James Packer, one of the leading evangelical theologians of the 20th century, passed away on 17 July 2020 aged 93. Born into an Anglican family, he was converted to Christ around the age of 18 while a student at Oxford. He was introduced to the writings of John Owen, which led to a life-long fascination with the Puritans. He later said, ‘I owe more, I think, to John Owen than to any other theologian”. Packer became an Anglican minister in 1953.
A prolific teacher and author, his first book was “Fundamentalism and the Word of God”, a clear defence of the historic Protestant position on scriptural authority, published in 1958. It was to be the first of several books which have been of immense help to Christians. Others include the classic “Knowing God”, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” and “Among God’s Giants”, a tremendous book about the Puritans.
We are thankful for the positive influence many of his books and articles have had upon us over the years, but we do need to draw attention to aspects of his life and witness with which we, as evangelical Protestants, would have significant concerns.
For several years, Jim Packer and Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones were close friends and fellow-labourers, but their relationship was weakened in October 1966 when, during the National Assembly of Evangelicals, Lloyd-Jones issued a call for evangelicals to leave doctrinally-mixed denominations and to stand together as an association of independent evangelical churches. Anglican evangelicals John Stott and Jim Packer opposed Lloyd-Jones.
The rift widened in 1970 when Packer joined fellow Anglican evangelical Colin Buchanan and two Anglo-Catholics to publish “Growing into Union: Proposals for Forming a United Church in England”. Iain Murray has said, “The practical fall out from this was perhaps worse than from the disagreement…of 1966”. Lloyd-Jones separated from Packer, removing him from the board of Evangelical Magazine and cancelling the Puritan Conference they had co-founded.
Packer continued to collaborate with Anglo-Catholics. In the spring of 1994, he joined with several evangelicals and Roman Catholics to sign the joint statement entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), co-authored by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. In 2009, he was a signatory to the ecumenical and socially oriented Manhattan Declaration.
Dr Packer’s last teaching position was as Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, from 1995 until his retirement in 2016 due to failing eyesight caused by macular degeneration.
We pray for his family and friends at this time, and we encourage our readers to get their hands on the excellent books mentioned above.