Tag: Reading

The Importance of Devotional Reading for Pastors and Theologians

As a pastor, I make theological reading a priority. The truth contained in these books informs my teaching and writing, undergirds and permeates my counseling, and enables me to discern harmful doctrinal trends that may be influencing my people and the greater church.

Earlier this year I read The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham and Inerrancy and the Gospels Vern Poythress. These were followed by Ladd’s The Blessed HopeBiblical Hermeneutics: Five Viewsedited by Stanley Porter and Beth Stovall and The Pastor-Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. I am currently reading  Sam Storms’ treatise on amillennialism, Kingdom Come and just finished Steve Wellum’s excellent book in the Five Solas series, Christ Alone. I also recently finished Barrett’s book in the same series, God’s Word Alone as well as Trueman’s Grace Alone. Peter Gentry’s little book Reading and Understanding the Biblical Prophets was helpful, and I am looking forward to tackling Matt Waymeyer’s response to amillennialism, Amillennialism and the Age to Come in the near future (no pun intended). Continue reading “The Importance of Devotional Reading for Pastors and Theologians”

Pray About What Books to Read

I once heard Iain Murray suggest in an interview that Christians should ask the Lord to guide them in what books to read. When I first heard this comment several years ago, I thought it interesting but unrealistic. Recently I’ve become convinced he is entirely right, and for two specific reasons.

First, the process of reading and seeking knowledge is an intimately spiritual exercise. Scripture has taught me and experience confirms that one is only able to attain true knowledge as he is walking in the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:7). Fear of the Lord requires that we read reverently (relying upon God’s Word) and humbly (not for the praise of men). Continue reading “Pray About What Books to Read”

An Old Testament Precedent for Daily Bible Reading

I love this passage from Deuteronomy 17:18-20:  

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Notice that the king is to have an approved copy of the law and read it all the days of his life so that (1) he may learn to fear the Lord; (2) obey His law; (3) may not become proud and look down on his brothers; (4) persevere in keeping the commandments; (5) not compromise.  All this from the daily reading of God’s Word.

Photo: Patrick Fore

Don't Have Time to Read?

Brothers we are not profFor those of you who love to read, want to read, but don’t have time to read, take this encouraging word from John Piper’s book, Brother’s, We are Not Professionals 

We think we don’t have time to read.  We despair of reading anything spiritually rich and substantial because life seems to be lived in snatches.  One of the most helpful discoveries I have made is how much can be read in disciplined blocks of twenty minutes a day.

Suppose that you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do).  This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words.  An average book has about four hundred words to a page.  So you can read about twelve-and-a-half pages in twenty minutes.  Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year.  That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages.  Assume that an average book is 250 pages long.  This means you could read fifteen book like that in one year.

Or take a longer classic like Calvin’s Institutes (fifteen hundred pages in the Westminster edition).  At twenty minutes a day and 250 words a minute and six days a week, you could finish it in twenty-five weeks.  Then Augustine’s City of God and B.B. Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible could be finished before the year’s end.

This astonishing discovery freed me from the paralysis of not starting great, mind-shaping, heart-enriching books because I lacked big blocks of time.  It turns out that I don’t need long periods of time in order to read three masterpieces in one year!  I needed twenty minutes a day, six days a week. (66-67)

Don’t despise building in small increments. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in only 20 minutes at a time. And this approach can help you make progress in other disciplines, such as writing.

Why More Theology Books?

Cross and Salvation 2.pngIsn’t it redundant and a waste of time to continue to read and write more theology books?  Don’t we already have enough that should last us for, say, the next 150 years?  Didn’t Calvin nail it with his Institutes?  Come on, let’s get on to something more worthwhile…

And so the comments go. Perhaps you’ve heard them, too.  Perhaps you’ve thought them. Bruce Demarest, in his systematic theology on the doctrine of salvation, The Cross and Salvation, helps us navigate through such an issue.  In fact, he poses the question himself:

Why another series of works on evangelical systematic theology?  This is an especially appropriate question in light of the fact that evangelicals are fully committed to an inspired and inerrant Bible as their final authority for faith and practice.  But since neither God nor the Bible change, why is there need to redo evangelical systematic theology? (xv)

Demarest seeks to answer that question by pointing us to the reality that in each era, there are specific issues that face the church and must be dealt with.  He continues,

….whereas the task of biblical theology is more to describe biblical teaching on whatever topics Scripture addresses, systematics should make a special point to relate its conclusions to the issues of one’s day.  This does not mean that the systematician ignores the topics biblical writers address.  Nor does it mean that theologians should warp Scripture to address issues it never intended to address.  Rather it suggests that in addition to expounding what Biblical writers teach, the theologian should attempt to take those biblical teachings (along with the biblical mindset) and apply them to issues that are especially confronting the church in the theologian’s own day.  For example, 150 years ago, an evangelical theologian doing work on the doctrine of man would likely have discussed issues such as the creation of man and the constituent parts of man’s being.  Such a theology might even have included a discussion about human institutions such as marriage, noting in general the respective roles of husbands and wives in marriage.  However, it is dubious that there would have been any lengthy discussion with various viewpoints about the respective roles of men and women in marriage, in society, and in the church.  But at our point in history and in light of the feminist movement and the issues it has raised even among many conservative Christians, it would be foolish to write a theology of man…without a thorough discussion of the issue of the roles of men and women in society, at home, and the church. (xvi)

So why more theology books?  Because the church will always need to bring the light of timeless, Biblical truth to shine on the issues of today.  Far from a waste of time, the writing and reading of new (good) theology books is a noble endeavor that will enable and motivate us to diligently apply God’s Word to our lives and the lives of others. So “Take up and read”…and write.

