J. I. Packer’s Knowing God was the first serious work of theology I read. It was my entrée into the Reformed evangelical tradition. While I am not and never have been a Calvinist, I still find Knowing God a helpful read because so much of it is simply common evangelical doctrine. Over the years, I have continued to read, enjoy, and disagree with other Packer books. I hold him in high esteem as an author.
So, when Lexham Press published a collection of his columns and articles from Christianity Today, titled Pointing to the Pasturelands, I purchased a copy and read it. Reading Packer is like talking to an old friend after a long absence. Much was familiar—the broadly evangelical stance, the particularly Calvinist perspective—but some was new.
Among the columns, I was delighted to learn (or relearn, I can’t remember) that Packer was a fan of what he called “ ’tecs, thrillers, and westerns.” ’Tecs are murder mysteries, and Packer especially enjoyed the class authors. Such books, Packer argues, “while not great literature, are among the most moral fiction of our time. Goodies and baddies are distinguished, and killers finally get it in the end. Writing that upholds fundamental morality is neither degenerate nor corrupting.” Just so!
Many of the articles have a historical interest as snapshots into then-current events. Some, such as the article, “Christianity and Non-Christian Religions” and “Can the Dead Be Converted?” are evergreen. Others, such as “Why I Left” (about leaving the World Council of Churches), “Why I Signed It” (about participating in Evangelicals and Catholics Together), and “Why I Walked” (about protesting an Anglican decision to bless same-sex unions) feel both timely and evergreen, insofar as they touch on the possibilities and limits of Christian ecumenism.
Pointing to the Pasturelands is the fifth collected volume of Christianity Today articles published by Lexham Press. The others include Basics of the Faith (evangelical doctrine), Architect of Evangelicalism (Carl F. H. Henry), Christ the Cornerstone (John Stott), and Dual Citizens (evangelical politics). Lexham will publish Stewards of the Earth(evangelical approaches to creation care) next March.
Republishing these articles from Christianity Today is a worthwhile endeavor largely because for most of the twentieth century, that magazine was the center of gravity of evangelical opinion. As the term evangelicalism increasingly loses theological meaning and takes on political significance, it is helpful to read (or reread) the literary record and keep score.
More than having merely historical interest, however, many of the articles reprinted in these books have continuing spiritual vitality, theological relevance, and abiding interest. As proof, consider the final paragraph of the Packer book:
Glum Christians who say they have not much to give thanks for are wrong. Some of the specifics of my narrative, narrated above, are no doubt peculiar to me, but I cannot believe that the quality of my experience is in any way special. So I say: Look for the happy surprises, for they will help you to keep expressing proper gratitude to God all your days.
To which I can only say, Amen!
J. I. Packer, Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, and Culture (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021).
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