The advice is frequently given to fledgling readers of spiritual books: “Buy authors!” The reason is that, through help derived from certain writers, confidence develops in all that they would write. This avoids wasting money and valuable reading time on books that are frivolous.
A book’s spiritual value is determined by the degree to which it enlightens the mind, awakens the heart, and promotes Christian growth. Booksellers’ shelves are lined with entertaining titles and popular authors, but few rise to such standard.
James Innell Packer is a reliable writer of books dealing with great Bible doctrines and matters of spirituality. He writes in such a way as to bring home to the conscience the privileges and obligations of the Christian life. He was a professor of theology at Oxford, at Trinity College in Bristol, and is Board of Governors Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver. He was a leader of the evangelical movement in the Anglican Church, and is “Reformed” in some of the theological positions taken.
Knowing God (280 pages), Beyond the Battle for the Bible (150 pages), and The J. I. Packer Collection (285 pages) are three of his books that are initially recommended by this reader. Now published in the USA by InterVarsity Press, and Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, they are available from most booksellers. These were purchased at Lifeway Christian supplies, Cary, NC, each priced around the $20.00 mark.
J. I. Packer, another of those gifts whom God has given to the Church, is indeed a theologian. He has been engaged in teaching and defending great theological issues over the past 60 years. His definition is to be noted: “Theology is first, the activity of thinking and speaking about God, and second, the product of that activity.”
Born in 1926, a serious childhood automobile injury to his head disabled him for athletic endeavor, and at 11 years of age, the gift of a typewriter embarked him on a writing career. His progress in education led to scholarships and studies in the classics at Oxford University. Through the writings of C.S. Lewis, he endorsed the Christian creeds, but it was through a gospel message in October 1944, he realized he was not a Christian, and came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The J. I. Packer Collection is a group of essays dealing with the character and authority of the Scriptures, the great doctrines of the person and work of Christ, the weakening of the modern church’s witness, the inroads of the world into Christians’ lives, and the essentials of spirituality. While some of the material is exegetical, it is easily read, and its themes easily followed by most people.
Knowing God is about the fundamental truth of salvation – “that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The emphasis lies with appreciation of the character and ways of God, personal communion with Him, and God-likeness as the outcome. It is teaching from the Word, fully referenced to chapter and verse, and will lead to a deepened understanding of the faith and its spiritual riches. The reader can expect his conscience to be touched, and to apply a self-evaluation with desires to know the Savior better.
Beyond the Battle for the Bible is about a return to thorough and systematic approach to Bible reading and exposition. He emphasizes the reliability of the Scriptures, and points out that proper interpretation and clear understanding are essential to public worship.
There are two areas of Dr. Packer’s theology about which this reviewer has reservation. First, he de-emphasizes the mode of believer’s baptism, while affirming its necessity and doctrinal significance. However, if baptism represents death, burial, and resurrection in union with Christ, how could any other method but immersion represent this?
Secondly, an emphasis is placed on a covenant relationship between God and His people. Whether Old Testament or New, he sees believers in a covenant with God, whereby God vouchsafes blessings to His people, to which they have an obligation to respond. In no way does he suggest that failure to respond causes loss of salvation, but rather causes loss of enjoyment. He is clear on “the Church which is His body,” and how men enter into it. But it would parallel dispensation teaching with respect to God’s dealing with men at different time periods. His approach undoubtedly relates to his association with reformed theology.
Apart from this, Dr J. I. Packer’s writings are highly recommended and will stimulate holy aspirations in the honest reader.
Another helpful writing by the same author is God’s Wordspublished by InterVarsity Press.