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J.I. Packer

An Evangelical Life

Author Leland Ryken
Narrator David Cochran Heath
Runtime 14.4 Hrs. - Unabridged
Publisher christianaudio
Downloads ZIP M4B MP3
Release Date October 20, 2015
Availability: Unrestricted (available worldwide)
For the last 60 years, J. I. Packer has exerted a steady and remarkable influence on evangelical theology and practice. His many books, articles, and lectures have shaped entire generations of Christians, helping elevate their view of God and enliven their love for God. In this new biography, well-known scholar Leland Ryken provides readers with a compelling overview of Packer’s interesting life and influential legacy. Exploring his childhood, college days, theological education, and professional life in both England and America, this volume combines detailed facts with personal anecdotes so as to paint a holistic portrait of the man himself. Finally, Ryken identifies lifelong themes evident in Packer’s life, ministry, and writings that shed light on his enduring significance for Christians today.
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Description
For the last 60 years, J. I. Packer has exerted a steady and remarkable influence on evangelical theology and practice. His many books, articles, and lectures have shaped entire generations of Christians, helping elevate their view of God and enliven their love for God. In this new biography, well-known scholar Leland Ryken provides readers with a compelling overview of Packer’s interesting life and influential legacy. Exploring his childhood, college days, theological education, and professional life in both England and America, this volume combines detailed facts with personal anecdotes so as to paint a holistic portrait of the man himself. Finally, Ryken identifies lifelong themes evident in Packer’s life, ministry, and writings that shed light on his enduring significance for Christians today.

Customer Reviews

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A well-written biography
I've always enjoyed biographies. The best ones tell the story of a person's whole life, not just the moments they were famous for or the times they did something that received worldwide attention. In fact, some of the best biographies I've read were about people I knew little about.

Take the book J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. I had read some of Packer's books, and I knew that he was British but lived in Canada. Thanks to Ryken, I know a little more about the fascinating man who wrote Knowing God and whose contributions helped provide one of the clearest evangelical statements on the inerrancy of Scripture, the English Standard Version, and the ESV Study Bible. Events during Packer's childhood directed his life toward academic pursuits. His emphasis on ministry and his concern for the church at large heavily influenced his writings and the audiences he targeted with them. His involvement in controversy was borne out of deep conviction, which in turn encouraged others to take similar stands for the faith.

Ryken is a gifted communicator, which one would expect from a professor of literature. His talent combined with the interesting life Packer has lived combine to produce a tribute to the man and an appreciation of who he is and what he has done. Packer is interesting. Ryken is a good writer. That alone should warrant a look at this biography. Add a good narrator like David Cochran Heath, and you have something to listen to as well.

I received the audiobook from christianaudio in order to provide this review.
Overall
Review by / (Posted on 12/30/2015)
A great book if you want to get to know J. I. Packer
I freely admit that I don't normally have the endurance for listening to audio books that take more than 5 or 6 hours to listen to. It isn't that I don't like to listen, but my audio book listening times are usually limited to my commute to and from work. Listening to a lengthy audio book in 15 minute segments tends to feel wearisome, but I found with J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken that I was creating times to continue listening. About 1/3 of the way through the book, I found that I didn't want it to stop. I genuinely felt like I was getting to know J. I. Packer, so I wanted to know more of his story.

I wouldn't relate listening to this book like watching a movie. The first part of the book did tell his story, but it wasn't action-packed suspense. What kept me going was the character of this man. In many ways I began to relate to his decisions and understand why he might be doing what he was doing.

I especially appreciated Leland Ryken's approach to breaking up the biography the way he did. As I mentioned, he started by giving an overview of his life, but then he went the extra mile to attempt to reveal more of Packer's character by examining several areas of his life. There were portions that explored Packer as a Preacher and Packer as an author. There was also the examination of the many controversial topics that were an ongoing part of Packer's life as a public figure. Before I listened to this book, I didn't realize that Packer was an Anglican, but by the time I was done I found myself appreciating his ongoing efforts to bring doctrinal reformation to the church. He described himself as a crusader, and I can see and appreciate that fact.

This book was read by David Cochran Heath, who always does an outstanding job. If you are interested in learning more about J. I. Packer, then I would highly recommend this book.

