Remembering ‘Knowing God’ author, J.I. Packer

He was committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and famously walked out of a diocese meeting convened to produce a service for same-sex unions

James Innell Packer, one of the most famous and influential evangelical leaders and theologians of the 20th century, has died. He was 93.

According to World magazine, Packer, who died on July 17 just five days short of his 94th birthday, authored hundreds of Christian books and articles on biblical truth and personal devotion to Christ over more than five decades. He is probably best known for his 1973 work, Knowing God, a book thathas sold more than 1.5 million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. 

Popularly known as J.I. Packer, the Oxford University educated Anglican and a Puritan scholar had vast contributions to explaining biblical doctrine, championed biblical inerrancy and offered a gloriously simple summary of the gospel: “God saves sinners.”

He started his ministry in his native England where he was ordained a deacon and then a priest in the Church of England in 1953. Packer remained a lifelong Anglican and in 1970 relocated to Vancouver, Canada. There he taught systematic theology at Regent College until he was nearly 90 years old although he had his greatest influence in the United States.

In an interview with World founder Joel Belz in 2008, Packer described himself as “an adult catechist” explaining that a catechist “teaches the truths that Christians live by and how to live by those truths”.

In 2002, when the Anglican diocese of New Westminster in Canada authorised its bishop to produce a service for same-sex unions, Packer joined a handful of other synod members in walking out of the meeting. He explained the decision in an editorial for Christianity Today: “Because this decision taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardises the salvation of fellow human beings and betrays the Church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.”

His church later withdrew from the Anglican Communion in Canada and became a member of the Anglican Church in North America.  

According to CT, it was at Oxford University that Packer first heard lectures from C.S. Lewis – a British writer and lay theologian – and though they were never personally acquainted, Lewis would exert a powerful influence on his life and work.

When CT conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer’s book Knowing God came in fifth. The publication writes that Packer steadfastly refused to cultivate a following and instead made a mark with his typewriter, which he used to compose articles and books throughout his life.

Packer, who in 2005 was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals by Time magazine, had an extraordinarily strong commitment that the words of the Bible are the very words of God and served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible, a task that projected the greatest achievement of his life.

In 2016, Packer announced his vision had deteriorated due to macular degeneration and that he could no longer read or write. In an interview with Ivan Mesa of The Gospel Coalition, he said: “God knows what He’s up to. Some good, something for His glory is going to come out of it.”

When Mesa asked him for any final words to the Church, Packer replied: “I think I can boil it down to four words: ‘Glorify Christ every way.”

Packer married Kit Mullet in 1954 and together they raised three children.