Thursday, November 2

Sunday School With J. I. Packer, Part 3

These are notes from the second hour-long Learner's Exchange lesson on the Internal Unity of Scripture given by J. I. Packer at St. John's (Shaughnessy) Anglican Church. I posted notes on the first lesson in two parts last week:
Common Purposes of the Bible
Lesson one includes a list of common themes that run throughout all the books of the Bible. In this second lesson, we're given a list of common purposes that God pursues through the whole of scripture.
  1. To teach people faith. Through the teaching of scripture and God's actions as recorded in scripture, God's people learn that God "is going to fulfill his word, and his love is never going to fail."

  2. To edify God's people
    so that they express and embody and practice and perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. Call it edification; call it the building of the community into it’s final glory.
  3. To demonstrate what a God-centered view of God’s world is like.
    We, some of us, use the phrase worldview to describe this total outlook--this view of life with God the Creator who sustains the world and is redeeming us at the center of things. God teaches the God-centered worldview, which is transcultural. Cultures change, and the details of expressing practical godliness may have to change with it in order to stay the same at the level of principle, but the principles of truth and fact on which life in this world is to be built--principle of truth and wisdom . . . about God and what God is doing--those principles are unchanged from one generation to another, and cultural change doesn’t touch them.
  4. To teach God's people a vocabulary to help them understand him and understand how they ought to live. These are words
    which either the secular world doesn’t use at all, or uses in a very inadequate, subchristian way when it does use them. Those words have to be properly understood. They are defined not simply by producing a verbal formula like dictionaries do, that define words for us, but by seeing them acted out in the things that God does and leads his people to do.
    Some examples:
    1. Holy
      . . . the Bible’s umbrella word for everything that God is, and that we in our fallen condition aren’t. Understanding the meaning of holiness is a project in itself.
    2. Glory
      . . .which in the first instance means “God on display”. The word, in Hebrew, anyway, comes from a root which means “weight, that which is weighty, that which is awesome, that which is wonderful because it’s so big and breathtaking.” The glory of God is seen as his faithfulness and his love, his justice and his mercy; [and is] exhibited by his dealings with his people, first in the Old Testament, and then in the New. And the people of God learn--again, all sixty-six books are involved here, because the process begins right at the beginning of the human story and continues unendingly--the people of God learn, as they contemplate God’s glory on display in the works of providence and grace that he’s constantly performing, they learn to glorify him. You know that term glorify. It means that you praise God for what you see and you model your own life on the character of God as it’s displayed in what he does.
    3. Love
      The world doesn’t know what love is. Love isn’t primarily a feeling. Love is a resolve . . . to make great the person who is the object of your affection. It’s a resolve; it’s a matter of the will; it’s a matter of what you do. You say, what do you mean by great? Well, when it’s God, you can’t make him great as if he isn’t great at the moment, but you can acknowledge his greatness in worship, and that does honor him in the way that we should honor him. . . .

      . . . [W]hen it’s our neighbor, . . . we form a responsible judgment as to what is going to help our neighbor towards the life that God the creator will be pleased to see our neighbor living, and then we do what we can to try and help our neighbor towards that. When the neighbour is our peer with whom we rub shoulders, well, we are prepared to help with material things when there’s a problem, and we seek to share the Lord Jesus with this person, because we know that his or her biggest need, among their many needs, . . . is the need to know Christ and find the new life. So we witness and we help. And if our neighbor is, for instance, like the children in our own family, . . . we drill them in the basics of the faith and the godly way to live, and we pray for them and we hope . . . that as they grow and mature, so more and more they will exhibit godliness as a reality: the life of holiness and righteousness as a reality, the life to which we know God calls them, just as he calls us. That’s making your neighbor great, you see. That’s neighbour love--the second great commandment.
Old Testament as Three Act Drama
In lesson two, Packer gives an outline of the history of the Old Testament, and shows how the wisdom and prophetic literature fits with the historical "backbone". In this lessons, he gives a slightly different way to look at the Old Testament: as a three act drama.
  • Act 1: Ruin
    Creation and the goodness of the creation is right at the beginning of Genesis, and sin and judgment come in and fill the chapters from chapter 3 to chapter 11. . . . Mankind has sinned and everybody is off course spiritually.
  • Act 2: Renovation
    God chooses a family and makes a covenant with that family. It’s the seed of Abraham, of course that I’m talking about. [I]n due course, [he] rescues that family from the slavery into which they’ve fallen, and legislates in very great detail the pattern of the community life that they must henceforth live as his covenant people, his servants, his witnesses. That takes you from Genesis chapter 12, where God calls Abraham, to the end of the book of Joshua, where the promised land has been entered and occupied, and the Israelites, having been rescued from captivity, are there in the land where they’re meant to be. And as you know, all the detailed legislation for their community life that’s in half of Exodus, and all of Leviticus, and two-thirds of Numbers, and two-thirds of Deuteronomy, as well. God went into great detail to make quite sure that they would know how to live to his praise. So, that’s Act 2: Renovation - Renovation of humanity in the life of those whom God takes as his people.
  • Act 3: Relapse
    The story of failure: failure of leadership before there was a king in Israel (that’s the book of Judges); failure of leadership under the kings of Israel. David and Solomon, on balance, did well rather than badly, but nearly all the other kings did badly rather than well. This section of the story picks up in 1 Samuel and goes through to the end of 2 Chronicles. The story of the kingdom is, on balance, a sad story. It’s a story of failure and mistakes as the dominant theme. And then, finally, the people go into exile under God’s judgment because of their sin. Sin is idolatry and immorality together, the prophets having a great deal to say about those two ways of lapsing, each reinforcing the other. Finally, as I said, Israel goes into exile. After seventeen years they return, and there’s a measure of restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah.
In the next post of notes on this lesson, we'll move to the New Testament: its principles and themes.

If you are interested in having a full transcipt of these two lessons for your own personal use, I have them in PDF form (including a few typos) that I can email to you if you ask. Update: I have only lesson 2 available right now. I can't find the PDF for lesson 1, but when I do, it will be available, too. Update 2: I found the lost file (Thankfully, I had sent it to my son and he still had it.), so I really do have both files for those who want it.

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