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J.I. Packer: A Biography

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His books have sold over three million copies worldwide and Christianity Today readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the twentieth century, second only to C. S. Lewis. Now J. I. Packer's life and ministry are examined by another leading evangelical theologian, Alister McGrath. In the first biography of Packer ever written, McGrath traces the His books have sold over three million copies worldwide and Christianity Today readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the twentieth century, second only to C. S. Lewis. Now J. I. Packer's life and ministry are examined by another leading evangelical theologian, Alister McGrath. In the first biography of Packer ever written, McGrath traces the life of this central figure from his early years through his teaching career in England to his move to North America and Regent College. The author describes the significant people, writings, events, and controversies of Packer's life, and considers the lasting influence Packer will have on evangelicalism.


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His books have sold over three million copies worldwide and Christianity Today readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the twentieth century, second only to C. S. Lewis. Now J. I. Packer's life and ministry are examined by another leading evangelical theologian, Alister McGrath. In the first biography of Packer ever written, McGrath traces the His books have sold over three million copies worldwide and Christianity Today readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the twentieth century, second only to C. S. Lewis. Now J. I. Packer's life and ministry are examined by another leading evangelical theologian, Alister McGrath. In the first biography of Packer ever written, McGrath traces the life of this central figure from his early years through his teaching career in England to his move to North America and Regent College. The author describes the significant people, writings, events, and controversies of Packer's life, and considers the lasting influence Packer will have on evangelicalism.

30 review for J.I. Packer: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Paterson

    You can learn a lot from J. I. Packer's books. But I feel like I've learned more from his life. You can learn a lot from J. I. Packer's books. But I feel like I've learned more from his life.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    Anglican and Evangelical, conservative and ecumenical, Packer has been a central figure in a variety of theological movements in North America and Europe for nearly two generations. Thus is this first major biography of Packer much overdue. McGrath is an astoundingly prolofoc writer, but he has taken great care to tell the story of Packer's life in generous detail. Written in a plain, almost artless, style, McGrath provides an exceedingly clear, accessible portrait of a very complex man. A profe Anglican and Evangelical, conservative and ecumenical, Packer has been a central figure in a variety of theological movements in North America and Europe for nearly two generations. Thus is this first major biography of Packer much overdue. McGrath is an astoundingly prolofoc writer, but he has taken great care to tell the story of Packer's life in generous detail. Written in a plain, almost artless, style, McGrath provides an exceedingly clear, accessible portrait of a very complex man. A professor of systematic theology at OXford, McGrath is himself an ex-liberal who, in his steadt migration to the right, is passing many leftward drifting evangelicals. This is evident in this openly sympathetic biography of one of the great statesman of contemporary conservative evangelicialism. The story begins with Packer's blue-collar childhood in England as the son of a railway worker. His destiny as a schaolr is traced to a chnace encounter with a schoolyard bully who chased him into traffic. The resulting head injury Packer sustained forced him indoors for a summer, where books and an inexpensive typewriter revealed an exciting new world. While an undergraduate at Oxford, Packer was again redircetd by the hand of Providence. As nominal Anglican, Packer was generally mortified by the anti-intellectualism and the sheer tackiness of the evangelical studnet ministry on campus. Yet he was haunted by and irresitibly drawn to the weighty claims of the Gospel which were so gleefully proclaimed by these same evangelicals. Befor elong Packer was reluctantly but profoundly converted. His discovery of the Puritans, at a time before the Banner of Truth Trust brought them back into print, gave Packer a zeal to reintroduce their marriage of intellectual rigor and passionate piety to the modern church. After completing his doctoral work, he devoted himself to the training of future pastors, first at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and most recently at Regent Collge, Vancouver. Nearly all of the 30-odd books he has written have been directed to the Church rather than the academy. Still, given his academic style and his rugged Calvinist theology, Packer's book Knowing God is probably the most unlikely Xian bestseller of the past half-century. Packer's consistent two-fold aim has been to work for renewal as an evangelical conservatove within the Anglican Communion and to work toward ecuemnism with evangelicals of other denominations. While McGrath shows Packer to be an irenic man of deep integrity, this two-fold ecumenical strategy has involved him in heated controversy throughout his career. McGrath develops his biography chiefly around these controversies. For example, early in his career Packer was virtually shunned by the British evangelical community for daring to express his misgivings about the Kewwick holiness (or "Victorious Living") movement. Unwilling to tickle even the most pious ears, Packer showed how naive pietism inevitably lapses into Pelagianism. "After all," as McGrath sums up Packer's position, "Pelagianism is teh natural heresy of zealous Xians who are not interested in theology" (p. 78). Other controversies here recounted include Packer's unashamed defense of biblical inerrancy in a 1958 book, his painful break during the 1970s with his mentor Martyn Lloyd-Jones and, most recently, his co-authoring of teh controversial document entitled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT), together with Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. McGrath's biography is much more than the personal story of a solitary evangelical figure, but rather an insightful persepective onto some of the major developments of the post-WWII Western Church.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris Wray

