Monday, November 20, 2017

For Your Consideration, Sixteen Recommendations

Bring the Books 10

Note: With this post I bring to an end my series on a minister's reading. I may from time to time add book reviews as part of the mix going forward, but for the moment this series is done. As has become my custom, with the arrival of the holiday season I will now take a break from blogging. A new series will begin in January.

Last week we discussed the eight types of reading every minister ought to do. Today, I want to end this series with some recommendations for each of these eight types of reading. Of course, these are simply examples and are by no means meant to be a thorough discussion of all that you should read in a particular category. If you have been reading this blog over the last couple of months and you find yourself with an increasing conviction that you need to grow in this area, today's post, along with Joe Cassada's Puritan recommendations, is a great place to start. So without further ado let us commence.

1) Dennis Corle, "Spiritual Leadership", three volumes
While he could use a bit more organization and seems to think an editor is the first step on the road to liberalism, he also packs an incredible amount of content into this set. There are shorter books, more popular books to begin with in relation to leadership but these volumes really helped me. They drove home the idea that leadership is two things: influence and service. They proceeded to examine a veritable plethora of Scriptures on the subject from a wide variety of angles.
2) John Milton Gregory, "The Seven Laws of Teaching"
Gregory was a fine Christian, and the first president of the University of Illinois. This is an old book, but you all know I like dead guys. It is also rather small, and easily digestible. In this book Gregory lays out the basic essentials that every teacher needs. I am not referring to materials but to a philosophical understanding of how to approach teaching in order to ensure that your pupils are actually learning. It is a fantastic book.

1) R. A. Torrey, "The Fundamentals", four volumes
Of course, if you call yourself a fundamentalist you ought to read this, period. But beyond the intellectual honesty of reading the set that was so influential in our establishment, it is simply good stuff. Torrey pulled together a wide range of ministerial experience, literary talent, and intellectual heft. The result is a genuine classic. You owe it to yourself to think your way through these.
2) J. Dwight Pentecost, "Things to Come"
This classic discussion of eschatology, while a bit dated, has yet to be out done, and remains the best of the one volume books on the subject written from a dispensational perspective. Dallas Theological Seminary has produced some dead preachers, for sure, but it has also produced some excellent books. This is among them. Read it slowly, especially if you are new to the subject.

Areas in Which You Are Weak:
This one is obviously highly personal, but here are two that helped me.
1) Jim Berg, "Changed Into His Image"
Holiness, or sanctification, is an awful weak point for the IFB movement. We generally equate it with standards that are little more than a list of don'ts. Jim Berg, longtime professor at BJU, lays out an excellent case for a complete approach to personal holiness. I have at least 25 books on holiness in my office. I am currently writing one. This one is simply the best of them all. At least until mine comes out… <grin>
2) Jeremy Pierre, Deepak Reju, "The Pastor and Counseling"
Several years ago, after feeling an increasing sense of lack in my own understanding of and ability in counseling, I set out to educate myself. Shortly, I came across the biblical counseling movement. Several seminars and books later, I count myself an appreciater (is that a word?) while not quite a follower. Along the way I came across this little book. It is much more up to date and realistic than Jay Adam's pedantic tomes. It does a good job giving the essentials of a basic approach to counseling, and thus is a great place to start if this happens to be one of the weaknesses you want to improve.

1) Jim Binney, "The Ministry of Marriage"
I fell in love with this book. It is so unflinchingly scriptural. Binney, an independent Baptist pastor with a wide experience in counseling troubled marriages, hammers home the idea that marriage is about ministering to your mate rather than manipulating them for your own ends. It is one of those rare books that has the potential to be life-changing.
2) Denny Kenaston, "The Pursuit of Godly Seed"
Kenaston, who transitioned from an IFB preacher to something a little closer to Mennonite, clearly placed a pre-eminence on his family in both his ministry and his personal life. His approach can be frustrating at times in its advocacy for a rural lifestyle, but setting that aside it is pure gold. It is a warm, thorough treatise, both philosophical and practical. I cannot tell you how often I wept as I read it, as I thought of and prayed for my own children along the way.

