Dr. J.I. Packer (1926-2020) is undoubtedly one of the most influential Christian theologians of the past century. That is certainly the case in my life. It was reading his famous book Knowing God as a naïve 21-year-old that first gave me a taste for theology that resulted in my enrollment in seminary and pursuit of vocational ministry. That book opened up my eyes to the glory and majesty of God and created in me a craving to know Him more, and I know that my story is not unique in this respect. For this reason, I owe Dr. Packer an incalculable debt.
A Quest for Godliness, while perhaps not as well-known as Dr. Packer’s most famous works such as Knowing God or Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, absolutely deserves to be. This book is vintage Packer writing on a subject that he was most passionate about The Puritans. This book is a collection of essays and writings by Dr. Packer on various subjects related to the Puritans, and taken as a whole; this book is a wonderful introduction to the theology, piety, and ministry of this great generation of believers. This review will provide a basic overview of the content and offer a few brief reflections on the book.
The book is divided into six sections. The first section, “The Puritans in Profile,” serves as a general introduction to the subject and tackles the question of why we should care about the Puritans. The second, “The Puritans and the Bible,” addresses the Puritan view of Scripture, with a focus on John Owen’s view of communication with God. The third, “The Puritans and the Gospel,” unpacks their view of the work of Christ on our behalf and the preaching of the gospel. The fourth section, “The Puritans and the Holy Spirit,” addresses the role of the Spirit in Puritan theology and practice, with a discussion on the Puritan view of the spiritual gifts. Section five, “The Puritan Christian Life,” addresses their daily lives and worship by considering such topics as the Lord’s Day, Worship, and Family. Finally, section six, “The Puritans in Ministry,” addresses how the Puritans functioned in ministry by examining subjects such as preaching, evangelism, and revival.
While there is much to be said about such a rich and impactful book, I will limit myself to a few highlights for the purpose of this review. This book plainly reveals the depth of knowledge that Packer had about the Puritans. His sections on John Owen and Richard Baxter, in particular, seem to be the fruit of a lifetime of reading and reflection. Packer also does much to dispel the Puritan’s unfortunate stereotype as cold, stuffy, uptight, ivory-tower theologians. On the contrary, he depicts them in a deeply humanizing way, showing both their incredible feats intellectually and pastorally while not shying away from many of their faults.
My favorite part of the book was Chapter 8, “Saved by His Precious Blood.” In my mind, this single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. This chapter was originally published as an introduction to John Owen’s classic book on Limited Atonement The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This essay is, in my opinion, the single greatest introduction to Calvinistic theology I’ve ever read. In a concise, powerful, biblical, and winsome way, Dr. Packer articulates the doctrines of grace while reflecting on the important work of John Owen, arguably the greatest Puritan theologian, regarding Limited or Definite Atonement.
I am convinced that the Puritans were one of the greatest generations of Christians in church history. This is not to say they were perfect; indeed, far from it. Rather, these were men who knew their God deeply, served Him vigorously, proclaimed Him boldly, and still speak today through their extant writings. Dr. Packer has done the church an incredible service by writing yet another fantastic book that introduces us to these “Redwoods” as he called them. If you are an admirer of the Puritans, this is an absolute must-read. If you aren’t (yet), pick up this book, and become one. Regardless, if you are looking for a book to inform your mind with God’s truth, warm your heart with accounts of God’s faithfulness, and inspire courage in you to serve Christ with all of your life, read this book.