I tend to associate J.I. Packer with a kind of Reformed evangelicalism which values intellectualism more than experiences and is suspicious of any kind of manifest activity of the Holy Spirit. So I was interested to read at Pentecostal pastor Brian’s blog sunestauromai – living the crucified life an extract from an interview Packer has just given to a Pentecostal periodical. Here is most of what Brian quotes from Packer, apparently with Brian’s emphasis, and the periodical’s American spelling:
The Pentecostal emphasis on life in the Spirit, which became a big thing at the turn of the 20th century, was absolutely right. It was an emphasis that hadn’t been fully grasped by other evangelicals for a long time. The up-front quest for fellowship with God that grabbed the whole of the heart and therefore had emotional overtones and the openness to a recurrence of some of the signs of the Kingdom was right. …
It’s simply a marvelous work of God that when the Pentecostal version of the gospel has been preached all around the world for the past half-century there has been a tremendous harvest. It’s a wonderful work in our time, which we can set against the decline of Christianity in North America and Western Europe. Most notably in Africa and Asia, Christianity has been roaring ahead through the Pentecostal version of the Christian message and life in the Spirit. I celebrate it and thank God for it. There have been older evangelicals who have set themselves against distinctive Pentecostal emphases as if there’s something wrong with it. I have not lined up with those folk and indeed have argued that their attitude is mistaken.
Now I am not a Pentecostal by denomination; like Packer I am an Anglican. But I am one of many Anglicans, and people from other “traditional” denominations, who over the last 40 years (for me personally, for nearly 30 years) have embraced what used to be considered the distinctive Pentecostal emphases, on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. True, many of us have rejected, as I think Packer did, the Pentecostal teaching about the necessity of a specific “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” experience evidenced by speaking in tongues. But we hold that such experiences and gifts are good and to be desired, and that these gifts should be used, with proper safeguards, in the life of the church.
This is of course a summary of what is known as the Charismatic Movement. Perhaps in some ways the movement is dead, as some have alleged. But if so, it is not because its distinctives have been abandoned, more because they have become more and more acceptable in the life of the church and are no longer charismatic or Pentecostal distinctives.
But these Pentecostal and charismatic distinctives have often been viewed with great suspicion by British Anglicans of the Oak Hill tradition who look up to Packer as one of their Christian heroes. Perhaps Packer can help to persuade them that the good things in the Pentecostal tradition are good for reviving not just Pentecostal churches in Africa and Asia but also Anglican churches in North America and Western Europe.