J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer

A Remarkable Life of Knowing God

J. I. Packer (1926–2020) is regarded as one of the most well-known theologians and influential evangelicals of our time. Once named to Time magazine's list of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America, Packer wrote what many consider the definitive classic evangelical book of the twentieth century, Knowing God, which has sold more than one million copies in North America alone.

As the author of forty-seven books, as well as untold numbers of journal articles, book reviews, dictionary entries, and forewords, Packer's prolific work has impacted countless pastors, thought leaders, theologians, and authors. He preached and lectured widely in Great Britain and North America and served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible published in 2001, and as theological editor of the Study Bible version. When Christianity Today conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer's book Knowing God came in fifth. In 2014, Packer was named Author of the Year by the Association of Logos Bookstores.

Packer was a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today, and wrote numerous articles published in journals such as Churchman, SouthWestern Journal, Reformation & Revival Journal, and Touchstone. In addition to Knowing God, his books include Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961), Keep in Step with the Spirit (1984), A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (1994), Weakness Is the Way (2013) and many others.

Read the IVP press release honoring Packer's life and ministry as a world-class author and theologian.

Read tributes to J. I. Packer from other publications and friends:

A Lifetime of Christian Influence

James Innell Packer was born in a village outside Gloucester, England, on July 22, 1926. When he was seven, while being chased by a bully as he left school, Packer suffered a severe head injury in a collision with a van. Unable to participate in sports after the accident, Packer instead turned his attention to his love for reading. Packer's time studying at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, became another formative experience for his future as a prolific author and theologian. During his years at school he attended lectures by C. S. Lewis, whose thought became an influential part of Packer's life and work. While at Oxford he also committed his life to Christ at an evangelistic service sponsored by the campus InterVarsity chapter.

Following the completion of his doctorate in philosophy, Packer went on to teach at Oak Hill Theological College in London before attending Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he underwent theological training for ordination into the Church of England. In 1954 Packer married Kit Mullet and they had three children: Ruth, Naomi, and Martin. During his time in England, Packer served as principal of Latimer House, Oxford, then as principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol, and also as associate principal of Trinity College, Bristol. In 1979, he began teaching at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he served in many roles and remained Board of Governors' Professor of Theology until his death.

Words of Inspiration

"As I look back on the life that I have lived, I would like to be remembered as a voice—a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins.

I would like to be remembered as a voice calling Christian people to holiness and challenging lapses in Christian moral standards.

I should like to be remembered as someone who was always courteous in controversy, but without compromise.

I ask you to thank God with me for the way that he has led me, and I wish, hope, pray that you will enjoy the same clear leading from him—and the same help in doing the tasks that he sets you—that I have enjoyed.

And if your joy matches my joy as we continue in our Christian lives, well . . . you will be blessed indeed."

—J. I. Packer in his own words

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God's favor to them in life, through death and on forever.”

Knowing God

"There's a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him."

—Knowing God

"We have been brought to the point where we both can and must get our life's priorities straight. From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, and is, and always will be, the true priority for every human being. That is, learning to know God in Christ."

—Knowing God

Tributes from Friends and Colleagues

"I was privileged to know Jim Packer as a distinguished IVP author. He had a joyful countenance and a godly pastoral heart. But he used to joke about being hard-headed because he had a metal plate in his forehead from an accident in his youth. However, it was not by accident that Jim became known for his clear theological thinking and writing. He was always able to get to what he would say to be 'the nub of the issue' no matter how complex it was. He was also graciously articulate in giving wonderful endorsements to a multitude of authors and books. One day at lunch with some colleagues I asked him, 'Jim, how would you describe the uniqueness of IVP?' After a brief pause he said, 'Some publishers tell you what to believe and other publishers tell you what you already believe, but IVP helps you to believe.' We were so grateful for not only his kind and generous affirmation, but we were a bit stunned that he had captured in a brief moment what indeed was integral to IVP's vision and mission. He was a publisher's dream!"