    This wasn't bad, but wasn't great either. McGrath is at his strongest when writing summaries of Packers theological positions and his engagement with the wider church, which are excellent. His writing throughout is also generally enjoyable, if a bit dry. I particularly appreciated McGraths point that some of the more controversial events in Packers life (Growth into Union, ECT) were not born out of pragmatism or compromise, but out of a genuine conviction to engage with the wider church as much This wasn't bad, but wasn't great either. McGrath is at his strongest when writing summaries of Packers theological positions and his engagement with the wider church, which are excellent. His writing throughout is also generally enjoyable, if a bit dry. I particularly appreciated McGraths point that some of the more controversial events in Packers life (Growth into Union, ECT) were not born out of pragmatism or compromise, but out of a genuine conviction to engage with the wider church as much as possible. While seeing evangelicalism as Christianity at its purest, Packer recognises that there are other traditions that are more or less in error but are still genuinely Christian, holding to the triune nature of God and the lordship of Christ etc. Obviously, where to draw the line between error and outright apostasy is a valid question. Personally, as an evangelical within a mixed denomination, Packers approach makes sense to me as the only alternative to separation, and as appropriately charitable when it is wisely applied. It's fair to disagree with Packers approach and conclusions, but some of the personal criticism I've seen directed at him seems to be deeply unfair at best. All that being said, McGrath doesn't strike me as a natural biographer. Although the sequence of events in his life are described in great detail, I didn't feel like I really got to know Packer as a person. This is the third biography of Packer that I've read recently, and was the weakest of the three. Ryken's was better at giving a sense of Packers personality and character (though a little weaker on the detail of his life events), and Storms' was the best summary of his theology. This one is best read in conjunction with one or both of the others. The detail of the sequence of events in Packers life is useful and interesting, but I miss the depth of analysis, conclusions and judgements that would have tied them together into a coherent and wide-ranging assessment of Packers life and impact on the church at large. Partly this is probably due to when the book was written, as the mid 90's (and even today) is too soon to judge the full influence of Packers life and teaching on the church. Good but could have been better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Childs

    Alister McGrath has written an appropriately low-key biography of a man who has had a quietly revolutionary effect on 20th century evangelicalism. Packer's life story is not that of a straightforward ascent to ever-greater fame and acceptance. There were clearly some very frustrating periods in his life as his particular approach came to be marginalised within evangelical Anglicanism. The story of the 1960s separation between Anglican and free-church evangelicals and the impact it had on him is Alister McGrath has written an appropriately low-key biography of a man who has had a quietly revolutionary effect on 20th century evangelicalism. Packer's life story is not that of a straightforward ascent to ever-greater fame and acceptance. There were clearly some very frustrating periods in his life as his particular approach came to be marginalised within evangelical Anglicanism. The story of the 1960s separation between Anglican and free-church evangelicals and the impact it had on him is particularly poignant, as he had done so much to encourage cooperation. [return][return]As always, one of the interesting things about reading biography is a refreshed perspective on your own time. One example was the account of the obsession during Packer's university days with the old-style Keswick view of Christian life as victorious conquest of sin. Packer's rediscovery of the Puritans led him to challenge this with a more realistic and biblical view of Christian living that acknowledged the ongoing struggle with sin. It made me wonder whether today's evangelicals have blind-spots of a similar scale ...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I started this book in January, interrupted it to read Leland Ryken's "J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life" and the returned to McGrath's work. WOW, I was blessed by the different styles of both works; McGrath's ending in 1996, Ryken taking us through 2015. I was most impressed by McGrath's cogent analysis of Packer's struggles in British evangelicalism and Packer's subsequent move to Regent college in 1979. What a blessing of God to North America that was! McGrath gives a detailed look at much of P I started this book in January, interrupted it to read Leland Ryken's "J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life" and the returned to McGrath's work. WOW, I was blessed by the different styles of both works; McGrath's ending in 1996, Ryken taking us through 2015. I was most impressed by McGrath's cogent analysis of Packer's struggles in British evangelicalism and Packer's subsequent move to Regent college in 1979. What a blessing of God to North America that was! McGrath gives a detailed look at much of Packer's theological work - I found this very valuable. My advice is to buy and read both books. We shall get no more of the prolific pen (30 book and 300 articles by count in 1996) of J. I. Packer. Sadly, an announcement was made in late 2015 of Packer's failing eyesight and his inability to continue writing. Thanks be to God for the Packer corpus!

