Packer on Propitiation: “The Heart of the Gospel”

I’ve put Packer’s Knowing God aside for a time—not out of disinterest, but because I’ve been reading other good things. I returned to it today and picked up where I left off, at chapter 18. What a blessing I’ve missed by putting this off so long! In this chapter Packer provides a faithful explanation and defense of the doctrine of propitiation, a truth we need to learn well and review often.

Here’s one of many great statements:

“God’s wrath is his righteousness reacting against unrighteousness; it shows itself in retributive justice. But Jesus Christ has shielded us from the nightmare prospect of retributive justice by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to his father’s will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place” (p. 189)

Here’s a quick overview of the chapter’s content:

  • He traces propitiations’ roots to the OT Scriptures.
  • He defends propitiation against liberal attempts to strip the gospel of its most glorious truth by seeing only expiation (the removal of guilt) where the NT sees propitiation (the satisfaction of God’s wrath which guilt deserves).
  • He shows that propitiation is demanded by the wrath of God, an attribute which “is as personal, and as potent, as His love.” (p. 184)
  • He explains what propitiation is and how it was accomplished (with some especially powerful comments on Gethsemane and Calvary).
  • He demonstrates how understanding propitiation is essential to understanding the entirety of the Scriptures and the Christian life.

Review chapter 18 of Packer’s classic book. I’ve read a lot on the gospel in recent days, but nothing has stirred my heart any more than this chapter. Now, it will leave you scratching your head as to how Packer could been so confused regarding Roman Catholicism in recent years. But it will also fill your brain and warm your heart with clear gospel truth.

I commend it to you.


Follow-up note: I questioned in the earlier post why Dever didn’t address Packer’s concessions to Roman Catholicism when he interviewed him for 9 Marks. Dever did address the issue briefly and clearly during his recent 9 Marks interview with C.J. Mahaney. I understand that he’s been quite outspoken about his disappointment with Packer’s confusion on this matter in other public settings, as well.


4 Responses

  1. It’s not just confusion, Chris, and it’s not recent. See Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided. Packer (and Stott) have a lot to answer for.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Knowing God was a required book during college, but I’m rather unmotivated to read it again seeing as how he (as you mentioned) gave in to the Catholics. However, I suspect that his views changed dramatically since the book was first published (1973?).

  3. Don, I’m certainly not defending Packer. I’m saying that what he wrote in the chapter of Knowing God was excellent, despite things he’s said since that time.

    Sort of like when you recommended John Stott on 1 John:

    “Stott has one in the Intervarsity series that is pretty good also (written when Stott was younger and more orthodox).”

  4. Yeah, but I am really sour on those two guys. Their betrayal goes back a long way.

    I have never read Knowing God, so I really am not commenting on that book. I have a little book by Packer called Fundamentalism and the Word of God. There are some good insights there, I think it was one of the first books he wrote. But his assessment of fundamentalism is, essentially that fundamentalists were useful idiots (in the 20s and 30s) but we have moved past them.

    And then I later read about their doings in Murray’s book so I am just underwhelmed.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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