Monday, July 10, 2006

Packer Tidbits

Dr. Packer tries to walk 10-15 miles a week--usually for at least an hour at a time. He turns 80 years old on July 22.

He also recently had succesful cataracts surgery. The last time I was with him his eyesight was very poor. But his vision is now 20/20--something his unbelieving doctor, unprompted, labeled as a "miracle." He now only needs glasses for reading. He hasn't seen this well in over 70 years. Praise God for the cultural mandate and for his healing graces.

He considers his work on the ESV translation (he was the general editor of the Translation Oversight Committee) to be the most important contribution he has made to the kingdom, and he regards the publication of the ESV as the biggest milestone in the last 100 years of Bible translation history.

He mentioned to me that at the end of J.I. Packer: A Biography, McGrath struggles with how to label Packer. Instead of "theologian," McGrath settles on "theologizer." But Packer regards himself most properly as a "catechist." This is explained in his new book on Praying (p. 9): "J. I. sees himself as a traveler on Bunyan's pilgrim path, and as a theologian (which is J. I.'s public identity) he sees himself as a catechist, one who teaches Christian basics to new believers and adult inquirers, seeking both viva voce [by speaking] and by writing to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ."

(He thinks that McGrath mainly got things right in the biography. The one shortcoming, he suggested, was that McGrath doesn't portray Packer's humor. Packer loves to laugh and often has a twinkle in his eye, and I get the sense he wished that had been portrayed more in the volume.)

He mentioned how struck he was by the comment once made by G. Campbell Morgan (d. 1945), who remarked that he wouldn't expound a book of the Bible until he'd read it through 40 times. Inspired by that comment, Packer read the book of Hebrews through 10 times in a row in one sitting. That event, he said, was a watershed moment for him, and he'd like to encourage once again the lost habit of reading whole biblical books at a time.

"The more I go on," he said, "the more I appreciate [John] Owen." He loves Owen because Owen was "so systematically God-centered." He pointed to the reality of God. He regards Edwards and Owen as the twins at the head of the pack--though personally he thinks Owen was the best theologian.

On a personal note, a few things that stood out to me were (1) his incredible memory--citing detailed information on the Puritans, dates, personal recollections, etc; (2) his kindness and graciousness and humility--especially with people who approach him to convey their gratitude; (3) his personal interest in people--one quickly senses that he cares for each person he meets and wants them to feel loved; (4) his deep concern and sadness over the Anglican communion and the virtually inevitable upcoming split over the "gay way"; (5) the way in which he loves to fellowship over a good meal with friends talking about theology--he suggests few things in life are more enjoyable than that.

He is praying for five more years of good, productive writing. I'm sure he would be deeply thankful for your prayers in this regard.

One final note: from what I can tell, very few people know that Packer's shorter writings have been collected in four volumes by Paternoster. They are:

Honouring the People of God

Serving the People of God

Celebrating the Saving Work of God

Honouring the Written Word of God

I highly recommend these four volumes.