Leland Ryken. J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015. 432 pp. $22.20.
Leland Ryken’s biography of J. I. Packer is an easy-to-read look at the life of one of modern evangelicalism’s most important figures. Packer is a widely-known author, speaker, and scholar whose influence has been profound. His is most certainly a life worthy of a solid look into his experiences, his accomplishments, and his teachings.
Ryken writes a biography that is different than any that I can recall reading. The tone is more simple, almost chatty, as the author shares with us his gleanings from the life of J. I. Packer. The book combines Ryken’s memories of encounters and interviews with Packer as well as material gathered from Packer’s own writings and lectures.
I found myself enjoying this work for the insight it gives into who Packer is as a person. Some of the sweet and simple details about Packer’s childhood, his courtship of his wife, and his love of jazz were fascinating. It was also worth much for me to hear of Packer’s rise to prominence in evangelicalism, his move from England to Canada, his battle for the inerrancy of the Bible, and his love of expositional preaching.
While I find this book very worthwhile, I also have to admit that I found the treatment of Packer in this book a little glossy. Seldom did Ryken offer us a glimpse into Packer’s failings. Even when Packer’s participation in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project was discussed, Ryken showed no willingness to consider that move an unwise or damaging part of Packer’s life, though it undoubtedly harmed his reputation among many. Obviously, writing a biography of a man who is still living is a difficult task, and evaluation and final assessments may not yet be appropriate, yet I think Ryken could have offered some clearer insights into the humanity of a man who we still see as a great figure on the evangelical landscape.
I received a free audio copy of this work from ChristianAudio.com as part of their reviewers. This work was read by David Cochran Heath, who always does a fine job. I will say, however, that there were moments during the narration in which I felt that the reader was almost tempted to slip into an impersonation of Packer’s accent and speech pattern. These moments were strange, and I am glad they were not more pronounced.
I would recommend this biography to any student of modern church history and theology. Packer is an important figure, and his life matters a great deal. It is encouraging to see how this man has stood for the Bible for so many years and has treasured the church so deeply. We can all learn from Packer’s life and be grateful to God for his accomplishments.