“Puritans Portraits” by J.I. Packer (a review)

9781845507008Puritans Portraits, J.I. Packer on Selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics. Christian Focus (ebook edition), 2012.

J. I. Packer, one of the best Christian writers of many decades, has here written briefly about some of the best Christian pastors and authors of modern history — the puritans. As a devoted fan of the Puritans, I found this book to be a most valuable introduction (albeit brief) to these men and their ministries. Puritan Portraits will take many Christians who know little or nothing of these men or this wonderful era of history and tempt them to go and read more.

The book is divided into three major parts, first is a broad overview “Puritan Pastors at Work”, which provides many memorable statements. For instance, Packer captures much of the Puritan distinctive when he points out their “analytical thoroughness.” “This stemmed,” he continues, “from the Puritan understanding of the nature of Scripture on the one hand, and the condition of the members of their congregations on the other.” [location 298] Their thoroughness, in preaching and in writing, was balanced between clear exposition of biblical texts, and, systematic applications to several categories of hearers/readers.

The second division is “Puritan Pastors in Profile” featuring seven men in particular — Henry Scougal, Stephen Charnock, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Owen, John Flavel, and Thomas Boston. These chapters were once published as introductions to other individual books by those men, previously written by Dr Packer. This is very openly noted in this present volume, and the reader is gently encouraged to look for those other Christian Focus publications. The fact that these chapters once stood separately is not noticeable; the fact that they were introductions to specific writings (out of the many by most of those Puritans) is evident, and perhaps a shortcoming.

The final section, on William Perkins and Richard Baxter, is called “Two Puritan Paragons.” This is followed by an Epilogue, where Packer’s passion for the church and her well-being is clearly evident. He desires his readers not to simply be students of Christian history, but disciples who faithfully serve Christ in the present day (and for the sake of future generations). Packer’s warmth in this regard is evident in most all of his writings — he is one author worthy of this pastor’s endorsement: read everything you can by this man. Another of Packer’s books specifically on the puritans, is very highly commended: The Quest For Godliness, Crossway Books, 1994.

I am so thankful that Christian Focus has produced this book (in multiple formats) — as well as those individual puritan works its discusses. [Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for doing a review.] In its e-book format this book was easy to navigate and read. Several graphics (images of other book covers) appear clearly. One typo was noticed (at the end of the table of contents). Dr. James I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals alive by Time Magazine.

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