Influential evangelical theologian latest to split with Anglican Church
James Packer says he believes many of Canada's Anglican bishops are 'arguably heretical'
Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, April 26, 2008
One of the world's most famous evangelical theologians quit the Anglican Church of Canada this week because he believes many of its bishops are "arguably heretical" for adhering to "poisonous liberalism."
James Packer, whom Time magazine recently named as one of the planet's 25 most influential evangelicals, said he hesitated before using the harsh terms to describe the Anglican bishops, but believed he must do so in the name of truth.
Vancouver-based Packer, who has sold more than four million copies of his many books, said he and 10 other B.C. Anglican clergy left the national denomination this week to operate under the authority of a South American Anglican archbishop because they felt they were being "starved out and worn down."
Oxford-trained Packer was interviewed at a Friday gathering of about 300 members of the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada, which officially welcomed South American Anglican Primate Gregory Venables to Canada as their spiritual leader -- against the express wishes of Canada's top Anglican, Primate Fred Hiltz.
Packer, 81, said he can no longer serve under Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham, who in 2002 sanctioned a diocesan vote that eventually permitted the blessing of same-sex couples at eight out of 67 parishes.
"He is a bishop who appears heretical," Packer said, comparing Ingham to high-profile progressive U.S. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and Church of England Bishop Richard Holloway.
Packer is a long-time member of St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church in Vancouver, which in February left the 640,000-member Anglican Church of Canada to join with 14 other congregations from across the nation to operate under the authority of the South American prelate.
Known for the way he does not sugarcoat his conservative Christian beliefs despite his soft-spoken, gracious demeanour, Packer said the Bible is the "absolute" authority on divine truth, which clearly describes homosexuality as a grave sin.
Opening his English Standard Version of the Bible, of which he was chief editor, Packer read out passages from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, in which the apostle Paul compares "men who lie with men" to drunkards, thieves, slanderers and adulterers, none of whom will enter the kingdom of heaven.
"That's a very solemn apostolic warning," said Packer, a self-described "Calvinist Anglican" who wrote the book, The Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.
The priest at St. Mary's Anglican Church in Kerrisdale, which is seeking permission to bless same-sex relationships in the future, said Packer's decision to raise the concept of "heresy" to describe his theological opponents stunts dialogue and honest intellectual exploration.
"I think it's very unfair when any new insight that departs from an accepted position is labelled 'heretical'," said Rev. Kevin Dixon.
The priest called the Vancouver-area diocese's decision to bless same-sex relationships "a recognition of what's true in light of contemporary research in genetics and psychology."Dixon said Packer is adopting a "literalistic" reading of the Bible when he takes Paul's 2,000-year-old words as proof for all time that the Supreme Being condemns homosexuality.
"It's the same process of logic that leads to supporting slavery," Dixon said, noting that the apostle of Jesus also did not oppose slavery.
"It's important for people to understand that the holy scriptures is a very nuanced document. I think we need to allow people room to come to a new understanding," said Dixon.
"I have not always held the view that same-sex relationships are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now I do."
Even though several Anglican dioceses have recently joined Vancouver in voting to allow same-sex blessings, the governing body of the national Anglican Church of Canada in 2007 narrowly defeated a motion approving the rites.
For his part, Packer described the blessings that many of Canada's Anglican bishops' are willing to give to active gays and lesbians, as well as the bishops' openness to diverse ways of interpreting the Bible, as "persistent unrepentant doctrinal disorder."
The author of the 1973 book, Knowing God, which alone has sold more than three million copies, said it is "utterly tragic" that some conservative Anglicans felt they had no option but to leave the Anglican Church of Canada.
Asking himself why God would allow "poisonous liberalism" and its views of God and homosexuality to grow and flourish in Europe and North America, Packer said it must be so the West would eventually realize how dangerous such ideas are -- "so the poison will be fully squeezed out."
Packer maintained it is top leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada, not he and more than 2,000 fellow conservatives in the Anglican Network in Canada, who have changed their interpretation of Christianity since he moved from Britain to Canada more than 29 years ago to teach at Vancouver's Regent College.
"I'm simply being an old-fashioned mainstream Anglican," Packer said.
The Bible teaches, he said, that people who feel erotic attractions to people of the same gender "are called by God to remain chaste," avoiding sexual relationships.
Packer urged Anglicans who are adamantly opposed to liberal developments in the Anglican church in Canada and the U.S. to remain "tough" as they re-align themselves under Archbishop Venables into a new non-geographically-based form of Anglicanism.
To reach Douglas Todd, go to his blog at www.vancouversun.com/thesearch