Volume 47 - Issue 3

The Young J. I. Packer as a ‘New Warfield’? A Chapter in the Post-1930 Revival of Reformed Theology

By Kenneth J. Stewart


J. I. Packer (1926–2020) first came to the attention of the reading public with a 1953 essay in the second printing of the New Bible Commentary. His essay, ‘Revelation and Inspiration’, replaced Daniel Lamont’s essay on the same subject, in the first printing issued earlier that year. It had been in certain respects unsatisfactory. Packer’s 1953 essay, his controversial 1955 Evangelical Quarterly article on the Keswick movement, and his 1958 book, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God illustrated his growing affinity with the writings of Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield (d. 1921). In all this, Packer was a leading voice in the post-WWII reassertion of Reformed theology. But Packer, rather than being the pioneer of this movement, was in fact building on the legacy of others who had pointed in this direction: Douglas Johnson of British Inter-Varsity, Alan Stibbs of Oak Hill College, and T. C. Hammond—formerly of Dublin and from 1936, principal of Moore College, Sydney. This movement, closely associated with Inter-Varsity, was itself part of a larger post-1929 resurgence of orthodox Reformed theology.

The release of the long-awaited New Bible Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press [UK]) in early 1953 was met with a welcome that surpassed all expectation. The initial press-run was for 30,000 copies, with 20,000 coming to the USA where distribution was handled both by InterVarsity Press [US] and Eerdmans. A reprinting was authorized immediately; subsequently, a book club ordered an additional 5,000 copies. The phenomenal publishing success of this commentary in effect ‘floated the boat’ of the fledgling Inter-Varsity Press for years to come, furnishing it with badly-needed capital to commission many new titles in the 1950s.1 With such wind in the sails, who would recommend any tweaking of a commentary that evidently ticked all the boxes?

And yet, by the following year, the New Bible Commentary was indeed altered. One of its eleven introductory essays on topics ranging from ‘The Authority of Scripture’ to ‘The Primitive Church’ was withdrawn, and a replacement substituted. The withdrawn essay, on ‘Revelation and Inspiration’ had been contributed by a revered senior evangelical figure, Daniel Lamont, professor of practical theology in New College, Edinburgh. Until his death in 1950, Lamont had been one of the few evangelical Christians teaching in a British university theology faculty to identify openly with Inter-Varsity. He had served as the chairman of British Inter-Varsity in 1945–1946 and was a frequent and popular speaker in Inter-Varsity student gatherings at the university and national levels. He was a well-published author in the realm of philosophy of religion and apologetics.2 Yet, notwithstanding the author’s profile, the New Bible Commentary editors withdrew Lamont’s essay on ‘Revelation and Inspiration’.3 In the 1954 second edition, its place was taken by a new essay of the same name by J. I. Packer, a 28-year-old Church of England evangelical then serving as a curate in Birmingham. While there had been no open criticism of the late Daniel Lamont or of his essay, here was a ‘fait accompli’ which must have raised some eyebrows. What had gone on behind closed doors to bring about this substitution? The New Bible Commentary editors, Alan Stibbs (vice principal of Oak Hill College) and Ernest F. Kevan (principal of the London Bible College [now London School of Theology]), simply indicated that they were “taking the opportunity to avail themselves of some of the constructive criticisms sent to them.”4 It may have been pointed out by some correspondent that Lamont’s article was less robust than an earlier essay on biblical inspiration which had appeared in the earlier New Bible Handbook (1947).5 Furthermore, in the same months as those constructive criticisms were being digested, Kevan—as London Bible College principal—was dealing with a prickly situation generated by his college’s Old Testament lecturer, H. L. Ellison. Ellison’s published views on biblical inspiration contravened the college’s stated position and—to a considerable degree—approximated the views of Lamont.6

Something comparable happened the next year (1955). Packer submitted to the Evangelical Quarterly an extended review of the book So Great Salvation by Wheaton College professor, Steven Barabas. This volume provided both a history and an apologetic for Keswick teaching, i.e., the teaching on Christian holiness by surrender which had been closely associated with annual summer conferences held in the English Lake District.7 By 1955, Packer was in his first year of teaching at Tyndale Hall, Bristol, the theological college of the conservative Church of England Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society. Within this college and its constituency, the Keswick teaching had long found ample support. It soon became clear that, as with the revised New Bible Commentary, Packer had advanced a view which aimed at displacing what had earlier been deemed acceptable. In the first case (with the New Bible Commentary) we may at least suppose that the initiative for the substitute article came from someone other than Packer himself; in the second case (the EvQ review), we have no alternative but to suppose that he was the originator.

1. The Trajectory of Young J. I. Packer

What trajectory was the young J. I. Packer travelling at 28 or 29 years that led to outcomes like these?

