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February 21, 2018

Canadian Christians: Dwarfs, Deadheads or Douglas Firs?

It’s really encouraging to see all of the good and godly resources that are available to Canadian Christians today.

Consider what a blessing it is to have Tim Challies writing and  resourcing us, assisting in the discipleship of Christians all over the world. There are new initiatives like The Gospel Coalition Canada getting off the ground that intend to help Canadian churches grow in depth and unity. Good publishers print more books than mere mortals can attempt to read.

But for all of our resources, when we look at ourselves with a properly Canadian self-criticism, we can see that we’re not really where we ought to be in spiritual maturity. Our churches could be so much sounder, our prayers could be more frequent, our witness could be more winsome and consistent and our thoughts of God more clear and honouring to Him.

As usual, JI Packer has crafted a perfect picture of the contrast between first, what we look like today, and second, what we could aspire to under God’s grace.

Dwarfs and Deadheads

First of all, Packer says that the contemporary church is so affected by affluence that it has been making, “dwarfs and deadheads of us all.” [1]

With gospel-centred this, and grace-based that, it is jolting to think that we’re not really very far along. It can sober us up to think that our misplaced priorities, worship of glass ‘screens’ and affluent anxieties have kept us stunted.  All of these God-centred resources are helpful, and we should praise God for the blessing of them. But we need to be careful about being too big for our britches. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4.6).

One of the graces which God gives, is the memory of faithful believers who have gone before us. The biblical summary of this practice is found in Hebrews 11 where the author reminds his readers of the example of believers who have gone before them. Their historical example is intended to be a ‘useable past’ to encourage renewed faith and obedience.


That was Packer’s second point in the contrast.  If we are dwarfs and deadheads, we need to look at some examples of folks who weren’t.  So Packer turned to the English Puritans. In doing so, he crafted one of the most picturesque descriptions of Christian maturity which has come down to us:

On a narrow strip of the northern California coastline grow the giant Redwoods, the biggest living things on earth. Some are over 360 feet tall, and some trunks are more than 60 feet round. They do not have much foliage for their size; all their strength is in those huge trunks, with foot-thick bark, that rise sheer for almost half their height before branching out. Some have actually been burned, but are still alive and growing. Many hundreds of years old, over a thousand in some cases, the Redwoods are (to use a much-cheapened word in its old, strict, strong sense) awesome. They dwarf you, making you feel your smallness as scarcely anything else does. Great numbers of Redwoods were thoughtlessly felled in California’s logging days, but more recently they have come to be appreciated and preserved, and Redwood parks are today invested with a kind of sanctity. A 33-mile road winding through Redwood groves is fittingly called the Avenue of the Giants.

California’s Redwoods make me think of England’s Puritans, another breed of giants who in our time have begun to be newly appreciated. Between 1550 and 1700 they too lived unfrilled lives in which, speaking spiritually, strong growth and resistance to fire and storm were what counted.

Packer then summarized the appeal of this kind of maturity which the Puritans had:

As Redwoods attract the eye, because they overtop other trees, so the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans shine before us as a kind of beacon light, overtopping the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string.

Douglas Firs

In Canadian churches we can pray that we would grow more like Redwoods and less like deadheads, as we seek to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our own needy generation. Maybe a Canadian way to think about this Puritan-like goal would be to swap the picture of Redwoods for Douglas Firs.

Just stop and imagine what it could be like if local churches in Canada were filled with people who were like spiritual Douglas Firs. Not one or two “Big Lonely Dougs” (like the tallest one in Port Renfrew), but a spiritual forest of godly people, with new and old growth climbing skyward. We know it will only happen if our churches send their roots deep, and we withstand many trials of wind and fire. But let us hope and pray that God would grow the church in Canada “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4.13).

[1] J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 11–12.

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About Clint Humfrey

Pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I'm married with three sons. Views expressed on this blog are my own.