By Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
-published in the April 2010 Light Magazine
Do you long for a reviving of your knowledge of God, not just intellectually but intimately? The late Dr. J.I. Packer wrote an unforgettable book Knowing God that has transformed and revived the hearts and minds of millions of readers, perhaps including yourself. Christianity Today readers named him one of the most influential theological writers of the last hundred years, second only to CS Lewis. Dr. Alister McGrath called Packer a theological and spiritual giant: “Packer is a rare example of an original thinker with a genuine gift for teaching…” His legacy includes writing thirty books and over three hundred major articles. Timothy George commented that “his writings are so voluminous that it is hard to imagine that they have come from the pen of one person.”
Packer never let his fame and success get to his head. Born on July 22nd 1926, he was raised in humble circumstances in the village of Twyning, near Gloucester, in southwest England. McGrath comments about Packer: “Even at an early age, he realized that he was something of a loner, a shy and awkward boy who found it difficult to relate to other children.” While chased at age seven by a schoolyard bully, he was struck by a passing bread van, causing a serious head injury, requiring brain surgery. The medical diagnosis was…’a depressed compound fracture of the frontal bone on the right-hand side of his forehead.’ This brain injury closed the door to his socializing through playing sports. Because of his fragile health, his parents wisely bought him a massive typewriter rather than a bicycle. During his long recovery, the naturally shy Packer read widely, typing his earliest essays. At age 17, Packer described himself as a Dostoevsky addict. When asked in his eighties about his strongest childhood memories, he replied, “Solitariness.” He was required to wear a black aluminum plate on his head, held in place by an elastic band. At age 15, he ‘went on strike’, refusing to wear the head plate any longer.
Though raised Anglican, Packer did not know Christ personally. While attending Crypt High School, he read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters. CS Lewis’ two books, said Packer, ‘brought me, not indeed to faith in the full sense, but to mainstream Christian beliefs about God, man, and Jesus Christ, so that I was halfway there.” Because of his head injury, Packer was exempted from World War II military service. He became one of the very few who attended Oxford University during that time. On October 22nd 1944, while attending an Oxford Christian Union meeting (IVCF), Packer was soundly converted, singing Just as I Am: “I had given my life to Christ…When I went out of the church, I knew that I was a Christian.” Over fifty years later, he said “I remember the experience as if it were yesterday.”
Over the next few weeks of being discipled, he stopped viewing the bible as just “a mixed bag of religious all-sorts, of which one could not accept more than the general outlines.” Packer commented: “I can still remember the feeling of surprise -and gladness, as I left the meeting because I knew that I knew that the Bible is the Word of God.” Over the next sixty-six years, he took many courageous stands, drawing others back to the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. Packer valued tradition and history when seen through the lense of Holy Scripture: Scripture must have the last word on all human attempts to state its meaning, and tradition, viewed as a series of such human attempts, has a ministerial rather than a magisterial role.”
Reacting against the ‘victorious living’ emphasis of the Keswick movement, Packer turned to the spiritual wisdom of the largely forgotten Calvinist Puritans. McGrath observed that “while an older generation looked back on Keswick Conventions for their fellowship and teaching, an emerging generation looked instead to the Puritans.” George Whitefield (1714-1770) and the earlier John Owen (1616-1683) became significant mentors in Packer’s spiritual maturing. He even did his Oxford doctorate on Richard Baxter, who symbolized the best of the Puritans. Baxter (1615-1691) showed how to be a puritan without being puritanical in the negative sense. Packer’s Knowing God, published in 1973, is a popularization of his doctoral thesis on Baxter.
Knowing God was originally written as a series of articles for the UK-based Evangelical Magazine. Packer said, “I wrote Knowing God over a period of years during which I was deeply concerned, as I still am, to help people realize God’s greatness. Intervarsity Press UK (IVP) passed up the chance to publish it, because they wanted Packer instead to write a book about charismatic renewal. Hodder and Stoughton UK initially published it instead. It was in North America however that Knowing God would have its greatest impact, where IVP USA published it. McGrath said that Packer’s personal opinion was that the book succeeded because it allowed its readers to find and experience the reality of God. Best-selling author Dr. John RW Stott reviewed Knowing God, saying “The truth he handles fires the heart. At least it fired mine, and compelled me to turn aside to worship and to pray.” Dr. Alister McGrath commented that reading Knowing God “is like going on a long walk along a forest trail, rich in flora and fauna, nestling under the shadow of the great Rocky mountains.”
