J.I Packer 1926 – 2020

A man who influenced Christendom.

This obituary was first published in Christianity Today

James Innell Packer, better known to many as J.I. Packer, was one of the most famous and influential evangelical leaders of our time. He died on Friday 17 July, at age 93.

J.I. Packer was born in a village near Gloucester, England, on 22 July 1926. He came from humble stock, being born into a family that he called lower middle class. The religious climate at home and church was that of nominal Anglicanism rather than evangelical belief in Christ as Saviour (something that Packer was not taught in his home church).

Packer’s life-changing childhood experience came at the age of seven: he was chased out of the schoolyard by a bully onto the busy London Road in Gloucester, where he was struck by a bread van and sustained a serious head injury. He carried a visible dent in the side of his head for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, Packer was uncomplaining and accepting of what providence brought into his life from childhood on.


Much more important than Packer’s accident was his conversion to Christ, which happened within two weeks of his matriculation as an undergraduate at Oxford University. Packer committed his life to Christ on 22 October 1944, while attending an evangelistic service sponsored by the campus InterVarsity chapter.

Although Packer was a serious student pursuing a classics degree, the heartbeat of his life at Oxford was spiritual. It was at Oxford that he first heard lectures from C.S. Lewis, and though they were never personally acquainted, Lewis would exert a powerful influence on Packer’s life and work. When Packer left Oxford with his doctorate on Richard Baxter in 1952, he did not immediately begin his academic career, but spent a three-year term as a parish minister in suburban Birmingham.

A career of two halves

Packer had a varied professional life. He spent the first half of his career in England before moving to Canada for the second half. In England, Packer held various teaching posts at theological colleges in Bristol, during which he had a decade-long interlude as Warden (director) of Latimer House in Oxford, a clearinghouse for evangelical interests in the Church of England. In that role, Packer was one of the three most influential evangelical leaders in England (along with John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Packer’s move to Regent College in Vancouver in 1979 shocked the evangelical world, but enlarged Packer’s influence for the rest of his life.

Although Packer was a humble man who repudiated the success ethic, his life nonetheless reads like a success story. His first book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (published in 1958) sold 20,000 copies in its first year and has consistently been in print since. In 2005, Time magazine named Packer one of the 25 most influential evangelicals.

When Christianity Today conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer’s book Knowing God came in fifth. His fame and influence were not something that he set out to accomplish. He steadfastly refused to cultivate a following. Instead, he made his mark with his typewriter (which he used to compose his articles and books throughout his life).

J.I. Packer filled so many roles that we can accurately think of him as having had multiple careers. He earned his livelihood by teaching and was known to his students as a professor. But the world at large knows Packer as an author and speaker.

Packer’s fame as a speaker rivalled his stature as an author. In both spheres, his generosity was unsurpassed. No audience or venue was too small to elicit Packer’s best effort. His publishing career was a case study in accepting virtually every request that was made of him. His signature book, Knowing God (which has sold a million and a half copies), began as a series of bi-monthly articles requested by the editor of a small evangelical magazine. His first the Word of book, Fundamentalism and God, began as a talk to a group of students (the publisher requested a pamphlet, but Packer wrote a book). Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.

In both his publishing and speaking, Packer was famous as a Puritan scholar, but he was also a dedicated churchman who said that his teaching was primarily aimed at the education of future ministers, and he spent countless hours serving on church committees. For a quarter of a century, Packer’s involvement with Christianity Today gave him a platform as an essayist who frequently turned to topics of cultural critique. Packer had a career as a controversialist (by necessity rather than choice, he confided to me). Despite this range, Packer consistently self-identified as a theologian, which we can therefore regard as his primary vocation.

Primary legacy

When we speak of the legacy left by a deceased person, we think misleadingly in terms of a speculative posthumous legacy that is impossible to predict. J.I. Packer’s primary legacy is the influence he held over events in Christendom and over people’s lives during his lifetime. That is his indisputable legacy, and I will highlight what I believe to be the most important ways in which Packer affected the direction of Christianity during his life.

Packer’s first book was a defence of the authority of the Bible, and this became both a lifelong passion and one of Packer’s most significant contributions to the evangelical church. Packer had an extraordinarily strong commitment to the view that the words of the Bible are the very words of God. He championed the out-of-vogue doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. He published books on the reliability of the Bible. He served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible, calling that project the greatest achievement of his life.

J. I. Packer gave evangelicals a place to stand in regard to the authority of the Bible. Personally, no Packer legacy has been more important to me than this one, starting from the moment I pulled a paperback copy of Fundamentalism and the Word of God off a bookshelf in a Christian bookstore in my hometown as a college student.

