It’s sobering to get to a “certain age” and to be faced with a growing list of people you’ve long admired now appearing in the obituary pages.
Last Friday James Innell Packer, age 93, joined that list.
Jim (J.I.) Packer was a Biblical scholar and theologian and one of my favourite lecturers when I studied at Regent College in Vancouver. He was an old-school teacher, with exacting standards and an encyclopaedic mind.
He was a little bit intimidating, but I was immediately struck by his obvious kindness. And he was funny. Tributes out this week have recounted the serious head injury he received as a child when, running from another boy, he was hit by a bread van. Most have not mentioned an important detail of that story. Packer, a scholar of the Puritans, loved telling us that the name of the boy chasing him was Oliver Cromwell!
Jim Packer was a gift to so many people, and not only the vast numbers who read his most famous book, “Knowing God.” His ability to write simply, logically and clearly when conveying complex ideas was unsurpassed. When you are studying theology, this is no small blessing! His writing and speaking reflected a lack of ego and a desire to serve (not confound) his audience.
And this week, I recalled that, yes, he was a person of huge conviction, sometimes controversially so, but he was unwaveringly courteous, generous to opponents and he never lost his sense of humour. He engaged respectfully with people who thought very differently from him. These are rare and outdated qualities today, and a reminder of the things we would do well to learn from a generation that is slipping away.