we have just seen, means [calling] sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Savior, Who, by virtue of His atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all…The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him.

The gospel is not, “Believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,” any more than it is, “Believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours”…We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement. Our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him…This brings us to the final ingredient in the gospel message.

4. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance. All who hear the gospel are summoned by God to repent and believe. “God…commandeth all men every where to repent,” Paul told the Athenians (Act 17:30). When asked by His hearers what they should do in order to “work the works of God,” our Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:29). And in 1 John 3:23 we read: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ…”

Repentance and faith are rendered matters of duty by God’s direct command, and hence impenitence and unbelief are singled out in the New Testament as most grievous sins. With these universal commands, as we indicated above, go universal promises of salvation to all who obey them. “Through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Act 10:43). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16). These words are promises to which God will stand as long as time shall last.

It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man…faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ Who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…Two further points need to be made also:

(i) The demand is for faith as well as repentance. It is not enough to resolve to turn from sin, give up evil habits, and try to put Christ’s teaching into practice by being religious and doing all possible good to others. Aspiration, and resolution, and morality, and religiosity,[15] are no substitutes for faith…If there is to be faith, however, there must be a foundation of knowledge: a man must know of Christ, and of His cross, and of His promises before saving faith becomes a possibility for him. In our presentation of the gospel, therefore, we need to stress these things, in order to lead sinners to abandon all confidence in themselves and to trust wholly in Christ and the power of His redeeming blood to give them acceptance with God. For nothing less than this is faith.

(ii) The demand is for repentance as well as faith…If there is to be repentance, however, there must, again, be a foundation of knowledge…More than once, Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mat 16:24-25). “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem), he cannot be my disciple…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk 14:26, 33). The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims that He may make on their lives…He had no interest in gathering vast crowds of professed adherents who would melt away as soon as they found out what following Him actually demanded of them. In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick. And where there is no clear knowledge, and hence no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.

Such is the evangelistic message that we are sent to make known.

Excerpt From Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God  by J. I. Packer.

Book Review on J.I. Packer’s: Finishing Our Course With Joy

Finishing Our Course With Joy Packer

How To Finish The Race of Life Well

Who better to address how to approach the finish line of life successfully than 88-year-old and world-renowned theologian – J.I. Packer. Some people say when E.F. Hutton talks people listen, not me. However, when J.I. Packer talks I listen and if you are wise, so should you.

In this short e-book J.I Packer tactfully and theologically addresses the excuses that the ages 65 and beyond crowd make for “coasting” or “relaxing” in the final years of life. It’s a well-known fact that retirement doesn’t exist in the Bible, so what Packer does is show how we can learn from the Apostle Paul and how he finished his life by: seeking opportunities to invest in those who would outlive him; making the most of his maturity and wisdom (working smarter, not harder); with humility (as opposed to living pridefully); and with great intensity and zeal for the things that will last beyond the grave in eternity.

With his characteristic theological precision and humble guidance Packer will motivate you to live for those things that bring glory to God by investing in that which will outlast your own life by living for others. Joy comes to those who seek Jesus first, then in increasing the joy of others by pointing them to Jesus, and lastly by the joy that results for you in delighting in God and others. This book will definitely increase your joy and help you to finish your course well because of Him, and for Him.



*The Achilles Heel of Reformed Theology?


The doctrine of definite atonement, known historically as “limited atonement” or “particular redemption”, has always courted controversy. It has been called a grim and textless doctrine, the Achilles heel of Reformed theology (see, for example, Karl Barth and Broughton Knox). Of the many objections to the doctrine, one of the strongest is that definite atonement undermines a zeal for evangelism. If Christ died only for the elect, can we sincerely offer the gospel to everyone?

However, when definite atonement is placed alongside other biblical truths, the question does not follow. Particularity of grace in election or atonement does not mitigate a universal gospel offer.  This is where we should follow Christ’s example.

Biblical Examples

In Matthew 11, Jesus explains that no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (v. 27). The particularity is explicit. Yet in the very next verse, Jesus gives a universal offer to everyone to come to him and find rest (v. 28). In John 6, Jesus claims that he has come from heaven to do his Father’s will, which is to lose none of those given to him but to raise them up on the last day (v. 39). This is actually the reason why (“For”) whoever comes to him will never be turned away (v. 38). The Father’s will is that “everyone” who looks to the Son and believes will have eternal life (v. 40). Christ’s purpose in coming was particular; the work he performed in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension was particular (cf. John 17); and yet his invitation was universal. It was also sincere.

Did Christ know all those whom the Father had given him as he encountered the many crowds during his ministry? Of course. Did he still sincerely offer himself to everyone in the crowd? Yes. So we should be like Christ in relation to this issue. Calvin put it well: “Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined, and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace.”

Why It Matters

But here’s the take-home value in definite atonement. When we offer Christ to sinners, we aren’t offering them the mere opportunity or possibility of salvation (as those who hold to an unlimited atonement can only do if they are consistent); rather, we offer them a Christ whose first name really means “Savior” (Matt. 1:21). And this is only so because God presented him as a propitiation for sinners—not potentially or possibly or hypothetically, but actually.

Let’s get even more practical. If one believes in definite atonement, can we say to people, “Christ died for you”? What’s interesting is that the phrase “Christ died for you” does not appear in the NT and yet the Apostles turned the world up-side-down with their preaching, as did many “Calvinist” ministers and missionaries: George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, David Brainerd—to name but a few. So the efficacy of gospel preaching is not dependent on including the phrase “Christ died for you”. J. I. Packer is most helpful here:

The gospel is not, ‘believe that Christ died for everybody’s sins, and therefore for yours,’ any more than it is, ‘believe that Christ died only for certain people’s sins, and so perhaps not for yours.’ The gospel is, ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sins, and now offers you Himself as your Saviour.’ This is the message which we need to take to the world. We have no business to ask them to put their faith in any view of the extent of the atonement; our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him.

