John Stott, of course, set a similar example in Biblical exposition, and today we have some authors who ply the same worthy trade. But how much more do we need of what J. I. Packer gives us in Knowing God: theology in a style that is at once authoritative, accessible, serious, pious, and inspiring.
If the contemporary church is growing to grow deep, both in North America and around the world, we need much more such writing—and speaking. We are likely to get it, however, only from people who have paid the price Packer paid in terms of high-quality education devoted mainly to church-level discourse. Most scholars don't address the church because almost no PhD programs contain precisely any training in how to communicate effectively to laypeople (not even to students!), and few reputable schools give consideration for promotion and tenure to popular speaking and writing. Most scholars who love to teach the church literally have to do so alongside, and even in competition with, their professional advancement.
Alas, most of those who do address the church today lack anything like the rigorous training J. I. Packer undertook. A startling number of celebrity pastors haven't earned even a single degree in theological studies, and few have any training beyond the standard Master of Divinity degree—a program that typically requires no extended writing. We teaching types have a lot to learn about evangelism and church planting from our ecclesiastical entrepreneurs, to be sure. But they, in turn, quickly run out of material and their preaching either stays elementary or, dangerously, moves into areas beyond their training and ability. We need more pulpit partnerships and other communicative collaborations today between the evangelist-entrepreneur and the pastoral teacher.
As Jim Packer continues to teach at Regent and to write for the world, therefore, let us pause for a moment to give thanks for the extraordinary gift of Knowing God. And let us resolve to settle for nothing less than the best such teaching we can find today.
John Stackhouse succeeded J. I. Packer in the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professorship at Regent College, Vancouver. His most recent book is Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World (Oxford) and contains very little plagiarism.