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J. I. Packer, Author, Preacher and Teacher has Died at 93

J. I. Packer, Author, Preacher and Teacher has Died at 93

By David W. Virtue, DD
July 18, 2020

World renowned evangelical theologian, author and preacher, the Rev. Dr. J. I. Packer has died. He was the author of such bestselling books as Fundamentalism and the Word of God and Knowing God, books that were read and brought lumination to millions of Christians. He is thought to have died of natural causes.

He was a friend of VOL. Over the years, when our paths crossed, he graciously afforded me interviews. The last one I did can be found here: https://virtueonline.org/latrobe-pa-anglican-patriarch-ji-packer-still-going-strong-87 The interview garnered more than 6,000 reads and, as the interview says, he was still functioning strongly in his 87th year.

In my interview with JIP, I asked him what his favorite book was. He said A Quest for Godliness. "It expresses so much of the Puritan understanding of Christian spirituality which has been an enormous inspiration to me since I first discovered the writings of John Owen in 1946."

Packer believed that the most important project of his life was the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Dr. J. I. Packer died today at the age of 93. He was a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America, and helped develop the official catechism titled "To Be a Christian."

On his passing, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach commented, "This is a great loss for the Church on earth, and a great joy for the Church in Heaven. He was a man who walked his talk and impacted all those around him to be more like Jesus. His books, especially Knowing God, impacted me greatly."

Christianity Today described Dr. Packer as one of the most famous and influential evangelical leaders of our time: "When asked late in life what his final words to the church might be, Packer replied, 'I think I can boil it down to four words: Glorify Christ every way.'"

J. I. Packer filled so many roles that we can accurately think of him as having had multiple careers. He earned his livelihood by teaching and was known to those who were his students as a professor. But the world at large knows Packer as an author and speaker, wrote John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Dr. Bruce Atkinson, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology said; "the most trustworthy theologians in the 20th (and so far in the 21st century) have been J.I. Packer and the late John R.W. Stott. Intelligent but plain speaking, always looking to clarify and to teach what the scriptures actually say. Firm but not egotistical or pompous. The doctrine Packer espouses is almost always straight down the middle.

"He helped me immensely many years ago when I was distancing myself from Anglicanism due to ECUSA, and my brother in Sewanee gave me a monograph by Packer entitled 'Fundamentalism and the Word of God.' This classic on the authority of scripture taught me about the spiritual power inherent in evangelical Anglicanism. So, I came back to Anglicanism... but this time distancing from the apostate Episcopal Church and the decadent Church of England, and identifying instead with the newer orthodox organizations like GAFCON and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)."

A remembrance from Regent College where he taught highlighted this: "For all his accolades and accomplishments, Jim's focus was always, always, on Christ. He said the Book of Common Prayer's Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services at the beginning and end of each day, often arising at 4 am to do so. Even recovering from a broken pelvis in his last year, he would sink to his knees to pray preceding the Eucharist.

Born in Gloucester, England, the son of a clerk for the Great Western Railway, Packer won a scholarship to Oxford University. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, obtaining the degrees of Bachelor of Arts in Theology (1948), Master of Arts (1954), and Doctor of Philosophy (1954).

It was as a student at Oxford that he first heard a paper delivered by C. S. Lewis, whose books influenced his life. In a meeting of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union in 1944, Packer committed his life to Christian service.

He spent a brief time teaching Greek at Oak Hill Theological College in London, and in 1949 entered Wycliffe Hall, Oxford to study theology. He was ordained a deacon (1952) and a priest (1953) in the Church of England, within which he was associated with the Evangelical movement. He was Assistant Curate of Harborne Heath in Birmingham 1952--54 and Lecturer at Tyndale Hall, Bristol 1955--61. He was Librarian and then appointed Warden (Principal) of Latimer House, Oxford 1961--62 and Principal 1962--69. In 1970 he became Principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol. From 1971 until 1979 he was Associate Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, which had been formed from the amalgamation of Tyndale Hall with Clifton College and Dalton House-St Michael's.

In 1979, Packer moved to Vancouver, BC, to take up a position at Regent College, eventually being named the first Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology, a title he held until he was named a Regent College Board of Governors' Professor of Theology in 1996. Packer had a huge impact on students during his time at Regent, as evidenced by one of them, author Gary Thomas, dedicating his book Holy Available, and including a lengthy tribute, in honor of Dr. Packer's 80th birthday. He is a prolific writer and frequent lecturer, but he is best known for his book, Knowing God. He was a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of "Christianity Today".

Packer served as General Editor of the English Standard Version, a revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and Theological Editor of the Study Bible version.

Packer was associated with St. John's Vancouver Anglican Church, which in February 2008 voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) over the issue of same-sex blessings. St. John's joined the Anglican Network in Canada. Packer, on 23 April, handed in his license from the Bishop of New Westminster. In December 2008, Dr. Packer was appointed an honorary Clerical Canon of St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney in recognition of his long and distinguished ministry as a faithful teacher of Biblical theology.

In both his publishing and speaking, Packer was famous as a Puritan scholar, but he was also a dedicated churchman who said that his teaching was primarily aimed at the education of future ministers, and he spent countless hours serving on church committees. Packer gave evangelicals a place to stand in regard to the authority of the Bible.

When Alister McGrath labeled Packer a theologizer rather than a theologian, Packer experienced it as "quite a discovery" that led him to conclude that he was "an adult catechist," dedicated to the systematic teaching of doctrine for the ordinary Christian. Packer was not as pained as some scholars have been by never having completed or published his systematic theology because he regarded his informal theological writings for the layperson to be his calling. He once gave a series of lectures to the Anglican Mission in America on the Book of Nehemiah.

His ministry officially ended in 2016, when he learned he was going blind from macular degeneration. He became unable to read, travel, or speak publicly.

Packer has been described as "an unsung hero as well as a famous man."

Jim is survived by Kit, their three children, Ruth, Naomi, and Martin, and two grandsons.

(CT contributed to this article)


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