The way in which Packer became a spokesman for conservative evangelicals in the face of liberalising trends and assaults is another important contribution that Packer made during his lifetime. When Packer looked back with satisfaction on his decade of leadership with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, he spoke of ‘holding the line’ for inerrancy. That metaphor applies to multiple causes to which Packer devoted his best efforts. Packer helped to hold the conservative evangelical line on numerous theological issues such as the nature of Scripture and its interpretation, women’s roles in the church, and the church’s position regarding homosexuality. He was a traditionalist who looked to the past for truth. In Knowing God, he quoted Jeremiah 6:16, with its image of the ‘ancient paths … where the good way is,’ claiming that his book was a call to follow those old paths.

Another unifying theme in Packer’s life was his elevation of the common person and this, too, is part of his legacy. Packer never lost the common touch that he absorbed in his upbringing, and the same spirit was fostered by his identity as a latter-day Puritan. Although Packer could write specialised scholarship with the best, his calling was to write mid-level scholarship for the layperson. He was utterly devoid of careerism. The title of a Festschrift published in his honour got it exactly right: Doing Theology for the People of God.

When Alister McGrath labelled Packer a theologiser rather than a theologian, Packer experienced it as ‘quite a discovery’ that led him to conclude that he was ‘an adult catechist’, dedicated to the systematic teaching of doctrine for the ordinary Christian. Packer was not as pained as some scholars have been by never having completed or published his systematic theology, because he regarded his informal theological writings for the layperson to be his calling.

Leland Ryken

Misogyny, rights & Rowling

It might have seemed as if the isolation of lockdown was making people mad last month when the stars of the Harry Potter films turned on J.K. Rowling. They denounced the woman who had kick-started their careers, because on social media she had objected to the phrase ‘people who menstruate’.

It wasn’t celebrities going stir-crazy, however, but a public display of an ugly and strange change in our culture. From the time of Rowling’s tweet pushing back against the insistence of many that ‘trans women are women’, and expressing the need to retain some women-only spaces in an eloquent and personal essay, she has faced much worse than negative press statements. Deeply offensive language has been spewed at her online, trans women have posted pictures of their very male anatomy, pornography has been uploaded to the account in which she interacts with her young readers. Then there are the news outlets which will only say that Rowling has written ‘offensive’ tweets but will not expose the horrendous backlash she has faced. Perhaps worst of all have been the ordinary young women I’ve heard lament that they won’t ever be able to read another Potter book again. These young women would call themselves feminists, but have unwittingly absorbed a self-destructive misogyny.

There’s so much that could be said here about intolerance and fear and the very savvy use of media, but I want to focus on the ironic but inevitable resurgence of male dominance that has been exposed.

The feminist story goes that sexist anti-women attitudes result from the belief that men and women are different from each other. Accept that, and you chain women to the sink and take away their careers. Their lives go, literally, down the plughole. To say that women are different, we’re told, will mean that they are seen as inferior, just as people did in the bad old days. The impulse of feminism has (often, though not always) been to challenge ideas of difference and to strive for sameness, to reconstruct social expectations of what a woman can be and do. So, for the last 30 years in schools and in stories girls have been instructed that they can be anything they want and do anything they want. The results of this have been great in many ways; we have lots of female doctors and lawyers and an increasing number of engineers. We have equal pay and maternity rights. Girls receive better exam results than boys and more young women than men go on to university each year. You’d think that misogyny was a thing of the past.

The problem is that, as the J.K. Rowling story illustrates, it isn’t. Society may tell us that men and women are the same and have increased women’s representation in places of power, but violent threats on the internet and normalisation of violence in sex suggests that, whilst women in the West have more freedom than ever before, a visceral hatred of women has been growing like a weed.

The feminist answer will be that this comes from a masculine fear of the power of women. There may be some truth in that. But I have another idea. What if feminists’ great emphasis on sexual difference as socially constructed (and the right, or indeed the obligation, of women to behave just as they want, with no constraints) has led us into a savage place? What if, by telling boys and girls they are no different from each other, we have left them not knowing what to make of their instincts and bodies?

Perhaps society has created a gap into which pornographers – who will shamelessly distort images of masculinity and femininity – and cynical marketers – who will package pink and blue bikes, or Lego, or even Bibles – have stepped?

The truth is that when difference is reduced to atomised individual expression rather than being tied to physical reality, we cannot stop men saying that they are women and demanding to walk into women’s toilets. And we cannot call upon men to use their greater strength to respect and protect women, or even suggest to girls that they might consider respecting men and their own bodies.

