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Who was J. I. Packer?

J. I. Packer
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James Innell Packer (July 22, 1926 — July 17, 2020) was an influential author, professor, theologian, and churchman. He spent the first half of his life in England and the second half in Canada. “Throughout his nearly 70 years of writing and ministry, he stressed the importance of knowing and praying to and communing with the triune God. He called for the church to take holiness and repentance seriously by walking in the Spirit and fighting against indwelling sin. He defended biblical authority and championed the cause of disciple-making catechesis. And he reintroduced multiple generations to his beloved Puritan forebears” (www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/j-i-packer-1926-2020, accessed 6/24/21).

Packer was born in Gloucester, England, into a nominally Anglican home. Although his home church did not teach him about the necessity of trusting Christ for salvation, he came to faith as a student at Oxford University while attending an evangelistic service. Later he would say, “I can’t bring myself to use the language ‘I found Christ.’ I only feel it’s true when I say ‘Christ found me’” (transcribed from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2yiQIXFdLU, accessed 6/24/21). During his time at Oxford, Packer attended lectures by C. S. Lewis, and hearing Lewis greatly affected his spiritual thinking. The subject of Packer’s doctoral work was the 17th-century Puritan church leader Richard Baxter. Packer received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Oxford.

After receiving his doctorate, J. I. Packer served as a priest in the Church of England and also held several academic positions. He also served as director of Latimer House in Oxford, a research center for evangelical scholarship.

In 1958 Packer published his first book, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, which sold 20,000 copies in that year and has remained in print since then. This book was a defense of the evangelical doctrine of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Packer became one of the leading evangelicals in England. He would later contribute to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and would make the authority of the Bible a consistent theme in his teaching.

In 1973 Packer released his most popular and influential book. Knowing God, which has sold over 1.5 million copies, was listed number five in a Christianity Today survey of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals (www.librarything.com/bookaward/Christianity+Today%27s+Top+50+Books+That+Have+Shaped+Evangelicals, accessed 6/24/21).

In 1979 J. I. Packer moved to Vancouver, Canada, to join the faculty of Regent College where he served out the rest of his academic career.

J. I. Packer was a prolific writer, and he also served on the translation board of the English Standard Version of the Bible. In 2005 Time listed him as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals. He considered himself an ordinary churchman who was also a theologian and a modern-day Puritan. Much of his writing was not for other theologians but for the ordinary Christian. “Packer became one of the most famous evangelicals of his day, but he never held a prestigious post at a major university and never filled a high-visibility pulpit on a permanent basis. He was a mild man with a peaceable disposition” (www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/j-i-packer-died-evangelical-theologian-knowing-god.html, accessed 6/24/21).

Despite his low profile, Packer often found himself involved in controversy. He had a public disagreement with his friend and fellow evangelical Martyn Lloyd-Jones over Catholicism. Lloyd-Jones felt the Packer was too accepting of some points of Catholic theology, and Packer was later criticized for his work in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a 1994 ecumenical document that emphasized the need for evangelicals and Catholics to present a united front against cultural and societal decay. Packer also voted to separate from the Church of England over their acceptance of same-sex marriages, and he was an advocate for complementarianism in gender roles.

In 2016 Packer was no longer able to travel or speak publicly and became blind due to macular degeneration. “When asked late in life what his final words to the church might be, Packer replied, ‘I think I can boil it down to four words: Glorify Christ every way’” (ibid., accessed 6/24/21).

Here are some notable quotes from J. I. Packer:

“To know that nothing happens in God’s world apart from God’s will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the saints.”

“The Christian’s motto should not be ‘Let go and let God’ but ‘Trust God and get going.’”

“For the Christian, the best is always yet to be. . . . Our Father’s wealth is immeasurable, and we will inherit the entire estate.”

“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”

“‘Father’ is the Christian name for God. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.”

“Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. The traitor is forgiven, brought in for supper, and given the family name. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.”

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This page last updated: July 7, 2021