For some reason I’ve stayed away from reading Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series.
This isn’t because I didn’t want to read the books. Maybe I thought reading one of them cause me to want to read the entire works of fill-in-the-blank great theologian (which I don’t have time for right now!). Or maybe it would make me want to break my book budget and buy all of the volumes in this ever growing series (they have some great new titles coming out soon, including Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Bunyan).
But I couldn’t hold off any longer after seeing Sam Storms’ new volume on J.I. Packer. I’ve enjoyed a few classics by Packer: Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God among others, and have always appreciated his clarity, theological precision, and pastoral sensitivity—he gets that theology isn’t just about head knowledge but worship. I also look to Packer as a bit of a theological father—not because I’ve read extensively of his works, but because I know so many of my contemporary influences were greatly influenced by him.
But enough on Packer as a man and more on Storms’ Packer on the Christian Life.
This volume, like others in the series, is somewhat of an overview of Packer’s theology that interweaves biographical information that shaped his life, theology, and ministry. Readers learn how being hit by a car took away any chance of athletic prowess and confined him to be a more thoughtful bookworm. They learn how and why Packer sided with John Stott over Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a controversy of the church of England in the 1960’s, and how that event’s fallout affected Packer deeply.
The twelve chapters begin with a biographical sketch of “Packer the Person: A Puritan, Theological Exegete, and Latter-Day Catechist”, before moving on to discuss Packer’s theology by topic: atonement, Biblical authority, holiness, sanctification, the battle with indwelling sin, the person of the Holy Spirit, prayer, guidance, suffering, theocentric living, and ending well.
Storms interweaves an explanation of Packer’s theology with lengthy quotes that dig deep into Packer’s body of writing that has spanned over seven decades. I appreciated how Storms gave weight to many of Packer’s key influences, like the Puritans and especially John Owen.
An especially helpful feature of the book is Storms’ description of Packer’s battle against “Let go and let God” theology (Keswick theology) that said you only need to trust that God will make you holy and that your efforts only amount to legalism and a lack of trust. This led Packer to despair because he could never trust God enough to sanctify him completely. John Owen was the remedy that would shape Packer’s theology of sanctification and indwelling sin. As Packer dug into Owen’s The Mortification of Sin, he said, “Here was God’s chemo for my cancered soul.”
Packer on the Christian Life is more than just a helpful intro to the life and doctrine of a great theologian—it is rich, yet digestible, and provides an overview of Packer’s theology that isn’t shallow, but rather at a depth that will allow readers to experience Packer and his theology in as comprehensive of a way that a 224 page book can provide. I can see myself turning back to specific chapters for biblically-grounded insights on holiness/sanctification, prayer, the Spirit, and more.
I recommend this book (and the series) to anyone looking to know Packer the man and get a overview of his theology that will both satisfy you with it’s riches and whet your appetite to dig more into Packer’s body of work. Busy pastors will find this helpful as will laymen who want accessible yet profound theology.
While you can’t make a “Greatest Hits” album for a theologian—Packer on the Christian Life (and others in the series) comes close to offering just that. Read it, mark it up, and live it out by God’s grace and for His glory.
Title: Packer on the Christian Life
Author: Sam Storms
Rating: 5 Stars
Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. The traitor is forgiven, brought in for supper, and given the family name.
— J. I. Packer (@JIPackerQuotes) September 26, 2015
An interview with Sam Storms, Leland Ryken, and Justin Taylor on J.I. Packer’s life