J.I. Packer ends his ministry

For over a decade, renowned theologian J.I. Packer has suffered from macular degeneration in his left eye. Over Christmas it was announced that the same condition has begun to develop in Packer’s right eye. Macular degeneration is an age related eye disease that causes the loss of vision. At the age of 89, Packer will be unable to continue reading and writing.

Born in England, Packer is a British-Canadian Reformed theologian and has been one of the most influential evangelical voices in North America. In 1979 Packer began teaching at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was named Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology in 1996. Packer has also served as the theologian emeritus of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) since their split from Anglican Church of Canada.

A prolific writer, Packer has published over 300 books, articles, book reviews and other works throughout his academic career. He is often best known for his book “Knowing God.” Packer also worked as the General Editor to the English Standard Version of the Bible and the executive editor for Christianity Today.

Yet following the announcement of Packer’s progressive macular degeneration that will effectively mark the end of his ministry, Packer centered the conversation on thankfulness and faithfulness. In an interview with Ivan Mesa from The Gospel Coalition, Packer said, “I’m nearly 90, and I would have had to stop those things soon anyway because my strength would not have continued. God has been very good to us [he includes his wife, Kit], and none of us has been struck as so many people of our age by any form of dementia. We’re both blessedly free of that in a way that other folks of our age known to us are not. When you’re preserved from something other people actually have to work their way through you recognize that this is a mercy and are thankful.”

The news of Packer’s condition came two days after the John Richard Allison Library in Vancouver, in collaboration with Regent College and Carey Theological College, digitized Packer’s Puritan library. Included in the collection were 80 different Puritan authors, now available online for free.

The Puritans have held particular significance as an area of focus throughout Packer’s academic career. In 1990, Packer published “A quest for godliness” that explored Puritan spiritual life and surveyed great Puritan leaders like John Owen, Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards. In his interview with Mesa, Packer said about the Puritans, “The great thing, which the Puritans saw as central, is communion with God, which they understood as communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They weren’t marked by the imbalance that you so often see even among Puritans’ supporters these days — I mean, people focusing on Christ to the exclusion of the Spirit, or on the Spirit to the exclusion of Christ.”

In his exit interview from his writing ministry Packer made a point to emphasize the Reformed accents of the sovereignty and goodness of God, saying, “I don’t see how any Christian under any circumstances can’t be encouraged who focuses on God. I don’t see how any Christian can be discouraged, because God is in charge—God knows what he’s doing, all things work together for good for those are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), and our hope is in Christ. Those things don’t change, and those are the things to focus on.”

When asked what his parting words would be for the church, Packer boiled it down to four words, “Glorify Christ in every way.”