It’s easy to criticise the ‘out there’ of the internet and politics and think that the conservative church is fine. But it’s not. The tangled knot of woman’s desire and man’s domination described in Genesis 3.16 affects us all. Unpicking it is our task, by the Spirit’s power. So here are some questions to start with:

As we talk about the problem of pornography, are we addressing not only the impure habit but also the sexism it breeds?

As we speak, are we checking our language and our jokes, avoiding stereotypes and sneering?

As we teach children in our churches and families, are we talking about both women and men of faith, their interdependence and service?

And as we review the activities of our churches post-lockdown, are we taking seriously the difference between men and women, as well as their sameness, and so addressing their needs, using their gifts and listening to their voices?

Difference needn’t be a dirty word, but understood in a framework of mutual sacrifice and respect, it can be a beautiful reality.

Sarah Allen

Sarah Allen lives in Huddersfield and is a member of Hope Church. She has degrees in English literature and Theology and combines teaching with church work. She is regional director of Flourish North, a training course for women in ministry.

‘Help Hong Kong Christians’ – Plea

Churches should prepare to welcome ‘a large number’ of Hong Kong Christians fleeing China’s increasingly hardline attitude to the former colony.

That’s the message from a church leader born in Hong Kong, but now working in the UK, who has spoken to en but asked to remain anonymous for his own safety.

About 12% of Hong Kong’s population of 7,500,000 are Christians, but the Christian proportion of those leaving the city is predicted to be higher as pressure on believers there increases.

The leader – who wishes to be known simply as ‘MH’ – says: ‘We must seek to welcome them in the name of Christ, and to do what we can to help them to settle into the UK and into our church, if applicable. A few of them would suffer from post-trauma stress, and so we must be extra kind and patient towards them.’

Fear of a complete takeover

MH declares: ‘With the Chinese Government gradually tightening their control over Hong Kong, the fear within the city of a complete Chinese takeover has been escalating for a while. For many, the passing of the National Security Law in late June, unilaterally by Beijing, is the final straw. It hastens the process of immigration to countries such as the UK, where some would have the right to apply for local citizenship.

‘The National Security Law that was passed criminalises acts of secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign and external forces. Although all nations have treason laws, the increasingly arbitrary law enforcement by the government authorities is a grave cause of concern for many Hong Kong residents. Many people are worried that they could be arrested. Moreover, stories about police brutality are also being circulated widely.

Offer of UK citizenship

‘As a result of its historical links with the city, the British Government stepped in at the beginning of July to offer some Hong Kong residents – those who are entitled to a British National (Overseas) passport – a route to British citizenship. Currently, there are 300,000 such passports which are still in use, but many more are eligible, and will apply so that they might use this opportunity to migrate to the UK. Given the poor record of the Chinese Government in upholding the freedom of religion, many of those who choose to migrate to the UK would be our brothers and sisters. About 12% of Hong Kong’s population are Christians, but the Christian proportion of the migrants away from the city is likely to be higher.’

How can we help?

So how should Christians in the UK respond to the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong then? MH suggests the following:

• Acknowledge the situation’s complexity. While I am grateful for British news outlets reporting the abuse of power, the legacy of historical imperialism upon the Chinese mindset is seldom acknowledged. As a nation, China feels the humiliation by ‘Western powers’ 100 years ago very acutely, even to today. To what extent is the Western support for the Hong Kong democratic movement an expression of genuine kindness, or is it another wave of imperialism? The line is sometimes not clear, and we would do well to exercise slower judgements.

• Pray. Although the situation is complex, our God still knows the situation perfectly! More than that, He is concerned about justice and mercy for the city, as well as the wellbeing of His people in that city. Elsewhere I have suggested some prayer points for Hong Kong, so please join me in praying.

• Look after your immediate Hong Kong friends. If you know someone from Hong Kong, do check on them and listen to what they want to say. Few Hong Kongers would be entirely unaffected by the events, and so your friend would probably appreciate a pair of sympathetic, listening ears. If you are a local church minister, do consider getting in touch with the pastor from your local Chinese churches or fellowships: they are probably overwhelmed too.

• Welcome Hong Kongers to your church. A large number of people will migrate to the UK in the next few years, and we would very likely bump into a Hong Kong immigrant soon. We must therefore seek to welcome them in the name of Christ, and to do what we can to help them to settle into the UK and into our church (if applicable). A few of them would suffer from post-trauma stress, and so we must be extra kind and patient towards them.

en staff

Pakistan: weighty evidence

An ancient marble cross, thought to be as much as 1,200 years old, was discovered in the foothills of the Karakoram mountain range in the heart of the Himalayas, providing evidence for Christianity’s early arrival in northern Pakistan from the Middle East.

