J.I. Packer (1926-2020)
The obituary posted (July 17, 2020) on Christianity Today’s website by Leland Ryken reports, “James Innell Packer, better known to many as J.I. Packer, was one of the most famous and influential evangelical leaders of our time. He died Friday, July 17, at age 93.”1 Packer’s fame and influence makes his death worthy of notice in the Standard Bearer.
Packer is well known by most of us because of his writings. His books Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Fundamentalism and the Word of God should be on your reading list, if you have not yet read them. He also wrote numerous articles and essays that are worth reading.
Packer is well known because he was a capable teacher. According to Ryken, Packer was “dedicated to the systematic teaching of doctrine for the ordinary Christian.” Bruce Hindmarsh describes Packer as “the Robin Hood of Evangelicalism” because he “was able to retrieve riches from the past and employ them for the purpose of renewing the life of Christians in the present.” 2 Theologians who focus on instructing “ordinary Christians” rather than impressing fellow theologians with their scholarly abilities are too rare and admirable.
Because of his fame and influence, it is not surprising that much ink is being used to praise Packer in commemoration of his life and work now that he has died. It is bad form to attack a dead man who cannot defend himself. I have no wish to attack a dead man. But I agree with R. Scott Clark that, when it comes to the legacy of Packer, we do have to note his deplorable involvement in the attempt to heal the rift between Romanism and Protestantism in the project known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT).3
Packer signed the two important documents that this project produced: ECT and ECT II. Clark writes, “In both [documents], to different degrees, evangelicals signed and affirmed as the gospel and the doctrine of justification equivocations that subverted the Reformation (emphasis added).” Clark is right that these documents did not heal the rift between the Reformation and Rome. In these documents the men on the “Reformed” side did not meet the Roman Catholics in the middle. Nor did the Roman Catholics repudiate their position and join the Reformed in confessing justification by faith alone without works (which is the only way truly to heal the rift between Protestantism and Romanism). The “Reformed” men abandoned justification by faith alone and joined Rome in tolerating, if not openly teaching, the idea that works play some role in a man’s justification before God. So Packer, as part of this group, “subverted the Reformation.”
Yes, this is a severe criticism of Packer. We may even want to criticize Packer more sharply than Clark who wrote, “Let us all be reminded that all our heroes have feet of clay.” A man who compromises with Rome on justification by faith alone demonstrates more than that he has feet of clay; he demonstrates that he is not worthy of the status of a hero.
Yet the point is not to focus on Packer and criticize him, but to focus on what we should learn from the legacy of his life and work. Sadly, his compromise of justification by faith alone demands criticism and a negative emphasis when we evaluate Packer’s life and work. As Clark points out, the Reformed hold the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be the “article of the standing or falling of the church.” Packer compromised on the doctrine of the Reformation, the doctrine that sparked the Reformation, the doctrine the Reformation identifies as the heart of the gospel and that distinguishes between a standing and a falling church. There are those who want to laud Packer for teaching evangelicals that doctrine is important, as well as spiritual experience. But Packer’s compromise of the doctrine of justification by faith alone spoils any attempt to laud him as a teacher of sound doctrine. Additionally, by his involvement in ECT, Packer has left the legacy that, for him, unity was more important than doctrine, unity with the Roman Catholic Church was more important to him than the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Therefore, Packer’s legacy is not Reformed. His legacy is not the same as that of Luther and Calvin. The legacy of Luther and Calvin is that they would not compromise their confession of justification by faith alone; they would find their oneness only with those who confessed justification by faith alone with them; they would willingly part ways with those who confess justification by faith and works; they loved the truth that justification by faith alone put the emphasis on God’s glory and the believer’s comfort; they hated Rome’s lie of justification by faith and works that robs God of His glory and gives it to man’s work, replacing comfort with the terror of always doubting whether one has done enough works to be justified before God. We need to know these two legacies, that of Packer and of the Reformers, because we have to decide which legacy we will follow and which legacy we will give to our children. May God give us the grace to reject the legacy of doctrinal compromise and false ecumenism and to follow the legacy of the Reformers, holding tenaciously to the truth as the only basis for unity, especially the truth of justification by faith alone.