1.1. The Strong Influence of the Early Inter-Varsity Movement

When J. I. Packer began his studies at Oxford University in 1944, he arrived as a young man who—while recently confirmed in the Church of England parish of his family—had no clear ideas of personal faith in Christ or of the assurance of salvation. He was an interested person, ‘looking on from the outside’, as he put it.8 Inter-Varsity had been recommended to him by a recently converted friend who was studying at Bristol University; he had urged that Packer should seek out the ‘Christian Union’ within Oxford.9 The Christian Union at Oxford (as at Cambridge) had differentiated itself from the theologically ambivalent Student Christian Movement as long before as 1909–1910; it had subsequently been re-energized after the hiatus of the Great War.10 The Christian Union (which became known as Inter-Varsity) was self-consciously conservative evangelical. It was in a Sunday evening Christian Union student evangelistic rally that Packer consciously committed himself to Christ. Packer was in league with a definitely evangelical movement, with an evangelical Christianity generally in a disadvantaged position in the universities as in the nation. The Christian Unions, gradually affiliating with one another through the fledgling Inter-Varsity Fellowship, with offices in London’s Bedford Square, were steadily attempting to strengthen students in the Christian faith, to evangelize the uncommitted, and to provide a strong orientation to world missions.

1.2. The Dearth of Contemporary, Conservative Systematic Theology

Inter-Varsity in the pre-1950 period shared the weaknesses as well as the strengths of British conservative evangelicalism of that era. A particular weakness was the relative lack of dogmatic certainty. It is not that biblical doctrines had been surrendered; it is that they were no longer forcefully enunciated and taught. Oliver Barclay, former secretary of the British IVF, writes,

There were no recommended conservative theological books. Conservative students had to scour the second-hand bookshops for copies of Dale on The Atonement, Denney’s The Death of Christ, and commentaries by Lightfoot, Ryle, Ellicott, Handley Moule and others.11

On the other hand, there was fervent prayer for and encouragement of foreign missionary involvement. The Christian Unions were helped to advance the missionary cause by the missionary emphasis of the annual Keswick conventions in the English Lake District (which university students attended in considerable numbers); scores of promising university graduates went on to missionary careers in the still-remaining British Empire. But that same annual Keswick convention kept alive both in British evangelical churches and university Christian Unions a kind of ‘higher life’ teaching on the Christian life, which led to a kind of quietism, with its talk of ‘full surrender’ and ‘letting go’.

Beginning in 1944, the Oxford Christian Union had its own library heavily stocked with old Puritan authors. This library compensated to some degree for the dearth of contemporary conservative theology and the muddled Keswick emphasis. Packer, having been appointed student librarian, soon encountered the Puritan theologian John Owen. Unsatisfied with ‘higher life’ Keswick teaching, Packer benefited greatly from Owen’s works, On Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin in Believers.12 All in all, Packer was exposed to the weaknesses as well as the strengths of this kind of evangelicalism in his Oxford university days.

1.3. The Influence of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

In the Christian Union at Oxford, Packer became familiar with Elizabeth Lloyd-Jones, daughter of Martyn Lloyd-Jones; the latter had come to London’s Westminster Chapel first as assistant to and then (from 1943) as successor to G. Campbell Morgan (d. 1945). Lloyd-Jones himself was a frequent invited guest speaker to university Christian Unions; Packer heard him at Oxford in December 1946.13 Lloyd-Jones’s involvement with Inter-Varsity was extensive. In the years 1939–1942, he was the president of the governing council of Inter-Varsity.14 But Packer’s extensive dealings with Lloyd-Jones seem to begin in 1948–1949, during his one-year appointment to Oak Hill College as lecturer in Latin and Greek. Packer sometimes attended evening services at Westminster Chapel. Their friendly relationship continued in connection with a theme which was dear to them both.

As early as 1938, Inter-Varsity had convened discussions which led to the creation of a ‘Biblical Research Committee’. Out of this discussion would grow various initiatives such as the encouragement of evangelical theological writing (with a view to publication) and the establishing of a residential research library, which became a reality at Tyndale House in Cambridge in 1945.15 With these initiatives now underway, Packer—by 1949 temporary lecturer at Oak Hill College—was drawn into discussions about what the program objectives of the new Tyndale House should be. Not surprisingly, Packer advocated that Tyndale House might host conferences on Puritan theology. As this would have worked contrary to the plan to have Tyndale House’s reputation hang on excellence in biblical research, the alternate proposal was made that Packer, with Oxford friend and fellow graduate, O. R. Johnson, pursue the idea of a Puritan studies conference with Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones enthusiastically welcomed this Tyndale House-sponsored conference in Westminster Chapel, where it met annually without interruption until 1961.16

1.4. The Rediscovery of the Late B. B. Warfield

The argument of this article is that Packer’s early theological writing in the revised New Bible Commentary (1954), his attack on Keswick’s theology of sanctification (1955), and his ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), all bore the marks of the teaching of the late B. B. Warfield. This is not itself a new argument; the Warfield indebtedness was remarked upon in 1997 by Alistair McGrath, and two decades earlier by David F. Wright.17 What has gone unexplored, to this point, is the question of how the views of the late Warfield (d. 1921) were accessible to Packer when writing his New Bible Commentary article. In 1954 he was completing his two-year curacy (pastoral internship) in Birmingham, he had just been married, and was completing and defending his Oxford DPhil dissertation. The answer to the question of Packer’s access to Warfield goes some distance towards explaining how British evangelicalism was then in process of embracing a more vigorous doctrinal Christianity, informed by the Reformed tradition, in the period after 1930.

