Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books

Today Dr Al Mohler, one of the brightest men around, put these thoughts up on his website. As an avid reader myself, I can confirm his strategy is a good one — reading books in several categories, tackling large sets bit by bit, etc. May God bless your resolve to grow your mind — and your life — through reading in the coming year! pdb

I cannot really remember when I did not love to read books. I do know that I was very eager to learn to read, and that I quickly found myself immersed in the world of books and literature. It may have been a seduction of sorts, and the Christian disciple must always be on guard to guide the eyes to books worthy of a disciple’s attention—and there are so many.
1335451_40273159
As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading. Devotional reading for spiritual profit is an important part of the day, and that begins with the reading of Scripture. In terms of timing, I am somewhat unorthodox. My best time for spending time in the Word is late at night, when all is calm and quiet and I am mentally alert and awake. That is not the case when I first get up in the mornings, when I struggle to find each word on the page (or anything else, for that matter).

In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. (Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here). I remember the books; do you remember the games?

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and it also keeps me working across several disciplines.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead—not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, for such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. (Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.) Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle lege!

(by Dr Albert Mohler)

PS — I will post next week on the results of my reading in 2013. Did I reach my goal of 52 books in one year? Which books were favorites? Stay tuned…

Duties to a Shepherd

Many good reflections about the nature of pastoral ministry in a local church, have emerged in connection with the retirement of John Piper from Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN) after 30+ years there. He wrote a ‘Final Open Letter to My Flock’ in which he expressed his thankfulness for blessings received as a shepherd of the Lord’s flock there. Excerpts include these:
1064298_59037126

As far as I know every biblical blessing that a flock owes its shepherd you have given to me during our life together.

• You received my preaching as the word of God; it became active in you, and transformed our life together (1 Thess. 2:13).

• You responded supportively to my leadership knowing I would have to give an account for your souls, and you helped me do this ‘with joy and not with groaning, for that would have been of no advantage to you’ (Heb. 13:17).

• I have spoken freely to you, and opened my heart to you, and been vulnerable with you; and you have cared for me, and opened your hearts wide to me also (2 Cor. 6:11–13).

• You have never assumed that I was above the need for encouragement, and have turned this church into a place where we have been ‘mutually en- couraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine’ (Rom. 1:12).

• You have not muzzled this ox, but have shared all good things with him who teaches. I have never been in need (1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6).

• You have multiplied my joy with your biblical faithfulness, for ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth’ (3 Jn 1:4).

• You have treasured Christ and become the mirror of his worth. And for that you are my ‘hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming’ (1 Thess. 2:19).

“Puritans Portraits” by J.I. Packer (a review)

9781845507008Puritans Portraits, J.I. Packer on Selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics. Christian Focus (ebook edition), 2012.

J. I. Packer, one of the best Christian writers of many decades, has here written briefly about some of the best Christian pastors and authors of modern history — the puritans. As a devoted fan of the Puritans, I found this book to be a most valuable introduction (albeit brief) to these men and their ministries. Puritan Portraits will take many Christians who know little or nothing of these men or this wonderful era of history and tempt them to go and read more.

The book is divided into three major parts, first is a broad overview “Puritan Pastors at Work”, which provides many memorable statements. For instance, Packer captures much of the Puritan distinctive when he points out their “analytical thoroughness.” “This stemmed,” he continues, “from the Puritan understanding of the nature of Scripture on the one hand, and the condition of the members of their congregations on the other.” [location 298] Their thoroughness, in preaching and in writing, was balanced between clear exposition of biblical texts, and, systematic applications to several categories of hearers/readers.

The second division is “Puritan Pastors in Profile” featuring seven men in particular — Henry Scougal, Stephen Charnock, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Owen, John Flavel, and Thomas Boston. These chapters were once published as introductions to other individual books by those men, previously written by Dr Packer. This is very openly noted in this present volume, and the reader is gently encouraged to look for those other Christian Focus publications. The fact that these chapters once stood separately is not noticeable; the fact that they were introductions to specific writings (out of the many by most of those Puritans) is evident, and perhaps a shortcoming.

The final section, on William Perkins and Richard Baxter, is called “Two Puritan Paragons.” This is followed by an Epilogue, where Packer’s passion for the church and her well-being is clearly evident. He desires his readers not to simply be students of Christian history, but disciples who faithfully serve Christ in the present day (and for the sake of future generations). Packer’s warmth in this regard is evident in most all of his writings — he is one author worthy of this pastor’s endorsement: read everything you can by this man. Another of Packer’s books specifically on the puritans, is very highly commended: The Quest For Godliness, Crossway Books, 1994.

I am so thankful that Christian Focus has produced this book (in multiple formats) — as well as those individual puritan works its discusses. [Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for doing a review.] In its e-book format this book was easy to navigate and read. Several graphics (images of other book covers) appear clearly. One typo was noticed (at the end of the table of contents). Dr. James I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals alive by Time Magazine.

Pleasure mania, spiritual poverty – M. Lloyd-Jones on our affluent society

Having commented on the biography of the great preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I thought it fitting to follow-up today with a quote from him. It’s an observation on modern cultures, who, in their affluence, do not perceive their true spiritual need.

This ‘affluent society’ in which we are living [c. 1972, no less true today] is drugging people and making them feel that all is well with them. They have better wages, better houses, better cars, every gadget desireable in the home; life is satisfactory and all seems to be well; and because of that people have ceased to think and to face the real problems. They are content with this superficial ease and satisfaction, and that militates against a true and a radical understanding of their actual condition. And, of course, this is aggravated at the present time by many other agencies. There is the pleasure mania, and television and radio [cf: internet and social media] bringing their influence into the home. All these things persuade man that all is well; they give him temporary feelings of happiness; and so he assume that all is well and stops thinking. The result is that he does not realize his true position and then face it.

[from the first lecture in his classic, PREACHING AND PREACHERS]

He points this out to rally churches and preachers back to the preaching of the gospel, which alone can waken men from their spiritual stupor. As he goes on to state, The business of the Church, and the business of preaching — and she alone can do this — is to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner.

Amen.
pdb

Needed: A dose of moral courage

Moral courage is an endangered species in these days, where the T-Rex of political correctness freely roams and seemingly rules the land. I shared the following this morning at our Iron Man Fellowship breakfast as we took up the topic.

“There is among all sorts of persons a crying need to take a dose of moral courage. The need is not for more cleverness or more education, nor for more analysis or more research into man’s problems. It is for more straightforward speaking. It is for more openness. It is for more boldness to call things what they are and to set them in the light of God’s Word. The man who will courageously refuse to play the popular game of deception is the man who will win the title of prophet to this generation.”
~ Maurice Roberts in The Thought of God, page 121.

"The Thought of God" by Maurice Roberts
(Banner of Truth Trust, 1993)

British Pastor Rev. Maurice Roberts was the minister of Ayr Free Church of Scotland from 1974 to 1994, and since then has been the minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). He was editor of the Banner of Truth magazine from 1988 to 2003. This older brother in the faith has deep, spiritual insights into life in this present world and is able to preach and write clear words of biblical direction. I have long cherished his brief articles and editorials in the Banner of Truth magazine, which have been available in book form now for several years. Many of his sermons are available online (such as here at the Monergism site, or at SermonAudio.com). Having met him on a few occasions, I have been struck by his personal holiness, his love for the truth and his passion for the glory of God. I’ve often thought this dear brother walks in the manner of the great puritan divines whose theology he shares.

What Kind Of A Pastor Do Sinners Need?

A wonderful reminder…
pdb

What Kind Of A Pastor Do Sinners Need?.