—Bob Fryling, former publisher, IVP

"In his seminal Knowing God, Dr. Packer writes, "What will make heaven to be heaven is the presence of Jesus, and of a reconciled divine Father who loves us for Jesus' sake no less than he loves Jesus himself. To see, and know, and love, and be loved by, the Father and the Son, in company with the rest of God's vast family, is the whole essence of the Christian hope." Now, he understands this truth much better than any of us can. He's having a glorious time with his friend Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and Richard Baxter, Matthew Henry, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and all the Puritans he spent his life learning about. They are worshipping together, proclaiming the truth to which their books and lives testify: Christ is worthy of all praise and glory."

Stephen McCaskell (see full story at Challies.com)

"Jim Packer was a remarkable presence. I had the privilege of meeting with him on various occasions over the years, and he always impressed me as a man of grace and humor, erudition and humility, a man who loved God and who, though he crafted what he said carefully even in casual conversation, never took himself overly seriously. He was extremely generous, some might say overly generous, almost never declining to provide endorsements in his support of young writers."

Jim Hoover, retired IVP editor of 35 years

"The late J. I. Packer sat on the front row at a Laity Lodge concert I did years ago. Afterward, when I thanked him for listening, he answered, in his perfect Old British Scholar voice, 'You have a flair for your kind of songs, and, well, I thought they were tops.' Loved him."

Andrew Peterson, songwriter

"What I think I will take from him to my grave was the conviction that all theology was doxology, an act of worship with the mind. Anything short of this posture was hubris and possibly heresy. Dr. Packer is a theologian whose mark on evangelical thought is incalculable and, in too many quarters that have lost his even tempered, conservative yet generous theological vision, that waning influence is to their detriment. Dear old teacher, enter your rest, and thank you for showing us that Knowing God is Loving God. Pax Christi!

Michael Thomson, Wipf and Stock Publishers (see full story at Patheos.com)

"The news of the passing of J. I. Packer was greeted with a sense of loss and a quiet smile. . . . he is home. . . . I feel indebted to Jim, and relish the thought of him now face to face with the Lord he so studied. . . . all is now clear! Thank you Jim, I will see you later."

Brian McConaghy, director of Ratanak International

"I was taking a course on the Holy Spirit taught by Professor Packer. By then everybody was already saying that his Knowing God was a classic, and they were right. . . . I learned a lot from that man , as he made even very Reformed theology seem plausible and at times even appealing."

Ben Witherington, author, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Over my forty years at InterVarsity Press I crossed paths with J. I. Packer a number of times. This soft-spoken and steady British theologian, who died this past week, became something of an accidental celebrity when his substantive book Knowing God suddenly became a best seller. When, as a newly minted InterVarsity campus staff member in 1973, I learned that IVP sometimes gave free books to staff, I made sure they knew that’s the book I wanted. I drank it in.

Perhaps my most memorable encounter was when I got a glimpse into his humanity. At a conference I was assigned the task of chauffeuring him and another famous author. As these two good friends talked in the back seat, they began sharing intimate updates on their similar experiences of grief and difficulty—all as if I were not there. I never forgot that no matter how elevated we might be, we are not immune to life. And I never forgot the joy and good humor Jim always exhibited in every circumstance."

Andy Le Peau, former associate publisher at IVP (see full story at Andy Unedited.)

"When theologian, teacher, and writer Dr. J. I. Packer reached his 80th birthday on July 22, 2006, his home church in Vancouver, British Columbia-St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church-honored him with a special celebration.

One after the other, friends from church and colleagues from nearby Regent College, where he has taught for three decades, spoke of Packer's impact on the evangelical movement and themselves. Several, referring to the great mentor in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, called Packer their own Gandalf.

But Packer, when it came his time to speak, gently protested. 'I am no Gandalf,' he said, his normally strong and clear voice choked with emotion. 'I'm much closer to the lowly Sam.'

