As soon as I had rung up the older man with the white hair, British accent, and a twinkle in his eye, and he left my dad’s bookstore, my dad told me who he was.
“That was John White,” he said, in awed tones, “the author of The Tower of Geburah.” Even as a teenage girl, above it all, I was impressed. I wasn’t the fantasy fan that my brother or dad were (my dad had read the book and its sequels mostly to him). But I was aware of White’s prominence as an author, having stocked his nonfiction books many times on InterVarsity Press’s swivel rack. Besides, we received precious few celebrities at the Covenant Bookstore on the North end of Winnipeg. (White, an Englishman, was at that time a psychiatry professor at a local university.)
When IVP came out with their Signature Collection of classics from their archives, with new covers and introductions, I knew I wanted to read White’s The Fight, which came out in 1976. (Between fall 2019 and fall 2023, IVP will release Signature Collection editions of 27 books and 13 Bible studies that represent a wide range of authors, topics, and genres, including Basic Christianity, by John Stott; Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World, by Rebecca Manley Pippert; and The Next Worship, by Sandra Maria Von Opstal.)
The book sold over 300,000 copies in its day and influenced a generation as a guide to the basics of Christian living: faith, prayer, temptation, evangelism, guidance, Bible study, interpersonal relationships, and work. Tom Lin, the president of InterVarsity Fellowship, writes in his foreword about how the book influenced him. “I highlighted dozens and dozens of sentences—unexpected metaphors that still inform the way I share my faith. Paradigms that still fuel my prayers. Insights that convicted me then and convict me now.”
As I read, I also highlighted dozens of sentences—and marveled at White’s sage insights and exquisite writing. The Fight reads like a classic, and not just a classic from the 1970s but from farther back in time. Born in 1924, in England, White had a lyrical, timeless way of putting age-old truths into accessible language, beginning with a review of what happens to the believer at their conversion:
“Your justification is both a heavenly event and a time space event.”
On prayer: “You live on the surface of your life while Deep calls to deep.”
He also challenges public prayer at restaurants and using “in the name of Jesus” and even the word “Amen.”
On witnessing (which he calls being a “signpost”): Be as real as possible because “the truth itself is infinitely more powerful than the filtered version of the truth that your vanity might prefer.”
On faith: “Faith is the means by which Christians do business beyond time and space and bring to pass otherwise unrealizable hopes.”
Chapters have winsome titles such as “On Being a Signpost” and “His Infernal Majesty,” the latter referring to Satan, who accuses us constantly. “You drink your morning coffee with a tablespoon of denunciation and do your day’s work against a background of accusation muzak.”
Imaginative sentences such as “Hobgoblins and foul fiends are jumpy creatures” remind the reader that White, like C.S. Lewis, wrote fantasy as well as Christian living books.
Overall, the book has aged beautifully, with a couple of exceptions where his views on the role of women and men, for example, seem a bit dated.
With study questions at the end of each chapter, The Fight is ideal for small groups, spiritual directors, and those who are discipling others in the faith. It serves as a primer for new Christians and a refresher course for seasoned believers. For almost 50 years, John White’s classic has bolstered and encouraged readers to fight the good fight. I closed the book grateful for the memories it stirred and even more so heartened and strengthened by its powerful teaching. (IVP)