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J.I. Packer: The lost interview

"J.I. Packer: The lost interview" Continued...

Once that had become clear my defenses fell quite rapidly, and at the end of the service we sang “Just As I Am” and by the end of the hymn I was a believer. So out of church I went, but back with the Intervarsity people from then on to catch up with the nurture that I had been missing all through these years—really to make up for lost time. And that’s the main thing, far and away the biggest thing that I was doing outside my studies for the next four years.

And what were your studies? I was doing the Oxford liberal arts degree. It’s Greek or Latin philosophy, language and history, along with a good deal of modern philosophy and a good deal of modern ethics, too. It’s a fine looking education, as a matter of fact. Pretty demanding, but I look back to it with gratitude, though frankly I didn’t enjoy it at the time. I should add that I was brought up Anglican as I told you, but after my new life had started I found myself very angry with the Anglican Church for not having told me the gospel all those years. I didn’t want to worship in Anglican churches, but I spent a lot of my time worshiping with Christian brethren, and in many ways that was a very good experience. After four years I was an Anglican again and I remain an Anglican until this day. That’s another story. Have I told you what you wanted to know?

That helps me, except I would like to hear you say what changes God has produced in your thinking. What year was it when you went off to Oxford? 1944.

C.S. Lewis
Associated Press
C.S. Lewis

In the 64 years since then, what significant changes have been brought into your mind about the faith that excited you at the end of that service that night? What I brought to the service was Christianity according to C.S. Lewis, mere Christianity. Under the nurture of the Intervarsity people and with a touch of God, too, I had added to Lewis a strong belief in the inerrancy of the authority of Scriptures. Lewis didn’t believe in inerrancy. He didn’t go around denying it, but he didn’t affirm it either.

The touch of God which helped me along that road took place six weeks after I converted. The Intervarsity people ran a Saturday night Bible study, and at this particular Saturday night Bible study an elderly gentleman with some eccentric views about the book of Revelation was speaking. And if I remember rightly, he was speaking about Revelation 13, which is a chapter in which it’s easy to be eccentric—where there’s a dragon and the horsemen, etc.—but I can still remember the moment, coming out of the meeting. I had gone into the meeting assuming, without argument really, nobody had argued with me about it so far, but I was assuming that though the substance of the Scripture was certainly true and we believed, I had been having a wonderful time in personal Bible study since my conversion which seemed to confirm that, particularly in terms of the Christ about whom the New Testament spoke being the living Savior and Lord who had called me into what we all call a personal relationship. But I took it for granted that educated people nowadays don’t believe every jot and tittle of the Bible.

I think it was the reverence with which this curious old gentleman had handled Revelation 13. Not what he made of it, but it’s the way that he squared up to the text—squeezing wisdom out of individual verses and phrases and studying the texts in the context and flow of the argument. I think it was that, though honestly I’m not quite sure. Anyway, something had triggered in me unawares. The Bible makes an impact on me which assures me that it is the Word of God pure. And being so it is bound to be all true and all trustworthy because God is. I think that is the way to say it—it’s what Calvin called the witness of the Holy Spirit which I’d been enjoying for those six weeks but hadn’t got around to verbalizing. When I got to verbalizing, I realized this isn’t what I used to believe. It was a bit of a joke. I’ve stayed with that ever since and, as you know, stuck my neck out in all sorts of ways through pieces of writing to vindicate that position.

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