See YouTube Video Clip of famed English theologian
J.I. Packer
("Knowing God") on "Taking God Seriously"
 


 

Dr. J.I. Packer Biographical
(See his exposition on "covenant theology" below BIO)

Some 30+ years ago (circa 1980) after meeting J.I. Packer and hearing him lecture, Pastor David Kirschke, founder and director of StraightWay, Inc., included several of his books, such as “Fundamentalism and the Word of God” and “Knowing God,” his most widely read book, into StraightWay’s required reading list not long after its publication in the 1970’s.

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A prolific writer and frequent lecturer, Dr. Packer is widely regarded in Protestant circles as  one of the most important theologians and church historians of the modern era.  As a conservative evangelical Anglican, author, and theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions, he is a  frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today, whose readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the 20th century. His books have sold over three million copies worldwide.

Born James Innell Packer in 1926 as the son of a clerk for the Great Western Railway in England, his upbringing from the most unlikely humble beginnings (“an environment that hardly seemed a likely incubator for one of the greatest Christian minds of the twentieth century”), to becoming one of the most widely read and well-known theologians in the world today, is an interesting story. 

Packer was brought up in Gloucester, England, and later won a scholarship to Oxford University in 1944, where studied until receiving his doctorate in 1954. It was as a student at Oxford where he first met C.S. Lewis whose teachings would become a major influence in his life. In a meeting of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, Packer committed his life to Christian service.

After briefly teaching Greek at Oak Hill College in London, Packer entered Wycliffe Hall to study theology and was ordained in the Anglican church (Church of England). He became recognized as a leader in the Evangelical movement in the Church of England, working to found the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and signing in 1978 the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which affirmed the conservative position on inerrancy.

He surprised the academic community in 1979 by leaving his Anglican evangelical community and moving to Vancouver, where he currently serves as the Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Since arriving at Regent he has published a book every year. Packer is widely regarded in Protestant circles as one of the most important theologians and church historians of the modern era. He is a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today.  Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version of the Bible (2001), an Evangelical revision of the RSV of 1971.

Packer's wife, Kit, with whom he had 3 children, says, "His devotion to the Lord is the reason for everything he's done. His writing, his preaching, lecturing and living are all centered on the Lord."

To read more about Packer, a recent biography by Alister McGrath, entitled
J.I. Packer
(cover above) gives a careful and sensitive examination of his life.

Excerpts from  
"Introduction to Covenant Theology"
by world-renown evangelical author & theologian, J. I. Packer

What is Covenant theology? It is what is nowadays called a hermeneutic---that is, a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds [ed. “letting Scripture interpret Scripture”].  A successful hermeneutic is a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture.

Covenant theology is anchored in God’s resolve to relate to his human creatures, and have us relate to him, in covenant---a way for man to relate to God that reflects facets of the fellowship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father in the unity of the Godhead. 

"The distance between God and the creature is so great," says the Westminster Confession (VII.I), "that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant." Exactly! So biblical doctrine first to last, has to do with covenantal relationships between God and man; biblical ethics has to do with expressing God's covenantal relationship to us in covenantal relationships between ourselves and others; and Christian religion has the nature of covenant life.

A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other … the reality of the relationship depends simply on the fact that mutual obligations have been accepted and pledged on both sides.

Luther is held to have said that Christianity is a matter of personal pronouns, in the sense that everything depends on knowing that Jesus died for me, to be my Savior, and that his Father is my God and Father, personally committed to love, nurture, uphold, and glorify me. This already is covenant thinking, for this is the essential substance of the covenant relationship: God's covenant is precisely a matter of these personal pronouns, used in this way, as a basis for a life with God of friendship, peace and communicated love. 

"I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God" (Ex. 6:7), the covenant promise constantly repeated throughout both testaments  ... may fairly be called the pantechnicon promise, inasmuch as every particular promise that God makes is packed into it -- fellowship and communion first ("I will be with you," "I will dwell among them," "I will live among you," etc.), and then the supply of every real need, here and hereafter. Sovereignty and salvation, love and largesse, election and enjoyment, affirmation and assurance, fidelity and fulness thus appear as the spectrum of themes (the second of each pair being the fruit of the first as its root) that combine to form the white light, glowing and glorious, of the gracious self-giving of God to sinners that covenant theology proclaims.

The God-given covenant carries, of course, obligations. The life of faith and repentance, and the obedience to which faith leads, constitute the covenant-keeping through which God's people receive the fulness of God's covenant blessing.

"I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession" (Ex. 19:4 f.). Covenant faithfulness is the condition and means of receiving covenant benefits, and there is nothing arbitrary in that; for the blessings flow from the relationship, and human rebelliousness and unfaithfulness stop the flow by disrupting the relationship. Israel's infidelity was constantly doing this throughout the Old Testament story, and the New Testament makes it plain that churches and Christians will lose blessings that would otherwise be theirs, should covenant fidelity be lacking in their lives.

From what has been said so far, three things become apparent. First, the gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.  Jesus Christ, whose saving ministry is the sum and substance of the gospel, is announced in Hebrews the mediator and guarantor of the covenant relationship (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). The gospel promises, offering Christ and his benefits to sinner, are therefore invitations to enter and enjoy a covenant relationship with God.  Faith in Jesus Christ is accordingly the embracing of the covenant, and the Christian life of glorifying God by one’s words and works for the greatness of his goodness and grace has at its heart covenant communion between the Savior and the sinner.  The church, the fellowship of believers that the gospel creates, is the community of the covenant, and the preaching of the Word, the practice of pastoral care and discipline, the exercises of worship together, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, are all signs, tokens, expressions and instruments of the covenant.  The hope of glory, as promised in the gospel, is the goal of the covenant relationship (Rev. 21:2).  The whole Bible is, as it were, presented by Jesus Christ to the whole church and to each Christian as the book of the covenant, and … the whole record that is called church history, is precisely the story of the covenant going on in space and time.  As artists know, the frame is important for setting off the picture, and you do in fact see the picture better when it is appropriately framed.  So with the riches of the gospel; the covenant is their proper frame, and you only see them in their full glory when this frame surrounds them, as in Scripture it actually does, and as in theology it always should.

