J.I. Packer (1926 – 2020)

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I have just seen that the death has been announced of Dr. J.I. Packer. Packer was a giant among Anglican theologians – a man, whose influence spread far beyond the Church of England and the wider Anglican communion. Justin Taylor, of Crossway books, has already published an obituary online, and I would recommend it to you all.

Between them, Packer, and his nonconformist colleague Martyn Lloyd Jones, were largely responsible for re-introducing the evangelical world to the Puritans. If you have valued the work of the Puritans, then you have these two heroes of mine to thank.

Packer’s own works were of great significance. As a university student, newly acquainted with the doctrines of grace, it was important to read his “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”, which hammered home a Reformed basis for evangelism.

But the work which I, and countless others of my generation, found the most valuable was his seminal work “Knowing God”. There can be no better book to give to a new Christian, to ground him firmly in the faith, nor any better to which to return, to be reminded of the necessity of its title. In many ways, “Knowing God” sums up Packer’s life’s work – his desire that we should all know God. I was twice part of a fellowship which studied this important work – once at a Christian group based at the University of Nottingham and once in a small church in Bridgend, South Wales. The book has never dated, though most young Christians today have never heard of it. If you have never read it before, then I urge you to do so.

Packer was not without his faults. I wish he had understood Lloyd Jones’ call to evangelicals to leave the mixed denominations – Packer’s criticism of Lloyd Jones led to a rift between them, and the end of the influential Puritan Conference. His participation in “Evangelicals and Catholics together” was disappointing, to say the least. I was personally very disappointed by Packer’s endorsement of Alexander’s theistic evolutionary diatribe “Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?” On the other hand, his participation in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was of immense importance.

He will be missed – though he is now with his Lord and Savior. I hope that his death will lead to a revival of interest in his books, and that that in turn will lead to a revival of interest in Knowing God.

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