This book will also be important to me because this is the book I was listening to as I decided that I wanted to be a full-time Pastor. (I have been a part-time Pastor and a part-time Teacher for the last 6 years.)
Overall
Review by / (Posted on 11/24/2015)
Honors and Paradoxes; A Worthwhile, Edifying Read
One of my favorite evangelical jokes showed up in a Christianity Today a number of years ago. It was an ad for a (fake) new book called The Collected Blurbs of J. I. Packer. The joke, if you don’t already get it, is funny on two counts: Packer is always blurbing books, and he’s always having his occasional works collected by editors.

Because Packer is so ubiquitous in evangelical literature, he's one of those figures you think you know. But as I listened to his biography I put together the narrative which made much better sense of the pieces I’d gathered.

THE PARADOXES
But not perfect sense. While the picture of a humble, godly, gifted, diligent Christian is quite clear, and fills me with genuine gratitude, there are these "paradoxes" (Ryken’s word): a man who helped bring the Puritans back and yet became one of the major architects of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a man who never separated from the Anglican church until it finally separated from him (he then joined another Anglican group). I was disappointed to hear Ryken at the beginning of the book disclaiming any necessity to explain these paradoxes, but I'll come back to this.

I've read Knowing God, and The Quest for Godliness. I've read Packer's introduction to Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ—in it I find a model of excellent theological writing (even if I disagree with one point!). And I was moved by Ryken's biography to finally pick up Packer’s “Fundamentalism" and the Word of God. I was indeed struck immediately by the paradoxes that this first book of his (1958) introduces into the Packer life narrative. Packer wrote,

"Types of Christianity which regard as authoritative either tradition (as Romanism does) or reason (as Liberalism does) are perversions of the faith, for they locate the seat of authority, not in the Word of God, but in the words of men." (21)

I was also struck by how little seems to have changed since Packer wrote that book: his taxonomy of tradition, reason, and Scripture as major loci for religious authority is as brilliantly simple and helpfully descriptive now as it was then. Ryken gives a personal aside in which he tells how helpful this was for him, too, as a young man. I admit I cannot understand why Packer seems to have changed when the situation he so ably describes—I think—hasn't.

But Ryken later did do some of the work he said he didn't have to do. He provided some helpful, though partial, explanations for these paradoxes of Packer's life. The main one was pointing me to Packer's own defenses of his position, in the essay "A Kind of Noah's Ark" and "The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem." I listened to the biography (all the way through); I did not read it, so my memory may not be serving me, but the only substantive self-defense I remember Packer giving within the pages of Ryken's biography was an allusion to Christ's command to the church of Sardis: "strengthen what remains" (Rev. 3:2). Packer felt called to bloom in the denomination where he was planted, pretty much no matter what. Rkyen points out that the Puritans, too, in fact, stayed within the Anglican church. And quite a number of the men who produced the Westminster Confession were Anglicans.

But how a Packer who saw his job, and that of all the “plumbers and sewage men” who are called to do theology for the church, as “ridding the church of theological effluent”—how such a man signed ECT, remained Anglican, and retained an editorship of a Christianity Today that Ryken himself perceived as "more liberal than" Packer, I still don't really understand. Understanding these paradoxes was not my main goal in listening to the biography, though it did help—but I've got more study to do.

THE BOOK
The book is a little indulgently long—it’s length, not so much its content, was what made me think a few times “yes, we’re in hagiography land…” But Ryken is willing to make criticisms, and he most certainly seems to have done his homework. Ryken writes smoothly, and I very much enjoyed his little asides about a successful teaching career and about service to the church through scholarship. I also enjoyed the little anecdotes about the way Packer took stairs two at a time during the meetings of the ESV committee, and the characteristically Packerish way he argued for his points in their translation work.

If I got one major reward for my hours of listening to this book on the bus, on my bike, and while doing dishes, it was this model of a man who sought above all to serve the church, a man who entered the lists time and time again but didn't seem to develop a pugnacious spirit. Indeed, in that 1958 book he said that "Fundamentalism was...somewhat starved and stunted...—shrivelled, coarsened and in part deformed under the strain of battle" (33). Packer, on the other hand, seems clearly to have been motivated in controversy by love for Christ's body. I delight to give honor to whom honor is due, while urging the Christian church not to relegate the paradoxes of Packer's life to the footnotes of history. Ryken, I thought, did a good job keeping the honors and the paradoxes before the reader.

(The reader for the Christian Audio version of the book, David Cochran Heath, was great. Unobtrusive, as always.)
Overall
Review by / (Posted on 11/22/2015)
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