J.I. Packer Was the Robin Hood of Evangelicalism
The prominent theologian ‘stole’ riches from church history and gave them to the spiritually impoverished.
J. I. Packer was my teacher at Regent College when I was a young graduate student. Some years later, he became my colleague and next-door neighbor in the hallways at the college and a fellow church member at St. John’s Anglican Church in Vancouver. I will forever be grateful to have known him. He shaped my life and thought in many ways, and I am not alone in this experience.
In light of his recent passing, I have been thinking more about his wider legacy and especially his significant contribution to evangelicalism as a whole. In the present political culture, however, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” is freighted with a good deal of baggage that’s worth shedding immediately.
We can do so by going back in time. The Old English word “gospel” never got a proper Old English adjective and had to steal a Greek one: “evangelical.” But the noun and the adjective belong together. And as the great Bible translator William Tyndale put it, “evangelical” is a word that “signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.”
This vibrant relationship between word and life, message and experience, doctrine and devotion was absolutely central to the evangelical movements in Germany and English-speaking lands that emerged at the beginning of the modern period.
Evangelicals today claim some sort of genealogical or theological continuity with these movements. But wherever we see the preaching of Jesus Christ generate new life and set people in joyful motion, that is where we properly use the adjective “evangelical” in its most important and basic sense. It is why …
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