I never had the pleasure of meeting J. I. Packer, but I consider him one of my spiritual grandfathers whose ministry—especially his writing—left indelible marks on my own. In much the same way I’m the product of various attributes genetically passed down by my parents and grandparents, I’m preaching, teaching, and writing about theology, ministry, and church history because of J. I. Packer.

Besides being my brother in Christ, I consider Dr. Packer among my spiritual/ministerial kinfolk because one of his spiritual sons introduced me to the great doctrines of the Reformation, great doctrines J. I. Packer taught him. For many years before surrendering to ministry, I worked in newspapers, and in the mid-1990s I developed a friendship with a fellow editor who was also an Anglican pastor. He had been mentored by “Jim Packer” as he called him.

Just before I met this friend, the Lord had begun to stir up in me an unquenchable thirst for the Bible and the things of God. My editor/pastor friend capitalized on my love for history and good books by funneling me volumes on theology, apologetics, and church history, including Packer’s classic Knowing God.

Studying that book was one earthly factor that made me fall in love with theology and church history and sent me deeper into studying both. When I asked my editor/pastor friend what impact the doctrine of predestination might have on evangelism and missions, he gave me Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. When I asked him why some Christian teachers seemed enamored of the Puritans, he sent me essays Packer had written on them.

Writer/theologian for the church

Dr. Packer mentored me through his books and articles because he wrote theology for the church. And he wrote for the church through clear, elegant prose. Packer, along with John Piper and the late R. C. Sproul, together shaped my own calling as a pastor who seeks to write for pastors and “regular” church members, making biblical teaching, theology, and church history accessible to ordinary people eager to grow in their knowledge of the things of God.

In addition to serving as a pastor, I’ve also been privileged to serve local churches as an editor, writer, and author, and along the way God has opened doors for me to encourage pastors to write about Bible, theology, church history, and ministry. J. I. Packer was an illustration par excellence of the pastor/theologian who wrote mainly for the church.

These five books in particular helped me to grow in my knowledge of the Lord when I first began to grapple with sound doctrine. These volumes (and many, many others from Dr. Packer’s pen) also offer an excellent paradigm for how a pastor may put his writing gifts to use for the local church:

  • Knowing God.This book was my on ramp to big God theology. I’ve led Bible studies from this book and have given others copies of it perhaps more than any other Christian book.
  • Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. “If God is sovereign—even in salvation—then why bother with evangelism? Won’t God save the elect no matter what?” These are common questions—and good questions—many of us ask when first encountering the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. I asked my pastor/editor friend this almost immediately upon my first encounter with the doctrine of election, and he wisely put this little volume in my hands. Packer has helped thousands of Christians to grapple biblically with this important doctrine, showing how God’s meticulous, unilateral control of all things is compatible with human responsibility and is a teaching that appears like “twin railroad tracks” in Scripture, running from Genesis to Revelation.
  • “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. One of Packer’s first (perhaps his very first) book taught me that fundamentalism, rightly defined, can be a good thing (because it defines a Christian as holding to the fundamentals of the faith) and that the battle for biblical inspiration, inerrancy will be waged until Jesus returns.
  • A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. One of the first books I read about the Puritans, but remains one of the best works I’ve read on Puritanism. Thanks to this book, I now read the Puritans virtually every day. Packer’s chapters in the five-volume set Puritan Papers also helped me understand the theology and worldview of Puritanism.
  • Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. The first systematic theology I ever read, one I recommend to those beginning to think deeply about Christian theology. Packer summarizes in brief compass nearly 100 important doctrines from a Reformed perspective. If you want to get thoughtful Christians excited about studying theology, put this book in their hands.

Many grandsons in glory

These works barely scratch the surface of Packer’s writings for the church. He wrote dozens of other volumes on theology, church history, and Christian living, and there are numerous works that have compiled Packer’s articles that make a fruitful read. Dr. Packer is now safe in the arms of his dear Savior, but what the writer of Hebrews says of Abel’s legacy of faith will be true of Packer for years to come: “though he died, he still speaks.” I pray the deep and wide impact of this godly man’s writing will inspire pastors who can write to do just that—for the good of the local church.

Thank you, Dr. Packer, for using your literary genius to serve the church of Jesus Christ so well for so long. One day, you will meet many of your spiritual grandsons—including me—in glory.