Embracing the Tension

When it comes to definite atonement and evangelism, it’s not either/or but both/and.  Christ made a definite atoning sacrifice for those whom the Father had given to him; and we are commanded to proclaim Christ indiscriminately to all people.

How should we live between these two points of tension? On our knees, as we plead with our Triune God to do for others what he has so graciously done for us.

*SOURCE: http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/01/does-definite-atonement-undermine-our-zeal-for-evangelism/

Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge University) is the is author of historical and biblical articles in Themelios and Journal of Biblical Literature, as well as “Obadiah” in the NIV Proclamation Bible, and is a coeditor of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (excerpt).

Interview with a Theological Giant: Dr. J.I. Packer


J.I. PACKER IN HIS VANCOUVER OFFICE 2009(J.I. Packer at his regent College Office in Vancouver, B.C., in 2009)

Q&A | From a recording that disappeared in transit five years ago, the octogenarian theologian shares how God shaped him first and foremost as a catechist.

Five years ago, WORLD founder Joel Belz suffered a journalistic disaster. He had traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, to interview octogenarian J.I. Packer, author of many terrific books on theology. Joel recorded 90 minutes of conversation and placed the recording in the side pocket of his suitcase. Somewhere on his luggage’s journey back to North Carolina, someone or something ripped off that side pocket. Joel lost his Bible and the recording.

After a long search, Joel sadly concluded the interview was not meant to be—yet last year he received a package containing the lost items, without a senders name or return address. Joel had the interview transcribed but suspected it was dated. This past week he sent me the transcript and modestly (as always) suggested, “There might be some excerpts that could be useful. I read the interview and found all of it useful. Joel asked good questions and Packer, now 87, was both wise and charming. Please read and enjoy. —Marvin Olasky

(JB) = Joel Belz and (JIP) = J.I. Packer

(JB) If you don’t take it as an insult, I would like to ask you the question that I ask newcomers to my own congregation—because I think this is something that people don’t know about J.I. Packer. When somebody comes to our congregation and says, “I want to be a member of your church,” my fellow elders and I ask them these three questions. We say, “Tell us when you first believed, and tell us what you believed then, and tell us what you believe now.” You see the point? I don’t think a lot of people have ever heard how J.I. Packer came to faith in the first place. Do you mind sharing that?

(JIP) Not in the least. At my age I have nothing to hide. And, in fact, the story of my conversion is a perfectly straightforward one, as you will note here. At age 15 at school I was a member of the chess club, and I played chess regularly with the son of a Unitarian minister. He got me thinking what is true in Christianity because he tried to sell me the Unitarian bill of goods, and that was the first occasion in my life when I asked myself what is true in Christianity. Is he right?

I had been brought up an Anglican Church attendee, but in the Anglican Church where I was nurtured, if that’s the word to use, I was never taught anything. I thought of Christianity as on a pile with King Mun’s teeth, mainly something that you regularly did, but you didn’t think about it, not even when you were doing it. But anyway, he left me with the question that this can’t be true because it’s a position that only holds together by willpower. If you are going to deny the divinity of Christ, which is so central to the New Testament, you also deny all the rest of it. If you are going to affirm that the ethic of Jesus is the best thing since fried bread, well then you ought to take seriously what the New Testament says about who He is. That got me going.

I read some C.S. Lewis, I read a good deal of the Bible, and I read a number of books of all schools of thought relating to the Christian faith. Two years on after this started, a friend of mine who had gone to university a year before I was due to go, he got suddenly converted through the Intervarsity [IV] people, and when next we met, and thereafter, he took it on himself to try and explain to me that I didn’t have faith. By then I had got to the point where I was prepared to stand up for the creed in debate—we had a 12th grade atheist; most schools do—and we used to have fairly intense arguments. I argued for truth of the creed and I took for granted that since I believed the creed, that’s what it meant to have faith as this friend of mine naturally had. Came the day when I was due to go up to Oxford and he said very quickly before he went off to the university where he was studying, “I haven’t been able to explain it to you very well, but when you get to Oxford, link up with the Intervarsity people. They will be able to make it clearer than I have been able to do.”

At Oxford the Intervarsity people were out on the hunt and we met right at the beginning of my time. They organized a periodic evangelistic preaching service at the university. The first such preaching service that I attended the sermon lasted three-quarters of an hour and was preached by an elderly gentleman who within the first 20 minutes bored me. Then he started telling at length the story of his own conversion and suddenly everything became clear. I am not a person who gets much in the way of visions or visuals, but the concept called up a picture which was there in my mind was that here I am outside of the house and looking through the window and I understand what they are doing. I recognize the games they are playing. Clearly they are enjoying themselves, but I am outside. Why am I outside? Because I have been evading the Lord Jesus and His call.

Once that had become clear my defenses fell quite rapidly, and at the end of the service we sang “Just As I Am” and by the end of the hymn I was a believer. So out of church I went, but back with the Intervarsity people from then on to catch up with the nurture that I had been missing all through these years—really to make up for lost time. And that’s the main thing, far and away the biggest thing that I was doing outside my studies for the next four years.

(JB) And what were your studies?