Three researchers from the University of Baltistan found the 2.1m x 1.8m cross near their base camp in the predominantly Muslim region bordering with China, Afghanistan and India. It is estimated to weigh around four tonnes.

‘Praise the Lord, this makes me very joyful,’ was the reaction of one Pakistani Christian leader. ‘It will be a great encouragement to Christians in Pakistan to show that our faith was here many, many generations ago, before Islam came.’

The research team noted that the way the cross has been carved is similar to traditional Buddhist carving, suggesting that the Christians who made it may have been converts. According to Byzantine history expert, Béatrice Caseau, the cross is evidence that merchants from the Middle East brought Christianity to this mountainous region. The location was once on the Silk Road trade route that linked China and Pakistan in a region where Christians are now a marginalised and persecuted minority.

Longing for resurrection

One of the most popular TV programmes during lockdown has been the BBC’s The Repair Shop. It became regular viewing for many on those lonely Wednesday evenings when all the news seemed so gloomy.

People bring their old broken or damaged treasures to the Weald & Downland Living Museum, where a group of expert craftsmen and women led by Jay Blades work to restore them – astonishingly often making things like new. I think it has encouraged a lot of people with time on their hands in lockdown to take a mental break from the crisis and enjoy a few hours concentration and having a go at mending or making a few things themselves. It’s a gentle, fascinating watch.

Lost loved ones

Promoted as an antidote to throwaway culture, it is actually much more than that. What is interesting is that most often people bring things to be repaired because of memories of deceased relatives, because of that item’s connection to mum or dad – the binoculars dad used in the war, the radio a wife used to listen to music. Frequently when presented with the repaired object people well up or burst into tears, as happy times past with their loved one come flooding back. It is sometimes quite difficult to hold it together watching from the sofa as folk break down with the emotion of it all. Losing loved ones is not something we ever get used to.

We’ll meet again… ?

Actually, the spirit of the programme is not really about the restored rocking horse or the broken cake stand made new, but the people. Really these dear folk want their loved ones back! They can’t have that, so the best thing they can do is to rekindle memories through objects associated with them.

Theologically, it’s about a yearning for what secularists deny, deride and dismiss. It is a longing for resurrection. ‘O to see them again!’ Of course, the Bible understands this. According to Scripture, death was never part of God’s original creation. It is an evil intruder in our world to which human sin opened the door (Gen. 2:17). That’s why we can never get used to it. That’s why We’ll Meet Again, the great song of Dame Vera Lynn, who died in June, has a deep resonance way beyond its original wartime setting. Death leaves us with a yearning to somehow ‘meet again’ – though the ordinary person has to say ‘don’t know where, don’t know when’. This is how we are as human beings.

The gospel

But thankfully and gloriously the gospel promises us that God will not let that be the end of the story. Death will not have the last word. Not only has Jesus come to redeem us from sin, but God intends, on a future date unknown to us, to totally reclaim this world for Himself, for life, for light and for love. There will be a general resurrection of the dead and that will happen at the Second Coming of Jesus. The prophet Daniel tells us: ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever’ (Dan.12:2,3). The righteousness that prepares us for that day is the gift of righteousness found through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Repair Shop is also about technology. Ancient clocks, model electric trains and jukeboxes are carefully taken to pieces, their mechanisms exposed, cleaned and restored. It is intriguing to see the craftsmanship and contrivances of past times.

Vast strides forward have been made in the present digital era and the frontiers are forever being expanded. As we stand back and ask where all this is going we may find ourselves surprised. For good or ill we now have to contemplate the coming together of biology and computer science. The technology of the human body uses the vocabulary of posthumanism and transhumanism, with the body being augmented by other devices. It comes down to a striving for immortality through technology. The ‘holy grail’ is eternal life. It is another way of longing for resurrection. But what our technology will never achieve – eternal life (without God) – God has already achieved in the resurrection of Jesus. The future is actually His.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org

Fuller is ‘hugely relevant for today’

a conversation with Andrew Fuller
By Michael Haykin and Brian Croft
Evangelical Press. 236 pages. £11.70 at
ISBN: 978 1 783 972 746

Spurgeon referred to Andrew Fuller, the 18th-century Strict Baptist pastor, as ‘the greatest theologian of his century’, and at least one seminary Principal claims Fuller was ‘the most influential Baptist theologian between John Bunyan and our day.’ However, few of us have either time or energy to travel the 2,500 pages of his complete works!

Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) was much more than a clear thinker and plain-writing theologian; he was above all a warm-hearted pastor and a powerful preacher whose life mentored all who came under his influence. As minister at Kettering Particular Baptist Church for 33 years, he was frequently invited to preach at ordination and induction services. It is the wise and practical teaching in these sermons that Haykin and Croft have so helpfully distilled for us.

After a short history of English dissent in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a brief survey of ordination sermons from the likes of Matthew Henry, John Gill and Philip Doddridge (Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational), we have Fuller’s sermon at Thorn Baptist Church on 31 October 1787, and from there on summaries of many more sermons.

These sermons, though preached for a different age, are hugely relevant today.

Subjects include: the value of purposeful visiting; relying upon the Holy Spirit, but with the warning not to ‘so trust in the Spirit as to neglect personal preparation’; the need to understand people if we are to preach effectively; the private and home life of the minister; preaching the true character of God and its implications without fear of man – and so much more.

Typical of the relevance of Andrew Fuller to the church in the 21st century is his observation that: ‘A large church is like a large family, in which there is a necessity for constant labour and continual attention, to keep things in proper order. But a small church may be compared to a little boat, floating on the waters – a single wrong movement may overset it. In either case we have need be endued with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, meekness, patience, and forbearance’; and then follows a warm encouragement for pastors of small congregations.

Pithy and challenging quotes abound. Here is an inadequate sample:

‘Eminent spirituality in a minister is usually attended with eminent usefulness’ (p.86).

‘Aspire not to be a great man, but a good man’ (p.95).

‘To be able to surmount a difficulty by Christian patience is a greater thing in the sight of God than to remove a mountain’ (p.95).

‘Preach the law evangelistically and the gospel practically’ (p.125).

‘Dare to teach unwelcome truths’ (p.126).

‘Every sermon, more or less, should have some relation to Christ, and bear on His person or work. This is the life of all doctrine, and it will be our own fault if it is dry’ (p.183).

‘Many people will take our personal religion for granted, as though a man who teaches others must needs be religious himself; but woe unto us if we reason in this way! Tremble at the idea of being a graceless minister…’ (p.191).

‘There is not a more dangerous foe to the truth than indifference’ (p.206).

Thoughtful and profound

This book is not a ‘how-to’ of preaching, but a thoughtful, profound, spiritual assessment of the quality of life and ministry of a Christian preacher/pastor. It is a full challenge to the heart and mind, and Andrew Fuller penetrates as few of us are able to in these highly ‘professional’ and technological days. I recommend you set aside your contemporary books on the subject and immerse yourself in the life of this 18th-century Strict Baptist pastor.

Fuller referred to Abraham Booth, a contemporary preaching in East London, who lamented: ‘I fear there will be found a larger proportion of wicked ministers than any other order of professing Christians.’ If that is sadly true more than 200 years later, the sermons of Andrew Fuller are all the more significant. The final summary chapters by Haykin and Croft should not be overlooked.

No short review can begin to do justice to the value of the sermons of Andrew Fuller. If I were to recommend only one book on the life and preaching of an evangelical pastor, it would be this one. Church members, buy it for your pastor and check up that he reads it!

Brian H. Edwards

Itinerant preacher and author, and member at Christ Church, Dunstable.

Harry Potter and the half-baked laws

It was reported in June that the UK government intends to drop plans for allowing people who claim to be transgender to self-identify as such.

This proposal was first mooted by the government in 2018 (en September 2018). The result of the consultation has never been published*.

Concerns were raised that self-ID would allow men to legally access women’s only spaces. Although this is the case at present**, the emergence of so-called trans rights activists in the past few years has moved the debate beyond addressing the issues presented by a group of people who know they remain the sex of their birth. It has become a movement where predatory and abusive men who deny biological facts, claim to be women, and who verbally and physically attack women all in the name of establishing their ‘rights’.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike series of books, was perhaps the most high-profile woman who hit the headlines for asserting the need for biological women to have protected spaces. For stating this, she (and others who endorsed this view) received death and rape threats. Such threats have frequently been made as the debate has become increasingly, and inevitably, polarised. Some claimed they were burning her works, and a number of bookshops have refused to sell her books. Actors whose careers she made, lined up to denounce her views.

Space invasion

Biological males have been accessing refuges for women. Rowling, a survivor of domestic abuse herself, noted that it was vital that spaces remained for biological women only.

