Written by Quek Tze-Ming
Last Saturday, my old seminary professor, Dr James Innell Packer, went home to the Lord. He was 93 years old.
The bookshelves of most evangelical Christians of my generation would have held J. I. Packer’s best-selling classic, “Knowing God”.
In the Foreword, he appropriates John Mackay’s illustration of persons sitting on a front balcony of a house watching travellers go by on the road below. Their journey is a picture of Christian life. The ‘balconeers’ and travellers may be thinking over that same journey, yet their problems differ. The ‘balconeers’ are basically onlookers, and their problems are theoretical. In comparison, the travellers face problems which, though having theoretical angles, are essentially practical – “problems of the ‘which-way-to-go’ and ‘how-to-make-it’ type, problems which call not merely for comprehension but for decision and action too.” While Dr Packer says his “Knowing God” is a book for travellers, I would say his overall theological perspective and teaching priorities as being oriented for travellers too.
That certainly was my experience when I studied systematic theology with him at Regent College. “Packer by name, packer by trade,” was what he used to say, packing and organising theological concepts into clearly structured morsels of soul nourishment. Like his beloved Puritans, his teaching was never only theoretical, but pushed towards the ‘which-way-to-go’ and ‘how-to-make-it’ type of questions.
For Dr Packer, the Trinity was not just a mathematical conundrum, but a disclosure of divine love to me. The atonement was not just a theory, but how sinners like me can be reconciled to God. The inerrancy of scripture was not just something to be defended, but an expression of God’s trustworthy character.
This traveller owes an immense debt to a fellow, elder, traveller, who has now been welcomed home by the One he spent his life honouring, loving and trusting. If you haven’t already read “Knowing God”, why not pick up a copy and begin the journey with him? And if you have, perhaps it’s time for re-visit?