Study Devotionally

Last week I was asked to give the devotional in our Basics of Biblical Greek class at seminary. I chose the text from 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul exhorts Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and those who hear you.” I encouraged all of us, as we are being equipped for ministry, to labor to avoid the fatal (and I mean fatal) mistake of studying functionally instead of studying devotionally.

In order to “Pay close attention to [ourselves],” we must take our studying seriously, and by this I mean that we must always be primarily seeking to study for the sake of our souls , so that our preaching, teaching, and overall ministry will be an overflow of our relationship with Christ, instead of something fabricated and conjured up by mere gathering of information to give to others. In order to highlight and illustrate this truth, I read a portion from Shepherding God’s Flock by Jay Adams:

While fixing the shoes of others, the shoemaker’s own soles may wear through…It is so easy for the minister, in spite of Paul’s warning (I Timothy 4:14-16), in becoming a servant to the flock, to neglect himself. This may be remedied by continually remembering that he must glorify God and by recognizing that there is a proper self-concern that ultimately is for the benefit of the whole congregation. At the bottom of all problems of preaching and pastoral effort, there is always one basic deficiency: the deficiencies of the pastor/teacher himself. Our churches will hear better preaching only when it is done by better preachers; the congregation will receive better shepherding only when it is done by better shepherds. How vital it is not only for his own sake, but for everyone else as well, for a pastor to cultivate and sustain a vital relationship with God.

One great temptation, for instance, is for the minister to read Scriptures only in terms of sermons and ministry. Since he must preach to others, counsel with others, and in a dozen different ways minister from the Book to someone else, it is not hard for the minster to neglect the sort of reading that is calculated to penetrate his own heart and affect his life. Couple that with the problem that the seminary graduate faced every time that he studies a passage of Scripture; how can he read the English Bible “devotionally” when he wonders what the Greek or Hebrew and the commentaries have to say about the passage? If he does not reach for his study aids, he is troubled; if he does, he has ceased to worship. What is the way out of this dilemma?

One answer that has commended itself to many men is to stop divorcing personal “devotions” (as they are usually called) from study. Instead, the minister must develop a new practice of studying devotionally. When he studies for his sermons, his general reading, or whatever the occasion may be, he will study first with the aim of personal application leading to personal worship and prayer. Thus the meaning of a Greek verb tense understood for the first time may lead to praise and thanksgiving or perhaps conviction of sin and confession…Such study, that snags the life of the man as he works, that buffets and refines and shapes the student, eventuates in a different sort of preaching and teaching of the Scriptures. The man who studies first with his own relationship to God in view is a man who will preach more vitally to the lives of others (pgs. 23-24).

From having experienced the ill-effects of heartless, functional study, I would say that this is not an optional aspect of the ministry–it is a matter of spiritual life and death. If we constantly deflect truth from God’s Word onto those we are ministering to rather than absorbing it ourselves, we will dry up and be blown away – either by the trials of ministry or by disqualifying sin–because we never drank the water we were giving to others.

Photo: Aaron Burden

Studying Scripture and Theology for the Right Reasons

In the introduction to Marriage to a Difficult Man, John Piper writes,

Edwards made it plain in his preaching and in his living that he believed great thoughts about God without great love towards people are sure evidences of hypocrisy and the pathway to hell.  For Edwards there was no separating high views of God and the demands of husband and father.  The link was Edwards’ grasp of the religious affections.  For him feeling and thinking were inseparable because God’s glory was only half-reflected in right thinking.  The other half shone in right feeling.  Therefore, Edwards measured holiness, especially his own, with attention to the humble emotions and not just high thoughts.  This had profound affect on his relationships.

This is one great thing I want to learn from Edwards.  I desire that all theology I embrace make me a better husband and a better father” (xiv).

O how I need to learn from this!  I don’t want to consume myself with study and high thoughts about God without love toward Christ and mankind!  My studying should make me a better husband, a better friend, a better employee, a better churchman, a better son, brother and uncle. Iain Murray, in Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography helps me with his insight into Edward’s private life:

Study and writing were not ends in themselves.  They were for the service of the gospel.  This brings us to what is most important of all in any understanding of Edwards private hours.  His view of his public work as a calling to speak to men in the name of God was inseparable from his conviction that the first demand in such a calling was that his own knowledge of of God should be personal and first hand” (142).

It changes everything when a shepherd of people studies with true love in his heart for the good of others and with an affection for God and Christ.  When I go to study with a desire to know Christ, not merely with my intellect, but with my heart as well, it has a tremendously positive impact on my whole life.  In fact, we learn from experience that love in our hearts is the only way to truly profit from studying.  Richard Sibbes, in the Bruised Reed, aptly observes,

And because knowledge and affection mutually help one another, it is good to keep up our affections of love and delight by all sweet inducements and divine encouragments; for what the heart likes best, the mind studies most.  Those that can bring their hearts to delight in Christ know most of his ways (103).

So when we open our books, let us make sure that our hearts are engaged along with our minds so that we might, through our growth in knowledge, love God and love people better.

Photo: Aaron Burden