Just yes­ter­day I received word that J.I. Pack­er had passed away. This was espe­cial­ly poignant news for me, for I had been Jim’s stu­dent back in the late 1980s at Regent College. 

For a num­ber of months we did Direct­ed Study togeth­er as part of my Th.M. pro­gram. Jim would assign me a book, I’d read the book and write an essay, and we’d dis­cuss what I’d writ­ten in his office. I recall Jim hand­ing me Augustine’s City of God—over one thou­sand pages. Augus­tine, Chris. The City of God. Read the whole book.”

Direct­ed Study with Jim was a rich, warm, and occa­sion­al­ly intim­i­dat­ing expe­ri­ence. I remem­ber writ­ing an essay that did­n’t please Jim. 

I knocked on his office door and hand­ed him the paper. He nod­ded, closed the door, and read the essay. This was our nor­mal rou­tine. After fif­teen min­utes or so Jim opened the door and waved me in. He was­n’t smil­ing. Chris, I have come to expect bet­ter work than this from you.” 

Close to forty min­utes of fine­ly tuned rebuke then fol­lowed. Our ses­sion end­ed with a line I still remem­ber, close to 32 years lat­er. Chris, I want you to know that I’m not averse to pro­long­ing your stay in Van­cou­ver! Revise the essay.”

Over the next week I combed the paper for errors, made some rel­a­tive­ly minor changes, and pre­sent­ed the revised essay to Jim the next week. Was anoth­er scold­ing in store? My heart pound­ed as I sat out­side Jim’s office. With­in a few min­utes the door opened.

Much bet­ter,” Jim briefly com­ment­ed as I walked in, and quick­ly we were on to the next book. What was going on? 

I think Jim dis­cerned in me an intel­lec­tu­al lazi­ness and ten­den­cy to jog when I should be run­ning hard. These char­ac­ter flaws had to be addressed or my future as a teacher and writer was in jeop­ardy. Jim was more than will­ing to do so. Why? He cared. Years lat­er I learned Jim played a major role in help­ing me gain entrance into a won­der­ful doc­tor­al pro­gram at Drew Uni­ver­si­ty. He nev­er told me.

I’m sim­ply one of many stu­dents — hun­dreds if not thou­sands — that Jim helped in very con­crete ways. I espe­cial­ly remem­ber the care with which he read my Mas­ters the­sis — with me sit­ting at his side. He cared.

I’m deeply thank­ful for Jim’s life. His books have helped so many. I’m grate­ful. I’m even more grate­ful, though, for his will­ing­ness to invest his time in a grad­u­ate stu­dent with a ten­den­cy to take the path of least resis­tance. Jim guid­ed me to a bet­ter way. 

Chris, you real­ly can do bet­ter than this.” The words stung. Yes sir, thanks for the feedback.” 

And, thanks Jim, for your years of faith­ful ser­vice to your stu­dents and to your Lord. Well done.

Text First Published July 2020

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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