Vigorous doctrinal evangelicalism had fallen on hard times in early 20th century Britain. Preferred texts such as Bishop Handley Moule’s Outlines of Christian Doctrine and James Denney’s Studies in Theology had been issued late in the previous century.18 Only the work of the evangelical Anglican W. H. Griffiths Thomas, Principles of Theology (1930), had been issued in the post-1918 era. In the English university faculties of theology, systematic theology had suffered the effects of a hostile biblical criticism which tended to cut the nerve of theologizing. In the Scottish faculties of divinity as well as in Nonconformist English theological colleges, systematic theology remained important, but the tendency was towards the approximation of German theological thought. Thus C. H. Dodd (1884–1973), the rising NT scholar could reflect on how the Welsh Nonconformity in which he was raised represented an ‘etiolated Calvinism, Calvinism drained of the good red blood of its dogmatic theology.’19

But the rising Inter-Varsity movement, led by its general secretary from 1928, Douglas Johnson, was determined to alter this situation.20 Trained in medicine and having acquired a diploma in theology from the University of London, Johnson prioritized the production of printed materials that would strengthen Christian university students in Bible, theology and apologetics. By 1935, Johnson was known to be an admirer of the Princeton theologians, Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield.21 It was at his initiative that the Irish writer, T. C. Hammond hurriedly dictated the text of the theological handbook, In Understanding Be Men (1936), shortly before embarking for a new post in Moore College in Sydney.22 In his work on the themes of revelation and inspiration, Hammond drew on the writings of Warfield and his Scottish contemporary, James Orr.23 But this was only a start. By 1941, with war underway, Johnson and the now-publications secretary, Ronald Inchley, undertook a new initiative. Assisted by the editorial labors of Alan Stibbs of Oak Hill College, Inter-Varsity determined to introduce British student readers to the writings of B. B. Warfield on biblical inspiration. A soft-cover pamphlet, Revelation and Inspiration, was produced for sale; it provided a summary of the first four essays earlier published in Warfield’s collected works.24

In 1941, Warfield was not widely known in the UK. His material, originally published in journals and reference works, would of course have been available to those with access to theological libraries. So also with his gathered writings, produced 1927–1932 by the American branch of Oxford University Press. Accordingly, it was on a visit to Toronto in summer, 1932, that Martyn Lloyd-Jones had encountered Warfield’s Works while visiting a theological library.25 We can only theorize as to how Douglas Johnson and Ronald Inchley had come to their own high estimate of the late Princeton theologian. It is evident that Alan Stibbs of Oak Hill shared this appreciation.

With Packer encountering the Christian Union at Oxford in the fall of 1944, he would at least have had ready access to Hammond’s In Understanding Be Men (which utilized Warfield) and the four essays in Revelation and Inspiration. At this time, Packer would have been able to familiarize himself with Warfield’s conception of inspiration (one testified to by a wide range of Scriptures within the canonical books), entailing the need to clarify that it was only original manuscripts that were inspired in the fullest sense, and with important stress upon the concursive action of the Holy Spirit, who employed the efforts of numerous human authors. While fuller access to Warfield was not yet available, Douglas Johnson did something else to augment what had begun with the 1941 Warfield reprint: he committed the British Inter-Varsity Press to sharing a print edition of the important 1946 volume of essays, The Infallible Word, a symposium of the Westminster Theological Seminary faculty.26 This volume emphasized the Bible’s claims regarding its own supernatural origin.27 Then beginning in 1948, the reprint edition of Warfield’s writings issued by Samuel G. Craig and the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company began to circulate quite freely in the UK, in significant part because of the efforts of the Evangelical Bookshop of Belfast, Northern Ireland.28 By 1951, London publisher, Marshall, Morgan and Scott issued their own edition of Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.29 Subsequently, Inter-Varsity itself reprinted a collection of Warfield’s writings on Scripture as Biblical Foundations in 1958.30

We can go beyond the bare assertion that Warfield’s writings were beginning to find an audience among UK evangelicals after the Second World War. As regards Packer’s own access to Warfield, we know that this access improved markedly in autumn, 1954. It was then that he began to commute from Birmingham to Bristol to teach two days per week in Tyndale Hall.31 That college’s well-stocked library contained a good variety of Warfield’s writings, ranging from parts of the collected Works published by Oxford University Press between 1927 and 1932, to reprints of some of his major works issued in the late 1940s, as well as some of his occasional volumes.32 It is clear that if young Packer did not own a range of Warfield titles himself, he had access to a good variety by 1954.

