He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. (Daniel 11:32, ESV)
Last Saturday Dr Jim Packer died at the age of 93. He has gone to be with Christ, but his writings remain – and they are some of the most helpful you could read.
Born in Gloucestershire in 1926, Packer suffered a head injury at the age of seven which meant he wasn’t able to join in normal sports. For his eleventh birthday he wanted a bike, but his parents bought him a typewriter. In God’s providence, he started to write.
Gifted with a fine mind and a love of books, Packer won a scholarship to Oxford to read classics. It was while he was there, at a meeting of the Christian Union, that he fully understood the gospel and became a Christian. It was also while he was in Oxford that he was given the job of looking after some books which had been given to the Christian Union, and discovered the theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, whose works had disappeared into obscurity.
Wrestling with the vital personal question of how to grow in godliness, Packer found in these books answers to the question which seemed to have been forgotten. From then on, he was to use his life to help others understand how a good Bible-derived theology can help us live in a godly way.
After Anglican ordination and a curacy in Birmingham, he spent the years from 1955 to 1978 teaching at theological colleges in Bristol before moving to the newly-established Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He remained based in Vancouver till his death.
Packer was a man of immense learning, but determined to put that to the service of regular church members. His writing is clear, down to earth and both enjoyable and easy to read. Yet the subjects he covers are of profound importance: the character of God, the Bible, the path to godliness, the lessons we can learn from theologians of the past, the church and more. He was a key editor of the ESV translation of the Bible.
As a faithful teacher, Packer’s writing is warm and positive, but he is also unafraid to challenge falsehood where it threatens the churches. He himself was willing to take the difficult step of resigning from the official Anglican church in Canada over its attitude to same-sex blessings in 2008.
Among his many marvellous books, it is undoubtedly his classic Knowing God which is best known. It has sold over 1.5 million copies. If you haven’t read it, you should! Nothing will do us more good than getting to know our God better.
Readers of that book will recognise that the quote at the top is one he expands in Knowing God’s first chapter. Taken from the prophecy of Daniel, it describes a situation in which the people of God are in danger from a false teacher. But those who know their God will not fall for that. As Packer points out, they will (1) have great energy for God; (2) have great thoughts of God; (3) show great boldness for God; (4) have great contentment in God. Those four headings are a good description of Packer himself!
Let’s thank God for J I Packer; you may also enjoy hearing him in his own words.