McGrath commented that Packer “greatly admired the preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, particularly its expository thoroughness.” Through the influence of Lloyd-Jones, Packer developed a passion for revival. In 1949, Packer and Lloyd-Jones birthed the very influential Puritan Conferences, which continued at Westminster Chapel in London until 1970. McGrath commented that the ‘Puritan Studies Conference’ “offered a powerful and persuasive vision of the Christian life, in which theology, biblical exposition, spirituality and preaching were shown to be mutually indispensable and interrelated. It was a vision of the Christian life which possessed both intellectual rigour and pastoral relevance. It was a powerful antidote to the anti-intellectualism which had been rampant within British evangelical circles in the immediate post-war period.”
In the foreword to Lloyd-Jones’ Revival book, Packer said, “No concern was dearer to his heart nor to mine.” Packer observed, “Dr Lloyd-Jones hoped for revival until he died. He is gone. The prophets are gone, but we should still be hoping for revival. Revival is a sovereign work of God. He fixes the time table. The schedule is his, not ours.” As Calvinist puritans, both Lloyd-Jones and Packer taught that revival is a sovereign act of God. We cannot produce it through our organizational skills.
Before moving to Vancouver’s Regent College in 1979, Packer taught in several English theological settings including Oak Hill College, St. John’s Birmingham, Latimer House, Tyndale Hall, and Trinity College Bristol. The pull of North America became stronger after Packer began lecturing during the summers in USA and Canada. As McGrath put it, Packer liked Vancouver, and he liked Canada, which seemed to him to be halfway between Britain and the United States. Regent offered Packer a much greater opportunity to write and to speak at North American conferences. Leland Ryken noted that there has been no more famous teacher at Regent College through the years than Packer. During Packer’s time at Regent, the student body has grown from 140 to over 800.
Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, stated that “…this will be known as the Packer Era because J.I. Packer has been the towering figure of this era – defending truth, defending orthodoxy, and defending great preaching.” In 1994, Packer was the chief architect of the Anglican Essentials movement in Canada which ultimately realigned many with the revival in the Global South. The Montreal Essential Declaration is shaped by Richard Baxter’s maxim “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, diversity, and in all things charity.” In 2,000, he chaired the theological track at the World Conference on Evangelism convened by Billy Graham in Amsterdam. He served for many years as general editor in producing the 2001 English Standard Version Bible. Packer had a passion for the revival of catechism, for teaching how to live out biblical truth. Revival, said Packer, means “power, constant sustained power from God’s Holy Spirit for life and service.” Revival means struggle for truth. Revival is about knowing God. What might it take for us, like J.I. Packer, to long for the fire of revival?
Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird
Co-authors, Blue Sky novel
 Alistair McGrath, J.I. Packer: A Biography (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1997), 179 “…one of the twentieth century’s most influential and admired Christian books –Knowing God.”; McGrath, 256 ”Packer’s bestseller Knowing God represented a classic statement and justification of the intimate relationship between knowing correct ideas about God and the relational activity of knowing God.”
McGrath, xi “James Innell Packer is one of the best-known names in modern Christianity.”
 McGrath, xi “….one such person who has made a major long-term contribution to the shaping of Christianity in the modern world.”; J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought, edited by Timothy George (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 2009), back cover “J.I. Packer is one of the most significant evangelical theologians of the last one hundred years.” (Timothy George is the Executive Editor for Christianity Today.)
 George, 20.
 McGrath, 290.
 George, 10.
 McGrath, 3.; 45 “His parents were poor, and he had no private means.”; Ryken, 20. “…J.I. Packer came from humble roots. …he has never lost his common touch.”
 McGrath, 1.
 Ryken, 23.
