James Innell Packer (born 22 July 1926) is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions. He currently serves as the Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is considered one of the most influential evangelicals in North America.
Born in Gloucester, England, the son of a clerk for the Great Western Railway, Packer won a scholarship to Oxford University. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, obtaining the degrees of Bachelor of Arts (1948), Master of Arts (1954), and Doctor of Philosophy (1954).
It was as a student at Oxford that he first heard lectures from C. S. Lewis, whose teachings would (though he never knew Lewis personally) become a major influence in his life. In a meeting of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, Packer committed his life to Christian service.
He spent a brief time teaching Greek at Oak Hill Theological College in London, and in 1949 entered Wycliffe Hall, Oxford to study theology. He was ordained a deacon (1952) and priest (1953) in the Church of England, within which he was associated with the Evangelical movement. He was Assistant Curate of Harborne Heath in Birmingham 1952–54 and Lecturer at Tyndale Hall, Bristol 1955–61. He was Librarian of Latimer House, Oxford 1961–62 and Principal 1962–69. In 1970 he became Principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol, and from 1971 until 1979 he was Associate Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, which had been formed from the amalgamation of Tyndale Hall with Clifton College and Dalton House-St Michael's.
In 1979, Packer moved to Vancouver to take up a position at Regent College, eventually being named the first Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology, a title he held until he was named a Regent College Board of Governors' Professor of Theology in 1996. Packer had a huge impact on students during his time at Regent, as evidenced by one of them, author Gary Thomas, dedicating his book "Holy Available," and including a lengthy tribute, in honor of Dr. Packer's 80th birthday. He is a prolific writer and frequent lecturer, but he is best known for his book, "Knowing God". He is a frequent contributor to and an executive editor of Christianity Today.
Packer served as General Editor of the English Standard Version, an Evangelical revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and Theological Editor of the Study Bible version.
Packer is associated with St. John's Vancouver Anglican Church, which in February 2008 voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) over the issue of same-sex blessings. St. John's joined the Anglican Network in Canada. Packer, on 23 April, handed in his licence from the Bishop of New Westminster. In December 2008 Dr Packer was appointed an honorary Clerical Canon of St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney in recognition of his long and distinguished ministry as a faithful teacher of Biblical theology.
In 1978, he signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which affirmed a conservative position on Biblical inerrancy.
Packer is a Complementarian and serves on the advisory board of Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He thus subscribes to a traditional view of gender roles – that a husband should lovingly lead, protect and provide for his wife and that a wife should joyfully affirm and submit to her husband's leadership. Complementarians also believe the Bible teaches that men are to bear primary responsibility to lead in the church and that as such only men should be elders. In 1991 Packer set forth his reasons for this in an influential yet controversial article called 'Let's Stop Making Women Presbyters'.
Packer holds to Reformed theology, also known as Calvinism.
In 2008 Packer wrote an endorsement for a book called 'Creation or Evolution: Do We have to Choose?' by Denis Alexander. The book advocates theistic evolution and is critical of Intelligent Design. Packer said of the book: 'Surely the best informed, clearest and most judicious treatment of the question in its title that you can find anywhere today.' This perhaps reveals Packer's current position in the evolution/intelligent design debate.
However, he has also expressed caution as to whether the theory of evolution is actually true, 'its only a hypothesis... its only a guess... so as science, in terms of philosophy of science... evolution is by no means proven and as a guess it is very strange and contrary to all analogies...' He also said, 'the biblical narratives of creation... don't obviously say anything that bears one way or another on the question of whether the evolutionary hypothesis might be true or not...'
The most recent information on Packer's position on evolution comes from his foreword to Reclaiming Genesis by Melvin Tinker. Reclaiming Genesis is a 'pro-evolution' book with the subtitle 'The Theatre of God's Glory – Or a Scientific Story?' in it Packer writes "Melvin Tinker is fully on wavelength in this lively and enlivening series of expositions. His book is wise, popular, and powerful. I heartily commend it."
In recent years, he has supported the ecumenical movement but believes that unity should not come at the expense of abandoning orthodox Protestant doctrine. Nonetheless, his advocacy of ecumenicism has brought sharp criticism from some conservatives, particularly after the publication of the book Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission (ed. Charles Colson, Richard J. Neuhaus) in which Packer was one of the contributors. Some conservatives also feel that Packer's views on Mother Teresa are quite liberal.
Packer took the side of evangelical ecumenism in opposition to Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966, then co-authored a work with two Anglo-Catholics in 1970 (Growing into Union) that many evangelicals felt conceded too much biblical ground on critical doctrinal issues. The publication of that work led to the formal break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, bringing an end to the Puritan Conferences.