(JIP) I was doing the Oxford liberal arts degree. It’s Greek or Latin philosophy, language and history, along with a good deal of modern philosophy and a good deal of modern ethics, too. It’s a fine looking education, as a matter of fact. Pretty demanding, but I look back to it with gratitude, though frankly I didn’t enjoy it at the time. I should add that I was brought up Anglican as I told you, but after my new life had started I found myself very angry with the Anglican Church for not having told me the gospel all those years. I didn’t want to worship in Anglican churches, but I spent a lot of my time worshiping with Christian brethren, and in many ways that was a very good experience. After four years I was an Anglican again and I remain an Anglican until this day. That’s another story. Have I told you what you wanted to know?

(JB) That helps me, except I would like to hear you say what changes God has produced in your thinking. What year was it when you went off to Oxford?

(JIP) 1944.

(JB) In the 64 years since then, what significant changes have been brought into your mind about the faith that excited you at the end of that service that night?

(JIP) What I brought to the service was Christianity according to C.S. Lewis, mere Christianity. Under the nurture of the Intervarsity people and with a touch of God, too, I had added to Lewis a strong belief in the inerrancy of the authority of Scriptures. Lewis didn’t believe in inerrancy. He didn’t go around denying it, but he didn’t affirm it either.

The touch of God which helped me along that road took place six weeks after I converted. The Intervarsity people ran a Saturday night Bible study, and at this particular Saturday night Bible study an elderly gentleman with some eccentric views about the book of Revelation was speaking. And if I remember rightly, he was speaking about Revelation 13, which is a chapter in which it’s easy to be eccentric—where there’s a dragon and the horsemen, etc.—but I can still remember the moment, coming out of the meeting. I had gone into the meeting assuming, without argument really, nobody had argued with me about it so far, but I was assuming that though the substance of the Scripture was certainly true and we believed, I had been having a wonderful time in personal Bible study since my conversion which seemed to confirm that, particularly in terms of the Christ about whom the New Testament spoke being the living Savior and Lord who had called me into what we all call a personal relationship. But I took it for granted that educated people nowadays don’t believe every jot and tittle of the Bible.

I think it was the reverence with which this curious old gentleman had handled Revelation 13. Not what he made of it, but it’s the way that he squared up to the text—squeezing wisdom out of individual verses and phrases and studying the texts in the context and flow of the argument. I think it was that, though honestly I’m not quite sure. Anyway, something had triggered in me unawares. The Bible makes an impact on me which assures me that it is the Word of God pure. And being so it is bound to be all true and all trustworthy because God is. I think that is the way to say it—it’s what Calvin called the witness of the Holy Spirit which I’d been enjoying for those six weeks but hadn’t got around to verbalizing. When I got to verbalizing, I realized this isn’t what I used to believe. It was a bit of a joke. I’ve stayed with that ever since and, as you know, stuck my neck out in all sorts of ways through pieces of writing to vindicate that position.

(JB) Which is probably why I’m here because you are my hero in that sense and I thank you for sticking your neck out at great cost to your own self. If you were to chart the progress of belief in inerrancy of Scripture during your lifetime would you say it was very much an undeveloped doctrine when you were young in broad evangelical circles? It certainly wasn’t popular in the U.K. when you were young.

(JIP) No, it wasn’t. If I remember rightly, it was more an assumption among the Intervarsity people than a matter for argument or debate, but it was their assumption. I have a linear sort of mind, a lawyer’s mind. When I believe something, I want to articulate it, so having become aware of it, I believed that the Bible is the Word of God. Yes, I have read some stuff that would help me to articulate it but I don’t remember that anyone around me was particularly concerned to do that. Although, of course, in Intervarsity we knew that the other forms of Christianity in the university didn’t involve trust in the Scriptures just like that, but in those days I didn’t argue with them. That came later.

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.

Assocaited Press

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.

(JB) And what triggered your willingness to take it on in a more argumentative way? What prompted you to say, “This is important?”

(JIP) As with so many things in my life, the human way of saying this was that I was pushed into it, pulled into it, and the logical way of saying it was that I was brought into the providence of God. In the year of grace 1955 I was asked to reply to several months of criticism in print from English church leaders who were denouncing Billy Graham and all that he stood for, and Intervarsity along with Billy Graham, and focusing on belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, which to some critics is a belief that makes it impossible for people to do Bible study of the kind that all the rest us do today. In other words, it was a belief that anchored one in obscurantism and darkness of mind. I was asked to reply to this and I was given the title, actually it was the senior people in Intervarsity who asked me to do this. The title they gave me was “narrow mind” or “narrow way.” It was nice. And my audience was members of what then was called the gracious fellowship of Intervarsity, so I was among friends. I had a line of argument which I deployed and they liked and I was asked to write it up.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 I imagine that what the IV publisher expected was something of pamphlet length, 6,000 words perhaps. But knowing that anything you write is going to be read by enemies as well as by friends, I realized there were a lot of presuppositions that had to be filled in and defended before the particular line of argument that I had used in my address could be deployed. Otherwise, the howl would be, “Look at how much you have taken for granted. You can’t take those things for granted.” So the IV publisher had to wait for a little over a year and then they landed on his desk—not 6,000 words, but 60,000. The book was called Fundamentalism and the Word of God and it’s still in print. From that day to this I thought that it’s a good response to critical biblical study and critical theology. I believe that I was able to do something pretty good. It’s a piece of controversial writing that does stand up.

(JB) The word fundamentalism meant something a little different then than it does now. You would probably put a different title on it, or not.

