Remembering Jim Packer (and why this matters)

Today, after waking up early and checking through my Facebook timeline, I read that J.I.Packer (1926 – 2020) died yesterday. No surprise of course (he was 93 after all) but sad and shocked, even so.

This year a number of “greats” that have especially stood out for me have died (but then I am of an age when that is to be expected and when I wonder am I next?) I am thinking of Ravi Zacharias (see here), David Pawson (see here) and Steve Chilcraft (see here) and all in the past two months. I ask myself, as we come out of Covid lockdown into the new normal (whatever that is), who else is left of the old brigade and who will fill their shoes (although as one dear old saint once told me – God buries his workman but carries on his work (perhaps through me); so I should rest easy, yet take stock).

As people who follow my blogging know, I tend to have a thing about writing obituary type articles, so the fact I am doing so for Jim Packer now should come as no surprise, besides which I am a great believer in paying one’s respect and soberly remembering, mindful that even the best of men have their faults. The nice thing with Jim Packer is I don’t need to write anything about the great man that others better better than I would articulate in the public domain. Having recently read Alistair McGrath’s “Pray Big” book and been impressed, it was nice to note he has done a biography on Packer. Something for now, succinct and worth reading, why not check out: J. I. Packer (1926–2020) – Justin Taylor” (see here).

My first encounter with Packer was being encouraged to reading his books when I was a university student and glad that I did. Since then my awareness of his writings and ministry have been at best sporadic, but always impressive, especially his refined upper classish accent precisely, eruditely, succinctly, without histrionics, making important points, often with a theological bent, better than anyone else I can think off. I am biased of course, but Packer was the greatest theologian of my generation and from what I can make out a genuinely humble fellow and a cool guy. Besides following his brave fight against what I can only describe as a viscious, liberal onslaught within North American Anglicanism, I have been particularly blessed after reading what he wrote about the Puritans, and their amazing, still relevant, theological insights.

I met him once, and had a 5 minute chat and the context of which is salient for now, even though I can’t remember what he spoke about. I recall some ten? years ago when “Love Southend” started that Jim Packer came to town and around that time so did Tony Campolo. A few from the evangelical leaners in my neck of the woods came to hear Jim but a lot more went to hear Tony. It got my goat, I have to confess – why should people spurn the opportunity to hear the world’s number one theologian and go and listen to a damnable heretic whose main redeeming feature is he was into social action (as was I, so it happened). The 5 minute chat left me relieved that my high regard for the fellow was not misplaced and he had some good memories of his early association with the Plymouth Brethren (my own club then and when I began my Christian pilgrimage).

My point though for relating the one personal anecdote I have concerning the great man was not that I would rather my fellow evangelical leaners be JP followers rather than TC (after all it should be JC, and Him alone) but the very things JP has been fighting for most of his life i.e. biblical orthodoxy and going back to the ancient paths, albeit in the context of the modern paradigm, are in danger of being lost as I see the church (not the Church) trying to be community minded, nice and all things to all men, women and anyone else, are in great danger of losing the plot and going off the rails. As for the “Modern Bible Study Methods” meme above, JP was clearly in the “exegesis” camp, is a good thing, but the fact most modern preachers are in the eisegesis or narcigesis camps, is not.

I am confident amidst this confusion and the calamities that God uses to wake His people up, will have a good outcome and all we need to do is keep faith and follow the teachings JP so superbly expounded. I have no doubt Jim Packer leaves a remarkable legacy and there is already evidence of this in stuff I have seen posted in what is early hours following the news of his promotion to glory. I don’t need to ramble on more as, besides, others will do it better than me, but it is best to leave it with Jim to have the last word:

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are, in effect bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is ‘another gospel, which is not another.’ Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. An imaginary Christ will not bring a real salvation; and a half-truth presented as the whole truth is a complete untruth.” –J.I. Packer, “The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel,” Puritan Papers, Vol 1.


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