By Timothy George
October 17, 2016
Several years ago Alister McGrath and I had a conversation about our friend, J. I. Packer, his influence on us, and the role he has played as a leading evangelical theologian and teacher within the worldwide Christian movement. Out of that conversation emerged a conference in honor of Packer’s eightieth birthday, held at Beeson Divinity School in 2006, and a subsequent book, J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. This past summer, Packer turned ninety years of age. Next month, in San Antonio, he will again be recognized at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society as scholars review the significance of his life and work as a theologian, ecumenist, and churchman. Who, then, is J. I. Packer?
James Innell Packer was born July 22, 1926, in Gloucestershire, England. The son of a clerk for the Great Western Railway, Packer grew up in a modest, working-class, nominally Anglican family, who encouraged their bookish son by giving him a typewriter. At age seven, he survived a violent collision with a bread truck that left him physically scarred for life and something of a “speckled bird” among his student peers. Packer received a scholarship to Oxford University, where he heard the famous apologist C. S. Lewis speak and was influenced by his writings, especially The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. But it was in meetings of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, a British version of InterVarsity, that Packer found a living relationship with Jesus Christ and committed his life to Christian service. After teaching Greek and Latin at Oak Hill Theological College in London, Packer enrolled in Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he studied theology and was ordained a priest in the Church of England.
Having found the writings of John Owen helpful in his own spiritual life, he worked closely with the famous London pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones to encourage a revival of interest in the Puritans. Packer’s early writings, especially “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, established him as a formidable theological voice for the evangelical movement. In 1973, he published Knowing God, an international bestseller that has become a modern theological classic. Read the rest at First Things.