In the past day news has filtered through that Warren W. Wiersbe has gone home to be with the Saviour whom he loved, and whose name he published on the hearts of many people. At a time his name was synonymous with popular Bible commentary, and scores of students at the Irish Baptist College were found out for copying his outlines, or pithy sayings. His influence was as wide as the world, and he appears to have adopted a deliberately irenic approach to theological fault lines, preferring instead to make sure that the main thing made a lasting impression on those who mattered most – ordinary believers in ordinary churches with a thirst for better Bible knowledge.
My life is marked by significant encouragements from Wiersbe’s work. At age 17 a friend gave me a copy of his Be Wise commentary on 1Corinthians. I worked right through the Bible book and Wiersbe’s comments, and for the first time discovered the joy of understanding a section of Scripture for myself. As a young pastor an older minister gave me his copy of Confident Pastoral Leadership, and its contents did more to encourage me and protect me from ‘school boy’ errors than any other. Later, at a time of significant crisis I read his The Bumps are what you climb on and his commentary on Nehemiah back to back. They disarmed me with their plain approach, with their pastoral heart, and with the sense of fraternity that the author managed to embody in the written word. Most recently a large cohort of people in Millisle Baptist read through the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan and, although limited, his With the Word helped them to keep track of what they were reading and why.
Reading Wiersbe’s books makes it plain that he must have been a man with options. He had a keen eye for exegetical insight, for vivid expression, for theological points of contact, and for contemporary application. I have no doubt that he could have employed those powers in different directions, in more academically or intellectually aspirational ways, but he chose what I’ve come to think of as ‘the Wiersbe option’. Along with Jerry Bridges and J.I. Packer he harnessed his formidable gifting in the service of the church, setting aside self-aggrandisement and publicity in favour of edification. That has to have been the best choice.
In writing to Titus, the Apostle Paul sees himself as a slave to God, as an apostle for Christ, and he knows what the purpose of this is, ‘for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness’ (Titus 1:1). Warren Wiersbe embodied this same spirit, and I have no doubt that our present benefit is outstripped only by his reward in glory.
Wiersbe challenges me to see that any work not done in the service of God and his people is ultimately vain, that whatever powers God might give to his people, and whatever calling he might place on them, our time is never wasted in putting our arm around ordinary Christians and helping them along the path. This is now ‘the road less travelled’ in a culture brimming with self-proclamation, with the accruing of kudos from niche groups, and with the potential to become a ‘personality’. I want to use the virtues of Wiersbe’s approach to audit my own motives in ministry, my need to quell the restlessness that looks for more than the glorious task of teaching God’s people plain truth that they can hold in their hearts and apply to their lives. The Wiersbe option really is the very best to adopt – no capacity or aptitude is wasted when given to God for the good of his people.