Murder: What to expect when the government approves euthanasia
In 2016 Marinou Arends euthanized a 74-year-old dementia patient in The Netherlands.4 Arends, now a retired physician, does not believe she is guilty of murder. Murder is the wrongful killing of another person. For Arends, this was euthanasia, a just and compassionate act of killing a person whose life of suffering was going from bad to worse.
For some, the actions of Dr. Arends were outrageous because of the way she trampled her patient’s rights. Three times the patient was asked if she wanted to be put to death, and each time she said no. So it is argued that the patient never gave her consent to Dr. Arends to administer the lethal dose. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the patient accepted euthanasia as a legitimate way to end one’s life. Furthermore, she signed two advanced directives expressing a desire to be euthanized. She knew that at some point she would lose the ability to make medical decisions for herself and willingly gave to others the right to determine whether she should be given a lethal injection. If she had not signed these directives, Dr. Arends would not have given her a lethal injection. And if she did not believe that euthanasia is a legitimate way to end her life, she would not have signed the directives.
Dr. Arends is not to be excused, of course. She agreed that euthanasia is a legitimate way to snuff out a life. She agreed with the notion that individuals have authority over their own lives and may choose (assisted) suicide. She also agreed that it is legitimate for an individual to give another individual the ability to make the decision to end life for that person. She believed that as a doctor she had the right to put people to death in certain circumstances. In this case, she willingly took the responsibility to make the decision for the patient. She determined that the patient’s “unhappiness and suffering” were legitimate reasons to end her life. In her defense of her actions, Dr. Arends seemed to argue that doctors not only have the right but actually the duty to end the lives of their patients in certain circumstances where they are “unhappy” and “suffering.” If this thinking is applied to more cases, the ramifications are alarming. God spare us from doctors who think they have the right and duty to end unhappiness and suffering with lethal injections!
Most of the blame for euthanasia rests on the government that legalizes it. We can ask questions about whether a patient or a doctor has the authority to end a life. And then we can get into very difficult questions about how we are to evaluate the authority of the patient and the doctor in situations where there is some kind of conflict between the two. But ultimately each patient and doctor is subject to the rule of their government. The important question is, Does the state recognize the authority of individuals and doctors to end life? Is euthanasia legal?
In The Netherlands euthanasia is legal. The law allows patients in some circumstances to seek medical assistance to end their lives. The law also allows patients to give the right to others to make the decision for them to be euthanized, if it is determined they can no longer make their own medical decisions (advanced directives). The legislative bodies of The Netherlands have determined that euthanasia is not illegitimate murder-killing but legitimate mercy-killing. The Supreme Court of The Netherlands has upheld the laws that allow euthanasia. Dr. Arends was charged with murder for killing her patient. The Supreme Court heard the case in April of this year and ruled that she was not guilty of murder. Therefore, euthanasia is the law of the land in The Netherlands, and is not considered to be murder.
But euthanasia is murder. What killing is murder is not determined by the state but by God. God has all authority over life and death. There are certain forms of killing in which one human kills another that are not considered murder. A representative of a government may put certain criminals to death without being guilty of murder. A soldier may kill an enemy combatant without being guilty of murder. By some kind of an accident a person might kill another without being guilty of murder. But nowhere does God give anyone the right, by himself or by another, to kill himself because he is sick, unhappy, suffering, or in some other difficult condition. The state that legalizes such killing is sanctioning murder. Legalized euthanasia is state-sanctioned murder.
The Arends’ case demonstrates that legalized euthanasia not only legitimizes but actually promotes murder. Giving depraved human beings unrestricted authority over their own lives and giving depraved doctor’s the authority to put people to death is a deadly combination. With the authority she was given by the state, Dr. Arends determined that it was only a matter of when, not if, she would murder her patient. So we see exactly what we must expect when a government legalizes murder in the form of euthanasia: more and more murder.
1 https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/j-i-packer- died-evangelical-theologian-knowing-god.html.
2 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/ ji-packer-robin-hood-of-evangelicalism.html.
3 https://heidelblog.net/2020/07/an-appreciation-of-j-i-packerand- a-dissent.
4 The main sources for this story are https://www.dutchnews. nl /news/2020/04/supreme-court-clears-euthanasia-doctor- of-murdering-severe-dementia-patient/ and https://thefederalist. com/2020/06/23/dutch-doctor-exonerated-after-euthanizing- an-unwilling-patient.