1) Michael Kerrigan, "A Dark History: The Roman Emperors"
If you preach the Bible you really need to understand Rome. It colors everything that happens in the New Testament. Now you could, for example, listen to the massive History of Rome podcast or read the equally massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have done both of those and more besides, but for a much quicker introduction to the green screen of the New Testament I offer you this. It is a concise, interesting presentation of the moral, legal, civil, economic, and political walking disaster that was the Roman emperor, for the most part.
2) James R. Beller, "America in Crimson Red"
Aside from the whole George Washington's sword proves he was a Baptist disaster, this book is a helpful introduction to Baptist history in America. Its wisdom is that it confines itself to America, thus avoiding the thorny discussion of origin. Beller did his homework and it shows. It also shows us the important historical influence the Baptists have had here, and to our shame our complete failure to live up to our forefather's church planting efforts.

What Interests You:
Again, as with weaknesses, this is personal, but I offer you two as an illustration.
1) Mickey Hart, "Drumming at the Edge of Magic"
Mickey Hart was for several decades the lead drummer for the Grateful Dead. More than a drummer, however, he spent so much time studying drumming he essentially became an ethno-musicologist. Of course, from his perspective this is all a healthy exercise in learning to let the drum speak. From my perspective it was an impeccably researched, absolutely undeniable, horrific proof of the demonic presence in beat heavy rhythmically oriented music. If you can read this book as a Christian and still see nothing wrong with rock music I doubt I can help you understand anything spiritual at all.
2) Andrew Jukes, "The Names of God"
Another under-rated dead guy, Kregel has given us a gift with this reprint. The Bible is the revelation of God. This is basic to understanding it. It shows me who God is. Thus, as I read and study it I read and study it to see what it shows me about Who God is. One of the most interesting ways God reveals Himself in Scripture is via His self-chosen names. They show us Who He thinks He is – which is who we ought to think He is, naturally. Jukes deals both expositionally and devotionally in so doing. I think three or four of my personal praise lists are directly related to the names of God, and this book was the genesis of that in my life.

What God Emphasizes:
1) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount"
You are reading a guy who wrote a book on the Sermon on the Mount. I would rather you read his book than mine. Why we independent Baptists so horribly neglect what is Christ's longest, best, and greatest sermon is utterly mystifying to me. Remember what I said above about life-changing books? This is one of those.
2) Andrew Murray, "With Christ in the School of Prayer"
Another dead guy who really ought to be read more, Murray was a warm-hearted South African most associated now with the Keswick Convention. This is a simple book. In fact, I recently read this book over a series of weeks to our Wednesday morning prayer group. I do not agree with all of it, naturally, but he does an excellent job of moving prayer deeper and farther than the average layman has ever viewed it. Read it. Then pass it on to your people.
Did I mention Edersheim yet? Ha! At any rate, here are a couple more very much worth your consideration.
1) J. W. Shepard, "The Christ of the Gospels"
The second best book I have read on the life of Christ, it edges out Pentecost's "Words and Works of Jesus Christ" because of it is simply a stronger book. It is warmer, better written, and more historically based. In places, he is so good he pushes Edersheim. Shepard shows you Jesus, and does it well. And that is awesome.
2) James Stalker, "The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ"
This book does not pretend to be a discussion of the life of Christ. It is neither historical nor expositional. Rather, it is boldly and plainly devotional. Stalker aims to bring home to us the personal impact of the last hours of Jesus' life, and he does so very well. So often this genre can turn into 75 pages of minute discussion on the date and place of Jesus' birth – I kid you not, those books are in my library. Stalker aims Jesus' death square at your heart, and he hits his target.
As a wonderful throw in here at the end, for those of you that are looking for a more detailed list of recommended books, let me point toward Clarence Sexton's book list. It contains 524 specific recommendations divided into categories such as Bible Study and Methods, Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Commentaries, Geography, Concordances, Hermeneutics, Old Testament General, Greek Language Tools, Introduction to the New Testament, The Life of Christ, Miracles, Parables, Eschatology, Theology and Apologetics, Bible Doctrines, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Christology-Atonement, Christology-Life of Christ, Christology-Christ in the Old Testament, Baptists, Church Administration and Polity, Biographies, Missions, Prayer, The Christian Life, and each individual book of the Bible. As you can imagine, it is a massive compilation, and I think every serious independent Baptist minister ought to mine it. It is a tremendous resource. You can find it here

In closing, let me say how much I enjoyed writing this series, and the interaction I have had with you all along the way. I hope it has likewise been a blessing to you. See you all again in January.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Eight Types of Reading Every Minister Ought to Do

Bring the Books 9

"Eight? Seriously? You're killing me, here."

