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

My Application

Though the apparent tension in the three themes listed above cannot be and should not be ignored by oversimplifying the life choices that Packer made, it is interesting to note that in these instances, Packer was always concerned with “things of first importance” (p. 145). Though he is distinctly Anglican, he has not let secondary ideas overshadow his larger commitment to evangelicalism. He once said, “before I am an Anglican I am an evangelical, and I have tried to write in such a way that all evangelicals…will benefit” (p. 325). Similarly, he acted as peacemaker or “crusader” (pp. 383, 409) in various controversies depending on whether or not, from his perspective, ‘first things’ were at stake. When ‘first things’ were not at stake, he promoted tolerance, but when they were at stake, he would not move an inch in his consistent and unapologetic defense of them. Finally, Packer’s commitment to academia and the church has focused on ‘first things’. He himself said that “right from the start I found myself unwilling to let any book [that I had authored] go which hasn’t got the gospel in it somewhere.” (p. 245). Overall, his confidence in defending ‘first things’ has given a world of evangelicals confidence to speak out against the stereotypes of evangelicals as irrelevant and ignorant.

Packer’s life shows us that keeping first things first and wholeheartedly giving oneself to the church and academia can involve tension in our lives, but this tension should not stop us from acting according to our convictions and trusting that God, in his providence and good-will, leads us. Although Packer would not appreciate us thinking of him so highly that we forget his flawed humanity, he also would not be opposed to us recognizing God’s great work in his life and aiming to follow in his footsteps by submitting our time, talents, and goals to God. Let us, like Packer, commit to bring out the best of evangelicalism, informed by the church and Christian academics, in our areas of influence. Let us identify the best of our distinctives, how they speak to ‘things of first importance,’ and consciously choose to emphasize those ‘first things’ in our life and ministry. Let us not grow weary of reasserting the same fundamental truths of the Christian faith by thinking on those who have faithfully fought against the “neglected, slighted, misrepresented” view of evangelicalism with a “clear voice…speak[ing] with conviction and love…to state [their] true position and its relevance to the world crisis” (p. 169). Let us periodically ask ourselves, “what legacy are we leaving?” and imitate Packer by always “promot[ing] present and forward-looking fellowship with God” (p. 415).

Reviewed by Jenny-Lyn de Klerk


Engage Further:

Video: J. I. Packer’s Life and Legacy “In this video, Justin Taylor sits down with Sam Storms and Leland Ryken to discuss the life and legacy of an evangelical titan: J. I. Packer.”

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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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