Male sex offenders have been moved into female prisons (e.g. en Nov 2018) after identifying as women. Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures in November 2019 said there were 139 transgender prisoners in 44 jails. Of the 42 in women’s jails, 22 were men who identified as female, while in male prisons 92 of the 97 were men identifying as women. Harry Fletcher, director of the Victims’ Rights Campaign, said he was convinced that ‘for some this is a total try-on’ with the prospect of a more relaxed regime. Separate prison wings were created for transgender prisoners in 2019 (The Daily Telegraph, 2019).

Outside of prison, men who have gone through male puberty have been allowed to compete in women’s sporting events including cycling and athletics (e.g. en August 2019). The pressure for organisations to capitulate to the demands of activists is immense. Any organisations who do not undertake training run by Stonewall or Mermaids risk being seen as bigoted, and face negative publicity.

Twitter: good or bad?

Twitter gives anyone with a keyboard and an opinion a voice, and is filled with disturbing comments about women, sex and gender. Staggeringly, it has people denying biology, and claiming that transgender women (i.e. a man who claims he is a woman) are more female than ‘cis women’ (women born female). Some have noted that in the same way that ‘blackface’ (white people donning black make-up) is offensive to people who are black, so ‘womanface’ (men donning ‘female’ attire) is equally offensive to women.

Twitter is where the debates are being held. People are being drawn together to lobby the government, share information and challenge explicit and dangerous sex education that has slipped into classrooms. It is not however, for the fainthearted. As activists attacked J.K. Rowling with such odious comments, they don’t blink at doing the same to anyone who attempts to reason with them.


**To be given a gender recognition certificate under the current system, a person needs to have satis-fied a few criteria including: having lived as a trans person for two years; taken medication/ had some treatment to modify their body; planned to live for-ever as the new gender; have had a medical report written about their gender dysphoria. In 2018 when the government launched the consultation on chan-ges to the law, it estimated that half of the people who could apply for a certificate wouldn’t meet the current requirements. A change in the law would mean that a person could just declare themselves as ‘transgender’. Although exact figures aren’t known, it was noted in US medical data from 2019 that 90% of trans women (ie biological males) keep their penis.

Think you’re not racially biased? Really?

Recently I managed to shock myself in a way which unsettled me.

A screenshot of an online video discussion flashed up on Facebook and I looked to see who the participants were, as the subject being talked about was of interest to me.

One of those taking part was someone whose name and writing I have been familiar with for years – and much admired. But I had never seen a photo of them before so had no idea what they looked like in person.

As I put a face to this long-known name I had an instinctive reaction which afterwards left me rather disquieted. That fleeting, instantaneous, immediate thought was this: ‘But that can’t be so-and-so…’ Why? Because they were of a different ethnic background from that which I had ever imagined.

Unconscious consequences

I had made the assumption that this particular individual whose insights I much appreciated was white – and they were not. Now, you may or may not regard this as instinctively racist. But either way I do think it is an example of what is called ‘unconscious bias’. I was quite shocked by my own assumptions in this situation.

Oxford academic Kate Kirkpatrick explains it like this: ‘Explicitly, few of us would own up to sexism or racism, or to thinking that the rich are more worthy human beings than the poor; nevertheless, when tested on the implicit level, we do.’

She cites two interesting examples. One is of a frequent air passenger, a high-flying (in every sense) woman in an important role, who admitted that when she hears the voice of the pilot and it is female, her first instinctive reaction is: ‘Gosh, I hope she can fly the plane’. She then consciously says to herself: ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she can. She’s had the training; she’s just as good as anyone else.’ But that is not her unconscious initial reaction.

The second example is from 1999, when 238 male and female members of the American Psychological Association (APA) were sent a single CV to evaluate. Half the psychologists got one with a male name, while the other half got one with a female name. Apart from that, the CV itself was identical. So did both CVs receive an equal rating? The answer is no: in the survey, both men and women in the APA rated the one with the male name higher. Kate Kirkpatrick concludes: ‘If we, like the majority of humans, have discrepancies between our conscious and unconscious commitments, these may have damaging consequences for other members of Christ’s body, and these need to be redressed.’

But how do we find out whether or not we have implicit bias, and if so, how much? Well, one thing you can do is take part in ‘Project Implicit’ which is a research scheme to test just this very thing through an interactive questionnaire which is quite fun to take. You can find it online here: https://implicit. harvard.edu/implicit/ It’s a survey which is thought-provoking and enjoyable, though not necessarily easy!

Why is all this important? Because as Christians we are called to be free from favouritism. The New Testament has some pretty strong warnings on this subject: ‘My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you”, but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet”, have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?’

