Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Read a Good Book Lately?

We should stop writing so many books.  I am only semi-serious, but I think that I am wasting a good deal of valuable time.  Joe Thorn alluded to this over at his blog in this post .  I want to expound upon the theme.

One of the things that we pride ourselves on is creative thought.  Creative thought is good.  I promote creative thought.  I am, after all, a Blogger.  But when it comes to theology, I certainly do not spend my time attempting to come up with ‘innovative’ concepts.  If I did, I would worry about what I had come up with.

I am afraid that many of us spend our time re-inventing the wheel.  As I surf the blogs, I find common themes popping up again and again.  Law/ Grace, anyone?  How about a good tussle over Calvinism?  I’ve got one!  How about credo-baptism versus paedo-baptism?  

There is truly nothing new under the sun, as the Preacher so astutely points out in Ecclesiastes.  The Auburn Avenue controversy is nothing new.  The baptism controversy is nothing new.  The Law/Grace discussion is nothing new.  The doctrine of election and predestination is nothing new.  You get the point.

So why, then, do we think that the only place to get answers are out of “new” books?  Old books are like beautiful antiques.  Truly, they just don’t make them like they used to.  Currently, I am reading Samuel Bolton’s (1606-1654) The True Bounds of Christian Freedom.  What a fantastic book!  Do you want a challenging book on Pastoral ministry?  Don’t just go and grab MacArthur’s latest.  Grab The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (1615-1691).  He’ll let you know what a lazy Cretan you are far better than MacArthur does.  How about a systematic theology?  Try Calvin’s Institutes. Want a “meaty” devotional book?  How about The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded by John Owen (1616-1683)?  It will do for your soul what a personal trainer will do for your body.  Everything that was ever written that was any good was written in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  I’m kidding.

Pastors should already know what I am talking about.  People in the pew are, in my experience, almost completely ignorant of these classics.  Yes, we ought to read contemporary books.  I have a few living heroes.  (Though I must say that I am far more charitable towards people who are already dead.)  Each generation has to find its voice, and they have to express themselves in order to defend areas of orthodoxy that may be under attack.  But they don’t have to build a wagon to race to the arena:  our forefathers have already outfitted tanks for our disposal.  They had no cell phones, no regular phones, no internet, no cars, no radio, no TV, and apparently government was perfect back in those days.  They had far fewer distractions, and they spent their time wisely.  They examined doctrines like one would examine a diamond; they checked every facet and detail.  They were doctrinal artists.

Sometimes, they are flat boring.  But don’t let that deter you.  Read a classic.  It’ll be worth it.


brother terry said...

Art is the key.

Anyone can preach a good sermon, but how many can be so intimately familiar with the text that they prepare a feast for the soul?

These are true craftsmen.

I feel like such a hack next to them!

Waterfall said...

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books...We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century ... the blindness about which posterity will ask, 'But how could they have thought that?' ... lies where we have never suspected it ... None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course that there is any magic about the past. , . People were no cleverer then than they are now, they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes." (C.S. Lewis, from "On the Reading of Old Books").

pilgrim said...

Ah, my downfall, books.

I like R.C. Sproul's advice, which is to read works by authors from throughout Church history. He advises this to guard against the prevalent errors of each age.

ThirstyDavid said...

Boy, do I agree. I'm a big fan of MacArthur and Sproul, and I've appreciated a few other contemporary books. I've just begun reading the Puritans, and I know why most people don't read them anymore: it's work. There is so much solid content that you really have to make an effort to digest it. People today are to lazy to read anything that requires much effort to understand. It's a brand new discipline for me, and one I'm glad I've found.

Mike Perrigoue said...

The Puritans. I want to read them...but I guess I'm afraid to find out my brain can't handle their depth, like it can handle the brain candy of Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur...

I'll give it a go, though...

Any suggestions for my first Puritan book?

pilgrim said...

Check out Stephen Charnock.
Anything by him.
He's one of the more accessible Puritans--he's not watered down, just a different style than most.

Also check out John Flavel's "Method of Grace" (The title refers to the Holy Spirit-but the book's ultimately about Jesus Christ)