Packer on why a big view of God matters


Jim Packer writes that for four centuries European thought has been engaged in a process of “God shrinking” [does anyone know where he wrote that, I can’t find it]. The following quote comes from the preface to the 1973 edition of “Knowing God” and is the reason why ordinands and trainee pastors should go to a college with a big view of God (high view of biblical systematics) and why our education syllabus needs a radical overhaul:

The conviction behind the book is that ignorance of God—ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him—lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today. Two unhappy trends seem to have produced this state of affairs.

Trend one is that Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit
: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God. The modern way with God is to set him at a distance, if not to deny him altogether; and the irony is that modern Christians, preoccupied with maintaining religious practices in an irreligious world, have themselves allowed God to become remote. Clear-sighted persons, seeing this, are tempted to withdraw from the churches in something like disgust to pursue a quest for God on their own. Nor can one wholly blame them, for churchmen who look at God, so to speak, through the wrong end of the telescope, so reducing him to pigmy proportions, cannot hope to end up as more than pigmy Christians, and clear-sighted people naturally want something better than this. Furthermore, thoughts of death, eternity, judgment, the greatness of the soul and the abiding consequences of temporal decisions are all “out” for moderns, and it is a melancholy fact that the Christian church, instead of raising its voice to remind the world of what is being forgotten, has formed a habit of playing down these themes in just the same way. But these capitulations to the modern spirit are really suicidal so far as Christian life is concerned.

Trend two is that Christian minds have been confused by the modern skepticism
. For more than three centuries the naturalistic leaven in the Renaissance outlook has been working like a cancer in Western thought. Seventeenth-century Arminians and deists, like sixteenth-century Socinians, came to deny, as against Reformation theology, that God’s control of his world was either direct or complete, and theology, philosophy and science have for the most part combined to maintain that denial ever since. As a result, the Bible has come under heavy fire, and many landmarks in historical Christianity with it. The foundation-facts of faith are called into question. Did God meet Israel at Sinai? Was Jesus more than a very spiritual man? Did the Gospel miracles really happen? Is not the Jesus of the Gospels largely an imaginary figure?—and so on.

Nor is this all. Skepticism about both divine revelation and Christian origins has bred a wider skepticism which abandons all idea of a unity of truth, and with it any hope of unified human knowledge; so that it is now commonly assumed that my religious apprehensions have nothing to do with my scientific knowledge of things external to myself, since God is not “out there” in the world, but only “down here” in the psyche. The uncertainty and confusion about God which mark our day are worse than anything since Gnostic theosophy tried to swallow Christianity in the second century.

Packer ends with a warning:

If we pursue theological [or cosmological] knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited.” [p21]

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