J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life

After benefiting from J. I. Packer’s Knowing God as a younger Christian and, more JI Packerrecently, listening to people like Mark Jones and Carl Trueman draw out Packer’s spiritual wisdom in one-on-one interviews, I was pleased to get a review copy of Leland Ryken’s book J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (Crossway, 2015).  Though not an expert on Packer, I do love to read Christian biographies in order to see God’s faithful work in the lives others and, frankly, to take comfort in the fact that even the greatest saints are just as human as the rest of us.

Ryken’s portrayal of Packer is thorough, striking, to my mind, a reasonable balance in dealing with various aspects of his subject’s life (Packer’s own personality, his service in the Anglican church, his work on the Puritans, etc.).  Part I of the book has four sections and, in the first block of chapters, we meet the young Packer growing up near Gloucester and becoming a Christian at Oxford, where, as an undergraduate, Packer decided to pursue ordained ministry.   Next, we read of Packer’s postgraduate work on Puritan theology that set the course for much of his later theologizing, and of Packer’s marriage and two years as an Anglican minister.

In the third block of chapters, Ryken covers Packer’s professional life in England, describing his work at Tyndale Hall and Trinity College in Bristol and at Latimer House in Oxford, a think-tank for promoting evangelical convictions within the doctrinally mixed Church of England in the 1960s.  The fourth group then deals with Packer’s controversial move from England to Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and also with Packer’s extensive involvement consulting and writing for Christianity Today.

Part II  focuses on ‘the man’, including lesser-known interests of Packer, like his love of jazz music, walking and mystery books and his ability to speak for the ordinary person in contrast to someone like John Stott, whose privileged upbringing gave him a markedly upper-class demeanor.  Finally, Part III treats various ‘lifelong themes’ and controversies in which Packer was involved.  His ongoing theological and existential appreciation for the Puritans and his commitment to the Anglican church stand out here.  Readers with prior knowledge of twentieth-century British evangelicalism and of Packer’s own life won’t be surprised to see material on the interpersonal tension with Martyn Lloyd-Jones or on the Evangelicals and Catholics Together phenomenon, for example.

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A Theologian’s Psalm

Rocky MountainDespite the title of this post, no biblical psalm belongs to the academic theologian alone, nor does the academic theologian belong to some special class of Christians.  At the same time, I cannot help but see a special significance in Psalm 131 for those of us who practice theology in an academic environment and occupy ourselves with investigating the most complex and demanding spiritual and theological questions out there on a daily basis.  It reads,

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with its mother,

Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth, and forevermore.

I know that when I begin unwittingly to twist my vocation into a matter of checking up on God and making sure that all his ways seem perfectly reasonable to us human beings, I certainly need this reminder to calm my mind before the God who does not need us to make sure he is properly handling his oversight of the world.  It is a relief to recall that the ‘secret things’ belong to the LORD, while the ‘revealed things’ belong to us and to our children (Deut. 29:29).

Sanctified by Grace Blog Tour Wraps up

The blog tour for Sanctified by Grace wrapped up over the weekend. Here is a list of all the posts (most recent at the top). Thank you, bloggers, for participating in the tour and for giving our book such careful attention!

I still have some thoughts I would like to share about the ways I have used this text in undergraduate classrooms. But, you know, the semester-start is swamping me at the moment. Hopefully later this week I can set aside some time for that post.

Sanctified by Grace by Grace Blog Tour: Mortification (Mere Orthodoxy, 29 January 2016)

I needed to see more clearly that the mortification of sin in an individual believer’s life is something initiated by God in the Gospel and that our response to him is precisely that—a responseMy friends who have been to seminary have a simple phrase for summing up what Webster is describing here: “The indicatives drive the imperatives.” Because you have been crucified with Christ (indicative) you are now free from the dominion of sin and need not go on doing the things (imperative) that would kill you if left unattended by the kindness of God.

Sanctified by Grace: A Theology of Christian Life (The Scriptorium Daily, 28 January 2016).

In one sense, the whole book’s about sanctification, about the growth in holiness culminating in perfect, eternal fellowship with the triune God and his people. But it’s much more comprehensive than that,covering all the major doctrinal loc…This is a helpful way to think through the various doctrinal loci without trying to say everything, and the lens of sanctification is timely.

Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of The Christian Life (Marturo, 27 January 2016) [I love Nate’s description of our approach with a musical metaphor! It works, and I am going to use it in the future. Thanks Nate!]

The book is, using a musical metaphor, “an account of the Christian life that explores the full scale of notes and harmonic richness from Christian dogmatics. Different doctrinal connection points represent different tones within a scale. Many accounts of the Christian life stick close to a single tonal center, perhaps only deviating to the octave or interval of a 5th above, giving minimal melodic or harmonic variation. Here, the full range of tones and harmonies are brought into play, weaving together a more interesting melodic result.”

