“The most determinative moral formation most people have in our society is when they learn to play baseball, basketball, quilt, cook or learn to lay bricks.”
I thought of these words by the Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas as I got off the plane just now. Leaving Vancouver very early this morning, I flew to Chicago, and changed planes there back home to Washington. One of the last to get on the plane, I did not see J.I. Packer until he got up from his seat two rows in front of me, and walked into the terminal at O’Hare.
When I could reach him, I said, “Dr. Packer?” He turned, and smiled. After a greeting, he looked more closely at me, “Steve, you’re getting older… but then, so am I.” We both smiled.
The last two days I have been at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, exploring a potential partnership for The Washington Institute. Perhaps you know of Regent, perhaps you don’t. But in my judgment they have become one of the finest graduate programs in the world, studying the relation of theology to life. Founded by James Houston in the early 1970s, leaving his 25-year faculty position at Oxford for a dream, a few years later he invited his good friend Jim Packer to join him.
Many others eventually came, and thousands of students joined in from all over the world, each one in their own different way longing to understand more fully the meaning of what they believed for the way that they lived. Every Regent alum I have ever met—whether they were there a year, three years, or even a summer –was genuinely grateful and deeply formed by their experience of its life and learning.
I could say much more, but not here.
What I will say is that Packer has been shaping my soul for most of my life. I have read and re-read his work, and without ever trying, I have memorized paragraphs that he has written. For years I have chosen to learn from him, listening carefully, watching closely, paying attention to the way that he sees the world. And while I have taken his books into my heart, I have had the gift of learning the deepest, truest lessons from him, the ones we learn over-the-shoulder, through-the-heart—like playing baseball and laying bricks.
Dr. Packer is a very great man, in a wonderfully simple way. And now he is older, as am I.