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J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought – Alister McGrath

Hodder and Stoughton Hardback ISBN 978 1 529 38058 9 182 pages £14.99

J.I. (Jim) Packer recently went to be with the Lord; this brief memoir reflects on his life and his thought world. I remember the words of my church leader at the church where I became a Christian: “it seems that whenever there is a critical question facing the church Packer writes a helpful book about it.” 

Packer’s books on Scripture, the gospel, and the Charismatic movement were careful, thorough and insightful. What was so striking was how timely his contributions have been.

McGrath explores the man and the thought that shaped these books and what was perhaps his most influential book: Knowing God. This book was an example of exploring what Packer described as: “the biggest thing that ever there was”.

McGrath sums this up: “Packer’s appeal lies both in his accessible and engaging writing style, alongside his seamless integration of a loving and attentive reading of the Bible, the weaving together of its themes in theology, and working out of this vision of the Christian faith in holy living and praying adoration”.

I enjoyed reading this book but want to make two observations about it:

Firstly, that the book reminded me of why Christians should be grateful for the ministry of Jim Packer, who has provided so many resources for the church.

Secondly, there is an air of sadness about the book. Packer’s life seemed to have more than its share of false starts, misunderstandings, and division. Some of these factors contributed to his decision to spend the major part of his career and all his retirement in North America. It made me ponder that old question: Are you an Evangelical Anglican or an Anglican Evangelical? 

Anyone interested in the history of Christian ideas would find this book fascinating, as would anyone seeking to reflect on the complexity of the church politics of working within a major Christian denomination.

John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex

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