On Friday, July 17, 2020, the great British and Canadian Theologian, J. I. Packer, went to heaven to be with his Lord Jesus! He was just four days shy of his 94th birthday.
To say that we will miss James Packer’s presence here on earth is a monumental understatement. Packer’s writings, teachings and preachings have been a source of some of the greatest influences on true evangelicalism in modern times.
I was blessed with the wonderful privilege of knowing J. I. Packer as a man. In 1979 Packer moved from England to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, which is not very far from Seattle, Washington, where I have lived my whole life. Packer’s best selling book, Knowing God, written in 1973, had a huge impact on my life of trusting and walking with Jesus Christ. At the time, I was a 24-year-old musical evangelist in a Christian rock band called the Brethren. As I read Knowing God, Packer’s words formulated my foundation of the most important pursuit that there is in all of life, “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Packer’s classic words from Knowing God struck me and captivated me deep in my heart:
“What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? ‘To know God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent’ (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, that brings more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? The Knowledge of God. ‘Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the mighty man in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD’(Jeremiah 9:23f.)”
Ever since I read those words, I have tried to pursue that singular aim, and it has been the greatest pleasure of my life. I cannot thank J. I. Packer enough!
When I became a pastor leading the first Calvary Chapel fellowship in the Northwest, in Seattle, Washington, I began to invite James to speak at our pastor’s conferences, and each time, he graciously accepted my invitations. One year James was featured at the same conference as the pastor of our Calvary movement, Pastor Chuck Smith.
They were a powerful combination. James told me he would speak on Revelation 2 and 3, the seven letters to the seven churches. I mentioned to James to please be mindful of Revelation with regards to Pastor Chuck and Calvary Chapel’s eschatology. James said he was very aware of it, and he thought Chuck would have no problems at all with his teachings in Revelation 2 and 3. James was right; at the conclusion of Packer‘s sessions, Chuck got up and said, “Those are some of the greatest teachings I’ve heard on the letters to the seven churches! Thank you very much, James.“
On one occasion, my wife Cathy and I were invited by James and his wife Kit to have lunch with them at their house. Wow, what a joy that was. Kit fixed us a wonderful lunch, and both Mr. and Mrs. Packer were very real, transparent and gracious to us in their sharing. And they were also very humorous in their barbs towards one another! We will never forget that occasion with the Packers.
I thank God immensely for Reverend J. I. Packer. We will all miss you James, and when I say all, I mean the entire Christian family on earth.