J.I. Packer: Strategies for Living

Knowing God by J.I. Packer was the first book of theology that I bought and read simply because I wanted to. It had not been assigned by any professor, and it was not related to anything that I was teaching at the time.  I wanted to read it because it sounded like an invitation to me. Sam Storms has verified this impression in Packer on the Christian Life, for in Packer’s theology, knowing God is central to loving, enjoying, and obeying Him.

Coming to faith in his mid-teens, James Innell Packer was influenced by the writings of C.S. Lewis and the Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen, and he was a contemporary of Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones and John R.W. Stott.  Following his education at Oxford and his ordination in the Church of England, Dr. Packer ministered in educational contexts, ultimately moving to Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. where he continues to teach and write to this day at eighty-eight years young.  However, Sam Storms’s focus is not Packer’s biography, but rather his theology, particularly as it relates to spirituality in the outworking of a lively faith.  He presents J.I. Packer’s theological framework in terms of “the study of godliness in its root and in its fruit,” and I have chosen ten truths that serve as pillars to Packer’s thinking and living:

  1. The atonement is central and foundational for the Christian life in relationship to God, to others, and to personal holiness.  (Galatians 1:4; 2:19-20; 5:24; 6:14).  [Scripture references throughout are linked to Bible Gateway for ease of study.] The wrath of God has been abated by the substitutionary death of Christ, putting on display both God’s love and His justice, and serving as both empowerment and incentive for godly living.
  2. The revealed propositional truth of Scripture is the basis for all assertions about the Christian life.  As a “transcript of divine speech,” it is the “instrument by which God exerts His rule over our lives.”
  3. Holiness is the calling of every Christian — there is no Stage 2 Christianity in which a requirement for holiness suddenly kicks in as an advanced requirement.  Rather, it is a “sign and expression of the reality of one’s faith and repentance,” (Ephesians 2:10).  It is an expression of Psalm 73:25 in both action and motive.
  4. Sanctification of the believer is God’s work of character change in disposition, desire, and inclination.  It is about “God working in us to make us will and act for His good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:13).
  5. Paul’s honest self-assessment in Romans 7:14-25 testifies to the reality of indwelling sin in the life of the believer.  However, assurance of salvation is confirmed by a “conscious and purposeful” obedience to God.
  6. The Christian life is empowered by the Holy Spirit in gospel communication (Romans 1:16) and in the comprehension of divine revelation (Ephesians 1:17-19).
  7. “Diligence in prayer is the secret of eminent holiness.”  Chapter 8 on Packer’s theology of prayer is both a pinnacle of motivation for prayer and a plumb line for a right understanding of the role of prayer in the believer’s life.  All is grounded in a high view of God and a commitment to the authority of Scripture along with an understanding of God’s heart of generosity toward His children, (Ephesians 3:20-21).
  8. The believer’s adoption into the family of God and the sovereignty of God are twin foundations for a right understanding of God’s guidance.  Emotional paralysis need not accompany the decision-making process.  Let’s not reserve our queries to God for the big-ticket items, but instead, we should “constantly ask God to judge, correct, and direct our thinking.”
  9. As realism has pervaded every aspect of Dr. Packer’s theology to this point in the summary, he is unrelenting in his realism about the inevitability of suffering, to which he refers as “the Christian’s road home.”  Contrary to western thought, God’s goal is to utilize the countless troubles we experience on this fallen planet as a means of furthering and realizing the glorious destiny that is [ours],” (II Corinthians 3:18; 4:7-11).
  10. As the title of his beloved book implies, the goal and the focal point of all Dr. Packer’s theology is the knowledge of God as He is revealed in Scripture and the glory of God as it is revealed in all areas of life and thought.  The earth shattering and yet simple truth is that Christianity is a matter of continual relationship in which we express to its Founder our faith in Him, our love for Him, and our hope in Him, (Romans 11:36).
As J.I. Packer lives his way into “finishing his course with joy,” I am thankful for Sam Storms’ monumental tribute and analysis of a lifetime of writing and thinking. Because Sam has ransacked all of Dr. Packer’s major (and minor) works, the outcome is a series of teasers that draw me into further study. Treasures abound, far beyond what this ten-point summary can display, including rich truth on the ordinances of baptism and communion, correction for misguided notions about sanctification, and help for the journey through grief.
Coming to this book out of a season of crushing disappointments, I do not find a disclaimer for God or a condemnation of my own lack of faith, but rather, theology at its finest where truth about God meets the reality of life; where theology is not an “explanation” of God, but instead, a glorious system of beams and buttresses for a lively faith — strategies for living.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

17 thoughts on “J.I. Packer: Strategies for Living”

  1. The first book you read because you wanted to was for a review? 🙂 Sounds like you aren’t much of a fan of reading! lol. I wish I had more time to read than I do–there’s so many great books out there!

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    1. Wow, maybe I need to rewrite that sentence. Knowing God by J.I. Packer was the first book of theology I read because I wanted to. The book I’m reviewing is Packer on the Christian Life. But . . .if you misunderstood, maybe others will too. Guess I’d better take a look at that first sentence.

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  2. Michele, I often smile when landing here, reading your reviews. There’s a love for reading, especially God works, that bursts forth with every word of yours. I’ve not read JI Packer’s works, but am intrigued. What a fun one to review, although I have a feeling I’d have to really concentrate. Enjoyed our visit today. Thank you.

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  3. Thanks for your review, Michele ( : I really enjoy Packer’s writing too. It’s good to see that it comes from the foundation of a robust theology! Have you read his latest book on prayer? That’s on my hope-to-read-someday-not-too-far-away list. Oh, and am glad to see the email sign-up. I don’t want to miss another post!

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    1. Linda, thanks for following the blog — and, no, I haven’t read his book on prayer, but there was a whole chapter on Packer’s thinking about prayer and it drew heavily from the book — excellent. I really want to read that book and also his most recent book on ending well.

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  4. J.I. Packer is a favorite of mine. He was one of the first tough books I read after being a Christian a year or so. And I have reread “Knowing God” more than once. Thanks for this review on this book.

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  5. Looks like a book my hubby (pastor) or oldest daughter would enjoy… even I may like this one (if I found the time to read). Thanks for sharing with #What to Read Wednesday. Hope to have you back next week.

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  6. I’m so glad that there are solid theologians out there who don’t preach the prosperity gospel. Our relationship with God isn’t a get-rich-quick formula :). Thank you for the insightful review!

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