[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#13. J.I. Packer, Wise Counselor b. 1926
It is surprising to first meet J.I. Packer in his academic setting, an unassuming room at Regent College in awe-inspiring Vancouver. My first impression was “Mr. Rogers Goes to College.” But then, of course, Packer speaks and you begin sense the wisdom of the ages in one of Christendom’s wise and courageous thinkers.
The son of a clerk for Britain’s Great Western Railway, Packer won a scholarship to Oxford University, where as a student he first met C.S. Lewis, whose teachings would become a major influence in his life. In a meeting of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, Packer committed his life to Christ. Throughout the years Packer, like Lewis, taught and demonstrated that orthodoxy is the friend not the enemy of cross-cultural and cross-denominational engagement.
The Anglican scholar is one the most significant evangelical theologians of the last one hundred years and hHe has had a strong influence through his many book and lectures on many Christian renewal movements in the U.S. and worldwide. He has helped Christians in their pursuit of Knowing God, the title of his influential 1973 best seller, which taught the simple, deep truth that to know God is to love His Word..
A 2009 essay collection edited by Beeson professor Timothy George concludes that he “should be seen fundamentally as a “theologizer,” a “latter-day catechist,” a Reformed prophet standing in the tradition of Irenaeus, Augustine, Calvin, Baxter, and Owen.”
Packer has said “the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be if it does not embrace a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace.”
His collegial manner can mask what would otherwise be seen his conservative, even “right wing” beliefs. After being ordained in the Anglican church, Packer soon became recognized as a leader in the evangelical movement in the Church of England. In 1978, he signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which affirmed the conservative position on inerrancy.
In a 2009 discussion Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll found Packer to be “clear minded at age 82 and he remains incredibly conversant, insightful, and witty. Impressively, his words are impeccably precise.” During that visit, Packer explained his strong opposition to homosexuality on biblical grounds, and he said the teaching that Christians can remain practicing homosexuals is heresy because it denied the basic tenet of repentance.
Packer has also been engaged in some of the most important statements of evangelical engagement, including his decision to sign the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document in 1994. He is perhaps the most influential evangelical theologian to call for stronger ties between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but he believes that unity should not come at the expense of orthodox doctrine. Nonetheless, his advocacy of this ecumenism has brought sharp criticism from some conservatives.
Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version of the Bible (2001), an Evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version of 1971. He is a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today.