 Ryken, 24 In a Christianity Today polling of their contributors of the ten best religious books of the twentieth century, Packer chose the Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien, saying “a classic for children from 9 to 90. Bears constant rereading.”; Ryken, 30 Packer said that at age 17, he became ‘a Dostoyevsky addict’, much impressed by how the Russian novelist ‘takes the skin off his characters and allows us to see what they are like.’
 McGrath, 11 “He was a solitary figure, who found greatest pleasure in reading and studying.”; Ryken, 21 “From his early years, Packer was a shy boy who did not mingle easily with his peers.”
 Ryken, 23.
 McGrath, 9.
 Ryken, 29.
 George, 10 “…It was in meetings of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, a British version of Inter Varsity, that Packer found a living relationship with Jesus Christ and committed his life to Christian service.”
 Ryken, 39.
 George, 25. JI Packer, “The Comfort of Conservatism”, in Power Religion, ed. M Horton (Chicago, Moody, 1992), 288.; George, 20, McGrath commented: “Packer’s distinctive and, in my view, critically important insight that evangelical theology is both enriched and stabilized by attentiveness to the past.”; George, 26, McGrath commented, “Packer argues that attentiveness to the past liberates us from ‘chronological snobbery’ and alerts us to the riches of past readings of Scripture.”
 McGrath, 43 “Packer mentioned that he was a Puritan addict…”; McGrath, 55 Packer commented, “Without Owen, I might well have gone off my head or gotten boggled down in mystical fanaticism.”; McGrath, 77 “…the Keswick teaching had come to be seen as a distinctive article of evangelicalism. To criticize Keswick was thus to attack evangelicalism.”
 McGrath, 54.
 McGrath, 22, 24, 25, 26 “The discovery of Owens must be regarded as marking a turning point in Packer’s Christian life…”; McGrath, 43 “Packer explained that John Owen’s sixty pages on mortifying sin had helped him cope with ‘popular brand of holiness teaching, which was driving [him] around the bend’.”; McGrath, 56 “What do the Puritans have to offer modern evangelicalism? The answer for Packer can be summed up in a single word -maturity.”
 McGrath, 46 “Packer’s growing interest in the theology of the Puritans had led him to explore the writings of Richard Baxter (1615-91).”; McGrath, 47 “Packer’s thesis The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter was long; its 499 pages extend to nearly 150,000 words. (Oxford would later insist that doctoral theses should not exceed 100,000 words.) The work shows Packer as a scholar with a gift for rigorous analysis and clarity of expression.”
 Neil Bramble, “J.I. Packer”, Convivium, May 12, 2017, “The essence of Puritanism is not the public caricature often imposed upon them, but a lively, sincere, and devoted spirituality based on the Bible’s teachings translated into one’s personal life.” “https://www.convivium.ca/voices/124_j_i_packer/ (accessed Feb 28th 2020)
 . J.I. Packer, Knowing God Study Guide (Intervarsity Press, Madison, Wisconsin, USA, 1975), 7 “Packer…wrote Knowing God from the conviction that ignorance of God lies at the root of the contemporary church’s weakness.”
 David Virtue, “The (Knowing God) book, first published in 1973 and now translated into at least seven languages, has sold more than 2 million copies, an astounding number for what is essentially a textbook in basic theology. “It was a surprise,” he told me: “I wrote the first draft as a series of articles. It was essentially intended as a catechesis-a teaching book. At first I just hoped that it would go into a second printing.” https://virtueonline.org/patriarch-dr-j-i-packer http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16150 (accessed March 2nd 2020)
 McGrath, 191.; McGrath commented that …this was the right book for the right moment.
 McGrath, 191.; Ryken, 114 “Indeed, Stott and Packer were the two most prominent evangelical leaders in the Church of England during the 1960s and 1970s.”
 McGrath, 195.
 McGrath, 62, 161 “Packer had been one of the relatively few evangelicals of influence within the Church of England who had championed links with Lloyd-Jones.”
 McGrath, 157 “Lloyd-Jones…wrote to Packer to terminate the Puritan Conferences.” (in the context of the 1970 publication of the Growing into Union book by two evangelicals and two Anglo-Catholics.) (it became renamed the Westminster Conferences.)
 McGrath, 53.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, USA, 1987), foreword.
