I have been thinking recently of influences. Who are the people who have had an impact on my life, thinking and preaching? Most preachers have a role model or two. Sometimes these role models are followed consciously and deliberately, others have been absorbed into our formation almost by osmosis.
One of my influences was Jim Packer, whose memorial service was broadcast last week. I remember as a teenager buying a copy of Packer’s Knowing God for £1.
It provided a breadth of vision concerning God that I had not encountered before.
As a young pastor it seemed that Packer wrote significant books on the key issues I was facing, including the authority of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, and a measured reflection on charismatic experience in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit. It was not merely what he wrote but how he wrote it. “Packer by name and Packer by nature,” is what people said about Packer’s writing. He had a remarkable ability to compress information into beautifully written books full of distilled wisdom. In Knowing God, I encountered profound theology made accessible, big ideas expressed with careful precision and a vivid imagination.
Talking about imagination, it came as no surprise that when Packer was asked to name the five books that had made the most impact on his life he chose (along with books by John Calvin, John Owen and JC Ryle) Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Packer grasped that in order to communicate it was vital to have both clear thinking and imaginative presentation of that thinking.
“If you are going to be a speaker or a writer, you need to cultivate words and ways of talking … combining logic and imagination at the same time. God made me a communicator … invoking thought and imagination … this has become second nature.” (Jim Packer in a video interview on his life)
This is a man who thought great thoughts about God but who was delighted by the whole of God’s world: great stories, cricket, jazz and steam trains.
In Knowing God, I found a vison of a God who is big enough to worship with heart, soul, mind and strength. Packer painted a portrait of a God who invited me to know him and to make him known. God is the great communicator and he wants us to be communicators too.
I was always taken by Packer’s comment that “… the Bible is God speaking.”
The whole Bible is a sermon from God to us that helps us to see that he is the centre of everything from “In the beginning …” to the great “Amen.”
In the video interview on his life, Packer spoke of the influence Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whom he first heard on Sunday evenings at Westminster Chapel. Packer comments on Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, “He made the Bible talk!”
Isn’t that exactly what preachers are called to do? Leave some room in the sermon for the text of Scripture to shine. The problem is that so often preachers have so much to say that God cannot get a word in edgeways.
Packer speaks in the interview of how Lloyd-Jones’s preaching developed his idea of the impact of the sermon and the way the sermon ought to make it. The end result of the sermon is to leave you with Christ and Christ’s call.
All of this is great advice for the preacher:
Think great thoughts about God.
Cultivate an imaginative use of words.
Let the Bible talk.
Leave room for God to speak.
Showcase the beauty and sufficiency of Christ.
And seek the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit.