25 May 2009

Packer: The Heart of the Gospel

We have all heard the gospel presented as God's triumphant answer to human problems--problems of our relation with ourselves and our fellow humans and our environment. Well, there is no doubt that the gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving a deeper problem--the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man's relation with his Maker. And unless we make it plain that the solution of these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God. . . . No reader of the New Testament can miss the fact that it knows all about our human problems--fear, moral cowardice, illness of body and mind, loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, abuse of power, and the rest--but equally no reader of the New Testament can miss the fact that it resolves all these problems, one way or another, into the fundamental problem of sin against God.

By sin the New Testament means not social error or failure in the first instance, but rebellion against, defiance of, retreat from, and consequent guilt before God the Creator; and sin, says the New Testament, is the basic evil from which we need deliverance, and from which Christ died to save us.

--J. I. Packer, 'The Heart of the Gospel,' in Knowing God

I've said many times before on this blog how enriched I have been by reading those NT scholars with whom I often disagree on fundamentals. So I will simply say, as clearly as I can: Receptive, sober, prayerful, Bible-saturated, psychologically penetrating consideration of this statement, and the addition of 'disunity' and 'ethnic exclusivism' to Packer's list of horizontal problems, would go a long way toward enabling James Dunn, Don Garlington and N. T. Wright to rectify some of the imbalances they are propounding. (I use their names not out of animosity but because they have made their views so manifestly public, requiring public correction.) Theirs is neither 'another gospel' nor heretical teaching (i.e. error that damns); that kind of defensive, entrenched verbal grenade-launching clarifies nothing but the insecurity of those who toss them. Yet the respective explications of the gospel by Wright and others so fuzzy the truth that undiscerning pastors reading their commentaries may propagate a gospel that prevents their people from the absolute and sheer freeness that is theirs in Christ, detracting from the magnificence of God's inexhaustible grace along the way.

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