(JIP) Yes, I would. Fundamentalism in the original title was the word that the critics had been using as the label for that which they were denouncing. And what I wanted to argue was that label brings no clarity about anything. It does, in fact, mislead because it implies obscurantism and, in fact, behind evangelical belief there is intellectually taught class history. That’s one of the things that the book was concerned to do. It reaches back to Luther and Calvin and the whole Reformed tradition. I’d been reading [B.B.] Warfield. That was how I became a frontline man on the inerrancy question, and because I had become a frontline man by the providence of God I’ve been asked over and over again if I would do frontline things—write some more, speak some more.

(JB) You’re the frontline man. Are you satisfied the way that front has been held in the evangelical world, or have we retreated?

(JIP) No, I don’t think we’ve retreated. I think that on balance the front has been held well and strongly. I’m thinking now of some doings over the 10-year period of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in which I was quite prominent. I believe that God helped us do a very good job, actually. We produced a couple of excellent statements, I think. One explaining inerrancy. Perhaps I should reveal that I wrote it, and then there was a statement on interpretation. I didn’t write that, but I had something to do with it. Those draftings of mine gave satisfaction round and about. It seems to me that this is the way to look at what happened after that.

In any movement that is gaining strength and recruiting able people to its own and getting stronger on its own basics as I continue to think that the evangelical movement was doing, and I would argue that still. I am thinking of all those commentaries which assume the inerrancy of Scripture. But we had nothing like that while I was young. But we’ve got three or four series now, and I think they are an index of what is actually happening. Happening where? In the seminaries. There are more seminaries and far more theological students at them than was the case when I was converted in 1944. The bright professors in the seminaries went along with the Inerrancy Council. There was, of course, a spectrum as there always is when you’ve got a lot of bright people maintaining a position that is able to feel itself pretty strong. Under those circumstances there will always be left-wingers who are out on a limb themselves in regards to some of the details. I don’t think that they are carrying the constituency with them.

Carl Trueman (left) and Wayne Grudem
Westminster Theological Seminary (Trueman) and Phoenix Seminary (Grudem)

Carl Trueman (left) and Wayne Grudem

(JB) If you were to point to two or three people who are on that front about whom you say, “Atta boy, you’re doing now what I did 50 years ago.” Whom would you cheer?

(JIP) Carl Trueman isn’t yet the heavy of heaviest, but he’s very strong in his own sophisticated fundamentalist way. And so is Wayne Grudem—he’s a strong man.

(JB) I appreciate that, and I don’t want to push in that direction. And where would you say, besides the doctrine of inerrancy being important in and of itself, that it shows itself to be most crucial on what practical issues in our times?

(JIP) When you say practical issues, do you mean moral issues?

(JB) Perhaps … the life of the church.

(JIP) In the life of the church there has been much in recent years about a gay way of life, and I think evangelicals have shown themselves solid against it in way that was biblical. Good stuff is being produced on sex and the family. They are not compromising anymore. Willie Mackenzie [of Christian Focus Publications] is a dear sweet Christian man, and his wife is a dear sweet Christian lady, and they have a real ministry, a good ministry. And although a lot of the stuff they publish is heavy, there is a degree of unction—I think is what I want to say—an unction which is a reality that I believe in. Unction, that is the touch of the Holy Spirit that makes you realize that this is God’s truth and you’ve got to take it seriously. Unction will enable people to learn even from relatively dull or somber and monochrome books.

(JB) But having said that, how do you encourage somebody to connect himself to that unction? How do you encourage someone who writes to do it with vividness, with vim, with vigor? How do you encourage someone who preaches to do it with passion instead of that dullness that you refer to?

(JIP) First of all, I try to set an example. And second, I write—I’m fairly forthright in books and articles in pinpointing what I think are shortcomings in evangelical life and ministry. And here, perhaps, I’d better say something which I’ve been saying over and over for the last five years but didn’t say before because I didn’t see it before, but better late than never. God made me, shaped me as a catechist, an adult catechist. Catechists are people who teach the truth that Christians live by.

(JB) Could I interrupt you just a quick moment? Why your emphasis on catechizing?

(JIP) We’re getting there. … Let me preempt you. I am an adult catechist, and their advantage is to teach the truth that Christians live by and to teach how to live by them. In this guild where theological professions gather, they are doing a different job, and, frankly, I keep out of the guild because it bores me. Not because I don’t think that the growing edge studies in theology are a waste of time, but because that isn’t me. What’s on my heart is the work of the catechist. Getting out the truth that Christians live by and trying to show—talking, writing, living—trying to show what it means to live by them.

The answer to your question, why this emphasis, is first of all five years ago when I came to realize that this is the deep truth about me. I am an adult catechist: It was quite a discovery. You may or may not know that Alister McGrath wrote a theology biography of me up to the age of 75—or was it 70? When he finished the biography he didn’t know quite what to say about me. This man didn’t want to call me a theologian because I didn’t move around in the world of the guild like he does. He writes excellent textbooks and he also engages on some of the frontiers, which is what he in his own mind thinks of a theologian as doing. So he didn’t want to call me a theologian and he ended up calling me a “theologizer.” But it was after that that I realized I’m a catechist.

I said five years ago—it may have been a little more than that—one of the things that may have triggered this realization is that [Pope] John Paul II said, “We need a new catechesis.” He said it to [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger, and Ratzinger troops on to the composition of another catechism of the Catholic Church. You know that big book, 800 pages of stuff. Now that catechism is actually a resource book for the clergy. That’s how it’s intended to be used, whereas we Protestants are used to catechetical documents as being documents for the direct instruction of the laity either by question and answer or by something approaching that, little hunks of instruction and then questions. As I say, that may have made the difference. In the Catholic Church it varies very much, how much is being done, but they’ve made headway in adult catechesis that puts them way in front of where we are. We take it for granted that by the time our people get into their late teens they’ll know the basics of the faith.