2. Evidence of the Need for a Post-War Evangelical Theological Renaissance

Having gained some insight into the formative influences at work in the shaping of the young J. I. Packer in the period following 1944, we can consider the type of contribution he would now begin to make.

2.1. The Revision of the 1953 New Bible Commentary

British conservative evangelicalism had persisted for some decades without a dogmatic theologian, oriented to the older orthodoxy. What was it that called for a changing of the guard in post-war Britain? We have seen that there was perceived to be a dearth of clear doctrinal definition; systematic theology had been neglected. This concerned some evangelicals one generation older than Packer, and they were ready to give him a ‘stage call’ as they contemplated the revision of the best-selling New Bible Commentary in late 1953 and early 1954.

2.1.1. The Perceived Weakness of Daniel Lamont’s ‘Revelation and Inspiration’ Essay

The quarrel with what the revered Daniel Lamont had written for the 1953 New Bible Commentary was not with his concept of divine revelation. He had quite adequately maintained God’s action in communicating his saving will to fallen humans, which necessarily involved words. He took the Old Testament prophets as a paradigm of what this saving communication had been like. His concept of revelation (i.e., special revelation) was also Christocentric. Old Testament revelation was preparatory to Christ’s incarnation and work; the revelation embodied in Christ’s incarnation became the subject matter interpreted for us by the chosen apostles. This kind of treatment seems to have been generally acceptable, though perhaps lacking an adequate anchoring in the actual flow of redemptive history.

However, Lamont’s treatment of divine inspiration of the Bible was thin. That the biblical writings were inspired, he allowed. But Lamont understood the biblical record to be somewhat subsidiary to the saving revelation displayed in the earthly career of Christ. The Christ-event was the “high tide” of revelation; the biblical record was secondary. Lamont urged that the failure to draw this distinction would leave open the prospect of bibliolatry.33 He then went on to insist that a kind of inspiration was also needed, by the Spirit, for profitable hearing and reading (generally treated as the concept of divine illumination).34 He further allowed that biblical inspiration existed on a continuum which included what he called ‘general inspiration’, i.e., that given to persons at large in society to assist them to paint or to compose skillfully. Given what Lamont wrote—and what he failed to say and failed to distinguish—it is easy to imagine how readers of his ‘Revelation and Inspiration’ article would find themselves asking, ‘Is this all?’ Lamont’s treatment of revelation and inspiration seemed tethered; one could surmise that his academic coexistence with biblical higher criticism and crisis theology had constrained his theological affirmation. One could also draw analogies between his views and the less than satisfactory views of his former mentor, James Denney.35 Otherwise an orthodox evangelical Christian, Lamont was prone to understate matters regarding revelation and inspiration. His approach might be called ‘hedging’.36 As such, his essay fell below the standard of a similarly-named essay in the earlier volume of 1947, the New Bible Handbook.

The publications committee of Inter-Varsity Press and the editors of the New Bible Commentary concluded that something had to be done. As it was, Lamont—the author of the underwhelming article—had passed away in 1950, prior to publication of the 1953 edition. Alan Stibbs, co-editor of The New Bible Commentary, may well have been the one to put forward Packer’s name. Stibbs had assisted in the preparation of Revelation and Inspiration in 1941, presenting a summary of Warfield’s views for British students. As vice principal, Stibbs had enjoyed the company of and observed the classroom teaching of Packer at Oak Hill College in 1948–1949, after which the young Packer had gone directly into doctoral studies at Oxford. What could Packer offer the revised New Bible Commentary in time for November 1954?37

2.1.2. Packer’s Different ‘Tack’ on Revelation and Inspiration

Packer’s lucid treatment of revelation and inspiration was first of all strong on what we today call the ‘redemptive-historical’ approach. Quoting Scripture regularly, he did not appeal to biblical passages willy-nilly, but in the sequence of biblical history. Thus, the divine disclosures at the burning bush (Exodus 6) and at Sinai (Exodus 20) were highlighted, sequentially, as instances of divine revelatory action. Packer regularly stressed the sovereignty of God in the granting of special revelation, in providing humans to record it, and in allowing the writers full exercise of their individuality. It was the over-arching sovereignty of God which also ensured the accuracy of the written accounts and their utter reliability. Packer did not hesitate to affirm that these inspired Scriptures were without error.38

In at least two ways, Packer explicitly targeted concepts set out by Lamont, his predecessor. He first questioned the adequacy of terming (as Lamont had done) Scripture as only a ‘record of Revelation’: ‘It is not merely a report of what God said; it is what He says here and now.’ He would not either allow that biblical inspiration stood on a continuum with artistic inspiration: ‘The inspiration which secured the infallible communication of revealed truth is something distinct from the “inspiration” of the creative artist.’

