The Reading Habits of A Latter-Day Puritan

Excerpts from a new biography of theologian J.I. Packer

Packer has practiced for decades what we like to call “accessible theology,” which lies midway between abstruse academic writing and pop over-simplification. Packer has provided both the tersest definition of Christian belief that I know of—“God saves sinners”—and one of the most readable books on that subject, Knowing God.

 

J.I. Packer turns 90 this year, and WORLD wants to be one of the first to wish him a happy birthday. He has practiced for decades what we like to call “accessible theology,” which lies midway between abstruse academic writing and pop over-simplification. Packer has provided both the tersest definition of Christian belief that I know of—“God saves sinners”—and one of the most readable books on that subject, Knowing God. But he’s also personally delightful, and Leland Ryken brings that out in his new biography, J.I Packer: An Evangelical Life (Crossway, 2015), which not only gives dates, places, and ideas but portrays in its middle section (“The Man”) an unostentatious intellectual who into his 80s went up stairs two steps at a time. Here are parts of that section that detail his reading habits and his love for the Puritans. —Marvin Olasky

The Most Important Books in J.I. Packer’s Life

J.I. Packer is regularly asked about the major books in his life, and the lists that he generates on those occasions fall into two categories—books that influenced him most and books that he reads every year.

In a recent interview, Packer was asked, “Which books have made the greatest impact on you?” He prefaced his reply with a characteristic bit of understatement: “Well, that’s a difficult question because I have read a lot of books.” The ensuing list is as follows, in the order that Packer followed in the interview: (1) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; (2) Bishop J.C. Ryle, Holiness; (3) John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress; (4) Richard Baxter, multiple books, but chiefly The Reformed Pastor; and (5) John Owen, Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin, “but it’s a shame not to mention Justification;The Holy Spirit; and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”

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