J I Packer and ‘Mother’ Teresa

At the beginning of this year I was contacted by a friend and fellow-believer in England who asked me if I had any information or views on an addition included in the second printing of a book by J I Packer called ‘Rediscovering Holiness’.  This addition dealt with Mr Packer’s views of difficulties/doubts experienced by the late ‘Mother’ Teresa. I had not been aware of this addition to Mr Packer’s reprinted book and in the course of my investigations I came across a very helpful article on this link

http://strengthenedbygrace.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/j-i-packer-continued-disappointment/

and I plan now to reproduce this article here (I have highlighted some important portions in bold) and then by way of conclusion I shall make some comments of my own.

J. I. Packer: continued disappointment

My understanding of who God was tremendously increased by reading J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God.  God used this man to teach me about the Puritans in his excellent work The Quest for Godliness. And Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a brief but wonderfully profound text bringing Scriptural balance to that issue.

But I have been disappointed over the last several years in Packer’s signing and ringing endorsement of the document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and his signature on the recent “Manhattan Declaration.”

Packer’s book Rediscovering Holiness has also been an encouragement to me  in my pursuit of sanctification.  So I was sad to hear about this addition to his second edition.  Dr. Dave Doran of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater, discussesPacker’s praise of Mother Teresa in the book’s afterword.  Here is Dr. Doran’s blog post:

“Shortly before the Manhattan Declaration came out I was very disappointed by a discovery I made at the back end of the second edition of J. I. Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness. This new edition contains an afterword entitled “Holiness in the Dark: The Case of Mother Teresa.” I scanned it quickly then, but did not make time to give it a thorough reading until this morning. Very disappointed is an understatement.

To cut to the chase, Packer wants to address the “problem of felt abandonment by God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, within the frame of full commitment to God: in other words, the desolation and seeming desertion of the deeply devoted” (italics original, p. 249), and he believes that Teresa’s struggles can be helpful for all of us—even to the point of thanking God “for Mother Teresa’s example, which points the way ahead for us all” (p. 263). In case you are unaware of her stuggles, Packer informs us that “after two decades of constant joyful intimacy with Christ, from 1948 on—that is, for 49 years, during the whole time of her leadership of the Missionaries of Charity—felt abandonment was the essence of her experience. Behind all the cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, Christ-honoring utterances that flowed from her during these years in a steady stream lay the permanently painful sense that, quite simply, God had gone, leaving her in aching loneliness, apparently for all eternity” (p. 250).

Packer bases the entire afterword on the premise that Teresa is a genuine believer, in spite of her devotion to Roman Catholic teachings. Packer tries to explain how she could experience such darkness and begins by explaining away several options:

  • “This was not an experience of doubt …. She was always sure of the historic Christian faith and of the grace that flows from Jesus, particularly as she believed through the Mass; she had no doubt about the administrative procedures of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church; she had absolute confidence in the love of the Lord Jesus for herself and for everyone else, including the poorest of the Indian poor, whom Hindu society wrote off as valueless; she was totally convinced that she was called to take the love of Christ to them; and she was ever a human dynamo in furthering this project” (p. 261).
  • It was not “passing through the dark night of the soul as Catholic tradition conceives it; for that darkness, however similar while it lasts to Teresa’s, is temporary, leading on to experiential union with God, whereas Teresa by her own testimony had known experiential union with Christ in particular for 20 years before the pain of inner darkness became her permanent condition” (p. 261).
  • “Nor, again, was she undergoing an experience of detection, God sending her pain to alert her to issues of repentance and obedience that she had evaded. Quite apart from the fact that the inner darkness spanned her whole half-century of leadership, it is safe to say that there were no problems of that kind in Teresa’s life” (p. 261).

This is so mind-boggling that I am not sure where to start. How Packer can conclude any of this is beyond my ability to understand—he is prepared to look into her soul and assure us that she had no doubt, that she truly experienced union with God, and that she had no problems with repentance or obedience? I know Packer is much more intelligent than I am, but I don’t think even he can see inside a soul with such clarity.

And his conclusions fly in face of sound theology. How can she not have doubt when her salvation is based on the administration of the Mass rather than the finished work of Christ? I’ve seen no evidence that Teresa believed the gospel of grace and significant evidence from her own words that would suggest that she didn’t. Packer seems to ignore the possibility that her devotion to Jesus was not gospel-based, or that it might not have even been the Jesus of whom Paul preached (cf. 2 Cor 11:4).

Some wonder why many of us are making such a big fuss about the Manhattan Declaration, and I’d submit that it is because some of us see a dangerous drift happening. Packer, who signed the MD and also the original ECT document, is representative of this drift. It seems, and this deserves further exploration, that Packer’s initial steps in this direction started in the mid-1960s, then bloomed more fully in the decade following. Packer’s biographer, Alistar McGrath, acknowledges that Packer’s support of ECT “can be seen to rest on precisely the theological foundations developed by Packer in England during the 1970s” (J. I. Packer, p. 160). Specifically, Packer took the side of evangelical ecumenism in opposition to Lloyd-Jones in 1966, then co-authored a work with two Anglo-Catholics in 1970 (Growing into Union) that many evangelicals felt conceded too much biblical ground on critical doctrinal issues. The publication of that work led to the formal break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, bringing an end to the Puritan Conferences.