Perhaps sensing that his more elevated views would raise the eyebrows of some readers, Packer sought to disarm potential critics by offering two key qualifiers. First, he addressed the question of the sense in which all Scripture may be called ‘God’s Word’. ‘It is not the Word of God in the sense that every sentence, including the words of evil men, expresses His mind or reflects His will…. God’s Word written is the Bible as a whole, or more accurately the theology of the Bible’. Second he clarified the matter of whether a comprehensive inspiration (such as he advocated) led to the conclusion that all biblical writers were guided identically in their writing. In denying this, he wrote, ‘Inspiration does not imply an abnormal state of mind in the writer … nor does it imply the obliteration of his personality. God in His providence prepared the human vehicles for their task and caused them, in many, perhaps most cases, to perform it through the normal exercise of powers He had given them’.39 Here, the lucidity of expression is entirely Packer’s, but again and again the concepts are those earlier set out by Warfield.

The significance of the shift exemplified in this updated article inserted in the revision of the Commentary in 1954 was quite momentous. Conservative evangelical leaders a generation older than Packer had found in him the articulate champion of robust views which they hoped could replace the dogmatic uncertainty which had plagued the evangelical movement for too long.40 In the young Packer, it appeared they had found their man. The unforeseen reality, however, was that Packer, in addition to helping to advance the agenda of persons like Douglas Johnson, Alan Stibbs, Ernest Kevan and John Wenham, had an agenda of his own to press. What that was became clearer in mid-1955.

2.1.3. The Keswick ‘Brouhaha’

As noted earlier, the release of the 1955 Evangelical Quarterly essay, ‘“Keswick” and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification’, proved controversial. Packer’s new employer, Tyndale Hall, had been allied with the annual Keswick conventions in past years. His predecessor at Tyndale, Geoffrey Bromiley, was more sympathetic than he and said so in articles published in another magazine.41 For our purposes, we draw attention to certain features in this writing that demonstrated that Packer was moving in a decided direction.

First, whereas Packer’s ‘Revelation and Inspiration’ article of 1954 was definitely a piece of dogmatic theology, it did not summon the Protestant Reformation or any published authors in its support. Packer had tried to make his appeal directly to Scripture’s own statements (though we can admit that he did so informed by theological reading). In the summer of 1955, Packer’s stance was one of setting ‘Reformed’ theology against Keswick teaching. This was a fairly confrontational thing to do for several reasons. (1) He recognized that certain prominent Keswick supporters (he used the examples of the late bishop of Durham, H. C. G. Moule, and theologian W. H. Griffiths Thomas) had themselves identified with the Reformed theological tradition. Stephen Barabas, the Wheaton College professor whose book on the Keswick movement provided the basis for Packer’s withering attack, had done the doctoral research behind it at Princeton Seminary. (2) In the Evangelical Quarterly article, as he critiqued the Keswick teaching, Packer now used footnotes to indicate what he had been reading. We will not be surprised to learn that he had been reading J. C. Ryle’s classic, Holiness (1877).42 We ought not to be surprised either to find him quoting repeatedly from B. B. Warfield’s essays, published in 1931 as Perfectionism. Packer quotes both Warfield’s essay on ‘The Higher Life Movement’ (in which the Princeton theologian named names such as W. E. Boardman, Robert Pearsall Smith and Hannah Whitall Smith) and its counterpart, ‘The Victorious Life’ (in which he took aim at Charles G. Trumbull, the influential editor of the Sunday School Times).43 Additionally, Packer extensively drew from Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (1938). He also quoted from Abraham Kuyper’s The Work of the Holy Spirit (published in English in 1900), from Calvin’s Institutes, and from the recent translation of Calvin’s Instruction in the Faith (1537).44 Perhaps unsurprisingly, we find three quotations from John Owen as well.

Repeatedly, Packer charged that Keswick teaching was tinged with Pelagianism, both in terms of its notion that fallen creatures maintain the undiminished power of free choice (it is the Christian’s role to ‘will’ the necessary ongoing surrender and full consecration) and in relation to its insistence that the Spirit’s freedom to advance holiness in the Christian is contingent on the consent of the believer. It is not an exaggeration to say that Packer wrote with relish! He was not ‘jousting at windmills’; he was tackling a misleading teaching that had caused him real anguish early in his Christian walk, while an Oxford undergraduate.45

Standing back from the crater which Packer’s broadside against Keswick created, we are entitled to wonder whether he had not just done the equivalent of falling on his sword. His ‘star’ had been on the ascent in light of his lucid writing, the previous year, in the New Bible Commentary. Was he now to be marginalized as extreme, abrasive and angular?46

