24th July 2020
On 17th July, J I Packer died at the age of 93, and went to be with his Lord – as one person put it, “a great loss for the Church on earth, and a great joy for the Church in Heaven.” Another described him as one of the three great giants of twentieth century evangelical Christianity. Alongside Billy Graham the great evangelist, and John Stott the great pastor and Bible teacher, J I Packer was the great theologian, writing deep theology – at the same time both simple and profound. Another summed him up as “a godly, mighty, dear man of God.”
He actually served as a curate at St John’s Harborne in the early 1950s, before going on to teach theology in Bristol, where my father was among his students. And many of us will have been helped beyond measure by his classic book Knowing God – helped, of course, to know God better. Since 1979, his home has been in Vancouver, Canada where he taught for many years at Regent College.
A few years ago he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He responded, “I would like to be remembered as a voice—a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins.” I have no doubt that he will be remembered for exactly that.
Let me give you one example. In June 2002, the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in Canada agreed to authorise the blessing of same-sex unions. Packer was one of the synod members who walked out to protest. He explained his decision in an article called Why I Walked. It’s typical Packer: expressing biblical convictions with clarity, comprehensiveness and courage. Here’s how he begins:
“Why did I walk out with the others? Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.
“My primary authority is a Bible writer named Paul. For many decades now, I have asked myself at every turn of my theological road: Would Paul be with me in this? What would he say if he were in my shoes? I have never dared to offer a view on anything that I did not have good reason to think he would endorse.” It’s well worth reading in full.
In 2016, when he was going blind through macular degeneration, Packer was asked what would be his final words to the church. He replied, “I think I can boil it down to four words: Glorify Christ every way.” That’s what he did with his life, and it’s what he’s doing now.