It was noble, humble Samwise Gamgee who kept Frodo on the right path despite distractions and dangers. Sam never sought to be the hero but spoke and acted with clarity and decisiveness when everyone else was confused. He made the hero's way passable."

Warren Cole Smith, Vice President, World News Group (see full story at World.WNG.org)

"This Sunday morning our little Anglican church in Port Gamble, Washington, celebrated Eucharist. Online, of course, for it is the Season of Covid19. And this week we did so in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of J. I. Packer, who had died just two days earlier. Packer contributed much to the Anglican Church in North America, including serving as theological editor of its catechism, To Be a Christian.

Just minutes after the service, I was asked if I might provide this small remembrance of J. I. Packer. I was uncertain what I would have to say, amidst all those who were much more closely associated with him.

I do not know when I first heard Packer's name. But I do recall that while I was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s, Packer spoke at the seminary. I do not recall his topic. But I was impressed by his theological depth, and his rhythmic cadence and precision of expression.

Over ten years later I would find myself an editor at InterVarsity Press, where Packer's Knowing God was a perennial best-seller. It was no surprise to see that book at the forefront of our list, year after year. It is one of those rare books that has struck home in Christian hearts, like an arrow providentially fletched by the Spirit.

Over the years I would meet Packer several times, usually at conferences, and once in his home in Vancouver. But as an editor, I have remained susceptible to that first impression of over forty-five years ago. It was not only the depth of Packer's thoroughly Christian mind, but the clarity of his thinking—die-struck, and polished to a lapidary sheen.

Today it strikes me that throughout my ecclesial wanderings over the years, it is Packer's voice, and that of John Stott, that have led me to a deep appreciation of evangelical Anglicanism. I now have a suspicion that it was the cadence of the Book of Common Prayer that I was overhearing in the voice of J. I. Packer. And so with thanksgiving, and 'in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ,' we commend to Almighty God our brother Jim Packer."

Dan Reid, retired associate publisher for academic, IVP

"In July 1988 I started working at InterVarsity Press while finishing seminary. That summer I took Dr. J. I. Packer's 3-week course on puritanism at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Little did I know that some years later I would acquire two books with him: Never Beyond Hope and Praying. I was also able to collaborate with him on a number of Knowing God related books and Bible studies. Like Rebecca Vorwerk Larson I remember going to hear jazz with him at Celebration Hall in New Orleans when we launched Never Beyond Hope. I also ended up having a meal with him at that event. I remember talking about the relationship between music and memory and how American coffee had finally improved a bit in comparison with European coffee. Now his experience of knowing God is fully realized."

Cindy Bunch, associate publisher and director of editorial at IVP

"'Chicken vindaloo, as hot as you can make it' – J. I. Packer
That was one of the more unanticipated sentences I heard pass J. I. Packer's lips during the years we worked together with the other stalwarts on the ACNA Catechism. He loved Indian food, and we always went to his favorite restaurant when we were in Vancouver. Chicken vindaloo and white wine. You learn something about a person when you share a meal. Like the fact that he was a 'converted sinistral.' And loved dixieland jazz. I do not share his love for John Owen and the Puritans, though Baxter is another story. But all of that falls away when you're caught up in theology and Anglican doctrine over Indian food. Anyway, I'm saddened to hear of his passing today, but indescribably grateful for the chance to have worked with him and known him as a person—if only a little bit. What a mind! And what a heart for Christ and his Church. His capacity to capture complex propositions with utter clarity and succinctness was astonishing, and his joy in the task of theology was undimmed and infectious. I love the man.

So here's to Jim Packer, lover of God, teacher of the Church, now gathered to the saints with Jesus in Paradise. May we all be as faithful as he in our vocations, whatever they may be. And may we eat chicken vindaloo and drink white wine at the wedding supper of the Lamb. RIP, James Innell Packer, 1926-2020."

Joel Scandrett, former IVP editor, priest at Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh

J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom
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