A Conversation with Dr. JI Packer

Last week I had the honour of sitting and talking to Dr. JI Packer in a group setting. We sat in a circle and asked questions. I had many questions I wanted to ask him, and managed to ask him two.

My first question was with regards to what John Wesley called the “Second blessing” and quite similarly what Pentecostals call “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Dr Packer responded with great honesty and wisdom, claiming that he does not question the legitimacy of a “second” Spiritual experience and believes that they are quite normal. He was quick to remind us that the Spirit functions as a set of lens that bring greater focus to Jesus, and this is surely a good thing.

The qualm he did have, though, was that Wesley, along with certain denominations he chose not to mention, have made this spiritual experience —“baptism in the Holy Spirit” or whatever you may want to call it —a matter of doctrine. He then followed with some negative comments on Wesley’s dominating “follow me” posture in leadership – which ultimately bred much strife and disunity amongst fellow Christians and still does today.

My second question was with regards to a predominant problem facing evangelicals today, and over the past two centuries. That is the bifurcation and mutual exclusion of social justice and evangelism.  I asked Dr Packer what, if any, element of the Gospel needs to be centralized or recaptured in order for evangelicals to be zealous for both social justice and evangelism.

Dr Packer unpacked the problem, claiming that since the 19th century, liberal protestantism—fixed on finding its common grounds with secular humanists by elevating social justice—blamed the ‘conservatives’ for being only concerned with the ’soul’ of a person, and that stigma has stayed with us ever since. Conversely, what needs to be recaptured, according to Packer, is the reality of the Kingdom; what he described as the reality of the authority of Jesus. The kingdom is made manifest wherever Jesus is being followed. The Church, Packer stated, is one form of the kingdom, but there are many expressions of it, normally headed under the categories of loving God and loving neighbour.