2.2. Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

While British evangelical Christians were still thinking about this matter, they were overtaken by events set in motion by the proliferation of the Billy Graham Crusades in various British cities, beginning in 1954. Many leaders of the mainstream Protestant churches spoke dismissively of Graham and of his Crusades. From a learned Anglo-Catholic, Gabriel Hebert, there came a book which “threw down the gloves” at the prospect of vigorous evangelical expansion riding on Graham’s coat-tails: Fundamentalism and the Church of God.47 Packer had already given addresses on the question of the distinction between fundamentalism and evangelicalism; Inter-Varsity Press asked him for a pamphlet-length treatment of 7,000 words on this subject. Shortly this pamphlet project expanded into a manuscript of 55,000 words. The ensuing ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God was Packer’s first book-length project.48

For our purposes, the concern is purely to draw attention to the fact that Packer was, by and large, setting out a position on Scripture that was extensively informed by the writings of Warfield, the late Princeton theologian. Of the authors quoted, none is cited in support more often than Warfield (7 times), an honor he shared with J. Gresham Machen and John Calvin. We also learn that the edition of Warfield from which he cites (in this instance) is the 1951 UK reprint by Marshall, Morgan, and Scott of the 1948 American volume of The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. If we compare this new book’s fourth chapter (‘Scripture’) with the brief New Bible Commentary essay of 1954, we see that here Packer offered a fuller elaboration of the same viewpoint, only now with citations present. Though it is not our purpose to look beyond 1958, it is worth mentioning that Packer elaborated the same position about Scriptural authority and inspiration in a subsequent small paperback, God Has Spoken (1965), as well as in later writings.49

It is safe to say that, to the extent that his literary attack on Keswick had furrowed brows among British evangelicals who felt that something dear to them was being lampooned, the publication of ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God at a time when there was such public hostility being shown towards evangelical Christianity served to eclipse those earlier concerns. The UK edition alone soon sold 20,000 copies; it was soon reprinted by Eerdmans in the U.S.A.50 In 1958, Packer would turn 32; with the publication of the Fundamentalism volume, he began to be recognized as one of the leading voices in British evangelical theology. We must now ask what was the larger significance of Packer’s activity in the 1950s.

3. The Larger Significance of Packer’s Utilization of Warfield

It would be possible to assay Packer’s activity and to draw inferences like those drawn by the late David F. Wright in a Tyndale House lecture of 1978. By his accounting, Packer’s vigorous writing on Scripture illustrated either ‘a shift backwards, to the views of nineteenth-century writers like Bannerman, Lee and Gaussen, or a shift westwards, to the constructions of American dogmaticians like Charles Hodge and Warfield, that apparently failed to captivate mainstream evangelical theologians of the earlier part of the century in Britain.’51 Both of these are interesting hypotheses, even though they rely on a questionable chronology of development.52 Without ruling either possibility out, I would suggest at the same time that there was a larger drama unfolding in the 1950s and that drama was the international resurgence of Reformed theology—a movement underway since at least 1929, and marked initially by the inauguration of the Evangelical Quarterly.53 That periodical had begun in Edinburgh, just as the Princeton Theological Review was expiring. Meanwhile, this same resurgence was underway in France, in Hungary, in the Netherlands, in Britain, in North America and in the Antipodes. It was a multi-directional resurgence, from all these regions to all these regions. Douglas Johnson of Inter-Varsity had been central to this resurgence. T. C. Hammond, Alan Stibbs and Ernest Kevan had all sought to advance it by their own publication work.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a former student of B. B. Warfield, Samuel G. Craig, a mainline Presbyterian minister operating a small New Jersey publishing company, had taken it upon himself to republish major segments of the collected works of Warfield’s writing, twenty years after Oxford University Press had first released the ten-volume Works. Craig thus made Warfield accessible to those beyond major theological libraries. His editions were imported into Britain and reprinted there in time. Packer, for his own part, drew on the example of T. C. Hammond’s writing, the Warfield pamphlet edited by Stibbs (1941), and Craig’s re-issue of Warfield (1948). Packer drew attention not only to Warfield, but to his student Louis Berkhof, to Abraham Kuyper and to the views of the Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) faculty reflected in their 1946 volume, The Infallible Word.54 All this is to say that in and through Packer, the senior theological minds of British Inter-Varsity had linked themselves with a resurgence of Reformed theology which is still with us today.

[1] Ronald Inchley, ‘The Inter-Varsity Press’, in Douglas Johnson, Contending for the Faith: A History of the Evangelical Movement in the Universities and Colleges (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 323. Further light on the origination of the New Bible Commentary and its subsequent companion, the New Bible Dictionary, is also provided by Inchley and in the accounts of Oliver Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain 1935–1995: A Personal Sketch (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), 63–64; T. A. Noble, Tyndale House and Fellowship: Research for the Academy and the Church: The First Sixty Years (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), 87; and Brian Stanley, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 98–100.

[2] Oliver Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain, 19, 29; F. F. Bruce, ‘Lamont, Daniel’, in Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ed. Nigel M. Cameron (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 470.

[3] Whereas the first edition had been edited by Francis Davidson, Alan Stibbs and Ernest Kevan, the passing of Davidson in that year mean that revision was in the hands of his two former colleagues.

