Friday, October 16, 2009

Carl Trueman on Packer and Ecumenism

The break between J.I. Packer and Martin Lloyd Jones was a sad event. They are both heros to me. They were certainly wonderful gifts from God to His church. I have spoken to Carl about the schism. As a historian and a Brit Trueman has keen insight into those events. I'm posting this in part because Carl is among the folks present at Westminster Weekend.

Incidentally, Trueman's chapter in THIS BOOK is outstanding.

Thanks to Martin Downes for posting this video and the following thoughts:

Have a listen as Carl talks about his recent essay on Packer "An English Non-Conformist Perspective" in Timothy George [ed.], J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. You can read some sample pages here.

I don't suppose that my following comments will make any sense unless you have watched the video clip. Perhaps they won't make any sense even if you have watched it.

I have heard Carl talk about some of these issues before, and he is surely right about the lack of a systematic theology from Packer. That said he has given to the church a remarkable written legacy. As a sixteen year old I heard Packer preach in Cardiff on the doctrine of hell. I have listened to the recording many times since then, and had no appreciation at the time of what I was listening to, or who Packer was. I must find a way to get that message from audio cassette to mp3.

I have yet to read Carl's essay and so have no idea about the connection between my comments and what he has written as they appertain to Packer and Lloyd-Jones. The break with Lloyd-Jones came in 1970 and not in 1966. Indeed this Sunday will mark the 43rd anniversary of that definitive moment in post-war British evangelicalism when Lloyd-Jones, the speaker, and John Stott, the chairman, publicly disagreed over evangelical policy on ecumenism at the Evangelical Alliance meeting.

The break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, in 1970, came after the publication of Growing into Union. The book was written by four authors, two evangelicals and two Anglo-Catholics. But the positions advocated were representative of a common mind ("We are all four committed to every line in the book...and we are determined that no wedge be driven between us." I am referring to a footnote by Iain Murray in Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace and am not able to verify what has been omitted from this sentence).

Certainly from Lloyd-Jones' standpoint the parting of the ways was due to Packer's ecumenical commitment expressed in Growing into Union. Lloyd-Jones expressed his concerns to Packer in a letter dated July 7th 1970. Referring to a discussion about the book at the monthly ministers' Fellowship (the Westminster Fellowship) Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The general opinion there, without a single voice to the contrary, was that the doctrinal position outlined in the book cannot be regarded as being evangelical, still less puritan. The three of us [the free church members of the Puritan Conference committee] therefore feel, most reluctantly, that we cannot continue to co-operate with you in the Puritan Conference. To do so would be at the least to cause great confusion in the minds of all Free Church evangelical people and indeed a number of Anglican people.

This I feel sure will not come as a surprise to you as you must have known that the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.

Packer, of course, continued to follow this trajectory, culminating in the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, of which he was an endorser. That document contained the joint affirmation that "we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ," an affirmation notable for the omission of the Reformation's solas. This, above everything else, was surely the great failure.

It is somewhat ironic that the pursuit of a wider ecclesiastical unity, a pursuit that could never be fulfilled by a policy of temporarily suspending the practice of gospel essentials in order to achieve more visible agreement, has been the cause of the open divisions among evangelicals in the twentieth century.

Lloyd-Jones' letter also stressed something of Packer's literary failure that Carl noted in the video:

You have known throughout the years not only my admiration for your great gift of mind and intellect but also my deep regard for you. I had expected that long before this you would have produced a major work in the Warfield tradition, but
you have felt called to become involved in ecclesiastical affairs. This to me isnothing less than a great tragedy and a real loss to the Church.

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