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Alister McGrath

A Peacemaker in the Battle for the Bible

American readers have a great pleasure in store early next year when Baker Book House publishes J. I. Packer: A Biography, by Alister McGrath. Their British cousins have already received this volume, in which the life of one of the preeminent figures in the postwar evangelical resurgence is presented by one of the leaders from the next generation of evangelical theology.

In this excerpt, adapted from McGrath's narrative, we pick up Packer's story in the 1970s, at a time when attempts to draw the boundaries of evangelicalism grew particularly intense.

One of the distinctive features of J. I. Packer's theology is its strong pastoral intent. It is no accident, then, that many of Packer's writings have come in response to the pressing needs of the moment. On his reading of church history, Packer is convinced that controversy is an appropriate means by which clarification of Christian teaching can be achieved. One particularly significant debate to break out around this point came to be known as the "Battle for the Bible," and focused on the issue of the inerrancy of Scripture. The nature of this controversy, and Packer's role within it, are important and require discussion.

Packer's concern for the authority of Scripture is evident from his earliest writings. In general, the question of the precise nature of biblical authority did not become an issue within British evangelicalism. British evangelicals were content to affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture without feeling the need to stipulate the precise manner in which these were to be formulated. The Inter-Varsity Fellowship Basis of Faith referred to Scripture as "infallible" yet made no reference to the term inerrancy. For many British evangelicals, inerrant was American in origin, exotic in its implications, and was associated with various obscurantist attitudes and beliefs for which British evangelicals had no enthusiasm. The leading British evangelical New Testament scholar, F. F. Bruce, who had a major influence ...

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