Quit whining. Toughen up. Endure hardness as a good soldier, bub.

There. Now that I have gotten off to a good, compassionate start and empathized with my reader let us proceed apace.

In my view, there are eight different categories or areas which you ought to be reading constantly. And I mean in addition to your normal, routine sermon prep. I am not always reading books in all eight of these categories at the same time, but I am constantly reading books in these eight areas. So without further ado, here they are.

Leadership. The scriptural definition for minister is servant, but the scriptural definition of pastor is shepherd. Simply put, a shepherd must lead or else he will be a lousy shepherd. 
In this category, I place books written primarily for me as a minister teaching me how to be a better minister. This would include books on leadership, various aspects of pastoring, staff development, time management, even books on preaching. I do not like the term self-improvement, but that's what this category largely holds – books that help me to develop my potential in fulfilling my responsibilities to the people around me to whom I minister.

Theology. I did not have a class on systematic theology in Bible college. I got my class in books instead. I do not mean to say that I am always sitting around reading treatises on systematic theology, but I do mean I am constantly reading books about some aspect of theology. I am a Baptist. That implies a certain ecclesiology. I am premillennial. That (usually) implies dispensationalism. I am not a Calvinist. That implies common sense. Sorry, I could not resist… Anyway, these are all theological subjects. They raise questions that need thought and study to answer well. So I constantly read books related to some aspect of theology.

Areas in which you are weak. Although this list is not given in order of importance I place this one here because there is often a crossover between the need to study theology and the need to study areas in which you are weak. All of us have things we claim to believe, things that if the truth were told we have done very little study to support. Baptists don't speak in tongues! Why? I do not mean you heard two sermons about it and read a pamphlet from Curtis Hutson. I mean have you ever dug into it, comparing Scripture with Scripture, reading up on its history and process. Do you know what you believe about the gifts of the Spirit, about continuing revelation, about the fullness of the Spirit, about the power of the Spirit, etc.? And that is just a few aspects of one subject.

Throughout my ministry some of my most profitable studies have been undertaken specifically to shore up areas in which I knew I was weak. Prophecy. Music. Alcohol. Holiness. The history and meaning of fundamentalism. I have a further list of another six or seven that I could give you off the top of my head, areas that I have not studied in depth but areas I know I need to. Some are theological, some are practical, some are historical, etc. I want to be a well-rounded preacher. I want to be able to give a good, detailed explanation of the truth as I teach the Word of God. The only way to do that is to constantly work on the gaps in the walls of your knowledge base.

Relationships. I believe life is largely a matter of relationships. If I am going to build a good life, if I am going to live it well, I need to be good at relationships. More importantly, if I am going to shepherd my people well I must be able to help them to build healthy, close, permanent relationships. So I have 50 books in my office about various aspects of marriage and parenting. I work through those routinely, and just as routinely add new ones to the stack.

In this sense – and this is a critical point – this area is different from the one that precedes it, areas in which you are weak. I knew I was weak on what I knew and believed about alcohol so I studied it out. But I have largely finished that study. I fixed what was a weak area, took good notes, preached through it, blogged through it, I am good in that area now. But although I already have a wide knowledge base about relationships, and even though I have preached and taught on it at some length, I am still going to constantly read up on it. It is too big and too important to my life and the life of my people for me just to study it once, set it on the shelf, and move on to something else. That section of my bookshelves sees frequent use and it always will.

Background. I think a man who preaches several hours a week for consecutive decades to the same group of people needs to develop a wide base of knowledge. It helps to keep his preaching and teaching new and fresh. So I am constantly reading books on background, books that do not specifically help me to prepare for anything in particular. This is history (religious and secular). This is biography (religious and secular). This is current events. This is economics. This is science. This is sports. This is politics. This is medicine. Etc. etc. And I do not mean that you read this from a newspaper. There is little accuracy and even less detail in a newspaper article. Read a book about it. A man who talks for a living should know something about everything. It not only allows him to enter into conversation intelligently with just about everyone, it seasons his public speaking, gives him a wealth of illustrations at his fingertips, and keeps his mind fresh. As previously mentioned, I do this on the secular side with Audible. I do it on the religious side with physical books.