(JB) And they don’t at all …

(JIP) No, they don’t. But nonetheless we go ahead with a style of preaching that assumes this basic knowledge. It isn’t catechetical preaching except in a very few discerning cases. It isn’t sufficiently debated.

(JB) Would you give me a kind of concise definition of what you mean by catechetical teaching?

(JIP) Going back to my formula that a catechist teaches the truth that Christians live by and also teaches how to live by those truths, I would say that the raw material of catechisms is the doctrines of the gospel. Now, I’ve been a professor of systematic theology for quite a lot of my life, and at the start of all my theology courses I say: First of all, you’ve got to realize that theology is a compound of 10 distinct disciplines: Exegesis, biblical theology, and historical theology are the first three. They are the resources out of which systematic theology builds its wisdom. And systematic theology is, in fact, biblical theology rethought in relation to the questions and debates of the day so that it’s material ready for use by catechists and preachers and teachers of all shapes and sizes. Also, from systematic theology using its raw material, the following six disciplines are resourced: apologetics, ethics, worship or liturgy, spirituality or Christian devotion, mythology, misology, and pastor theology or practical theology—all the know-how you are able to share with one another about ministering, ministering truth in light of truth.

(JB) Do I hear you saying that systematic theology comes from the prior three and gives birth to those six?

(JIP) Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Actually as I’m expounding it, I say you’ll meet systematic theology in books of systematic theology that have already been written. But if you examine those books you will find that the raw material that’s being deployed comes from these three sources, and it’s by exegesis and biblical theology in particular that what’s in the books has to be assessed. The Bible comes first. The Bible must have the last word as well as the first word. I give them that and I say, “Now keep that scheme in mind for the rest of your life and make sure that you don’t leave seminary without a working acquaintance with all 10 disciplines, because if you are going to honor God as a communicator of the Word, you will need to have all of these dimensions of theology in your mind.”

There’s more introductory stuff that I give them, but I end up telling them this: Learn to identify evangelical theology. You identify evangelical theology first by its method and second by its content. In terms of method, there are three methods, and one of them is evangelical. The evangelical method is to draw your truth and conclusions and wisdom from Scripture and allow Scripture to pass judgment on your attempts to express what Scripture is saying. The Bible has the first word; the Bible has the last word. And contrast methods two and three, which are to appeal—as Catholicism does—to what the church says, and as liberals do to the judgment of the individual theologian. Which means, of course, that among liberals, the debate goes on indefinitely and nothing can be regarded as quite certain.

As for content, here I’m thinking of the doctrinal basis of a lot of 20th century evangelical organizations. You have first of all the authority of Scripture affirmed. Secondly, the triunity of God affirmed. Third, the fallenness of the man who was created in the image of God affirmed. Fourth, the incarnation affirmed. Fifth, the atonement affirmed. Sixth, the new birth by the Spirit through faith affirmed. Seventh, justification through faith affirmed. I believe that theologically, in light of John 3, the new birth is a work of God the Spirit out of which faith comes, rather than saying with the Arminians that faith comes, and through faith the new birth takes place. In other words, the primacy of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Eight, the church sustained by every member along with the ministry of official ministers—all animated by the Holy Spirit and all constituting Christ’s ministry to His people through His people. I wanted to say all that because you’re Presbyterian and I wanted to make sure that you hear it right. Presbyterianism actually hasn’t said anything like enough about the Holy Spirit in every member’s ministry. It’s tended to say altogether too much about the office of official ministries. There’s an imbalance there in the heritage.

(JB) I agree with you. I am impressed that both in your emphasis on catechizing and what you have just said here you are never content simply to be an academic. You are never content to be theologian.

(JIP) I’m a catechist …

(JB) … and a churchman.

(JIP) That’s right.

(JB) That is a vital part of your worldview. After your early disappointment in the Anglican Church that betrayed you by not giving the gospel to you, why do you still see the church as important? It was a parachurch organization that early nurtured you.

(JIP) But my faith comes from the Bible. In the New Testament the church is the center of the plan of redemption. We are units in the body of Christ. There is one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one church. The church is at the center of God’s promise. I said eighth is the church. Ninth is the return of Christ. Tenth is the glory of God, and both are the final goal of everything that God is doing. Put together those 10 convictions and you’ve got evangelical theology. Lose out on any single one of them and you’ve got something less than evangelical theory or you’ve got evangelical theory mental: maimed, distorted, out of truth. I give them that in the fourth class of my series before ever I get down to particular doctrines. I tell them, “You’ve looked at the forest. Once you’ve looked at the forest, it’s safe to take you in among the trees.” We then move to doctrine of revelation of the Bible, the doctrine of God, etc. That is a catechist at the podium in a seminary or a seminary-type institution.

(JB) I got catechized at my breakfast table. My dad was a country preacher, and if we did not come to the breakfast table with our catechism literally learned, we did not eat breakfast. We got sent back to our room until we learned it.

(JIP) Your dad was a wise man. We don’t do it that way nowadays, but what a heritage.

(JB) What tools, besides these that we’ve just discussed and that you’ve put into such a neat package, do young men and women moving into the work of the church for the coming generation need? Where do you see them most needy, most deficient? Where are they barking up empty trees—and they should back off and get serious developing particular tools that you think are more important?