Of course, we would never do that – would we? But I heard of one major evangelical conference where a potential steward was barred from stewarding because he was wearing a tracksuit rather than a jacket… And I recall one church where most people took care to avoid the very smelly elderly gent who sat at the back on the right. You might think you are not biased. Think again.

David Baker

David Baker is also Rector of East Dean Church

Last Word: farewell!

‘Money can’t buy life’ (Bob Marley). ‘We are beggars – this is true’ (Martin Luther). ‘Happy…’ (Raphael). ‘Now God be with you, my dear children; I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night’ (Robert Bruce).

As the regular writer of this column, I believe that last words are important. Although I confess both a foolishness and a propensity to go over my word count, I disagree with Karl Marx, who on his deathbed apparently barked: ‘Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.’

Over the past 18 months, it has been a great joy and privilege to write this ‘Last Word’ column. Yet, in a few weeks, Lord willing, my family and I shall be moving to the USA. There I will be taking up a pastoral position at Trinity Church Nashville. Nashville is where my wife hails from, where my in-laws live, and the opportunity to serve a rapidly-growing church with two of my closest friends was too great to pass up. I shall miss Britain so very dearly, but in a few weeks, we head across the pond. I am, hence, laying down my editorial red pen this week. This is my last issue before the Revd David Baker takes the en baton. I wish him all the very best.

‘So, what will be my last ‘Last Word’? Well, rather than one last word, I’ve gone for two final exhortations. They are not spoken by some insightful artist or theologian on his deathbed, but rather a young minister sailing away from a British evangelicalism that he loves.

1. Be narrow-minded and be wide-hearted

This astute imperative is not my own, but one that a dear friend in ministry gave me. I’ve always remembered it. The phrase is neatly balanced, yet it’s not a call to avoid two extremes. Evangelicals should be ever narrowing their minds and widening their hearts. Of course, we should not be narrow-minded in the sense of being blinkered or bigoted. But we should be looking to grow deeper in every aspect of our faith – Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Christology, Ecclesiology,

etc. – in order that we can prepare the next generation of British evangelicals. My current impression, however, is that many Christians in our country just have just two gears: primary and secondary. There is, of course, great wisdom in thinking through issues that stop someone being raised from death to everlasting life and issues which are not so grave.

However, I fear today these gears have become: What I must know and what I don’t really need to think about; or worse, important and irrelevant. These sentiments often fall under the holy guise of ‘we must not be divided… we must preach the gospel… we must not move on from it’. Yet we are called to serve up ‘solid food’ to those growing in Christ. Indeed, if we want the next generation of British evangelicals to be strong in the face of a muscular secularism, we must not be afraid to feed them with more than just evangelistic sermons.

Yet coupled with flabby-mindedness amongst some is a swelling narrow-heartedness amongst others. In some quarters, sadly, uncharitableness and unkindness thrive. This mindset is not just confined to evangelical circles or in fact this country. Many Christians have adopted the values of the Western world when it comes to how we handle our disagreements with one another. Either we take someone aside and try to silence them in a corner. Or we go online and seek to destroy them with 280 deadly characters, or perhaps a cutting gif downplayed as ‘British banter’.

But, by interacting with one another in such immediate and shorthand form, we minimise genuine theological or pastoral issues; or the unkindness causes the brother or sister to be more aggrieved than reflective. What happened to the long walk with the brother or sister with whom we disagree? Or a carefully-worded letter filled with encouragement that simply seeks to understand another’s position better? Or a phone call that ends in a time of prayer? ‘Be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle towards everyone’ (Tit. 3:2).

2. Focus on your local gathering as you patiently wait for the one glorious gathering

There are some wonderful parachurch ministries in the UK, which have been a huge blessing to me. And in the coming years British evangelicals will no doubt have to increasingly club together to keep theological institutions and mission agencies afloat. Some of us may well need to abandon isolationist tendencies and serve those who are not in our constituency.

Nevertheless, the right aspiration to work together, and the understandable desire to be a part of something bigger than our Sunday gathering has squeezed the importance of the local church.

Some local pastors wonder if they might ascend to be the next General Secretary or Director; many lay elders spend their time planning the next campus of the big hub church; and church members now speak primarily about people in their network/ tribe/affiliation. Consequently, for many the local church is no longer the primary domain of their discipleship. This all seems somewhat odd to me when Jesus designed the local church to be: the earthly institution that would represent him to the world (Matt. 18:15-20); the place where we may practice submission to our leaders (Heb. 13:17); and the loving home where it is easiest to live out the many ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament.