What interests you. All study is tiring, but if your entire approach to reading and study is "I have to read this" it will be wearisome in the extreme. Break it up with something that you are reading just because you want to read it. For me, one of these areas is music. I have read dozens of books about music, but I am always on the lookout for another good biography, another good history. I find it simply fascinating. Other times, I put all my books aside, go to my shelves, and pull out something that just looks good. I still even read a little science fiction, now and again, just because I want to. And I would argue this kind of reading is good reading, too.

What God emphasizes. Years ago, I attended Clarence Sexton's week-long Pastor's College for two consecutive summers. It helped me, in fact it changed my life in at least two ways. One of those ways was this statement: "Place the emphasis where God places the emphasis."

Everything in the Bible is important or else it would not be there, but it is not all equally important. Jesus plainly said there were weightier matters of the law, that there was a greatest commandment, etc. Simply put, there are some things God emphasizes in Scripture more than others. My primary task is to preach the Word of God. I need to do it in such a way that I place the emphasis in my preaching where God places the emphasis in His Word.

For example, I have and do preach about how Christians ought to look, their appearance, and I do not apologize for it. In fact, I am doing a series about it on Wednesday nights right now. But if you stacked up my preaching you would find I have spent a whole lot more time preaching about the condition of our heart than I have the condition of our hair. Why? Because that is where God places the emphasis. I have studied the Word of God to find the things He discusses again and again and again, and I have sought to place my attention there. Faith. Love. Prayer. Holiness. Praise. Wisdom. The Word of God. Witnessing. Doctrine. The Second Coming. Who God is. Comfort. These are things that come up again and again in my preaching because these are things that come up again and again in the Word of God. If this is what God emphasizes it what I ought to emphasize. To ensure I do that I seek to keep thoughts related to this flowing across my mind all the time. So I am always reading something related to these great themes of Scripture.

Lastly, and most importantly, Jesus. He is the sum and substance of all that we believe and practice. He is the great what, the great how, and the great why. As the old song says, "Everything is Jesus, and Jesus is everything." Brethren, we ought to be constantly reading about Jesus. He is to be the great theme of our life, of our study, and of our preaching. He is to be lifted up. He is to be proclaimed. He is to be taught. He is to be praised. He is to be explained. He is to be applied. He is to be explored. He is to be modeled. He is to be obeyed. He is to be served. He is to be preached. He is to be taught. He is to be loved. Whatever else you read, read Jesus.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Four Helps to Better Reading

Bring the Books 8

Sir Francis Bacon
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
-Sir Francis Bacon

Assigned reading in college is practically useless. It is not useless because the books assigned are poor books. It is not useless because the idea – that a minister should learn to read as he learns to study – is a bad one. It is not useless because it is badly applied on the part of most Bible college students, though it is more often badly applied than not. It is useless because the typical independent Baptist Bible college student does not have time to read. He is most likely paying his own way through school, which necessitates a full-time job. He is pushed, prodded, harassed – I am sorry; I meant to say motivated there – to give his weekends away in ministry. At the same time, his heart and mind are constantly taken up with the fascination of one woman or another, until he settles on one in particular, at which point his attention is even more devoted to her. During all of this he is taking a full load of classes, juggling various assignments and tests. And into the midst of this maelstrom every professor drops a few of his favorite books, expecting the young man to carefully and thoughtfully plumb their depths. It cannot be done, nor will it be done.

Consequently, one of the first things I had to do in the ministry was to unlearn the process of reading that I had been forced to undertake in Bible college. I had to learn to read again how I had read a teenager, in a word, slowly. And that is the first counsel I would give you. In books of depth, worth reading, do so slowly.

I surrendered to the ministry at 14, and by 15 I had begun to raid my father's library. One of the most helpful books I found there was John R. Rice's Our God-Breathed Book - the Bible. In it Rice deals extensively with both the means and fact of inspiration, frequently citing numerous other authors in order either to support his own position or attack theirs. It was the first scholarly theological work I had ever read, and I was forced to read it slowly. It was either that or do not read it at all. I devolved upon a relatively simple plan. I would read slowly, and re-read any paragraph I did not understand until I did understand it.