(JIP) My desire for everyone who’s in stated ministry in the church is to be, amongst the other things they are, a catechist. I think first of the need that they have of resources that will help them to be good catechists, and for that purpose I should start by urging them to have a very good systematic theology on their shelves. I shall tell them that they should find out by experimenting whether they get benefit from Calvin’s running way of expounding doctrine in the Institutes. If they don’t, I’m sorry that they don’t, but in that case Louis Berkhof is going to do them much more good. There are a number of systematic textbooks that have appeared since Louis Berkhof wrote, but nobody, it seems to me, matches Berkhof for his skill in saying much, very straightforwardly in a small space. He goes to the heart of every truth. He says it quickly. If you are going to work with [Millard J.] Erickson, for instance, Erickson takes far more time, fills far more space, and rarely achieves the same clarity. He gives you good stuff, but what Berkhof gives you is constantly, point after point, good stuff.

I would hope that the book that I wrote on a smaller scale called Concise Theology would help as a resource for catechists. It’s subdivided into 50 or 60 different chapters. I like to think that people are going to ask themselves, “Here are 60 matters which this man Packer thought was important. Do I think it is important?” I produced a catechism book of a different sort titled Growing in Christ, published by Crossway. Once it was called I Want to Be a Christian and was published by Tyndale, but Tyndale couldn’t sell it because the title—so they assured me—misled people about what sort of book it was. It’s actually a catechism book and gives 800 words on each clause of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and each of the Ten Commandments, and general stuff about Christian obedience and on the baptismal covenant. I go over all the New Testament teachings on that standard. There are biblical passages to study and questions with which to work. It would be very straightforward for clergy to use it as a course for people who want to join the church.

(JB) And it’s still available?

(JIP) Yes, it’s still available from Crossway and it’s not sold very well, because this type of instruction doesn’t ring bells with the majority.

(JB) It’s work.

(JIP) Yes, it’s work and they’re not used to teaching the faith in this way. They assume that everyone over the age of 20 has a good general grasp of the faith so that they can hammer away a particular point and make them pictorial and vivid, but without actually bothering to go over their substance. I am just remembering it’s not so many years ago since I preached in a large evangelical congregation and I took Romans 3:24–26, Paul’s teaching on justification. I just analyzed it, and at the end of the sermon people were shaking hands with me and more than one said, “Thank you so much for that, I’ve never heard anything like that.” This was a respectable evangelical church.

(JB) What have we been doing?

(JIP) We’ve been making an assumption—the assumption is false, so there’s a disconnect. For the rest of my life this is what I shall be at, trying to promote the catechism.

(JB) May I be bold and ask this: Have you been teaching our friend Charles Colson this very thing? I talked with him last week and he used the word catechizing.

(JIP) I don’t think it is I who has given it to him, but he does read my stuff and he’s very complimentary about it.

(JB) He’s very high on the whole issue of catechizing.

(JIP) He’s been associated with me over these last few years. I’m not too surprised, because I talk about it.

(JB) And I think he’s been listening to you.

(JIP) He’s a great man, Chuck Colson.

(JB) I did my column about his new book The Faith in our current issue [Aug. 9, 2008].

(JIP) That’s a good book.

(JB) I like his chapter on truth. When half our evangelical young people aren’t sure there is any such thing as truth anymore, they need to be catechized.

(JIP) Yes they do. I don’t think there is deep-seated doubt in their minds, but it is clear that they’ve never been catechized. They have never been taught to take the truth question as the basic question of their lives. The basic question of my life was simply the cast of my own mind that led me to take it from age 15 on, and people sometimes think I’m an apologist. I’m not one really, but if anyone is going to affirm doubt about the availability of truth, I do have an arsenal which I can deploy.

(JB) Yes indeed. Even with my own children—I have five daughters and they’re all married now—I hear a tone—and I didn’t do as good a job catechizing them as my father did with me and I’m embarrassed by that—but I hear my daughters say, “Dad, I agree with what you said, but who am I to say?” That is an expression that really concerns me out of the next generation. They agree, in broad terms, but they don’t think they have the right to impose their belief on someone else. I think I use the wrong word when I say impose …

(JIP) I know what you mean. My comeback when I hear that sort of talk is to ask people straight away, “Now tell me, do you believe in a God who tells us things?” And if I get an affirmative answer, actually if I don’t, I have a supporting line question: “You don’t—who do you think Jesus Christ was?” The quick answer, of course, is God. “Did he tell us things?” You see, that should put them out of doubt. Then I say, “Then you believe in a God who tells us things?” I believe He’s telling us things all through the Bible. If God has told us things, don’t you think we’re entitled to tell other people what God has told us?

(JB) Good. I’m glad you said that. That’s what I need. That’s why we call it the gospel.

(JIP) Yes, it’s news—it’s good news—and it’s the gospel of God. He told us.

(JB) It’s gospel truth.

(JIP) That’s right.

*SOURCE: By Joel Belz – Posted on December 7, 2013 @ http://www.worldmag.com/2013/12/j_i_packer_the_lost_interview

BOOK REVIEW: “HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD: Timeless Daily Readings on the Nature of God”



Book Review By David P. Craig

This book contains short devotional excerpts (one page a day) from the writings of Henry and Richard Blackaby’s “Experiencing God”; Jerry Bridges “Trusting God”; Chuck Colson’s “Loving God”; Sinclair Ferguson’s “Heart for God”; Andrew Murray’s “Waiting on God” and Working for God”; John Piper’s “Desiring God”; R.C. Sproul’s “Pleasing God”; A.W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”; and Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God.”

