There are few theologians whose work has had as profound an affect on me as J.I. Packer. What I’ve learned from his work over the last 10 years has challenged me in my assumptions, brought clarity to my thinking, and sharpened a number of my convictions. With the news that his writing ministry has come to an end due to his development of macular degeneration in his right eye (a condition that has affected his left eye for the last 10 years), and he is now blind, I wanted to share with you a few of the books I’ve most enjoyed and think every Christian should read:
“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. This is actually one of Packer’s earliest books, rooted in the British fundamentalism controversies of the 1950s, but its message is as deeply important for North American evangelicals today. It’s also among my favorites for a couple of reasons: First, reading a younger, slightly rougher around the edges Packer is just fascinating to me. Second, because there is virtually nothing Packer writes in this book that is not immediately relevant to our own context, especially as he calls readers not to stop thinking, but to stop thinking sinfully. (For more thoughts on this book, here’s a review I wrote back in 2009.)
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. There’s lots to say about it (which is why I reviewed it in 2014 and write things inspired by it frequently, such as this) because what Packer reminds readers is that there is no more loving thing that we could could than tell those around us about Jesus. To share the gospel with someone who is lost in their sin is the most loving thing we can do. This is one of the many reasons why I think it’s one of the best books on evangelism anyone could read. Hopefully you’ll agree (if you read it).
Growing in Christ. This book is actually where shorter works such as Affirming the Apostles’ Creed and Keeping the Ten Commandments (the first Packer book I ever read) were first published. This, in a nutshell, is Packer’s catechism, taking readers through two critical passages of Scripture (the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments), as well as an examination of the Apostles’ Creed and the nature of conversion and baptism. The most important thing to keep in mind: these are devotional writings. They aren’t written with a cool academic tone—they are directed at transforming the heart.
Knowing God. Perhaps his most-read work, Knowing God is one of those books that you have to read slooooooowly. Like, read a few pages, put it down for a week while you ponder what you’ve read, and then come back to it. It was probably the most challenging book I read as a brand-new Christian, and continues to be thought-provoking and encouraging each time I revisit it
Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle. This is an inspiring and profound introduction to the life and ministry of J.C. Ryle, a 19th century Anglican minister. Packer’s biographical sketch, which highlights 12 aspects of Ryle’s character and ministry prepares readers for the main course: a reprint of the first edition of Ryle’s best-known work, Holiness, which is as close to a must-read as any book can be—especially for new believers. (You can find more of my thoughts about this book in a review I wrote in 2011.)
These are just a few of the books by J.I. Packer I’d recommend every Christian read. If you’ve benefitted from Packer’s ministry, what would you add to the list?