You can never get enough of Jim Packer:
There are some folks you just cannot get enough of. If they are authors, you always want to read more from them – even well after they have passed away. And publishers also know the value of coming out with even more books from departed but much-loved writers.
For the believer there are some very well-known Christian authors who are continuously being mined by publishers, seeking to get the very last dregs out of their corpus. C. S. Lewis would be one obvious example. Just about everything he has written – including letters to correspondents and the like – has been resurrected and published.
So too with A. W. Tozer. All of his books have been published and republished, and then the publishing houses went through all his sermons, articles, and so on. One of the newest collections of his works features his public prayers. For someone who only had around a dozen works published during his lifetime, there are now well over 100 titles all bearing his name.
One could be a bit cynical here and argue that pretty soon a collection of his shopping lists might appear. Yes, I jest, but I probably would be the first one to buy such a volume if it were released! We just cannot get enough of some of these great Christian writers.
Another author plenty of Christians just can never get enough of is the late J. I. Packer. The famous English theologian, Christian leader, and author only passed away relatively recently (July 17, 2020). See my write-up about him here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/07/18/notable-christians-j-i-packer/
But some new volumes by or about him have already appeared. And that is good news for Packer lovers, of which I am one. I have a number of books on Packer, and at least 40 books written by Packer. And there are around 100 articles on my website about him, referring to him, or quoting him. So I am a big fan of Packer.
Here I want to briefly note three new books written by him or about him. The first is a work by Alister McGrath on Packer’s life and thought. And the other two are posthumous collections of some of his writings. Here they are:
Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought (IVP, 2020)
McGrath has already penned a full-length biography of Packer: J. I. Packer: A Biography (Baker, 1997). In this volume he looks further at his life, his writings and theology. A number of key topics and moments from his life are discussed in some 13 chapters.
Thus we learn further about his conversion, his love of the Puritans, his high regard for Scripture, his desire to always bring together theology and the Christian life, and so on. Let me share just one quote, from his chapter on “Theology and the Life of the Church.” Says McGrath:
Packer argues that it is never enough for us to know about God; true Christian theology is about knowing God – a relational and transformative process of knowing and being known, which sustains and informs the Christian life. The Christian encounter with God is transformative. As Packer, following Calvin, pointed out, to know God is to be changed by God; true knowledge of God leads to worship, as the believer is caught up in a transforming and renewing encounter with the living God. The ultimate test of whether we have grasped theological truth is thus not so much whether we have comprehended it rationally, but whether it has transformed us experientially. In an important sense, we are not called on to master theology, but to allow it to master us. This helps us to understand Packer’s intense concern with Christian piety, especially as this is expressed and sustained by the doctrine of sanctification.
J. I. Packer, The Heritage of Anglican Theology (Crossway, 2021)
This volume is about the history and thought of Anglicanism. It is based on lectures Packer had given at Regent College over the years. To walk with Packer for 350 pages as he discusses the historical development of Anglicanism and various theological and ecclesiastical issues about it is a real treat indeed.
There are meaty chapters on the English Reformation; puritan theology; Richard Hooker; revival theology; the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism; contemporary Anglican theology; and much more. He has of course written on many of these themes quite often before, but it is nice to see them so helpfully gathered together in one volume.
Again, just one quote is worth featuring here:
The writers of Puritan books saw themselves as pilgrims in conflict. Pilgrimage was a concept well understood during the centuries before the Reformation. Pilgrims were people who trekked from a starting point – their own home, usually – to some sacred place for some sacred purpose.
The Puritans saw themselves as John Bunyan’s pilgrim sees himself in The Pilgrim’s Progress—as trekking from this world to heaven. The Puritans’ conflict had to do with their acute awareness of the reality of Satan and his hosts, and their knowing that Christians on pilgrimage through this world to glory will be opposed by Satan and his hosts all the way….
The Puritans were people who could be described in five terms: they were (1) biblicists, (2) pietists, (3) churchly Christians, (4) two-worldly Christians, and (5) dramatic (in their outlook on both their own pilgrimage experience and the life of the church in this world).
J. I. Packer, Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, & Culture (Lexham Press, 2021)
Packer had penned a number of columns and articles in the American evangelical magazine Christianity Today. This is a collection of some of them from over several decades. They range from shorter columns he has written to longer, more substantial and in-depth articles.
Even though I have read so much by and about Packer, there were some new things I discovered in this collection. Especially in the earlier more personal articles featured here, we learn about the human side of Packer. For example, he was a huge fan of detective fiction, having devoured hundreds of volumes from this genre. He says this about this pastime: “Light reading is not for killing time (that’s ungodly), but for refitting the mind to tackle life’s heavy tasks (that’s the Protestant work ethic, and it’s true). You must find what refreshes you…”
Also, he loved early jazz and used to play jazz as a teenager. But when he was converted he allowed some believers to convince him he had to give it all away. He later learned that Hans Rookmaaker, the colleague of Francis Schaeffer, was also a great jazz lover: “Yet when Rookmaaker came to faith, he did no such thing [giving it all up]. And now my heart says of him, wise man!”
And he has a column about his main ministry: writing. He says it is “both an art and a craft, and you learn it by doing it”. He says he never took a course on writing, and what he knows about it boils down to this: “There are four rules. First, have something clear to say. Second, keep it simple. Third, make it flow. Fourth, be willing to redraft as often as is necessary to meet these requirements.”
Some of his more famous and often quoted pieces are found in this collection, including his article “Why I walked” which discusses why he and some others walked out of a 2002 Anglican Diocese of New Westminster meeting when they produced a service for blessing same-sex unions.
Let me once more leave you with a key quote. Since I have already mentioned Lewis, I will alert you to his article, “Still Surprised By Lewis.” He says that while they were together briefly at Oxford (Packer arrived in 1944) he never met him. Yet he talks about the huge impact Lewis had on his life:
I owe him much, and I gratefully acknowledge my debt. First of all, in 1942-43, when I thought I was a Christian but did not yet know what a Christian was—and had spent a year verifying the old adage that if you open your mind wide enough much rubbish will be tipped into it—The Screwtape Letters and the three small books that became Mere Christianity brought me, not indeed to faith in the full sense, but to mainstream Christian beliefs about God, man, and Jesus Christ, so that now I was halfway there.
Second, in 1945, when I was newly converted, the student who was disciplining me lent me The Pilgrim’s Regress. This gave me both a full-color map of the Western intellectual world as it had been in 1932 and still pretty much was 13 years later, and also a very deep delight in knowing that I knew God, beyond anything I had felt before….
Third, Lewis sang the praises of an author named Charles Williams, of whom I had not heard, and in consequence I picked up Many Dimensions in paperback in 1953 and had one of the most overwhelming reading experiences of my life – though that is another story.
Fourth, there are stellar passages in Lewis that for me, at least, bring the reality of heaven very close. Few Christian writers today try to write about heaven, and the theme defeats almost all who take it up. But as one who learned long ago from Richard Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress the need for clearly focused thought about heaven, I am grateful for the way Lewis helps me along here.
Well, there you have it: three excellent new volumes by or about the great J. I. Packer. If you love Packer, and/or simply love the Lord, theology, the Christian life, and Puritan and Reformed thought, these books are must adds to your library.