Thursday, January 20, 2011

Unpacking Packer's Theology Part Two

Biblical Centrality and Turning Modern Culural Paradigmatic Assumptions on their Head

Packer’s overarching claim is “that Scripture sets before us the factual and moral nature of things” about the human condition. “God’s law,” in the most complete sense corresponds to “created human nature, so that in fulfilling his requirements we fulfill ourselves.” There is, according to Packer, “not a touch of authoritarianism [that] enters into his exercise of authority over us.”

That is because in fulfilling our relationship with God we attain the very purpose of life, which to miss is to miss a great deal. There is no surer pathway to this realization, however failing our efforts may be, Packer argues, than through a full and comprehensive appreciation and application of the Bible as the place where God most thoroughly and unequivocally speaks. The precepts of faith as disclosed in and through the Bible “are not in themselves unreasonable, but they are above reason; they terminate in mysteries which the human mind can express only as paradoxes.” As he further explains:

"Reasoning may prepare the mind for faith in these truths [as revealed], by showing their meaning and biblical basis, their congruity with the total biblical outlook and the known facts of life, and the weaknesses of objectives made to them; but reasoning alone cannot produce faith, for faith goes further than reason could take it. Reasoning at best could only suggest probability, but the nature of faith is to be certain. Any measure of doubt or uncertainty [even in my unbelief] is not a degree of faith, but an assault upon it. Faith, therefore, must rest on something more sure than an inference of probability."

That something more is trust through faith, ultimately via the agency of grace that the truth of God is revealed in and through the Bible. The validity of such faith cannot “be demonstratively proved; for such proof is only possible in principle on the basis of an exhaustive understanding of its object.”

The negative corollary is that once:

"You give up the New Testament view of biblical inspiration—there is no limit on how far you will go in rejecting or relativizing biblical assertions. [That is because] there is no limit apart from your own arbitrary will. Protestantism’s current confusion is largely due to the way its teachers have fanned out at this point producing as many sub-biblical theologies as there have been thinkers to devise them."

Packer’s major concern is that once the Bible is surrendered as anything less than the disclosive word of God, every single tenet of faith, including God’s very being as a theocentric reality is open to radical revision, deconstruction, and re-mythologization. The Bible is far from exhaustive in its revelation of God. Nonetheless, Packer argues that it is the most substantial bulwark available in maintaining a foundational Christian stance based on its own revelatory cogency against the many intruding forces when “sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3) is replaced with other teachings.

The quest for complete knowledge, which, as God’s creatures we neither need nor can expect to have, would be to be like God, the fundamental sin of Adam and Eve. Packer’s point is that Scripture is absolutely reliable for that which it is relevant, in the final analysis, the salvation of our souls and the reconciliation of the world even while shedding only partial knowledge of God’s revelation. For:

Scripture tells us what we need to know for faith and godliness. But at no point do we dare imagine that the thoughts about God that Scripture teaches us takes the full measure of his reality. The fact that God condescends and accommodates himself to us in his revelation certainly makes possible clarity and sureness of understanding. Equally certain, however, it involves limitation in the revelation itself. If we fail to acknowledge God’s incomprehensibility beyond the limits of what he has revealed, we shrink him in thought down in our size….It is certainly proper to stress that scriptural revelation is rational [a point missed in many mainline congregations]. But the most thoroughgoing Bible believers are sometimes like Job, to go on adoring God when we do not specifically understand what he is doing and why he is doing it.

As it has always been with the Bible, faith precedes knowledge and that which God does provide is often viewed as foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 1:27). There is no getting around the circularity and even scandal of this claim as the depths of “sound doctrine” are ever unfathomable in the riches of “the mystery which has been hidden from the ages and from the generations, but now has been revealed to His [highly flawed] saints” (Col. 1:26). It is this gospel and this gospel only to which we are to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim: 4:2) to preach. This is the core and substance of Packer’s highly nuanced and very much orthodox theology of Scripture. Among much else his theology of Scripture has the capacity of serving as one critical resource among others in helping to refashion both evangelical and mainline Protestantism along the critical axis of its Reformation-based roots as the hermeneutical basis for a viable reconstruction in the current setting.

No comments:

Post a Comment