Today we’d like to highlight an 1994 interview with J. I. Packer by Tom Ascol. Though the interview is not over 20 years old, many of Packer’s answers are just as relevant today.
Question: Dr. Packer, you have done a great deal of writing and speaking on the subject of the need for a new reformation, a new awareness of the sovereignty and grace of God in our day. How do you assess the condition of the state of evangelicalism as it presently exists, and what do you think we can do about that condition?
Packer: I see evangelical strength needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be. I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace. If you do not see deep into the problem, you do not see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth of the human problem. And actually, the Reformation itself was a recovery of the tremendous contribution that the great St. Augustine made back at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries. He was the man who, more than anyone else in Christendom, saw to the heart of the real problem. He saw how much damage sin had done, how completely we were oriented away from God by nature. He is the one who left us that phrase ‘original sin’ which he got from the text of Psalm 51:5: ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’ He also saw in response to our sinful condition, how great a work of transformation was needed by the grace of God in human lives. The sixteenth-century Reformers stood on Augustine’s shoulders at this point. Of course, they clarified the great truth that justification by faith is the way in which the grace of God reaches us. We need, even today, a Christianity that is as deep and strong as that. And this, it seems to me, is where modern evangelicalism is lacking.
Question: Would you say that there is a connection or a similarity between the man-centered theology of evangelicalism and the general humanistic spirit?
Packer: Yes, although I think that it is an indirect connection. Secular humanism, you see, is very man-centered. It encourages every individual to regard his or her own personal happiness as the supreme value. And the kind of evangelical religion which does not challenge this self-centered, self-absorbed standpoint, but, rather, reinforces it by making one’s religious experience the most important thing in the world, or God’s gift of personal contentment, happiness, joy, good feelings, or that kind of thing, is simply echoing the tenets of this type of modern humanism. A Reformational emphasis, however, challenges this by asserting that God is the centre, not man. We must recognize that he is at the heart of things and that we exist for his glory, that is to say, we exist for him, not he for us. And it is only as we set ourselves to glorify him as the one who supremely matters that we are going to enter into the joy and fulfillment which being a Christian brings. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it so well: ‘What is the chief end of men?’ answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify Cod and enjoy him forever. The enjoyment comes as we set ourselves to glorify God. But if our concern is with the enjoyment, then we won’t be glorifying God. …
Read the rest of this interview at Founders Ministry.