MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, July 20th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. The evangelical world lost one of its most influential theologians on Friday, J.I. Packer. Here’s WORLD’s Katie Gaultney with a remembrance.
KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: J.I. Packer knows God more fully than ever now. He entered heaven’s gates Friday after following Christ for over 70 years. He was 93 years old.
Here he is talking about his faith with Mark Jones, a minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church.
PACKER: The sense of God’s greatness and my own comparative smallness, I think I can truly say, has been deepening all along throughout that time.
Packer’s work spanned more than half a century, but he’s best known for his 1973 book Knowing God. Publishers have sold more than 1.5 million copies since the book’s release. It’s been translated into more than a dozen languages.
His theological knowledge was deep and his credentials impressive: Packer earned several degrees from Oxford University and served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible. But his overriding message to the world was simple and beautiful: “God saves sinners.”
Packer would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Wednesday. He was born on July 22, 1926, in Gloucester, England. For his 11th birthday, Packer had dropped heavy hints that he was hoping his parents would buy him a new bicycle. But they had other ideas.
PACKER: On the birthday morning, however, what I found waiting for me was an old typewriter. The gift of the typewriter was almost prophetic.
He called it the best present he had ever gotten as a boy. And he used that gift to develop gifts of his own.
As a teenager, Packer began considering more carefully the claims of Christianity behind his nominal Anglican upbringing. Then, as a freshman at Oxford University, he embraced saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Through the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, Packer discovered the writings of Puritan theologians.
PACKER: Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a book that I reread every year; I hope that no one will tell me that it’s not a theological book, because it is, on a very deep and insightful level.
Eventually, Packer’s admiration of Puritan teachers like John Owen and Richard Baxter led him to write A Quest for Godliness—a book about Puritan writings on the Christian life.
In 1954, he married Kit Mullet, and the couple raised three children. After a stint as a lecturer and a librarian, Packer moved with his family to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1970. Packer taught systematic theology at Regent College, and he continued teaching courses at the school until he was nearly 90 years old.
Living by the truth of Scripture led Packer to make painful moves during his long career and ministry. In 2002, when the Anglican diocese of New Westminster authorized its bishop to produce a service for same-sex unions, Packer joined a handful of other synod members in walking out of the meeting. His church later withdrew from the Anglican Church in Canada and became a member of the Anglican Church in North America.
In 2016, at age 89, Packer announced his vision had deteriorated due to macular degeneration, and that he could no longer read or write. Shortly before that announcement, Packer recounted to his biographer, Dr. Leland Ryken, how he would like to be remembered.
PACKER: As I look back on the life that I lived I would like to be remembered as a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins…
And, Packer hoped that the many who have benefited from his life’s work would reflect on his legacy with joy.
PACKER: I ask you to thank God with me for the way that he has led me. And if your joy matches my joy as we continue in our Christian lives, well then you will be blessed indeed.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Katie Gaultney.