Rediscovering Holiness

By J. I. Packer
Ann Arbor, MI : Servant (1992). 276 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
6.1 (Spring 1995) : 113-115

In the main this is a readable book with explanations that set holiness in a correlated context and various lists that relate to aspects of it. Packer attempts to focus Christians on God's chief point for their lives here and now and for eternity. He shows concern that holiness (a life consecrated to God and to His glory) has been so subject to "sidelining" even among Bible-centered Western Christians (9).

This may be the best work other than the Bible on the subject since J. C. Ryle's Holiness (1879 and still in print). It has its very bright parts in guiding Christians who are healthy spiritually and some who are weak or could be better in inculcating practical counsel.

Chapter 1 is helpful on what holiness is and why it matters. Here Packer also correlates holiness with love to God from the heart (motivation, passion, spring of thought, and conscience); temperament in reacting to situations, things, and people; humanness in being like Christ the perfect man through the fruit of the Spirit; relationships pursued in a humility that deals with others with a genuinely good attitude (22-32). Chapter 2 delves into why holiness is necessary.

Holiness begins with being awestruck at God's greatness, grateful for His mercy, zealous for His glory, and natural in living life (for life in its real naturalness as God intended it is a holy life, as Jesus lived on earth). So argues chapter 3.

Chapter 4 proposes that holiness is six things: redirecting the outlook to desire God [Scripture rather than Packer's own ideas would help the reader here, cf. 98]; however, he does say that prayer is "the top priority in the life of holiness," and eventually mentions Eph 6:18- 20 (99). Holiness is also cultivating virtues (1 Cor 13:13); following the Holy Spirit's urgings [Packer manages these four pages without a direct reference to any Bible verse, 103-6]; overcoming sin's downdrag, negatively by mortification and positively by vivification in the Spirit's fruit (Gal 5:22 ff.); exercising faith for a "second blessing" (109). Packer does not concur with the "second blessing" as often taught. He sees it as having occurred in some Christians' experiences, but does not view it as necessary for all Christians (111-12). A reader can wonder why he worded the section as he did, as though it were for all. Packer rather views holiness as a progressive renewal and restoration through a sanctifying process with God at the center. As Packer's list concludes, holiness is the practicing of spiritual disciplines. He gives a concise survey of books from 1978`1991 on the spiritual disciplines (by Richard Foster, Donald Whitney, R. Kent Hughes, Elisabeth Elliot, and Dallas Willard, 113-14). True biblical discipline has motivations that center in love to God and desire to please Him (114-15). It would help to emphasize here God's grace enabling the life, as well; Packer does not integrate such empowering at this point, though he is clear about it in some other places (chap. 6, etc.).

His emphasis on "Growing Downward to Grow Up" (chap. 5) will get attention. The point is repentance. Holiness involves decreasing in our own importance, and trusting Christ to be great in us as His grace appears more in us in a "continual shrinkage of carnal self" (121). As Luther's first of 95 theses in 1517 said, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, `Repent,' . . . he willed that the whole life of believers should be one of repentance" (121). Packer on p. 123 rightly sees this repentance as a fruit of faith and a gift of God (Acts 11:18). This excellent chapter has, among other things, a brief exposition of Psalm 51, surveying verses in six segments (146-48). Good counsel also appears on coming to repentance by "Soaking our souls in Scripture" (154). This is in asking of each passage, what does this tell me about God, about living, and about my own life today? (154-55). Meditation should lead into prayer that talks to God about each question.

Chapter 6 focuses on growth positively. It is of the Spirit, yet requires effort and conflict. Packer does well, but could shine more light on this by explaining just how the God-side and the human part in this correlate. He does say that in temptation the Christian should run to God in prayer for help (175). No counsel appears amidst the idealism for Christians for whom nothing seems to change when they do this.

The work abounds with lists. For example, he has five signs that one is growing in grace (188-90), and different lists on practicing principles. One list appears on pp. 192-95, then another immediately on pp. 196-97. This can be a bit confusing as to why two lists rather than an integrated one. Packer puts a fuzz of generality on things in Revelation 2—3, using verses that some believe pertain to the need of merely professing believers to repent and gain genuine salvation and its holiness, and verses that refer to genuine Christians (141-42).

Many interesting discussions occur in chapter 7, "The Empowered Christian Life." But nothing is developed here onhow one can practically experience the power of God. Readers do find a section on the place of prayer in God's will, in seeing things done to His glory (230-32). Chapter 8 on endurance in the Christian race has much to edify, and more particularly on having a sane perspective about suffering.

Some chapters are overly long. Chapter 5 on repentance covers pp. 119-56 (big pages), Chapter 6 on positive growth pp. 157-99. The writer has much to contribute, but drags the persevering reader through more of a forest of material than seems really necessary. Some will find that extended discussions here get in the way of keeping the main point in view. This inclusion of extra detail also can dishearten many who need the book.

For the highly motivated, tenacious reader, the book goes a long way toward defining and integrating biblical holiness. It has enough excellent sections and paragraphs to rate high despite the tendency to go into verbose detail that makes a pursuit of the attractive theme drag. But the seriously patient who are aggressive to learn will be much richer for staying with Rediscovering Holiness.