“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Monday, October 10, 2005

What's On Your Bookshelf?

While I am not as prolific, or witty as many of the other bloggers that I so enjoy reading in blogsphere, I do enjoy this medium as a way to express concerns and ongoing issues within the modern church as I see them. I write from the perspective of a small church pastor (maybe one day a larger church pastor) :-)

I am not trying to portray myself as anything other than a pastor, and one that is still learning. However, having said that, you should know that I believe pastors should be theologians as well.

That title is not something that is acquired simply by having a sheepskin on a wall, nor by tenure. I believe that it is PRIMARILY acquired by having saturated yourself with the Word of God, and grappled with the hard questions, combined with diligent study of the writings of others who have grappled with the tough questions. Don't get me wrong, having tenure, and a degree from a SOLID Seminary, certainly contribute to this end, but they are not the sole attributes required.

I am not a 'professional' theologian; I do not possess a doctorate from a distinguished seminary, nor have I written any books on Theology. When I say a pastor should be a theologian, I am referring to the fact that he needs to have a solid, working knowledge of theology. And he should never stop reading, praying, and studying the Word. There are many people out there in this world that are more articulate, and insightful than me; I am really addressing the current trend whereby pastors today consider words such as theology and doctrine 'bad'. This is counter to what Paul wrote in his epistles to Timothy and Titus. The real bad is that theology and doctrine have taken a backseat to FUN and popularity, leading many down a path fraught with deception, and at its end, the gates of hell. The Messiah addressed this in Matthew 7.

Today I would like to address reading materials. This is primarily addressed to those in ministry, and as always are my opinions. Without further ado:

My primary reading sources, outside of Holy Scripture are, as Phil Johnson so eloquently says, 'A bunch of Dead Guys'.

I believe that there are few writers today who have thoughts as deep as, say, John Owen, or Jonathan Edwards. As a matter of fact, if you read Calvin's Institutes and nothing else, you would have a more solid grasp of Theology than if you graduated from many of the modern seminaries.

It is not that the last great writer passed on in the 18th century, go read Van Til, or Francis Shaeffer.

There are several 21st century writers such as, (not exhaustive) J. Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, James R. White, Philip Ryken, who are excellent. But even these excellent theologians and writers recognize and reference the works from our collective past, building upon this corpus of work, and not tearing it down in favor of some feel-good, Dr. Phil-derived pablum. Witness one example of good work here.

The problem with most 'modern' so-called Christian writers is that they believe somehow that they have 'discovered' something that EVERYONE else missed. And this 'secret' has nothing to do with God, but everything to do with US. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun! A few examples of this type of Christian pulp are, HAPPY LIFE!, or machismo Christianity.

Now, I am not going to go into what I believe is wrong with this type of writing, if it is not self evident, there are plenty of more seasoned, and knowledgeable writers who have dealt with this, such as here, and here.

This genre of writing, usually found under 'Self-Help' (an oxy-moron in a Christian Store IMHO), or Christian Living, in your nearest mega Christian bookstore is characterized by a man-centered theology, built by people with a superficial understanding of God's Word. This combined with the cavalier attitude towards the handling of the Word, (i.e. 'proof-texting galore'), makes for the equivalent of Christian junk food. It makes people spiritually fat and lazy; Christian couch potatoes!

Now some would say that these books were not written for the 'professional' Christian, i.e. theologians, pastors, but for the 'common' Christians (whatever that means!) I would counter with the fact that the Puritan writers were also writing to the common Christian. The difference is that the 'common' Christian in the 18th century is very UNCOMMON in today's society. As a matter of fact, some Puritan writings that were developed for young people are the very books that today are wrestled with in seminary. So, what a 16-year-old in, say 1676, would read, is now college or grad level reading material.

Nowadays, many pastors teach from such pulp as the aforementioned junk food, but that is not enough for some of them, they have had to reach into the realm of secular children's literature that is based upon witchcraft and fantasy to build their sermons. There are several churches that I am aware of that have built sermon series around Harry Potter!

Part of the problem is obvious; we have too much convenience at our fingertips. Why study to show myself approved (2nd Timothy 2:15) when I can pull up a website and 'cut and paste' into my sermon. Nowadays, you can even have the sermons completely done for you, such as here.

That appears to be what a recent sermon preached by a well-known SBC pastor was built around. This is a man who is called 'Doctor', yet his sermon was apparently built around another person's work, and the Scriptural texts used were actually not only out of context, but incorrectly quoted! No, I do not have a link to his sermon, I don't even want to give him the time of day by advertising his nonsense. I will say that throughout his sermon he not only misused the Word of God, and misrepresented others in the faith, he also denied his own statement of faith! So much for pastoral diligence and thoughtfulness!

Now, I am not condemning those who would assist, or otherwise write sermons for 'busy' pastors. I would much more question those 'busy' pastors as to what they are busy with? Is it their latest book, or a paid speaking engagement? Now, if you are at a larger church and have staff that can prepare and deliver sermons while you work on other things, that is fine, but to prioritize other work over feeding the flock that God has entrusted you with is unacceptable to me. Maybe I am a bit naive, or even myopic in my view, but what is more important than the care and feeding of the flock?

We are called to equip those under our care for works of ministry, not to be blowhards, self-promoters, and peddlers of the Word of God. It is time for pastors to return to their calling. It is time for us to critically look at what we are reading, what we are watching, and what we are saying. When we, as pastors, do that, the Church will rise about the filth of the world and actually be KADOSH (Holy)!

It is with that in mind that I circulated the enclosed list to my congregation this weekend, telling them to put away other books and reacquaint themselves with the Word. The list is not exhaustive, but a start. My prayer is that we will build UNCOMMON Christians for the work of ministry!


Bible Tools

Bible in several versions

Strong'’s Concordance

Bible Dictionary

Systematic Theology/Bible Doctrines
i.e. Millard Erickson's Christian Theology, Wayne Grudem's Bible Doctrines

Devotionals - (Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon)

Foxe'’s Book of Martyrs

Puritan Books
i.e. Precious Remedy'’s for Satan's Devices - Thomas Brooks, Holy Spirit - John Owen, http://www.puritansermons.com/index.htm




Ryan said...

Have you seen Ed Young's latest book?
YOU! The Journey to the Center of Your Worth.

Ray said...

PLEASE tell me y6ou are kidding!

Ray said...

I just went to their website... You were not kidding!

At least he's honest enough to write a book about the most important person in many 'Christians' lives...

Ryan said...

Would I lie to you?

Ephraim said...


Have read David Stearn's "Complete Jewish Bible"? It is an interesting work with many insights, and has helped me with a number of scriptures that have been translated "one way" for so long, most folks think that's what was said.

A good addition to the library.


Ray said...

Yes, I do have that book... It is good, as I said, the list is not exhaustive... I also have a very good Haftorah. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text English Translation and Commentary.

Ephraim said...

Yeah, I got a copy of Irving Stone's Tanach a few years back. Very nice. As I'm learning the Hebrew language, I check my progress by how well I can find words and read sentences on the Hebrew side of the text, then compare it to the English side. I'm not thrilled about their English translation, but, it's not as bad as some of what I've seen over the years.
One of the things I found to be interesting was how the Ashteroth poles with the sun images on the top have been translated commonly as "molten images", rather than the specific sun worshipping instruments that they really were. Which is unfortunate as that provides a convenient disconnect between what was practiced then and what is practiced today.