Reviewed by Edgar Johnston
Are you a believer in Christ who is 65 plus? Are you a vet (you’ve been in the battle against the flesh, the world and the devil for a while)? This helpful book by J. I Packer will give you added spiritual energy and wisdom for “engaging in aging.”
In chapter one (We Grow Old) Packer divides us (at least those whose minds and bodies are still in relatively good working order) into 3 groups, the “younger olds” (65-75), the “medium olds” (75-85), and the “oldest olds” (85 plus). Even with our faculties intact this battle is not for wimps. Aging brings additional issues to the Christian’s warfare. How can we continue to live to the glory of God and for the good of his kingdom?
In chapter two (Soul and Body) the author wisely recommends balanced ways of looking at the issues, for example, increasing weakness versus spiritual maturity. Instead of “relax and be entertained,” he advises, “run flat out” until Christ comes.
His recommendations are, of course, contrary to those of the modern retirement culture and its pernicious world-view. The world wants us to disengage and enjoy (= be entertained); Packer points us to the marvelous purpose of the body – we live in and through our bodies to manage God’s creation and enrich our lives here and now.
In chapter three (Keeping Going) Packer addresses the truth that Seniors continue pursuing holiness and engaging in trials. Both God and Satan have different agendas – either to destroy us, or to help us develop under pressure as we use the resources we are given in Christ. To help us here Packer advises us to continually study the word of God and to engage in leading. His view of leading is very helpful because it involves all believers using their influence to help others in all kinds of ways. In my view this is a function of the ruling task given to Adam in the garden. Rule is kingdom influence and ministry. In addition, Packer points out how this is training for future leadership (Matt 25:23). Present rule trains for future rule. We should no more expect disengagement now than we should in the final kingdom of Christ.
In chapter four (We Look Forward) Packer wisely points to the function of hope and its nature in Scripture. Our hope, the restoration of the creation, is a bodily hope and a permanent one – contrasted to the hope of the world which he shows are all short-termed. It is this hope which should fuel our battle against aging and remaining sin.
The church can be grateful for this latest book from the hands of Dr. Packer. We bless him and consider ourselves blessed because of his life-long ministry. May this little volume be greatly used of God to help his aging people.
I would like to add only one thing. Dr. Packer has chosen not to address older believers who are enfeebled by dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. There is no doubt plenty of guidance along those lines elsewhere. I only want to add a personal experience I had several years ago. A good friend had had a stroke which began severely disabling her. When she went to her doctor she asked him a startling question – “When will I be a non-person?” Since she related this to me I told her that she was made in the image of God and was his own child in Christ. So whatever came into her bodily experience, God promised that he would not leave her or forsake her. Within six months she was in the presence of Christ, as was her husband.
Edgar Johnston is professor of Bible at Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia.
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Finishing Our Course with Joy