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