I think this backdrop is important so that we see this issue in relation to the larger issues. Too many defenses of the signers of the MD err precisely by seeing only this document, not the larger questions on the table and trends at work. Once ecumenism has been embraced, common ground becomes the goal. That almost without fail means that differences are minimized or dismissed altogether. Perceived piety or devotion to good works gradually trump soundness on the gospel as the evidence of genuine Christianity. That seems like the only way to explain how Packer can claim that Teresa is a model Christian because “what one does for others is the real test of the genuineness and depth of one’s love to God, and specifically to Jesus Christ the Lord” (p. 262).

As I said earlier on this subject, the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing something about social issues. It seems clear to me that J. I. Packer has taken that step”.

Cecil’s concluding comments

1. You will note that Dr Doran made reference to ‘The Manhattan Declaration’ that appeared on the scene in the latter part of 2009 and I posted a warning article about this declaration to our web site and it can be viewed on – http://www.takeheed.info/the-manhattan-declaration/ I should mention, that as well as J I Packer having signed it, another ecumenical compromiser, and so–called ‘evangelical that I have written about in times past, Ravi Zacharias, also signed this Manhattan Declaration.

2. Dr Doran in his posting made reference to the break that occurred in 1970 between Martin Lloyd-Jones and J I Packer. Mr Lloyd-Jones was not prepared to follow the path of ecumenical compromise that was being pursued vigorously by J I Packer [and John Stott] and so he separated himself from them.Dr Doran made reference to what I would term, the ‘final straw’, which was the publication of Mr Packer’s book Growing Into Union and in his excellent book ‘Evangelicalism Divided’ [pp 94 & 110] Iain Murray wrote the following ‘Growing Into Union… appeared to give sanction to errors which evangelicals in the Church of England had hitherto always opposed… The truth is that the book was rather a justification for the alliance with Anglo-Catholics… and it brought to breaking point the link between Packer and Lloyd-Jones… For Lloyd-Jones the public parting with John Stott in 1966 and finally Jim Packer in 1970 marked the saddest period in his life 

3. Dr Doran in his posting also made reference to Dr Packer’s endorsement of ‘the original ECT document’ and this of course refers to the 1994 document ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission for The Third Millennium’. As in the case of the recent Manhattan Declaration, one of the main architects of ‘the original ECT document’ was the arch ecumenical compromiser and so-called evangelical, Charles Colson, who almost single-handedly has managed to undermine huge swathes of genuine evangelical outreach to souls spiritually lost in and because of the Roman Catholic religion. Former Roman Catholic, Rob Zins in his incisive book ‘On the edge of Apostasy: The Evangelical Romance with Rome’ devoted quite a lengthy chapter to the role of J I Packer in the 1994 ECT document and Mr Zins wrote [pp 171-172] ‘There is a popular hymn which we often sing in our church which starts out with the lyrics “What more can He say than to you He Has said?” We have that same song running through our mind as the evidence mounts up against Dr J I Packer… Rome is in. Dr Packer would have thousands of missionaries to France, Mexico, Brazil and Central America – not to mention Italy – give the new gospel “Go and return to your Roman Catholic churches and get serious about Romanism”. According to ECT, Colson, Packer and all those signing and supporting this dreadful document, missionaries the world round should put an end to pressuring Roman Catholics to change churches. What more can we say than Dr Packer has said? … The gospel is very flexible in the mind of Colson and now has been stretched beyond our recognition due to the efforts of Dr J I Packer’.

[Rob Zins’ book can be ordered via his web site on – http://cwrc-rz.org/cart/catalog/Materials-Available-orderby0-p-1-c-257.html]

4. Dr Doran made this supremely relevant statement in his article ‘Packer bases the entire afterword on the premise that Teresa is a genuine believer, in spite of her devotion to Roman Catholic teachings’. To any faithful and discerning Christian it should be patently clear, in the light of ‘Mother’ Teresa’s own words, that she was a spiritually lost soul, sadly a high-profile victim of Rome’s false ‘gospel’ and practices. Fomer Roman Catholic priest, Richard Bennett examines the question of ‘Mother’ Teresa in his article ‘Mother Teresa: A Lost Soul?’ and it can be viewed on http://www.takeheed.info/mother-teresa-a-lost-soul-richard-bennett/

Other helpful articles on this subject are by David Cloud can be viewed on

http://www.wayoflife.org/files/63a89aad0aecae2d0e443276c4a7ae92-71.html

http://www.wayoflife.org/database/motherteresafalsehope.html

Mr Packer made reference to ‘the dark night of the soul’ and David Cloud fittingly concluded the second of his articles with these words ‘This is the hopeless maze through which Mother Teresa roamed for her entire life. She had the Bible, but she did not accept its teaching, and she was doubtless confronted with the gospel of the grace of Christ through other means. She put her faith, rather, in Rome, and hoped vaguely in Mary and the Mass. That is why she had such a long dark night of the soul.’

In conclusion I would say that it is high-time, in fact the time is well overdue, for those who claim to be ‘evangelical Chrisitans’ to totally distance themselves from J I Packer who more that 4 decades ago forfeited the right to be viewed as a faithful ‘evangelical Christian’.

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 11th January 2010

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