Editor’s note: The staff at the White Horse Inn had the opportunity to talk to J. I. Packer about the state of the church. Here, J. I. Packer explains what was then his heart’s desire for the church—to recover the gospel of grace reflected in the heritage of the Protestant Reformation. In honor of the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation, it’s good to ask ourselves again about our state, the state of our organizations, the state of our churches, and reaffirm with J. I. Packer that the power of the gospel is enough to continue to renew the life of the church.
I see evangelical strength in America needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise, the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be.
I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace.
If you don't see deep into the problem, you don't see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth of the human problem. And actually, the Reformation itself was a recovery of the tremendous contribution that the great St. Augustine made back at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries.
He was the man more than anyone else in Christendom saw to the heart of the real problem. He saw how much damage sin had done, how completely we were oriented away from God by nature.
Augustine is the one who left us that phrase "original sin" which he got from the text of Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." He also saw in response to our sinful condition, how great a work of transformation was needed by the grace of God in human lives.
The sixteenth-century Reformers stood on Augustine's shoulders at this point. Of course, they clarified the great truth that justification by faith is the way in which the grace of God reaches us. We need, even today, a Christianity that was as deep and strong as that. And this, it seems to me, is where modern evangelicalism is lacking.
Adapted from “Interview with J.I. Packer,” Modern Reformation July/Aug 1993. Used with permission.