J. I. Packer’s Advice To Aspiring Writers

J. I. Packer turns 86 on Sunday. He is a skilled writer, and many of his works have become classics, none more so than Knowing God.

In my interview with him in Vancouver, I asked him for writing advice, or more specifically, what he would say to a budding writer of Christian nonfiction. He offered three points:

  1. Go deep in personal worship.
  2. Write to hit hearts.
  3. Write from a sense of calling.

He explains and expands these points in this 9-minute video clip:

Transcribed Excerpts

“There are writers who think that simply by crisp, orthodox formulations of Bible truth and wisdom, without any searching application to the reader, they are fulfilling the full role of a Christian writer and that nothing more is required of them. That I do not believe to be so. There are enough people around already who can verbalize orthodoxy on paper. What we haven’t got is writers who can join truth and wisdom about God from the Scriptures with personal communication — communication that hits the heart, that makes you realize that this writer is a person talking to other persons, that this writer is trying to search me in order to help me, and I must let him do it. There is a certain art and craft in writing in such a way that it gets to the reader’s heart. I think sometimes God has enabled me to do that in things that I have written. It isn’t accident, it is something that I have been trying to do, and shall go on trying to do. So I would say to my budding writer, this is a craft you must learn.”

“J. C. Ryle was a wonderful communicator. Most of his work is written up sermons, but even when he’s just doing historical studies and not writing sermons at all, he never lets the reader off the hook. Always you feel, ‘he is talking to me.’ His idiom is very 19th century, and I’m not saying imitate that. But see what he’s doing with words to get into the minds and hearts of his readers. And then do that in 21st century terms.”