It was this process – which I had abandoned in Bible college – I rediscovered after entering the ministry. Toward the end of my first decade of pastoring my preaching shifted rather remarkably, and it was due in part to this process. I came across Robertson McQuilkin's book on hermeneutics, Understanding and Applying the Bible, and I read it slowly, painfully so at times. I did not have a class on hermeneutics in Bible college. I had classes on preaching, which majored on presentation, but had learned little about how to grasp the words God had written. McQuilkin's book became my class, only one I taught myself, desperately thirsty to learn how to preach God's words rather than my own. Countless times in the years since I have opened a carefully selected work, and taught myself a class on Christ, on prophecy, on eschatology, on holiness, on music, on grace, on fundamentalism, etc.

The second simple piece of advice I offer is to take notes. I never, and I do mean never, read a book without a pen either in my hand or within inches of it. Some men preserve their books; I use them. They are tools, not museum pieces. When I am done with a book it is marked up from stem to stern, the margins are filled with barely legible scrawls, there are things circled, underlined, arrowed, and highlighted, and the pages are dog-eared. I do this not only because it helps me to mentally engage with the work, but more importantly, it helps me to remember what I learned when I come back to that book later. I can pick any book off my shelf that I have read in the last 15 years, and give you a detailed synopsis of its strengths and weaknesses, and especially of its unique, thought-provoking facts and concepts. Notes are how you remember something long after you have originally had a thought. Of all people, ministers who regularly outline sermons should understand this. I do not mean to imply that you need to use my casually evolved system, but one way or another you need to take notes as you read.

My third recommendation is that you add to your reading audio books. I do not read theology or church books, as I call them, on Audible. That is because I read them slowly, marking them up as I go along. But there are other types of books that are helpful for a minister that do not require such absolute concentration. Those are the types I purchase and read in audio format. For my purposes, these are almost exclusively history and biography.

I first began this program when I discovered the huge Chicago Public Library would ship any audio book they owned to my closest library, then later to an app on my phone. After reading most of the ones I desired I discovered that a small monthly fee would give me the right to purchase from a much wider range of materials on Audible, plus I would own the book when I was finished. In the past three years, in this manner, I have read biographies of Robert J. Oppenheimer, Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler, Tesla, Lawrence of Arabia, Steve Jobs, Custer, George H. W. Bush, and Ulysses Grant. I have read eight history books on WWII, one on Vietnam, one on the Crusades, two on the Revolutionary War, two on the Olympics, one on the Romanov dynasty, one on Al Qaeda, and two on the mafia. I have read the first three volumes of Will Durant's massive History of Civilization. I have read four works on various aspects of the Roman empire. I have read books detailing the history of various commodities such as oil, cod, and salt. I have also read several books that discuss the invention of the internet and of the growth of online platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

"Tom, unless you are sitting down and reading a half dozen hours a day that is implausible." Exactly. I read these when I am not sitting. If I am not working on something that requires my mental focus I am reading an audio book. I read when I am getting ready in the morning, when I am driving anywhere, when I am eating a meal alone, when I am at the gym, when I am working around the house or the church, and when I am sitting by my fire pit of a cool October evening. In this manner, I average several hours a day, hours in which my body is doing something else but my mind is relatively unoccupied.

My fourth recommendation is that you prioritize building a library. I do not mean the physical shelves. Those will come of necessity all on their own. I mean that you prioritize purchasing good books. If I go to a conference I block out several hours to spend prowling the tables full of materials. If I have a guest speaker coming in, and my work load is thus lighter that week, I will try to sneak away for an afternoon to one of several excellent used bookstores here in Chicago. If I am traveling I will almost always do the same, finding the used book stores in that area, and spending time in them. (The best one for religious books I have ever found is in Fort Wayne, Indiana, of all places.) When I come across a book referenced by someone else that looks intriguing, all other things being equal, I will add it to my Amazon wish list. That is a running tally of all the books you would like to buy if you ever got the money.

