The Greatest Foreword Writer in the History of the Christian Church

 | 
Share

To my knowledge, no one keeps tabulation on the number of Christians who have written forewords. But I imagine few have been more prolific at this task than J. I. Packer. And I am certain that few, if any, have done it so well.

To pick a random example, here is the latest Packer foreword I have read, commending and introducing a 2002 popular-level book by Paul Spilsbury entitled The Throne, The Lamb and the Dragon: A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation (IVP). It is classic Packer, packing his words carefully to give a summer of the book of Revelation and then explaining what this book attempts to do with it, all with enthusiasm but not hyperbole.

The Revelation to John is a visionary circular to churches in Asia Minor that announces itself as a book of prophecy.

Basic to it are the seven letters of assessment, admonition and encouragement that the Lord Jesus dictated to John, and that now make up chapters 2 and 3.

Each letter ends with a promise of ultimate glory for everyone who “overcomes” in the approaching conflicts.

Next comes a long series of visions—by turns fantastic, grotesque, horrific and sublime—in which all Christians are martyrs, all humanity tastes God’s wrath, and all the beauties of new heaven, new heaven and new Jerusalem are outlined.

Hymns of praise hold it all together in a kaleidoscope that is as deeply devotional as it is disturbing.

This is an apocalypse, of a kind that Jewish imaginations—Scripture-soaked, theologically fueled, disaster-driven—were producing long before Christ.

It is a picture book in which all the pictures are theological symbols, and some are pictures explaining other pictures.

Since we do not write such works today, interpreting Revelation became a sort of Christian puzzle corner, especially in the West where dispensational hermeneutics and millennial dreams made the brew headier.

But that should now be a thing of the past.

Older interpreters would identify “the scarlet woman” with the papacy, and from there work back over past history and forward to some form of millennium. Such views still exist. But scholarship has moved into a new era of apocalyptic appreciation, and Paul Spilsbury has creamed off much of its wisdom to nourish ordinary Bible lovers.

His work delights me, and not just because he is a former student of mine; he has got the hang of the book, and is on the right track with it all the way. (Whether I agree with every sentence is neither here nor there.) There are huge benefits to be gained from what he has written, and I heartily commend it.

Packer is also the master of the short theological biography—able to take the measure of a man, painting a concise and compelling picture. Here he is in 1985 describing D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

What a fascinating human being he was! Slightly built, with a great domed cranium, head thrust forward, a fighter’s chin and a grim line to his mouth, he radiated resolution, determination, and an unwillingness to wait for ever. A very strong man, you would say, and you would be right. You can sense this from any photograph of him, for he never smiled into the camera.

There was a touch of the old-fashioned about him: he wore linen collars, three-piece suits, and boots in public, spoke on occasion of crossing-sweepers and washerwomen, and led worship as worship was led a hundred years before his time.

In the pulpit he was a lion, fierce on matters of principle, austere in his gravity, able in his prime to growl and to roar as his argument required.

Informally, however, he was a delightfully relaxed person, superb company, twinkling and witty to the last degree. His wit was as astringent as it was quick and could leave you feeling you had been licked by a cow. . . .

For he was a saint, a holy man of God: a naturally proud person whom God made humble; a naturally quick-tempered person to whom God taught patience; a naturally contentious person to whom God gave restraint and wisdom; a natural egoist, conscious of his own great ability, whom God set free from self-seeking to serve the servants of God.

Or here is his description of Francis Schaeffer:

He was physically small, with a bulging forehead, furrowed brow, and goatee beard. Alpine knee-breeches housed his American legs, his head sank into his shoulders, and his face bore a look of bright abstraction. Nothing special there, you would think; a serious, resolute man, no doubt, maybe a bit eccentric, but hardly unique on that account.

When he spoke, his English though clear was not elegant, and his voice had no special charm; British ears found it harsh, and if stirred he would screech from the podium in a way that was hard to enjoy.

Nevertheless, what he said was arresting, however he might look or sound while saying it. It had firmness, arguing vision; gentleness, arguing strength; simple clarity, arguing mental mastery; and compassion, arguing an honest and good heart. There was no guile in it, no party narrowness, no manipulation, only the passionate persuasiveness of the prophet who hurries in to share with others what he himself sees.

For those who want to grow in clear writing and clear thinking, reading Packer regularly would be a good idea.

Share
Learn more about the relationship between TGC and the blogs we are honored to host.
LOAD MORE
Loading