J.I. Packer is one of the most influential evangelical theologians of the last hundred years. He was born in Gloucester, England and throughout his life remained a member of the Anglican Church (aka the Church of England). He was a prolific writer. While a brilliant thinker, he had the unique ability to communicate with the common person. He used vivid language. For example, he suggested that theologians are the plumbers and sewage men of the church. They keep the flow of religious ideas clean (accurate) and get rid of sewage (mistaken ideas). Packer served as the general editor of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. In the translation meetings, he would often ask how a particular translation would be re- ceived by “Joe the bus driver.” Countless church members have benefited from his works—Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Keeping in Step with the Spirit.
But for all his winsome characteristics, Packer was no stranger to controversy. In 1979, he left England to serve at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In part, he left England in reaction to the liberal drift of the Anglican Church. He aligned himself with the more conservative Anglican Church in Canada. This upset many of his colleagues in England. But it also upset many of his conservative evangelical supporters as they thought he should have separated himself from the liberal Anglican Church altogether.
In his later years, his convictions against women as pastors and against same-sex unions also brought much criticism. He was once asked why he was always involved in so much controversy. He replied that he “is not a controversialist by nature but by necessity.” Packer didn’t go looking for a fight. But to his credit, he didn’t avoid the fight when there was something worth fighting about. Packer’s convictions should inspire us. This is no license to be mean-spirited or harsh in our interactions. But it is a reminder that we have been given the responsibility of contending for the faith that has once for all been entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).