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Leland Ryken: J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life

Second, Packer has peacemaking instincts but also became involved in a seemingly endless string of controversies. On the one hand, he adapted to less than ideal situations more than once in his life and chose to work towards a mutual understanding rather than a split on certain occasions. For example, he facilitated, coordinated, and mediated between those who disagreed about the charismatic movement that was on the rise in Anglicanism. One such person involved in these debates recalls that Packer voiced his opinion in such a conciliatory spirit that “even those who [were] supposed to disagree with him [could not] seem to help themselves” (p. 401). On the other hand, Packer has been drawn into many fierce controversies and has often found himself as one of the primary spokespeople on the less popular side. For example, he wrote a scathing review of a book that promoted Keswick theology while working at Tyndale Hall with those who held the Keswick view (a risky move that could have easily led to his dismissal), he publicly disagreed with Martyn Lloyd-Jones regarding separatism from the Church of England (which contributed to the demise of the Puritan Conference) and with John Stott regarding ministry goals and structures of the Church of England, and he vehemently opposed Liberal theology (by defending inerrancy, the penal substitution theory of atonement, and the existence of hell).

Third, Packer has consistently emphasized the importance of both academic excellence and practical church ministry. For example, while in his first ministry position, he was also finishing his dissertation, publishing articles, and speaking at the Puritan Conference. Similarly, Packer’s vision for Latimer House (a study center) was for it to not only be a place of research for the sake of new findings in and of themselves, but research done for the sake of applying findings to the Church of England. In North America, he has been teaching at Regent College for “the theological education of laypeople as well as prospective clergy” (p. 151) and has contributed a massive amount of work towards Christianity Today, what Ryken evaluates as “single-mindedly…channel[ing] his efforts into ensuring the theological integrity of the church” (p. 176). Packer himself identified these equal emphases on academia and the church when he said his “real business was theological education with special attention to tomorrow’s clergy” (p. 123).

My Evaluation

Overall, the thesis and method of Ryken’s book are well-defined and eloquently executed. Ryken is thorough and thoughtful. He knows how to use humor and solemnity. I would commend this biography to anyone who is wanting to go on an exciting, inspirational, and educational journey of one example of the Christian life. The main critique I would pose is the flip-side of Ryken’s thoroughness, namely, the repetition of facts that had already been explained. I found myself sometimes wondering if Ryken thought I, as the reader, had forgotten what he said several pages earlier. However, Ryken’s repetition does have an upside: it leads the reader to integrate previously learned facts with new information and thus meditate on the facts, rather than glance at them and move on, not letting them change oneself or stir up any kind of deep thought about the Christian life. I suspect that in this case, Ryken had to repeat himself to achieve the intended goal of writing a biography that had both chronological and thematic elements.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2016

About the Author: Jenny-Lyn de Klerk has a BA in Christian Studies and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Ambrose Seminary (Calgary, AB, Canada) and works at Tsawwassen Alliance Church (Delta, BC, Canada).

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