Speaking of money, how do you get it? In my case, and this is what I suggest to you as well, I went to my church and asked them for a sum of money I could spend every year on continuing education. I pastor many professional people, and they understand the importance of the constant learning that is necessary to stay on top in any particular field. They also expect the cost for this continuing education to be borne by their company rather than themselves. My situation is similar, and it was not difficult to get them to see this. Some years, I use that money to take classes on a subject which I feel needs strengthening. Other years I simply buy books with it. My church and I both benefit from this; it is a win-win.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to set myself up as some kind of an expert. Many ministers read as much or more than I do, and they have excellent systems of their own to aid them in this. I am not saying that you must do each of these four things in order to be an effective minister. But if you do not have your own system, and you know your reading needs to improve, choose one of these to implement this year. Add another one the following year. Along the way, as you prioritize reading, you will develop in ways that naturally suit your own style of learning. And getting you to that point is the entire point of this blog series.

My college president used to often say, "Set your goal; plan your work; work your plan; and don't get sidetracked."

Good advice, that. Now go apply it to your reading.

Monday, October 30, 2017

From My Mailbag: How to Choose Whom

Bring the Books 7

This series has produced more email in my inbox, texts to my phone, and comments to my facebook page than any series I have done so far. It has struck a nerve, not just with those who agree or disagree, but with those who feel a need to grow in this area. Here is a paragraph from one such email, an example of what I am talking about:

"So, here’s the question:  How do I know the “who” behind a book that I am considering reading?  I understand we live in the age of Google, and I feel that is a blessing and a curse.  Google has provided much, quick access to information on any topic.  However, even in Google searches there is a dire need for folks to consider the WHO that they are reading about WHO they are considering reading about.  (Not sure if my grammar teacher would approve of that last sentence, but I trust you’ll understand it.)  :-)  I can find a thread from a Google search to justify and agree with just about anything I want.  We all know and are eternally thankful that Wikipedia is infallible as well.  Even an author can portray himself in a bio that would make him appear one way (possibly to appeal to a particular audience) though his core beliefs are different."

I think this is an excellent question, and one that has been obviously given some thought. By no means do I think I have the only good answers, and I genuinely welcome your perspective here, and hope you will consider offering it, but in today's post I am going to give you the substance of my answer to him.

The first part of my answer to him involved the concepts I have already explained in Dead Guys. In short, there is wisdom in reading men who have already passed the test of history's judgment. You can see the arc of their ministry. That begs the question, though, how do you judge the arc of a dead man's ministry if you are unfamiliar with that ministry?

W. Graham Scroggie
Part of the answer to this question is experience. For example, when you learn the strengths and weaknesses of a particular group i.e. the Puritans, as Joe Cassada has discussed, you have a green screen against which to set any particular Puritan author you are considering. You already have a grasp on the background of who he ran with, and what they emphasize as a group. Yes, this is broad-brushing, but at this point you are painting those broad strokes on purpose to get a sense of the larger context. When I first heard of Graham Scroggie's excellent The Unfolding Drama of Redemption mentioned by Clarence Sexton I had no idea who he was. Upon learning he had taught for years in Spurgeon's Bible college it gave me an excellent starting point. Through experience, if I pick up a book and see Sword of the Lord Publishers on the spine, or Banner of Truth, or Moody Colportage Association or Kregel Reprints I can place an unknown author into a generalized category in my mind.

Sometimes, however, I have no immediate background context on a dead guy. In that case, I must try to build it from scratch. Yes, Google is the place to start. I will search his name with the words "biography" or "author" attached. Often I will search with the phrase "what's wrong with (name)" just to see who has an axe to grind with him and why. J. Gresham Machen said, "I like Billy Sunday for the enemies he has." Machen and Sunday were contemporaries who were utterly unlike one another, yet Machen had the sense to know that a man's enemies can sometimes reveal much about him, both intentionally and unintentionally. So I find those detractors, if I can. Usually, at some point in this process I come to Wikipedia but when I do I take it with a grain of salt. In fact, I will almost always skim the article, and then focus on the links at the bottom of the page. Those lead to source material, and that source material is usually more reliable or at least more detailed than Wiki generally.

