J. I. Packer
Reviewed by: Allen D. Curry
Date posted: 12/14/2014
Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging, by J. I. Packer. Crossway, 2014. Paperback, 106 pages, list price $9.99. Reviewed by OP minister Allen D. Curry.
In an earlier review, I wondered why the editor asked a retired grandfather to review a book on pop culture. I have no doubts about why he asked me to review Finishing Our Course with Joy. Note the subtitle: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging.
Packer begins by suggesting three things that should characterize aging: living for God one day at a time, living in the present moment, and living ready to go when Christ calls.
He contrasts his outlook with that of contemporary culture. The world "prescribes self-indulgence and irresponsibility as the goal of one's declining years" (p. 29). This "agenda as a whole turns out to be a recipe for isolating oneself and trivializing one's life, with apathetic boredom becoming one's default mood day after day" (p. 30).
Packer recognizes the decline in physical functions. As the body ages, it becomes the source of pain and discouragement, which leads seniors to see the body as the opponent of well-being.
As a corrective to this view, the author explains briefly the Bible's view that we are "psychophysical units, embodied souls who are also ensouled bodies" (p. 38).
Originally, body and soul were united forever, but sin came into the world with death as a consequence. As a result, physical decline is a given that sinful pride refuses to accept.
Packer argues that Satan convinces seniors that secular retirement should prevail in the church. He counters that seniors "behave as though spiritual gifts and ministry skills wither with age. But they don't; what happens, rather, is that they atrophy with disuse" (p. 64).
The apostle Paul requires us to run the race set before us (1 Cor. 9:24–27). The author calls for seniors to rediscover Christian hope as a way to keep on the course God has set for us—"recovering and reappropriating this hope is a prime task for us who are aging today" (p. 84).
One could wish that the author gave more explicit directions on how the church can assist individuals in avoiding being sucked into the cultural vortex of self-centeredness. The book is long on analysis and calls for change, but short on ideas about what seniors can and should do.
I can add my personal testimony to the deep joy and satisfaction that comes to a retired professor whom God has allowed to serve in a number of interim pastorates. My energy level is not what it was when I was twenty-five, but I'm glad I'm not consigned to my rocking chair or golf four days a week. To Packer's thesis I can offer a hearty amen.