 Marks of Revival by J.I. Packer By GOL Revival (Grace Online Library) Awareness of God’s presence. The first and fundamental feature in revival is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy, and might.
 Justin Taylor What Is Revival? | February 17, 2010 Here is how J. I. Packer answers that question in his essay, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things (pp. 100-104): “Revival is God touching minds and hearts in an arresting, devastating, exalting way, to draw them to himself through working from the inside out rather than from the outside in. It is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life, but is sometimes overshadowed and somewhat smothered by the impact of other forces. It is the near presence of God giving new power to the gospel of sin and grace. It is the Holy Spirit sensitizing souls to divine realities and so generating deep-level responses to God in the form of faith and repentance, praise and prayer, love and joy, works of benevolence and service and initiatives of outreach and sharing. What is the pattern of genuine revival? Packer suggests the following ten elements:
God comes down.
God’s Word pierces.
Man’s sin is seen.
Christ’s cross is valued.
Change goes deep.
Love breaks out.
Joy fills hearts.
Each church becomes itself—becomes, that is, the people of the divine presence in an experiential, as distinct from merely notional, sense.
The lost are found.
Satan keeps pace.
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/what-is-revival/ (accessed 3/6/2020)”
 McGrath, 180 “In the eyes of many young evangelicals, Packer and Moyter together (at Trinity College, Bristol) represented a form of evangelicalism which possessed both intellectual rigour and spiritual integrity.”; McGrath, 237.
 McGrath, 181 “As Trinity settled down, Packer again found he had time and space for thinking, speaking, and writing. … Packer was able to negotiate an arrangement with the college Council, by which he would spend the autumn and spring terms teaching in Bristol, leaving the summer term free of commitments in order to allow him to spend time in North America…Increasingly, Packer became a well-known figure in North America – not simply through his books, but through his personal presence at seminaries as a teacher and lecturer.”
 McGrath, 233.; Bramble, “Packer could have had a number of other teaching positions in high profile seminaries in the United States, but he chose the fledgling Regent College, where 37 years later (2016) he is still involved—in his ninety-first year.”
 McGrath, 217 “Packer was by now regarded in North America as the best-known and most highly respected British evangelical theologian. …His book Knowing God had firmly established him as one of the most important writers in the area of spirituality…In short, Packer was being lionized in North America. In England, however, he was being marginalized.”; Ryken, 165 “…Mark Noll notes that the British posts (temporary teaching assignments) were Anglican; the North American posts have been Reformed and evangelical.”
 Ryken, 164.
 McGrath, 239. “By the end of the 1980s’, Regent was the largest graduate institution of theological education in the region with a new purpose-built home on a high-profile site on the university campus.”
 George, Charles Colson, 139.
 McGrath, 160 “Two major events of the 1990s – the Anglican Church of Canada’s Essentials ’94 congress…can be seen to rest on precisely the theological foundations developed by Packer in England during the 1970s…it represented the application of a coherent and historically and theologically justified approach, which had been set in place twenty years earlier.”; McGrath, 283 “Packer…was the chief architect of ‘Essentials 94.’”
 George, 11 “Packer has been ever mindful of the maxim of Richard Baxter, on whom he wrote his Oxford doctoral dissertation. In necessariis Unitas, in non-necessariis Libertas, in utrisque Caritas.” http://www.anglicancommunionalliance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Montreal-Declaration-for-ACA-Website-PDF-FINAL.pdf (accessed March 8th 2020); Leland Ryken, J.I. Packer: an Evangelical Life (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2015), 12 “Packer is by nature a peacemaker and a gentle man, yet he has had a career of controversy…his stand on religious issues has often made him an object of criticism.”
 George, 10.
 Bramble, “The term collaborator may well describe Packer’s most telling leadership quality. He loved working as a member of a team, and he did so on numerous occasions. Perhaps the best example was his role as general editor in producing the English Standard Version of the Bible. Interestingly, Packer himself sees this as his most significant contribution.”