The readings are arranged for each day of the week for Monday – Friday, and then a reading for the weekend. Each reading is based on a verse of Scripture and topic. The back of the devotional features both a subject and Scripture index. After an entire year of going through this devotional here are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Our greatest need is not freedom from adversity. No calamity in this life could in any way be compared with the absolute calamity of separation from God. In like manner, Jesus said no earthly joy could compare with the eternal joy of our names written in heaven.”

“If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.”

“What God wants from His people is obedience, no matter the circumstances, no matter how unknown the outcome…Knowing how susceptible we are to success’s siren call, God does not allow us to see, and therefore glory in, what is done through us. The very nature of the obedience He demands is that it be given without regard to circumstances or results.”

“In order to trust God, we must view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense.”

“This is real faith: believing and acting regardless of circumstances or contrary evidence.”

What stands out about this devotional are five positive elements: (1) This book is like reading wisdom from a wise godly grandfather – it is biblical, but lived out on the anvil of many years of godly Christian living; (2) It is saturated with Scripture – each author quotes an abundance of Scriptures in illustrating and applying each truth they present; (3) It is God drenched – all of the meditations elevate your view of God and help you to focus on His glory. (4) It is filled with practical applications. (5) It leads you time and time again to worship the Lord in prayer – particularly – gratitude, thanks, and adoration. For these reasons of balancing the head, heart, and hands for God’s glory I highly recommend this excellent devotional.

J.I. Packer on How Can God Be One and Three?


CT Packer

“This is what the Lord says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. – ISAIAH 44:6

The Old Testament constantly insists that there is only one God, the self-revealed Creator, who must be worshiped and loved exclusively (Deut. 6:4-5; Isa. 44:6– 45:25). The New Testament agrees (Mark 12:29-30; 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5) but speaks of three personal agents, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working together in the manner of a team to bring about salvation (Rom. 8; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:2). The historic formulation of the Trinity (derived from the Latin word trinitas, meaning “threeness”) seeks to circumscribe and safeguard this mystery (not explain it; that is beyond us), and it confronts us with perhaps the most difficult thought that the human mind has ever been asked to handle. It is not easy; but it is true.

The doctrine springs from the facts that the New Testament historians report, and from the revelatory teaching that, humanly speaking, grew out of these facts. Jesus, who prayed to his Father and taught his disciples to do the same, convinced them that he was personally divine, and belief in his divinity and in the rightness of offering him worship and prayer is basic to New Testament faith (John 20:28-31; cf. 1:18; Acts 7:59; Rom. 9:5; 10:9-13; 2 Cor. 12:7-9; Phil. 2:5-6; Col. 1:15-17; 2:9; Heb. 1:1-12; 1 Pet. 3:15). Jesus promised to send another Paraclete (he himself having been the first one), and Paraclete signifies a many-sided personal ministry as counselor, advocate, helper, comforter, ally, supporter (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15). This other Paraclete, who came at Pentecost to fulfill this promised ministry, was the Holy Spirit, recognized from the start as a third divine person: to lie to him, said Peter not long after Pentecost, is to lie to God (Acts 5:3-4).

So Christ prescribed baptism “in the name (singular: one God, one name) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”—the three persons who are the one God to whom Christians commit themselves (Matt. 28:19). So we meet the three persons in the account of Jesus’ own baptism: the Father acknowledged the Son, and the Spirit showed his presence in the Son’s life and ministry (Mark 1:9-11). So we read the trinitarian blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14, and the prayer for grace and peace from the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:4-5 (would John have put the Spirit between the Father and the Son if he had not regarded the Spirit as divine in the same sense as they are?). These are some of the more striking examples of the trinitarian outlook and emphasis of the New Testament. Though the technical language of historic trinitarianism is not found there, trinitarian faith and thinking are present throughout its pages, and in that sense the Trinity must be acknowledged as a biblical doctrine: an eternal truth about God which, though never explicit in the Old Testament, is plain and clear in the New.

The basic assertion of this doctrine is that the unity of the one God is complex. The three personal “subsistences” (as they are called) are coequal and coeternal centers of self-awareness, each being “I” in relation to two who are “you” and each partaking of the full divine essence (the “stuff” of deity, if we may dare to call it that) along with the other two. They are not three roles played by one person (that is modalism), nor are they three gods in a cluster (that is tritheism); the one God (“he”) is also, and equally, “they,” and “they” are always together and always cooperating, with the Father initiating, the Son complying, and the Spirit executing the will of both, which is his will also. This is the truth about God that was revealed through the words and works of Jesus, and that undergirds the reality of salvation as the New Testament sets it forth.

The practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it requires us to pay equal attention, and give equal honor, to all three persons in the unity of their gracious ministry to us. That ministry is the subject matter of the gospel, which, as Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus shows, cannot be stated without bringing in their distinct roles in God’s plan of grace (John 3:1-15; note especially vv. 3, 5-8, 13-15, and John’s expository comments, which NIV renders as part of the conversation itself, vv. 16-21). All non-Trinitarian formulations of the Christian message are by biblical standards inadequate and indeed fundamentally false, and will naturally tend to pull Christian lives out of shape.

Article adapted from J.I. Packer. Concise Theology: Downers Grove, IVP, 1998.

About the Author:

Packer J I image 2

Dr. J.I. Packer is a British Theologian and has written over 50 books and numerous contributions to theological journals, reference works, and compilations. He is a a brilliant humble scholar who is best known for his works on Theology Proper – The Study of God. His classic work on the attributes and character of God – Knowing God is “must reading” for the Christian.



