Morning Coffee with Packer and Ryken–A Country for Old Men

Call it the joy of creation, the newness of day, Sabbath rest, or, to use a theological term–common grace.  Mornings can be delightful.  After years of being a night owl, I have morphed into a morning person.  I don’t wake up, however, ready to talk and be active.  I wake up ready to listen and to take in the awakening power of a good book and good coffee.  (Alas, coffee lovers, I usually have to resort to Folgers due to economics rather than preference.)

But I never drink alone in the mornings.  It is the company that enriches the experience.  Of late, it has been two older men, two elderly gentlemen.  They are both pillars in the Kingdom of God, both faithful saints who are running still, with the blessed finish line in sight.

I am speaking of J. I. Packer and Leland Ryken.


Both have spent decades writing, speaking, and teaching God’s people how to better grasp the Bible and Christian doctrine and how to live the faith in all areas of life.  I have stacks of books these two have written, and I have a quest to obtain whatever volumes are missing from my collection.  Dr. Packer, now age 90 and suffering from blindness, is an Englishman who has labored long in North America.  Dr. Ryken is professor emeritus at Wheaton College.  I regret never having met Dr. Packer.  That will likely have to happen on the other side of the divide.  I did meet Dr. Ryken back in 2011 when my son Nick entered Wheaton College.  Nick and I both plotted and schemed for him, a freshman, to get to take Dr. Ryken’s class on Shakespeare.  (We knew he would be retiring soon.)  After we met the esteemed doctor of literature, Nick accused me of being like a 15 year old girl meeting Justin Bieber.  “What did he write?” I asked.

Dr. Leland Ryken, Ben House, and Wheaton freshman Nick House at Wheaton College in August of 2011.

Leland Ryken has written quite a few books on literature, Christian thinking about the arts, and on the Bible.  J. I. Packer has written quite a few books on Christian topics ranging from his classic Knowing God to the book that tackled a tough subject Fundamentalism and the Word of God and an even tougher subject Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.  Again, if either of them wrote, I want to read it.

Recently, Dr. Ryken wrote a biography of J. I. Packer, titled J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (and published by Crossway).  This book, along with a book by Sam Storms titled Packer on the Christian Life, immediately raced to the top of my want list.  Both are now safe on the shelf, or rather, in the case of the Ryken book, safe on the book stack.

Ryken’s biography could easily be the race through, gulp down, read really fast kind of book.  It is that good.  But, I am savoring it.  At this point, I am only reading it in small bits and pieces on Sunday mornings.  (I did start a book by J. I. Packer today for daily reading.)  I don’t want this opportunity to visit with two of my heroes to happen and be over too quickly.

Yesterday’s reading concerned Packer’s education at Oxford.  Ryken’s description of Packer’s classical education is a good testimony to that type of educational training.

Ryken writes,

“Although Packer gave priority to the Christian side of life… he was not impatient with the time he spent on Greek and Latin language study and the reading of masterworks in those languages.  Packer had come to enjoy the Greek and Latin languages, finding that they ‘have their strengths and fascination,’ with the result that mastering them provided ‘a rather good feeling.’…By his own testimony, he ‘had the ability to become a classical scholar’….But the bent of his being following his conversion was in the direction of Christian scholarship and ministry.”

On a different vein, Ryken relates the way that Packer viewed himself during his college years.  Packer said that he was immature, an oddity, bad at relationships, an outsider, shy, introverted, and awkward.  He was “an eighteen year old oddball…emotionally locked up.”

Wow!  God is great.  There is hope for us all.

What a delight to live for a short time each Sunday morning in a country for old men.

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