 Trinity School for Ministry talk “JI Packer: On Personal Holiness”: When I was eighteen years ago, I spoke to a conference “For the rest of my working life, I should be conducting a crusade for catechesis, that is, the revival of catechism type instruction in all evangelical churches. What is the essence of catechetical instruction? It is two things together, teaching the doctrines of the bible, teaching the truths that we are to live by, and teaching in direct connect with that, how to live by those truths, how to practice in fact what we called holiness.” “I want to campaign for a renewal of personal holiness…” “…culturally the West is coming apart…” “we don’t make as much of repentance as we should…” (accessed 2/23/2020)
 Marks of Revival, Revival Commentary, v. 1, n. 1. JI Packer: “Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.”
Source: Your Father Loves You, Shaw Publishing, 1986, Page for May 30.
McGrath, ix “…my Christian calling thus far has felt so much like me ‘and a few other blokes’ trying to stop specific falsehoods, nail specific sins, and further the new life that Satan tries to quench in his ongoing war with the God of creation, providence, and grace.”
 J.I. Packer, Revival #2, 02/18/24 A Southern Baptist conference at Grenville Seminary, South Carolina, USA 3:33 “In revival, God comes close, and thus sin is seen, and because sin is seen, the gospel is loved, as never before, and repentance goes deep, and godliness grows fast, and the church becomes itself, and the world feels the impact as an evangelistic overflow, and Satan keeps pace trying to spoil and corrupt what is going on.” 24:50 “Dr Lloyd-Jones hoped for revival until he died. He is gone. The prophets are gone, but we should still be hoping for revival. Revival is a sovereign work of God. He fixes the time table. The schedule is his, not ours. 49:43 “Revival means the overcoming of hostile spiritual forces, forces against which the people of God have thus far been impotent, forces which have run all over them, forces of secularity, forces of worldliness. There is always opposition when revival begins, and regularly there is opposition to the gospel before revival begins.” “And have you studied the East African revival of our own time? It broke in the 1930s. It’s still going on. It dies down and flairs up again like a forest fire…It prepared the people of God…for the appalling convulsions that they had to go through politically and in terms of persecution…The revival folks stood firm under persecution when the Mau-mau folk were trying to get them back to the tribal darkness of ethnic, witch doctor-type polytheism. They wouldn’t go. Many of them lost their lives at the time…If God hadn’t quickened his people by revival blessing in the 1930s and thereafter, where would the Church be in East Africa? 1:04:35 paraphrase: Revival is a rediscovery of the blessing (the central revival doctrine) of justification (by faith). 1:0513 revival is…the people of God pictured as a candle stick sustained and enabled to burn and burn and keep on burning through oil from heaven… revival means power, constant sustained power from God’s Holy Spirit for life and service. 1:09:29 Revival means the purging out of sin from the lives of saint through bringing them to repentance. (sins vomited up) 1:18:38 Revival shows God to be still on his throne, victorious…a demonstration of his sovereign Lordship and sovereign grace.
J.I. Packer, Revival: #3, 16:11, A Southern Baptist conference at Grenville Seminary, South Carolina,
USA : “The alternatives are always revival or judgement, and that is as true for us in North America today as it was in the bible times.” 19:43 “God is sovereign in revival. You cannot predict it, but also you cannot preclude it. There is no situation so grave and so grievous that God cannot move in it and restore it.” 20:15 “Spiritual revival is something to be sought, to be sought for one’s own soul, to be sought for one’s own church, to be sought for one’s own community. It is not for us to say all we can do is wait and twiddle our thumbs until God is pleased to act.” “We are to seek spiritual renewal, spiritual revival, and we are to seek it by petition…linked with self-examination.” 24:20 “Spiritual revival is something to be sought for and looked for. God does not play cat and mouse with us.” 25:00 “Pessimism about the possibility of revival is a form of unbelief of the Bible.” https://www.sermonaudio.com/saplayer/playpopup.asp?SID=2190484748 (accessed March 2nd 2020)
P. S. Click this Amazon link to view for free the first two chapters of our new novel Blue Sky.
“I’m afraid there’s been an accident…”
Blue Sky reveals how a mother’s most basic instinct isn’t for survival… but for family.
-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.
In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).
Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form. Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.
To receive a personally signed copy of any of our books within North America, just etransfer at firstname.lastname@example.org, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.