[4] Alan Stibbs and Ernest Kevan, ed., New Bible Commentary, revised ed. (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1954), vi.

[5] G. T. Manley, ed., New Bible Handbook (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1947). Its essay ‘Inspiration and Authority’ was unsigned.

[6] Paul E. Brown, Ernest Kevan: Leader in Twentieth Century British Evangelicalism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012), 150–51. Ellison’s resignation was requested and accepted in the aftermath of the publication of his article, ‘Some Thoughts on Inspiration’, EvQ 26 (1954): 210–17.

[7] Steven Barabas, So Great Salvation (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1952). The Packer review article was, ‘“Keswick” and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification’, EvQ 27.3 (1955): 153–67. It is evident that the Barabas book was a re-working of a doctoral dissertation that he had recently defended at Princeton Theological Seminary. This detail is furnished through the Wheaton College archives:

[8] Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997), 17.

[9] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 11, 12.

[10] Johnson, Contending for the Faith, 76, 77, 89; McGrath, J. I. Packer, 16.

[11] Oliver Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain, 19. James Denney had passed in 1917 and Handley Moule in 1920. Barclay’s point was that evangelical scholarship had fallen decades behind in addressing current questions. David F. Wright, ‘Soundings in the Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture’, TynB 31 (1980): 105, claims that ‘between the Wars, evangelical theology and scholarship rarely reached levels of distinction…; [it was] a dark age of evangelical thought.’

[12] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 24–25

[13] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 38

[14] He would serve in this capacity again in 1951–1952. Noble, Tyndale House and Fellowship, 69,70.

[15] Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain, 47

[16] Barclay, Evangelicalism in Britain, 73; Noble, Tyndale House and Fellowship, 72–73; McGrath, J. I. Packer, 37–38

[17] McGrath, J. I. Packer, ch. 6 (note especially pp. 84, 85); Wright, ‘Soundings in the Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture’, 102.

[18] Handley Moule, Outlines of Christian Doctrine (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889); James Denney, Studies in Theology (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1895).

[19] Quoted in F. W. Dillistone, C. H. Dodd: Interpreter of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 33.

[20] D. J. Goodhew, ‘Johnson, Douglas’, in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 333–34.

[21] Noble, Tyndale House and Fellowship, 71

[22] John Wenham recounts the fascinating story of how this book began with an outline provided by Douglas Johnson and was written by Hammond in three intense days (assisted by a stenographer). See Facing Hell: The Story of a Nobody (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 77. See also the account in Warren Nelson, T. C. Hammond: His Life and Legacy in Ireland and Australia (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), 88–89.

[23] T. C. Hammond, In Understanding Be Men, 2nd ed. (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1936), 42.

[24] B. B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Volume 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1927).

[25] Iain Murray, D. M. Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 1:285.

[26] Inchley, ‘The Inter-Varsity Press’, 321. The Infallible Word symposium was first printed in 1946 by the Presbyterian Guardian Publishing Company.

[27] This emphasis is emphatically sounded by John Murray, ‘The Self-Attestation of Scripture’, in The Infallible Word, ed. N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (London: Tyndale, 1946). Evidence of the influence in the UK of the circulation of The Infallible Word may be seen in Inter-Varsity Press’s release the following year of The New Bible Handbook. That volume’s opening essay (like all included essays, unsigned) on ‘Inspiration and Authority’ drew attention to the American volume at p. 15, n. 2.

[28] This important activity at Belfast was directed by W. J. Grier, a Presbyterian minister who had himself studied in the old Princeton Seminary. See John J. Murray, Catch the Vision: Roots of the Reformed Recovery (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 40–43.

[29] This was a reprint of the 1948 Presbyterian and Reformed volume.

[30] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Biblical Foundations (London: Tyndale, 1958).

[31] The part-time teaching lasted only until the end of calendar 1954, whereafter, with his Birmingham curacy completed. Packer and his wife moved to reside in Bristol at Tyndale Hall.

[32] I am grateful to Su Brown, the current librarian of Trinity College, Bristol (into which Tyndale Hall was absorbed) for verifying the library’s range of Warfield holdings. Among these we find, most notably, the 1948 reprint of Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. Samuel G. Craig (an abbreviated version of the larger, 1927 Oxford University Press volume); two original Oxford University Press volumes (Biblical Doctrines and Studies in Theology); Studies in Perfectionism; and the 1953 Eerdmans reprint, Miracles: Yesterday and Today (originally issued in 1918).

[33] Daniel Lamont, ‘Revelation and Inspiration’, in New Bible Commentary, ed. Francis Davidson, Ernest Kevan and Alan Stibbs (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1953), 29.

[34] Stanley, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, 100–101, draws attention to the fact that Geoffrey Bromiley, author of the companion introductory essay on ‘The Authority of Scripture’ in the 1953 New Bible Commentary had explicitly disavowed (p. 22) the notion (embraced by Lamont) that inspiration is necessary within the reader or hearer of Scripture. This viewpoint, displayed alongside Lamont’s essay of 1953, opens up at least the possibility that Bromiley himself had offered some critique of Lamont’s article to the volume’s editors.

