Twenty years ago, or more, J. I. Packer referred to modern western Christianity as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It is as true today as it was then, and his solution today is the same as his solution then; Packer calls us once again to study the Puritans. Then it was Among God’s Giants, today it is Puritan Portraits.
The Puritans are a misunderstood and often completely vilified group of men, so it takes someone like Packer, with both skill and grace, to write a book about them that manages to set the record straight, without feeling defensive or apologetic. As we have come to expect from him, Packer manages to do so much more here than just set the record straight. In the first section of the book he describes, in general terms with specific examples, the role of a Puritan pastor. It is an excellent essay in itself, pointing out that much of what we consider essential to Protestant ministry was brought to us from Puritan influence. I would recommend any man preparing for a vocation in ministry read at least the first section of this book.
The real strength of the work, however, lies in the remaining pages. Packer introduces us not just to a group of men, but to a specific publication of each one. Thorough biographies exist of each of these men, and this book does not try to duplicate that work. Instead it is a series of introductory essays written to whet a modern appetite for some of the literary and devotional gems produced by Puritan pastors. this is not a publication that can be read alone. Instead, at the end of each chapter, you will want to read the book or pamphlet or sermon Packer introduces. Fortunately for me, the Puritans lived a long time ago, and their work is available in the public domain, because my reading list just got a lot longer.
If you’re tired of living in a Christianity that is only an inch thick, J. I. Packer’s admonition is for you. Read the Puritans, and if you don’t know where to start, start here, with Puritan Portraits. It is deep, not in the sort of depth that drowns, but in the beauty of the depths that makes you want to dive in and swim deeper and deeper, because it is the depths of the Gospel.