J.I. Packer, giant of 20th century theology, went to be with his Saviour last Friday at the age of 93. To help celebrate his life, we asked members of our board and editorial panel to share some memories or quotes from the great man. Here they are in order of receipt.
Jane Tooher: J.I. Packer on Being a Pastoral Theologian (from an interview with Mike Ovey)
Well the very first thing that makes you a pastor, let’s begin there, is that you have a personal faith in Jesus Christ which becomes the guiding principle of your life. Christ himself becomes the personal companion of your life … that this means that God his Father is your Father.
I think a pastoral theologian then is made and shaped by reading the Bible as a story or series of stories of human life—by reflecting on the problems of human life as the Bible biographers display them [and] observing how God himself ministered to these people. And then … when you meet the same sort of needs in the people that you are dealing with … you recognise the need, you have material there that you can use—and you tell them about Jesus Christ and the new life in Christ as you know it yourself.
You don’t tell them about it as a sharing of your own experience directly. That’s not the name of the game. But you tell them about Christ as he’s presented in the Scriptures. You’d probably benefit by having a Bible in your hand and looking up key passages and showing folk where all this is said. And then at each stage, you the teacher are able to say, “Yes I know that this works, I know that this is real, because it’s my experience and has been for years and years”. Something like that. I don’t think there is more to being a pastoral theologian than that, but I don’t think there’s less than that.
Kanishka Raffel: A Biblical Foundation
After becoming a Christian at 21, I first encountered J.I. Packer through his book (by that time, already nearly 30 years old) Fundamentalism and the Word of God. It set out (with Packer’s characteristic clarity of expression, theological rigour and gracious engagement with alternative views) the reformed and evangelical doctrine of Scripture. This book laid a profoundly biblical foundation for my thinking and I have found myself returning to Packer, across the range of his writing interests, again and again.
Packer’s writing on the achievement of the Cross, the dimensions of God’s sovereignty, and the legacy of the Puritans have nurtured my trust in God’s Word, my thanks for God’s gospel and my wonder in God’s glory. Perhaps the real gift of Packer’s writing is that—theologically robust as it is—he always maintained an acute and intentional pastoral purpose, addressing hearts as well as minds. He wrote to glorify God and serve God’s people. Surely, here is one of God’s faithful servants of whom we do well, as the writer to the Hebrews says, to “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
Gary Millar: A Massive Debt
I recently read Sam Storms’ book Packer on the Christian Life. It was a moving experience. As I read, it dawned on me just what a massive debt I owed to J. I. Packer. It was Knowing God that really got me started in the Christian life. It was Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God which set me up to trust God and share the gospel, expecting him to work. It was God has Spoken which straightened out my doctrine of Scripture, and Keep in Step with the Spirit which cleared up my confusion about the charismatic movement. It was “What Did The Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” that convinced me of the heart of the gospel, and his introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death which resolved my lingering doubts about the fifth point of Calvinism. Looking back now, I realise that Packer’s crystal clear, gracious and rigorously biblical prose shaped me more than any other writer. But it was a sermon he preached which, I think, has had the greatest impact on my life.
Packer’s crystal clear, gracious and rigorously biblical prose shaped me more than any other writer. But it was a sermon he preached which, I think, has had the greatest impact on my life.
When I was a theological student in Aberdeen in 1990, Packer came to preach at our church. I couldn’t have been more excited. He preached from Genesis 11:1-9, and it was simple, clear and pointed us to Jesus. But after the event, I could hardly have been more disappointed. This great one, the outstanding evangelical theologian of his generation, just explained the text and proclaimed Christ. There was no technical jargon, no complexity—nothing to impress an arrogant young theological student. From memory, he only preached for 25 minutes. When I told Fiona (then my fiancée), she laughed and suggested that there might be something for me to learn! In God’s kindness, since then, Packer’s quiet humility and concern to serve the people of God without show have spoken to me as powerfully as his gracious and masterful expositions of the richness of the Christian life. That’s why over this weekend, I have been thanking God for the faithfulness of this servant of Christ.
Richard Chin: An Incalculable Influence
If ever there was a Redwood Puritan in our lifetime, it was J.I. Packer. May his influence continue to help us to love the Saviour he loved and obeyed.
J.I. Packer’s influence has been incalculable in laying the foundations of evangelicalism in my lifetime.
It’s hard to think of a good Christian library without titles such as Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and Fundamentalism and the Word of God, just for starters?
But perhaps one of Packer’s lesser known books is Quest for Godliness in which he writes Christ-exalting essays concerning the Puritans and their theology. In this gospel-saturated volume, he likens the Puritans to California’s Redwoods – the biggest living things on earth.
If ever there was a Redwood Puritan in our lifetime, it was J.I. Packer. May his influence continue to do the good work it has always done, help us to love the Saviour he loved and obeyed—our Lord Jesus Christ.
Andrew Moody: Continuing Challenge
Where to begin the vast contribution of Packer? Among so many other blessings, I remember being immensely helped by: his warnings about treating theology as a merely intellectual exercise; his commendation of adoption as the greatest doctrine (both in Knowing God); his explanation of the Holy Spirit as a “floodlight” who shines on Christ (Keep in Step with the Spirit); and by his ability to relate the different achievements of the Cross in “What Did The Cross Achieve?”
Yet it was his 1987 essay “Hot Tub Religion” with its exhortation to meditation—and especially meditation on the topic of Heaven—that continues challenge me most. I still need to be reminded that I am a pilgrim in this world and that the only things finally worth having are in Christ. And I think I am not alone:
Materialism, particularly in its Marxist form, has cowed Christians into heaven and proceeding on the basis that the only life we have to think about, and get pleasure from, is life in this world … [But] anyone whose hopes are focused on gaining material pleasure, profit, and privilege is booked for a bereavement experience, since, as John says (v. 17), the world will not last. Life’s surest certainty is that one day we will leave worldly pleasure, profit, and privilege behind. The only uncertainty is whether these things will leave us before our time comes to leave them.