[35] F. F. Bruce, ‘Daniel Lamont’, in Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ed. Nigel M. Cameron (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 470

[36] Lamont, ‘Revelation and Inspiration’, 24–30.

[37] This was the month of the release of the 2nd edition.

[38] J. I. Packer, ‘Revelation and Inspiration’, in New Bible Commentary, ed. Ernest Kevan and Alan Stibbs, revised ed. (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1954), 24–30. The treatment of this essay by Paul R. House, ‘God Has Spoken: The Primacy of Scripture in J. I. Packer’s Ministry’ in J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of his Life and Thought, ed. Timothy George (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 73, does not investigate the significance of Packer’s essay being substituted for that of Lamont. Having said this, House does provide a very capable overview of Packer’s extended writing on Scripture. Similarly, Roger Nicole, while noting the importance of Packer’s New Bible Commentary essay, draws no comparisons with the essay which was withdrawn. See his ‘J. I. Packer’s Contribution to the Doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture’, in Doing Theology for the People of God: Studies in Honor of J. I. Packer, ed. Donald M. Lewis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 176.

[39] Packer, ‘Revelation and Inspiration’, 29

[40] On the significance of this shift, David F. Wright perceptively wrote, ‘In this regard the arguments deployed after the Second World War by writers like Dr. J. I. Packer appear to represent a development in twentieth-century evangelical thought—a shift backwards, to the views of nineteenth-century writers like Bannerman, Lee and Gaussen, or a shift westwards, to the constructions of American dogmaticians like Charles Hodge and Warfield, that apparently failed to captivate mainstream evangelical theologians of the earlier part of the century in Britain’ (‘Soundings in the Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture’, 102).

[41] Details of these ‘shock waves’ unleashed by the Packer article are described in McGrath, J. I. Packer, 78–79. Andrew Atherstone has recently provided elaboration on how Packer’s published views were clearly at variance with those of W. H. Griffiths Thomas. See T. A. Noble and Jason S. Sexton, ed., British Evangelical Theologians of the Twentieth Century: An Enduring Legacy (London: Apollos, 2022), ch. 4.

[42] Ryle’s classic, Holiness, had been reprinted in 1952 at the instigation of D. M. Lloyd-Jones. See McGrath, J. I. Packer, 79.

[43] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, Part 1, Works of Benjamin B. Warfield 8 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931). See note 32 above for the Warfield volumes available to Packer in the Tyndale Hall library at Bristol.

[44] John Calvin, Instruction in the Faith, trans. Paul Fuhrmann (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1949).

[45] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 22–24.

[46] It is significant that Packer was not a solo voice in challenging traditional Keswick teaching in this period. The biographer of Ernest F. Kevan, first principal of London Bible College, indicates that Kevan was beginning to do this in the same years from the speaker’s podium at Keswick. Brown, Ernest Kevan, 217–18.

[47] Hebert’s Fundamentalism and the Church of God was published simultaneously in 1957 by both SCM (London) and Westminster Press (Philadelphia).

[48] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 82. In this section of the paper, I am utilizing the London: Inter-Varsity edition of 1958, reprinted 1970.

[49] I have consulted the American edition, published under the revised title God Speaks to Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966).

[50] McGrath, J. I. Packer, 84.

[51] Wright, ‘Soundings in the Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture’, 102. It seems odd that Wright did not draw attention to Hammond’s use of Warfield in his In Understanding be Men (1936), especially since Wright revised Hammond for a fresh edition in 1968.

[52] A comparison of the unsigned article on “Inspiration and Authority” in the 1947 New Bible Handbook and the 1954 Packer essay in the revised New Bible Commentary shows that Packer stands in continuity with that 1947 essay as well as with T. C. Hammond’s In Understanding Be Men (1936). From this perspective, the Lamont essay of 1953 represented a departure from the Inter-Varsity Fellowship’s earlier stance.

[53] It is noteworthy that Professor Robert Morton gave a highly favorable review of the first volume of Warfield’s Works (Revelation and Inspiration [1927]) in the inaugural issue of EvQ 1.1 (1929): 84–87.

[54] The expansion of the interest in Reformed theology among British evangelicals in this period is illustrated by the participation of evangelical Anglicans—Packer, Gervase Duffield, P. E. Hughes, Herbert Carson, Leon Morris, and Donald Robinson—in an August 1961 meeting of the International Association for Reformed Faith and Action at Cambridge. These gatherings had begun in the pre-war period as “International Calvinist Congresses” in London (1932), Amsterdam (1934), Geneva (1936) and Edinburgh (1938). See Christianity Today 5.24 (11 September 1961): 19–23 and McGrath, J. I. Packer, 85.

Kenneth J. Stewart

Ken Stewart is emeritus professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

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