Review: Keep in Step With the Spirit

Keep in Step With the Spirit by J.I. Packer

Crucial and Vital

“Understanding the Holy Spirit is a crucial task for Christian theology at all times. For where the Spirit’s ministry is studied, it will also be sought after, and where it is sought after, spiritual vitality will result.” (p. 235)

“CHRISTIANS WAKE UP! CHURCHES WAKE UP! THEOLOGIANS WAKE UP! We study and discus God, Christ, body life, mission, Christian social involvement, and many other things; we pay lip service to the Holy Spirit throughout (everyone does these days), but we are not yet taking Him seriously in any of it. In this we need to change.” (236)

This is Packer’s purpose and theme throughout the course of this book, and this is indeed the effect that this book has had in my own life. Written almost 30 years ago, it carries the same weight today, and his analysis is still spot on. At nearly 300 pages, this book is thorough. Packer seeks to lay out for us a Biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit, without leaving anything out. He wants us to view the Spirit and emphasize the Spirit the way the Bible itself does. He does so clearly and powerfully.

Along the way, he addresses various views and alternately critiques and commends them. Packer is at his finest here, his charitableness and finding things to praise are admirable, and to be emulated when we disagree theologically with others. The first main area of differing views is the area of “holiness” in a believer’s life. He evaluates the Reformed view, the Wesleyan view, and the Keswick/Higher Life view. This analysis is excellent, and is the first place where I’ve seen a thorough evaluation of Keswick theology (other than the e-book “Let Go and Let God?” by Andy Naselli).

The second area of differing views is the gifts of the Spirit, and the charismatic movement. This section was incredibly helpful to me. Packer is no charismatic, but he is so charitable in finding commendable things in the movement, even while critiquing what he disagrees with. Take this for example:

“If the charismatic handling of all these problems fails to grab you, what is your alternative? Any who venture to criticize charismatic practices without facing these questions merit D.L. Moody’s retort, a century ago, to a doctrinaire critic of his evangelistic methods: “Frankly, sir, I prefer the way I do it to the way you don’t do it.” The charismatic movement is a God-sent gadfly to goad the whole church into seeking more of totality before the Lord than most Christians today seem to know. Face the challenge!” (232)

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to better understand the Holy Spirit, different views of holiness, and the charismatic movement. It has also been republished with an extra chapter added in as: Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God. I wanted the book in hardcover 🙂

“Maybe they have a way, and I’ve just not seen it…”

From the 1994 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference: Sanctification by Faith Alone.  In the panel discussion, featuring John Piper and Daniel Fuller, the following question was asked, and Piper relates his position on imputation and the covenant of works.  Note that by 2006, he published this, in which he said, “Many of his theological heroes have been covenant theologians (for example, many of the Puritans), and he does see some merit in the concept of a pre-fall covenant of works…”  “Some merit” is quite different than a “profound rejection.”  Anyway, here’s where he was at in 1994:

Question: Contrast your understanding of sanctification with Packer, Ryle, Bridges, especially in the practical of teaching, dealing with people differently, encouraging them in their christian growth.  What is the essence of the difference in theory and in practice?

Answer: Number 1, a profound rejection of the covenant of works. I’m persuaded that there is no such thing.  Dr, Fuller really didn’t persuade me of that, I just never could find it, I never could find it in the Bible.  And when I went out to Gordon,  and who’s the Old Testament guy out there that gets so upset about this?  Meredith Kline just turned red in the face when he was talking to me, like the whole universe was going to collapse if what I said was true, namely the cross would collapse.  That the fundamental issue on the covenant of works for Meredith Kline and most covenant theologians is you’re wrecking the atonement.  If you say that Adam was not asked to earn eternal life, which then the second Adam purchases by earning it through obedience passively and actively, then you have destroyed the fabric of the Bible, the atonement and ethics.  So one profound difference for all those three people you named is that Fuller and I reject their structure.  So that’s a theoretical difference.  The structure of the covenant of works is gone.

Now practically, I’m not sure how this works out, because I benefit so from reading these guys who have this profound difference. I mean, Owen, I was reading him the other night, and he said more clearly than any theologian I have ever read, he said, “Jesus earned our salvation by fulfilling the  covenant of works.”  He just said it very very clearly.  and I think the practical implication is that running through my system now is not a meritorious effort on the part of Jesus to fulfill the covenant that Adam blew, by not earning, but rather Jesus becomes a Christian hedonist, in that he knows that God is most glorified in him when he is most satisfied in God, and if you buy my definition of faith, as being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus that simply  means Jesus glorified his Father through trusting him all the way through the cross for the joy that was set before him. Never did he relate to his father as an employer, job description, by which he would earn wages called eternal life.  God never taught Adam or his second Adam to do the Galatian heresy.  I learned saying it that way from Dr. Fuller.  And I think that’s exactly right.  He never commanded the Galatian heresy as a wise way to live.  Rather he commanded faith, and faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God that if you have to die in order to get the fullest benefit of God, you’ll die.  If you have to die to bring the redeemed into heaven, if I have to die to carry this church to obedience, I’ll die.  But I will not sacrifice the joy of the fullest experience of God in that ministry and in that destiny.

And that’s my sanctification, that’s the essence of practical sanctification.  If we are holy to the degree that we are cheerfulgivers rather than begrudging givers, you cannot make people holy without making them happy.  And therefore my goal every Sunday is the advancement and joy of faith, Philippians 1:25.  Now I read parts of Owen that are almost exactly like that.  Read pages 82-85 of “Mortification” in volume 6, he talks almost just like that.

So I’m wound up saying the Puritans are inconsistent.  They don’t carry through the covenant of works thing, maybe they have a way of making it consistent and I’ve just not seen it,.  but i don’t find the structure, the theoretical thing right, so there’s a difference between me and those guys, and practically I don’t hear them, MacArthur’s just another good example, I don’t hear him doing what I said needs to be done, namely, calling people to be satisfied in God.  I think most pastors are really happy, are not really as upset as I am, when people are satisfied with their money, and satisfied with their second and third houses, and satisfied with their nice clothes, and satisfied with moving to the right neighborhood.  They don’t think that’s a real big issue.  I think it’s the issue.  You can’tbe a holy person without getting your satisfaction from God.