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Church Culture

JI Packer Leaves Mark on Important Evangelical Institutions

Known as theologian, Packer was also churchman and organization leader

The late J.I. Packer was influential in strengthening both Christian evangelical institutions and the leaders who run them.

The famous pastor-theologian, who died last week at the age of 93, was a mainstay at Regent College, helped form the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, worked as a senior editor for Christianity Today, and even headed up a well-known Bible translation.

Packer rose to prominence upon the publication of his book, Knowing God. Published in 1973, the book has sold a million and a half copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages.

“The conviction behind the book is that ignorance of God is at the root of much of the church’s weakness today,” Packer said.

Knowing God, which has impacted Christian leaders like Chuck Colson, Joni Eareckson Tada, Billy Graham and Chuck Swindoll, has been dubbed “devotional theology”—two words that John Stonestreet says are often incompatible in the minds of many Christians. He says Packer destroys that “false dichotomy” in his book.

For many, his winsome way of explaining core biblical truths helped ground their faith in a way that blended an experiential faith with sound theology. Stonestreet, who heads up The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, recalls two of Packer’s statements from Knowing God that hit him “like a ton of bricks”—“First, ‘One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him,’ and second, ‘One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of Him.’”

Packer came to a saving faith as a freshman studying at Oxford University. He married Kit Mullett, a Welsh nurse, and together they raised three adopted children. He was later ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

In 1977 he was one of five men, including R.C. Sproul, who helped form the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, which produced the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy. Packer was an adamant defender of the inerrancy of Scripture, where both then and now the belief is under attack.

In 1979, he and his family traversed the wide expanse of the sea to settle in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he took a position at Regent College. He taught theology full time until 1996, but continued part-time until a few years before his death.

The school was not yet 10 years old when he joined the faculty, and in a memorial on Regent College’s website, the writers said his “arrival helped to establish Regent as a theological destination.” They also described him as “humorous, gracious, and prayerful even in his final days.”

Packer was captivated as a young man by the works of Puritan writers and hoped to influence his students in that same direction. He “brought seventeenth-century Puritan devotion to life for his twentieth- and twenty-first-century students,” said Regent.

His influence extended beyond the traditional classroom in the form of some 66 books that he either authored or co-authored. His final book, The Heritage of Anglican Theology, is slated to release in May 2021.

A lifelong Anglican, Packer was a priest at St. John’s Shaughnessy in Vancouver for 37 years where he preached, led liturgy, and taught classes. In 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster authorized its bishop to produce a service for blessing same-sex unions—Packer was among a group of members who walked out.

He explained his reasoning: “Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.”

Six years later, his church left the Anglican Church of Canada to join the Anglican Church in North America.

Packer was also instrumental during his 30-year tenure at Christianity Today, where he worked as an editor. He edited each issue through the lens of “good theology, sociology, and journalism.” He was also the general editor for The English Standard Version of the Bible, which he later considered “the most important thing that I have ever done for the Kingdom.”

A fighter of the faith and defender of sound theology, Packer led the way for many of those leading Biblically-sound evangelical ministries today. He held fast to the simplicity of the gospel and called everyone to glorify Christ.

In a 2015 interview, Justin Taylor asked Packer how he hoped to be remembered. His answer: “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.”

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.