Packer’s Dusty Discovery at Oxford in North Gate Hall

Guest post by Jason G. Duesing.

During J. I. Packer’s second year of undergraduate studies at Oxford, he was invited to serve as the junior librarian at the Christian Union student organization. Having been converted only a year earlier, Packer was new to the Union but, as he would soon discover, so were a recent donation of books. An octogenarian clergyman had recently concluded that he could no longer make use of his library and thus gave them to the Union who, upon receipt, proceeded to pile them in the basement of their meeting space in North Gate Hall for an unknown future. Thereafter, as is now famously told and retold, Packer discovered, as a nineteen-year-old, the works of the Puritan John Owen—and the evangelical world has not been the same since.

At the time of this discovery, Packer would later relate his life “was all over the place” emotionally and thus “God used [Owen] to save my sanity.” More than just sorting out Packer, his literal “recovery” of the Puritans would start a movement that not only would bring great and good revived interest in these evangelical forebears, but also would help provide an anchor to the Word of God during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s in the United Kingdom and abroad.

One could argue, that had not Packer discovered that box of books, his tremendously influential and life-altering works, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) and Knowing God (1973), may never have appeared—not to mention the republishing of the Works of John Owen themselves as well as many other volumes in the Puritan canon readily available today.[1] Truly this is an example of one man’s discarded tomes serving as another man’s lifelong treasure. [2]

[1] Leland Ryken, J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (Crossway, 2015), 265-267. https://books.google.com/books?id=4na0CgAAQBAJ&lpg=PT208&ots=ShlCXc2XPg&dq=oxford%20christian%20union%20north%20gate%20hall&pg=PT208#v=onepage&q&f=trueQ

This key event in Packer’s life is also told in Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer: A Biography (Baker, 1998). See also:https://jgduesing.com/packers-dusty-discovery-and-the-music-of-the-anabaptists-footnotes-from-the-fuller-conference/

[2] The location where this took place is North Gate Hall, St Michael’s St, Oxford OX1 2DU, UK https://goo.gl/maps/rZchrruiV8Q2

JASON G. DUESING (@JGDuesing) serves in academic leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author and editor of numerous books.

If you’re interested in exploring the writings of John Owen, but don’t know where to begin, Christian Focus has recently re-published several of his most important books in a more accessible format. You can purchase the set here. – GC

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