Sanctified by Grace Blog Tour: Election (Mere Orthodoxy, 26 January 2016)

Book Review: Sanctified by Grace (Out of Bounds, 25 January 2016)

What Am I Reading? “Sanctified By Grace” (Die Evangelischen Theologen, 20 January 2016)

Sanctified By Grace: A Theology of the Christian Life, A Book Review and Highlight of Suzanne MacDonald’s Doctrine of Election (The Evangelical Calvinist, 19 January 2016)

Sanctified by Grace – The Triune God (CWoznicki Think Out Loud, 19 January 2016)

 

Blog Tour for Sanctified by Grace: Mere Orthodoxy starts a week-long series

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake Meador starts a week-long review of Sanctified by Grace with a post on Suzanne McDonald’s chapter, “Election”. Check it out here. (See previous reviews below).

Far from being a doctrine that should make us fear God or see him as a kind of moral monster, the doctrine of election reminds us that God cares for all of creation and that he is faithful to those with whom he makes covenant. It is, in other words, a deeply pastoral, comforting doctrine that helps individual believers understand the purpose of their salvation as well as the security of their salvation. The above is one example of what I mean when I say the book does a marvelous job of connecting Christian theology to the Christian life.

Two more stops on the Blog Tour

Two more reviews are in.

Adam Nigh at Out of Bounds (read here)

One of the great strengths of this book … is the rejection of any dichotomy between theological reflection and Christian practice, between the intellectual and the moral, between doctrine and life. That is signified in the title: not just our initial justification but the whole scope of our lived faith needs to be understood by reference to the being, character and gracious work of the triune God.

Chris Woznicki at Think out Loud has another addition to his multi-part review, this one on Willimon’s chapter, “Preaching” (read here)

One thing that I really appreciated about this chapter is the importance Willimon places upon the task of preaching. Nowadays many people tend to see preaching as superfluous or as belonging to a bygone era. But according to Willimon this should not be so. A primary way that the Christian life is formed and sustained is by preaching...Life with a loquacious God demands disciplines of listening.

Blog Tour for Sanctified by Grace, first stops

Sanctified by Grace_cover_March62014The blog tour for Sanctified by Grace has begun! T&T Clark has introduced the tour on their blog and is offering a 30% discount on the book while the blog tour is running (until January 29)! Check it out here.

Three stops on the tour were posted yesterday and today:

Bobby Grow at The Evangelical Calvinist (read here).

“The book, as envisioned by Eilers and Strobel, is intended to function, for one of its uses, as a volume used in college and seminary classroom teaching; i.e. as a textbook for a Christian theology class, or maybe even for a rigorous Sunday school class at church involved in Christian Education, etc. I would say, beyond a doubt, this volume achieves that mark and more! In fact I would go so far as to say that any thoughtful Christian ought to take this book up and read (tolle lege)!”

W. Travis McMaken at Die Evangelischen Theologen (read here).

“It seems as though a not insignificant portion of the Protestant theological community in English speaking countries has become increasingly concerned over recent decades in “sanctification” broadly conceived…It was therefore only a matter of time before we were given a book of this nature, which seeks to consider the loci of systematic theology through the lens of sanctification. “

Chris Woznicki at Think out Loud (a week long review; read here and here)

“[Eilers and Strobel] notice that there is often a divide between doctrine and theology on the one side and spirituality and ministry on the other. In this book they hope to help tear down that false dichotomy.”

A new book, slowly underway

I have been working now for several years – and will be working for a couple more – on a new book. It is an anthology. This is the first anthology project I have done. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, producing an anthology is a monumental task! It will include selections from across the history of the Church and from every major Christian tradition (90 entries). Without my two very talented and wise co-editors, Ashley Cocksworth and Anna Silvas, I can hardly imagine finishing! And even if I could, the book is far better because of their partnership; I increasingly realize this as I work with them. Collaboration is a beautiful thing!

The topic of the collection is the Christian life. Readers will encounter how the Christian life has been represented, preached and sung about, reflected on, and refracted from Christians in every era and from every Christian tradition. I can say without hesitation, producing this book is fascinating and invigorating work! I feel like a student all over again, pouring over primary sources as I immerse myself in the Christian tradition.

My last two books inspired this project. The book I edited with Kyle Strobel, Sanctified by Grace, confirmed the importance of re-invigorating theological attention onto the doctrine of the Christian life. And doing so through an anthology was inspired by my book with David Buschart, Theology as Retrieval. You might say that this new book is the fruit of my previous two. I am doing the work of theological retrieval by producing an anthology that inspires, fuels, and directs teaching, preaching, and theological reflection on the Christian life for the sake of the Church.

Huntington University (where I teach) produced a short video that gives a quick snapshot of the book as it is taking shape. Enjoy!