It was about 10 days ago that I heard of the passing of JI Packer. What came to mind when I heard this news, as oddly as this may sound, were pleasant and appreciative memories for someone who has had an impact on my faith–from my view of the Bible, my view of theology, and in many ways, my view of God.
There are greater people than I who can outline the 93 years of Packer’s life. There have been different tributes from various scholars, pastors, and theologians in many major Christian publications over the past week.
My first introduction to Packer, that I can remember, was reading his book ‘Among God’s Giants’ (an early version of ‘A Quest for Godliness’). It was a book that outlined puritan history and gave mini-biographies of a number of significant puritan pastors and theologians. In my records, because I’m that kind of guy, I can tell you that I finished reading that book on the 5th of February 2007.
Only a few months later I finished reading (1st May 2007, for those who are interested) the book he is most known for, ‘Knowing God’. What I remember is that this book had a profound effect on me. In my notes on this book I wrote a one sentence summary saying, “Orthodox theology focussing on the Calvinistic doctrines, and making them clear.” Seems apt. But it is also a book I have gone back to again and again. There is a sense of refreshment when reading Knowing God. Not only is it dripping with biblical truth, it is written in such a clear and concise way.
When I first read Packer I was doing Christian mission work in a small village in the mountains of the Middle East. I was teaching students and connecting with people who were culturally, ethnically, and linguistically different to me in so many ways. It’s a time I remember fondly, it was a challenge and an adventure. But it was also the place where I experienced the most growth as a believer that I can remember. More than my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, more than my theological degree at college, and more than serving in the local church. And so it was here with Packer, and many other great Christian books, that I found my place theologically. I may have been walking with Jesus for nearly 10 years by this point but it felt like this was the first time I was hearing the gospel and amazing truths of the God I worship. I mean, just listen to how he speaks of the grace of God!
“In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven.”
And then perhaps a word for today in waiting upon the Lord,
“‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”
And the whole book is like this…
What Packer brought through his books, particularly Knowing God, was a new sense of clarity and appreciation for the works and person of God. Not only was I reading about the God of the universe and with a God who I could have a relationship and commune with each and every day.
Today I have at least a dozen of JI Packer books, most of which I’ve read. Each time I dip into any of his works I am struck again by the irresistible clarity in which he writes about God and the thorough practicality of the doctrine he explains.
While I may never have met Packer in person, the amount he has written and the numerous sermons you can now find online, is a wealth and treasure trove for any believer. If you’ve never read anything of his then I would highly recommend doing so.
Packer has invariably influenced many people, the word over, but he has also influenced me–personally. His impact on my life and faith, on my character and the way I follow Christ is something personal. This week I’ll go have a look over a few of his books I’ve got sitting on my shelves, perhaps dip into another one I haven’t read and see what he says. Whatever the case, it will be impactful, it will ooze Christ’s centrality, and it will point me towards greater worship of God.
All this to say, Packer will have been enjoying the presence of his God this past week, and that the God he has known through veiled eyes will now be known in person and greater clarity than ever.