Yet such a focus upon the local gathering must not stoke a forgetfulness about the universal gathering. One day, all local churches will close as the universal church is gathered up to worship our Lord and faith becomes sight – what a glorious day that will be!

Accordingly, British evangelicals must remember that happy tomorrow. Nurturing that hope in a perfect tomorrow helps us to live well in an unfair world today. It helps us act well when it comes to social-political issues. British evangelicals, and Christians everywhere, should not do nothing as they face increasing persecution from a society that moves further away from Christian morals, but remembering our heavenly gathering with Christ will help us to act like Him when more injustices come. ‘When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’ (1 Pet. 2:21).

We long for heavenly justice to be seen on earth and Christians in every era must faithfully uphold the truth; but our political influence will wax and wane. And, however disillusioned we may be with our current political climate, we don’t deride God-given authority, nor do we correlate Jesus’ Great Commission with cultural transformation, nor do we presume earthly victory.

Until that great day we remember that God is watching us and is with us every day. Let me borrow the last words of John Wesley: ‘The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!’

Jonathan Worsley

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

Sins that ruin a nation

Like many of us, I have been pondering the question of Covid-19 and God’s judgment.

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is clear in its prayers for such occasions that natural disasters are something ‘we for our iniquities have worthily deserved’ and that ‘we do most justly suffer for our iniquity.’ Death, famine, plague and sickness are all instruments of God’s ‘wrath’ through which we are ‘for our sins punished’ and ‘justly humbled’.

Yet the BCP does not zero in on any particular sin as if it alone was responsible for a specific act of judgment. That, after all, would take the kind of prophetic insight possessed and demonstrated by the Old Testament prophets, which it is somewhat dangerous to claim for ourselves. I’ve noticed that people who do presume to do this will often say God is judging us for all the things other people are doing (but not them), and which they themselves have often complained about before. Clausewitz famously said that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’; for many, plagues are too.

Jesus tells His disciples in John 9 that the blind man about to be healed was not born that way because of his own sins or those of his parents (John 9:1-3). He also tells us in Luke 13 that when we suffer from disasters or atrocities it is not because we are necessarily worse sinners than anyone else. But ‘unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’, He says (Luke 13:3, 5). Every pandemic, every crisis, is an opportunity to repent of our own sins, which all deserve the righteous judgment of God.

A sinful nation

John Owen preached a sermon on this passage in Luke 13 in 1681. It was a tumultuous year for the country politically and religiously, as people fought over whether to exclude the Roman Catholic Duke of York from inheriting his brother Charles’s throne. Owen’s sermon was subtitled ‘The only way to deliver a sinful nation from utter ruin by impendent judgments.’

There are four sins which will ruin a nation, says Owen.

The first is atheism. He includes in this ‘practical atheism’, thinking and acting as if there was no God, whether you say you believe in Him or not. There have to be sub-points, of course, because this is a puritan sermon, so he gives two examples of this: blasphemy or cursing; and bold, confident sinning. People take the Lord’s name in vain without a second thought (as they do on our streets and on TV every day); and they ‘boast of the vilest of sins’, proclaiming their sins like Sodom (Isa. 3:9).

The second sin which ruins a nation is having the form of true religion without its power. We are all Protestants, perhaps, and abide in our national confession of faith (The Thirty-nine Articles) he says. Maybe we even publicly brandish our Bibles. ‘But are men changed, renewed, converted to God, by the doctrine of this religion?’ he asks. Do they experience the power of it in their own souls?

Third: open contempt of the Spirit of God. The one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Matt.12:32). Some deny His divinity or speak of Him as an ‘it’ which can be used, rather than as God (who, if anything, uses us). And His work in regeneration, in making people ‘born again’, is openly mocked and scoffed at.

Fourth, says Owen, the nation is judged because of ‘the abounding of uncleanness, which, having broken forth from a corrupt fountain, hath overspread the land like a deluge’.

Who can deny but that these four sins are still prevalent amongst us at this day – even amongst evangelicals now? And so we ought to pray:

‘Lord God, our heavenly Father, the healer of nations and judge of all: give us grace to humble ourselves under your mighty hand throughout this time of anxiety and discomfort. In your anger, remember mercy, not giving to us all we deserve for our many sins, but strengthening us to repent and recover from all we must endure. For we ask in the name of our precious Saviour, Jesus Christ, who bore our sicknesses and carried our sorrows that we might experience new life in the Spirit, Amen.’

Lee Gatiss

Lee Gatiss is Director of the Church Society