  6. 5 out of 5

    D.N.

    Good readable biography of one of the giants of modern evangelical Anglicanism. With his intimate knowledge of late 20th-century English evangelicalism, McGrath is clearly the right man for the job when it came to this tribute. From Packer's humble middle-class beginnings as the son of a railway clerk and a tragic childhood accident that almost cost him his young life and resulted in social isolation, to his scholarship to Oxford University and subsequent conversion to Christ, McGrath reliably c Good readable biography of one of the giants of modern evangelical Anglicanism. With his intimate knowledge of late 20th-century English evangelicalism, McGrath is clearly the right man for the job when it came to this tribute. From Packer's humble middle-class beginnings as the son of a railway clerk and a tragic childhood accident that almost cost him his young life and resulted in social isolation, to his scholarship to Oxford University and subsequent conversion to Christ, McGrath reliably considers the details of Packer's spiritual development, theological positions, and relationships (sometimes strained) with such figures as C.S. Lewis, John R.W. Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Alec Motyer, and other notable evangelical leaders. A fitting biography for a great man.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I will be honest about the fact that I skimmed about 3/4ths of this book, but read other parts in depth. [Alister McGrath can be a somewhat exasperating writer--he doesn't always flow very well, and I often find myself feeling impatient at his redundancy and/or unnecessary delays at getting to an important point--his book 'In the Beginning' on the King James Bible is an exception.] Overall, this is a pretty good overview of Packer's life. At least it gives you a solid idea of his character and t I will be honest about the fact that I skimmed about 3/4ths of this book, but read other parts in depth. [Alister McGrath can be a somewhat exasperating writer--he doesn't always flow very well, and I often find myself feeling impatient at his redundancy and/or unnecessary delays at getting to an important point--his book 'In the Beginning' on the King James Bible is an exception.] Overall, this is a pretty good overview of Packer's life. At least it gives you a solid idea of his character and theological thinking, and thus his uniqueness and importance.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    Faithful account of Packer's immense contribution to the evangelical, theological renewal of the latter 20th century. What McGrath lacks in nuanced, biographical abilities he makes up in several very tightly written articulations of Packer's theological engagements with the broader church. Faithful account of Packer's immense contribution to the evangelical, theological renewal of the latter 20th century. What McGrath lacks in nuanced, biographical abilities he makes up in several very tightly written articulations of Packer's theological engagements with the broader church.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Excellent! Very informative about not just the theology, but the motivation behind one of evangelicalism's greatest heroes. Certainly made me think about his continued influence and blessing to us all. Excellent! Very informative about not just the theology, but the motivation behind one of evangelicalism's greatest heroes. Certainly made me think about his continued influence and blessing to us all.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frank Peters

    Excellent history of evangelicalism. Unfortunately, this means it is a one dimensional biography. I learned all about Packer theology but almost nothing about Packer.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vincent

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  13. 4 out of 5

    Linda Albertson

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Nowalk

  15. 4 out of 5

    S.D. Ellison

  16. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm Smith

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roger Kay

  19. 4 out of 5

    James Anderson

  20. 5 out of 5

    David Steele

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Canavan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Weyel

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heath

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doctor VanNostrum

  27. 5 out of 5

    J. Brandon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Parker

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Lewis

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

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