Second, the Word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. Covenant theology, as was said above, is a biblical hermeneutic as well as a formulation of biblical teaching.  Covenant theology offers a total view, which it is ready to validate from Scripture itself if challenged, as to how the various parts of the Bible stand related to each other. The essence of the view is as follows. The biblical revelation, which is the written Word of God, centers upon a God-given narrative of how successive and cumulative revelations of God's covenant purpose and provision were given and responded to at key points in history. The backbone of the Bible, to which all the expository, homiletical, moral, liturgical, and devotional material relates, is the unfolding in space and time of God's unchanging intention of having a people on earth to whom he would relate covenantally for his and their joy.

The story that forms this backbone of the Bible has to do with man's covenant relationship with God first ruined and then restored. The original covenantal arrangement, usually called the Covenant of Works, was one whereby God undertook to prolong and augment for all subsequent humanity the happy state in which he had made the first human pair -- provided that the man observed, as part of the humble obedience.

Third, the reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. Who is God? God is the triune Creator, who purposes to have a covenant people whom in love he will exalt for his glory. ("Glory" there means both God's demonstration of his praiseworthiness and the actual praising that results.) Why does God so purpose? -- why, that is, does he desire covenantal fellowship with rational beings? The most we can say (for the question is not one to which God has given us a direct answer) is that the nature of such fellowship observably corresponds to the relationships of mutual honor and love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the unity of the divine being, so that the divine purpose appears to be, so to speak, an enlarging of this circle of eternal love and joy. In highlighting the thought that covenantal communion is the inner life of God, covenant theology makes the truth of the Trinity more meaningful than it can otherwise be.  

How does Scripture itself "force" the framework of covenant theology upon us? By the following four features, at least. 

First, by the story that it tells. The books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are, as was said earlier, God's own record of the progressive unfolding of his purpose to have a people in covenant with himself here on earth. The covenantal character of God's relationships with human beings, first to last, has already been underlined, and is in fact reflected one way and another on just about every page of the Bible. The significance of the fact that God caused his book of instruction to mankind to be put together with the history of his covenant as its backbone can hardly be overestimated.  Covenant relationships between God and men, established by God’s initiative, bringing temporal and eternal blessings to individuals and creating community among them, so that they have a corporate identity as God’s people, are in fact the pervasive themes of the whole Bible; and it compels thoughtful readers to take note of the covenant as being central to God’s concern.

Second, Scripture forces covenant theology upon us by the place it gives to Jesus Christ in the covenant story … When Jesus explained the memorial right for himself that he instituted in [Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper], he spoke of the wine that they were to drink as symbolizing his blood, shed to ratify the New Covenant -- a clear announcement of the fulfilling of the pattern of Exodus 24 (Jesus echoes directly the words of verse 8) and the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  . . . [Also] Hebrews explains uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation . . . by superseding the inadequate Old Covenant institutions for dealing with sins and giving access to God. In Galatians Paul tells Gentiles that their faith in Christ has made them inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham (Galatians 3; 4:24-31). Such scriptures require us to interpret Christ in terms of God's covenant, just as they require us to interpret God's covenant in terms of Christ, and this fact also alerts readers to the centrality of the covenant theme.

The third way in which scriptures directors the covenant of thinking is by the specific parallel between Christ and Adam said Paul draws in Romans 5:12-18, 1 Cor. 15:21, 45-49 . . . the 1st Corinthians passages confirm these are indeed covenantal solidarities---God deals with mankind through two representative men, Adam and Christ. All that are in Adam; all that are in Christ and made alive. This far-reaching parallel is clearly foundational to Paul’s understanding of God's ways with our race, and it is covenantal way of thinking, showing from a third angle that covenant theology is indeed biblically basic.

The fourth way in which scripture forces covenant geology upon us is by the explicit declaring of the covenant of redemption, most notably in the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. All of Jesus’ references to his purpose in the world as doing his fathers will, and to his actual words and works as obedience to his father's command, all is references to his being sent by the Father into the world to perform a specific task, and all his references to the Father giving him persons to save, and to his acceptance of the task . . . are so many testimonies to the reality of the covenant of redemption. The emphasis is pervasive, arresting, and inescapable: Jesus’ own words force on thoughtful readers recognition of the covenant economy has foundational to all thought about the reality of God’s saving grace.

For further study, there are several Bible study software programs like Logos 5 (see video).

      
Popular Video Clips by John Crawford & Jim Tompkins on "Covenant"

God is a covenant God; the Trinity coexists eternally in covenant, and God relates to man through the New Covenant Jesus Christ made by his broken body and shed blood.  COVENANT is the framework of relationship that God has chosen not only to relate to man, but for man, in the likeness of God, to relate to one another.

For further study, read "The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," by Geerhardus Vos., the "father of Reformed Biblical Theology."

"Reformed Theology" gets its name from the theology that was both the cause and result of "The Reformation" in Europe, formalized in Geneva, Switzerland.

See also "Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology" by Richard Pratt, Jr. (adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL)

 

To see a synopsis on the meaning of "covenant" as both God's nature and therfore His context for Christian relationship, CLICK HERE.

For further study, read various excerpts from world-reknown Biblical scholars on "The Church As A Covenant Community" (click)