The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. JOHN 1:14

CT Packer

Trinity and Incarnation belong together. The doctrine of the Trinity declares that the man Jesus is truly divine; that of the Incarnation declares that the divine Jesus is truly human. Together they proclaim the full reality of the Savior whom the New Testament sets forth, the Son who came from the Father’s side at the Father’s will to become the sinner’s substitute on the cross (Matt. 20:28; 26:36-46; John 1:29; 3:13-17; Rom. 5:8; 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:19-21; 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8).

The moment of truth regarding the doctrine of the Trinity came at the Council of Nicaea (A.D.325), when the church countered the Arian idea that Jesus was God’s first and noblest creature by affirming that he was of the same “substance” or “essence” (i.e., the same existing entity) as the Father. Thus there is one God, not two; the distinction between Father and Son is within the divine unity, and the Son is God in the same sense as the Father is. In saying that Son and Father are “of one substance,” and that the Son is “begotten” (echoing “only-begotten,” John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18, and NIV text notes) but “not made,” the Nicene Creed unequivocally recognized the deity of the man from Galilee.

A crucial event for the church’s confession of the doctrine of the Incarnation came at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D.451), when the church countered both the Nestorian idea that Jesus was two personalities—the Son of God and a man—under one skin, and the Eutychian idea that Jesus’ divinity had swallowed up his humanity. Rejecting both, the council affirmed that Jesus is one divine-human person in two natures (i.e., with two sets of capacities for experience, expression, reaction, and action); and that the two natures are united in his personal being without mixture, confusion, separation, or division; and that each nature retained its own attributes. In other words, all the qualities and powers that are in us, as well as all the qualities and powers that are in God, were, are, and ever will be really and distinguishably present in the one person of the man from Galilee. Thus the Chalcedonian formula affirms the full humanity of the Lord from heaven in categorical terms.

The Incarnation, this mysterious miracle at the heart of historic Christianity, is central in the New Testament witness. That Jews should ever have come to such a belief is amazing. Eight of the nine New Testament writers, like Jesus’ original disciples, were Jews, drilled in the Jewish axiom that there is only one God and that no human is divine. They all teach, however, that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Spirit-anointed son of David promised in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 11:1-5; Christos, “Christ,” is Greek for Messiah). They all present him in a threefold role as teacher, sin-bearer, and ruler—prophet, priest, and king. And in other words, they all insist that Jesus the Messiah should be personally worshiped and trusted—which is to say that he is God no less than he is man. Observe how the four most masterful New Testament theologians (John, Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and Peter) speak to this.

John’s Gospel frames its eyewitness narratives (John 1:14; 19:35; 21:24) with the declarations of its prologue (1:1-18): that Jesus is the eternal divine Logos (Word), agent of Creation and source of all life and light (vv. 1-5, 9), who through becoming “flesh” was revealed as Son of God and source of grace and truth, indeed as “God the only begotten” (vv. 14, 18; NIV text notes). The Gospel is punctuated with “I am” statements that have special significance because I am (Greek: ego eimi) was used to render God’s name in the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14; whenever John reports Jesus as saying ego eimi, a claim to deity is implicit. Examples of this are John 8:28, 58, and the seven declarations of his grace as (a) the Bread of Life, giving spiritual food (6:35, 48, 51); (b) the Light of the World, banishing darkness (8:12; 9:5); (c) the gate for the sheep, giving access to God (10:7, 9); (d) the Good Shepherd, protecting from peril (10:11, 14); (e) the Resurrection and Life, overcoming our death (11:25); (f) the Way, Truth, and Life, guiding to fellowship with the Father (14:6); (g) the true Vine, nurturing for fruitfulness (15:1, 5). Climactically, Thomas worships Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (20:28). Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all who share Thomas’s faith and John urges his readers to join their number (20:29-31).

Paul quotes from what seems to be a hymn that declares Jesus’ personal deity (Phil. 2:6); states that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9; cf. 1:19); hails Jesus the Son as the Father’s image and as his agent in creating and upholding everything (Col. 1:15-17); declares him to be “Lord” (a title of kingship, with divine overtones), to whom one must pray for salvation according to the injunction to call on Yahweh in Joel 2:32 (Rom. 10:9-13); calls him “God over all” (Rom. 9:5) and “God and Savior” (Titus 2:13); and prays to him personally (2 Cor. 12:8-9), looking to him as a source of divine grace (2 Cor. 13:14). The testimony is explicit: faith in Jesus’ deity is basic to Paul’s theology and religion.

The writer to the Hebrews, purporting to expound the perfection of Christ’s high priesthood, starts by declaring the full deity and consequent unique dignity of the Son of God (Heb. 1:3, 6, 8-12), whose full humanity he then celebrates in chapter 2. The perfection, and indeed the very possibility, of the high priesthood that he describes Christ as fulfilling depends on the conjunction of an endless, unfailing divine life with a full human experience of temptation, pressure, and pain (Heb. 2:14-17; 4:14-5:2; 7:13-28; 12:2-3).

Not less significant is Peter’s use of Isaiah 8:12-13 (1 Pet. 3:14). He cites the Greek (Septuagint) version, urging the churches not to fear what others fear but to set apart the Lord as holy. But where the Septuagint text of Isaiah says, “Set apart the Lord himself,” Peter writes, “Set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter would give the adoring fear due to the Almighty to Jesus of Nazareth, his Master and Lord.

The New Testament forbids worship of angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 22:8-9) but commands worship of Jesus and focuses consistently on the divine-human Savior and Lord as the proper object of faith, hope, and love here and now. Religion that lacks these emphases is not Christianity. Let there be no mistake about that!

From: Concise Theology: A Guide To Historic Christian Beliefs