A Brief Word to J. I. Packer on his 90th Birthday1
Today is J. I. Packer’s 90th birthday. Longevity in life and ministry is often taken for granted in our day. We quickly forget that Thomas Aquinas died at the age of 49. Both John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards were 54 when they entered the presence of Jesus. Charles Spurgeon died much too soon at the age of 57. Martin Luther outlived them all, passing away at the age of 62. The church of Jesus Christ should pause and thank God for sustaining Packer’s remarkable life for as long as he has. Continue reading . . .
Today is J. I. Packer’s 90th birthday. Longevity in life and ministry is often taken for granted in our day. We quickly forget that Thomas Aquinas died at the age of 49. Both John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards were 54 when they entered the presence of Jesus. Charles Spurgeon died much too soon at the age of 57. Martin Luther outlived them all, passing away at the age of 62. The church of Jesus Christ should pause and thank God for sustaining Packer’s remarkable life for as long as he has.
As I reflect on who J. I. Packer is and what he has meant to me personally, several things come quickly to mind.
First, few theologians are as thoroughly and pervasively Christo-centric as Packer. When I was writing my book, Packer on the Christian Life (Crossway), I was repeatedly and pleasantly surprised by the way in which all exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral application were grounded in the truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It was the odd page in Packer’s writings that didn’t include a hymn of praise or a prayer of adoration focused on the person of Jesus.
Second, although I’m profoundly grateful for all his writings, I want to especially highlight a short introduction he wrote to John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Packer openly acknowledges that no one in church history exerted a greater or more formative influence on the shape of his soul and the content of his theology than did Owen. Many of us who joyfully identify with the Reformed theology that Packer has so faithfully defended can point to our reading of his Introductory Essay as a decisive factor in persuading us of the truth of particular redemption or definite atonement. For those who are struggling to grasp the meaning and extent of Christ’s death, I can do no better than direct you to Packer’s essay.
Third, the evangelical world as a whole is deeply indebted to Packer’s relentless, yet loving, articulation of the truth of biblical inerrancy. When people on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that the notion of an inerrant biblical text is indefensible and out of touch with the discoveries of contemporary biblical criticism, Packer has held his ground. And he has done it with remarkable intellectual integrity, clarity, and in my opinion, persuasiveness. I’ve always been impressed with one statement in this regard, taken from his book, Truth and Power. “Authority,” he insists, “belongs to truth and truth only. . . . I can make no sense – no reverent sense, anyway – of the idea, sometimes met, that God speaks his truth to us in and through false statements by biblical writers” (46). I thank God today for J. I. Packer’s immovable commitment to the truth of an inerrant Bible.
Fourth, I can honestly say that I’ve learned more from J. I. Packer about the nature of progressive sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit than from any other individual in Christian history. Of course, Packer would confess that he himself has learned from the giants of the Christian faith, most notably Baxter, Bunyan, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards. But in a way that goes beyond each of these heroes of the faith, Packer puts the dynamics of spiritual transformation in a language that is accessible to believers of all ages. The clarity, conviction, and practical value with which he describes Christian living is, in my opinion, unparalleled in the history of the church.
Fifth, and finally, I want to draw attention to J. I. Packer as the consummate Christian gentleman. By this I have in mind the admirable and humble way in which he has conducted himself in numerous controversies, many of which resulted in unjustified assaults on his character. One need not agree with Packer on every issue to recognize that he has modeled for us the way one maintains a godly and principled position on disputed topics. Be it his involvement with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, his disagreements with Martyn Lloyd-Jones on church unity, or his unwavering opposition to so-called same-sex marriage, Packer has consistently displayed a unique blend, without compromise, of both immovable theological conviction, on the one hand, and the meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ, on the other.
So, on this your 90th birthday, I say to you, “Jim”, thanks! May God richly bless and empower and extend your life as you seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in every way.