A Brief Word to J. I. Packer on His 90th Birthday

By Sam Storms
https://www.crossway.org/
This is a guest post by Sam Storms, author of Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit.

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, 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.” [1] 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.

Notes:

[1] J. I. Packer, Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 37.
Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas) has spent more than four decades in ministry as a pastor, professor, and the author of more than two dozen books. He was visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004, and is currently senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and the author of numerous books, including Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit.

VIRTUEONLINE FOOTNOTE.

Over the years I have interviewed Dr. J.I. Packer several times, most recently in Latrobe, PA when he was then 87 years young. He was a speaker at the Anglican Church in North America’s 2nd Annual Assembly meeting at St. Vincent Archabbey and College in Latrobe, on the occasion of the induction of a new archbishop of the ACNA, Foley Beach and a farewell to the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, the ACNA’s first leader. You can read it here:

http://www.virtueonline.org/latrobe-pa-anglican-patriarch-ji-packer-still-going-strong-87

I am posting links to other stories I and others have written about this godly leader over the years.

http://www.virtueonline.org/herndon-va-canadian-theologian-ji-packer-talks-future-anglicanism
http://www.virtueonline.org/anglican-commitment-comprehensiveness-jipacker
http://www.virtueonline.org/lost-art-catechesis-ji-packer
http://www.virtueonline.org/reform-chairman-writes-letter-over-threat-suspend-ji-packer
http://www.virtueonline.org/white-horse-inn-interview-ji-packer-author-grounded-gospel
http://www.virtueonline.org/ji-packer-evangelical-life
http://www.virtueonline.org/ji-packer-first-order-issues
http://www.virtueonline.org/ji-packer-calls-rowan-williams-resign

This story on his call for Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams to resign was probably his most courageous. No one in modern memory had ever called on a sitting archbishop seated in Lambeth Palace to resign. He did. The story got over 12,000 hits just at VOL’s website and went viral via VOL’s weekly digest and on countless blogs. Soon after, Williams resigned eight years before he needed too because he could not square the circle over sodomy, unable to please the growing orthodox Global South or Western Episcopal pansexualists. His tenure might well be the worst the Anglican Communion has ever known.

A Regent College scholarship has been set up in Dr. Packer’s name. A celebration was held, put together jointly between Regent College and St. John’s, Shaughnessy with wonderful tributes from the Rev. David Short, Jeff Greenman, Principal of Regent, and one from the Queen. A VOL subscriber said it was a memorable and happy occasion.

VOL invites its readers to record a remembrance they might have of this gentle scholar, and author whose books have influenced tens of thousands of lives, and will do so for decades to come.

David W. Virtue DD
President
VIRTUEONLINE

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