J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

J.I. Packer: His Life and Thought

Author:

Alister E. McGrath

Publisher:

InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

November 10, 2020

Format:

Hardcover

Length:

192 pages

OVERVIEW

From his early theology works addressing 1950s England to his international reputation as a speaker and writer, J.I. Packer had an incredible impact. Alister McGrath had an unusual chance to learn about Packer as his friend and official biographer. Like many of Packer’s friends and colleagues, following his 2020 death McGrath wondered about Packer’s legacy. Here McGrath overviews Packer’s life, while also looking at Packer’s major ideas and contributions to evangelical culture.

McGrath writes early on that this book isn’t a standard biography, it’s a condensed look at Packer’s life interwoven with chapters about Packer’s main theological themes. The transition from the life chapters to the theme chapters is jarring at times; McGrath often ends life chapters with something like “before looking at the next period, we must stop and consider what theological debate led up to it.” On a few occasions McGrath talks about Packer in the present tense, making it unclear if the material was written before Packer’s death in July 2020 and adapted for this book.

Despite these editing choices, McGrath’s writing style makes the book very readable. Even when the content jars, the “through line,” the particularly story that McGrath is communicating, continues fairly smoothly. He carefully uses his personal experiences with Packer and the information he collected for J.I. Packer: A Biography to great effect. Readers don’t just learn the basics of Packer’s life but also biographical context about what scholars influenced Packer, which helps to explain how he phrased ideas in his books. They also get cultural context about what was happening in English Anglicanism or American Evangelicalism at certain times, which helps to explain why Packer engaged in certain debates throughout his career.

Slight flaws aside, McGrath gives a great look at a highly important theologian.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians (particularly American evangelicals) interested in J.I. Packer’s life and theological contributions.

Christian Impact

McGrath shows the theological ideas that Packer was passionate about, and why he felt those particular ideas were vital to producing healthy Christians.

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought


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