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J.I. Packer: The lost interview

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

Which is probably why I’m here because you are my hero in that sense and I thank you for sticking your neck out at great cost to your own self. If you were to chart the progress of belief in inerrancy of Scripture during your lifetime would you say it was very much an undeveloped doctrine when you were young in broad evangelical circles? It certainly wasn’t popular in the U.K. when you were young. No, it wasn’t. If I remember rightly, it was more an assumption among the Intervarsity people than a matter for argument or debate, but it was their assumption. I have a linear sort of mind, a lawyer’s mind. When I believe something, I want to articulate it, so having become aware of it, I believed that the Bible is the Word of God. Yes, I have read some stuff that would help me to articulate it but I don’t remember that anyone around me was particularly concerned to do that. Although, of course, in Intervarsity we knew that the other forms of Christianity in the university didn’t involve trust in the Scriptures just like that, but in those days I didn’t argue with them. That came later.

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.
Assocaited Press
Billy Graham and his wife Ruth arrive in London in May 1955.

And what triggered your willingness to take it on in a more argumentative way? What prompted you to say, “This is important?” As with so many things in my life, the human way of saying this was that I was pushed into it, pulled into it, and the logical way of saying it was that I was brought into the providence of God. In the year of grace 1955 I was asked to reply to several months of criticism in print from English church leaders who were denouncing Billy Graham and all that he stood for, and Intervarsity along with Billy Graham, and focusing on belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, which to some critics is a belief that makes it impossible for people to do Bible study of the kind that all the rest us do today. In other words, it was a belief that anchored one in obscurantism and darkness of mind. I was asked to reply to this and I was given the title, actually it was the senior people in Intervarsity who asked me to do this. The title they gave me was “narrow mind” or “narrow way.” It was nice. And my audience was members of what then was called the gracious fellowship of Intervarsity, so I was among friends. I had a line of argument which I deployed and they liked and I was asked to write it up.

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

I imagine that what the IV publisher expected was something of pamphlet length, 6,000 words perhaps. But knowing that anything you write is going to be read by enemies as well as by friends, I realized there were a lot of presuppositions that had to be filled in and defended before the particular line of argument that I had used in my address could be deployed. Otherwise, the howl would be, “Look at how much you have taken for granted. You can’t take those things for granted.” So the IV publisher had to wait for a little over a year and then they landed on his desk—not 6,000 words, but 60,000. The book was called Fundamentalism and the Word of God and it’s still in print. From that day to this I thought that it’s a good response to critical biblical study and critical theology. I believe that I was able to do something pretty good. It’s a piece of controversial writing that does stand up.

The word fundamentalism meant something a little different then than it does now. You would probably put a different title on it, or not. Yes, I would. Fundamentalism in the original title was the word that the critics had been using as the label for that which they were denouncing. And what I wanted to argue was that label brings no clarity about anything. It does, in fact, mislead because it implies obscurantism and, in fact, behind evangelical belief there is intellectually taught class history. That’s one of the things that the book was concerned to do. It reaches back to Luther and Calvin and the whole Reformed tradition. I’d been reading [B.B.] Warfield. That was how I became a frontline man on the inerrancy question, and because I had become a frontline man by the providence of God I’ve was asked over and over again if I would do frontline things—write some more, speak some more.


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