Our “Juvenile” Failure to Love
Among the reasons that I chose to attend Regent College in Vancouver, BC from 2005-2008 was the reputation of their faculty. Eugene Peterson, Gordon Fee, John Stackhouse, Sarah Williams, Rikk Watts, Loren Wilkinson… The list could go on an on. I was not disappointed in my choice, even if I was mildly surprised by how Reformed the theology often was (and how dismissive the conversations could sometimes be of Mennonites and the Radical Reformation in general). My experience at Regent was overwhelmingly good and profoundly life-giving in a wide variety of ways.
One of the biggest of the big names at Regent was, of course, J.I. Packer. My only exposure to Packer to that point had been reading his famous Knowing God when I was younger. I dimly recall vaguely appreciating the book, but I had no idea what an influential work it was and would continue to be. Packer’s teaching schedule at Regent had slowed down a bit already when I was there, but I would often see him walking briskly to and from his classes with his tattered brown briefcase, always with purpose in his stride and a smile on his face. I thought about taking a systematic theology course from him, but I decided against it. I figured that I was already drinking deeply enough at the well of Reformed theology, and, much as I respected Packer, I knew that a class with him would not be much of a departure from this script. Later on, I would come to regret this a little bit. How could I go three years at Regent without taking a single course from J.I. Packer, this giant of the faith in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?
This morning I read an interview with Packer in the most recent issue of Faith Today. Packer is now nearing the end of his ninth decade on the planet, so the themes of weakness and lessons from the end of the journey naturally came up. I was struck by the deep wisdom of his answers to a few of the questions, not to mention the humility that accompanied what I thought was a razor-sharp critique of our current church/cultural moment.
First, Packer’s response to the question, “Are your thoughts turning heavenward? What do you anticipate or fear about your earthly life coming to an end?”
I don’t think I have an impressive answer. I live a day at a time. I hope and pray that I shall be left in this world as long as I can be useful—useful to the Church, to Christian individuals, to the glory of God.
I have no idea how long that will be. I’m in very good health at the moment. I believe my proper concern is with living a day at a time and making the most of each day for usefulness.
I have lived long enough, by the way, to realize that usefulness is much more profoundly a matter of the kind of person you are than of the particular things you do.
When you are young, you tend to think of usefulness entirely as the things you do. All through the years, however, steadily God has been reminding me that what I am is fundamental to what I do, and is really much more important than what I do.
That’s the perspective that I live with and relax with, and I try on a day-to-day basis to ensure that I am what I claim to be, what I need to be. That is a concern which I find keeps me God-centred and Christ-centred in my concerns in living rather than self-centred.
And then, Packer offered this analysis in response to the question of whether or not the church is any better than the broader culture at defining worth by who we are than by what we do.
When I go around to churches, I get the strong feeling that we aren’t taking love as our primary calling as seriously as we should—which I now diagnose as immaturity rather than perversity.
In our churches we are juvenile in many ways at points where we ought to be adult. We’re the victims actually of the world’s conviction that your significance depends entirely on what you do and not at all on who you are… And if you hold to that idea that what you do is what counts, it does keep you juvenile. It keeps you from real spiritual development at a deep level.
Yes. I should have taken that course.