Watchman Nee
Another great source of reliable information on dead guys is older, more experienced preachers. My father pastored for 38 years. As a young teenager, newly surrendered to the ministry, I was perusing his library when I came across an intriguing title and an even more intriguing author, The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. My dad wisely piped up and said, "You have to be careful with Watchman Nee." I set the book back down and did not return to it for another 25 years. When I did return to it I spent a good amount of time researching Nee first. What I found armed me well in reading him. It helped me to spot weaknesses of his in that book that would only become apparent much later in his ministry. More importantly, after reading it, I concluded I could never recommend Watchman Nee nor could I quote him positively to the general public. Why? Because an older, more experienced minister had offered me some initial guidance. Find men who know you, who have walked with God and loved their families and ministered faithfully for decades, who are solidly fundamental, and who are widely read. Do not ask them to make your decision and do not let them think for you. Do bounce an author or two off of them and see what kind of a reaction you get. If they put a fence up do not tear that fence down until you figure out why they put it up in the first place.

A third avenue of approach to research dead guys is Google Books. In 2004, Google decided to digitize every book in the world. It has had its legal challenges in the process, but even the imperfect result we currently have contains more than thirty million books. Google Books will not let you read the entirety of the book for free, in most cases, but they will often allow you to read sections of it containing whole pages strung together. This allows you to get a feel for the author, to take a taste of him, so to speak, before deciding whether to pursue him further or not.

Now, a word or two briefly about living authors. The publishing business pushes men to have a personal author website. Many do, especially those who publish in both hardcopy and digital formats. Even I do and I am only self-published at this point. Look past the advertising fluff they use to try to sell books and go to their "about" or "biography" page. Read that with a jaundiced eye (remember, they are trying to sell something) but focus in on proper nouns, the names of mentors, peers, churches they work at now or did work at in the past, colleges where they teach, etc. Track down the websites for those churches and colleges. Examine their doctrinal statements, mission statements, etc. Pull up the facebook pages of all the men and institutions mentioned that you can find. Again, do not read the gloss they put up for public relations, instead look at the pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the quickest and easiest way to read what a preacher, a church, a college, or a ministry actually believes and practices is to look at those pictures. They will reveal which Bible version (s) they use. They will reveal what their church or chapel stages look like. (Yes, I completely understand what I just said there. No, it does not bother me that you think I am an ignorant philistine, a borderline uncultured swine, and a full-blown Pharisee because I said that.) They will tell me what their standards of dress and appearance are. (Yes, I really just said that too.) They will tell me what their emphasis is. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: But a companion of fools shall be destroyed. (Proverbs 13.20) I may not know an author well, but if I can dig up this information I have a pretty good handle on whether he is a wise man or a fool, and whether I would be a wise man or a fool to read after him.

Finally, I must mention Amazon. In the process of reinventing how we shop and buy everything, Jeff Bezos has nearly destroyed the for-profit book industry. Okay, maybe that is going too far, but he has certainly blown it up. In the process of putting it back together, Amazon has become the de facto place almost all of us go to examine and buy books now. This is not entirely bad, and one of its benefits is the reviews Amazon provides, often verified as coming from people who have actually purchased the book. Those reviews are pure gold. You will find some positive and some negative. Read them both. Look for objections or recommendations that are detailed, not just an emotional rant. Additionally, if the book is available on Kindle, you can download a free sample of the first 20 pages or so, and that will give you a good flavor of the author as well.

"Tom, that sounds like a whole lot of work. I have a growing ministry to wrangle. I don't have that kind of time." If you want your growing ministry to stay on track for the long term you had better take that kind of time. Who you read influences you. As a minister, you, in turn, influence those under the scope of your ministry. You owe it to them to choose who influences you carefully, with forethought and discernment.

Now those are my thoughts, but about the only thing I am sure of is that I have missed something. If you have something helpful to contribute in answer to this question, I invite you to do so.

Next week, we will move beyond the question of whom to read and begin to offer some practical wisdom about how to do so, categories of books that are helpful for ministers, specific book recommendations, etc. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Five Puritan Suggestions

Bring the Books 6

Note: Today's post was written by Pastor Joe Cassada of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri, a church he started over twenty years ago. It is a follow up to last week’s post regarding the wisdom of reading the Puritans. It also marks a bit of a shift in this series from establishing philosophical principles regarding reading toward more practical type suggestions regarding what to read and how to read it.

The Puritans have left us a treasure trove of Christian literature whose precious contents we could spend a lifetime studying and discussing. When the feast table is lavished with such sumptuous meats, the dinner guest is easily overwhelmed with the superabundance of delicious choices. And when it comes to reading the Puritans we are apt to ask “Where should I start?” There is no one right answer of course, but allow me to share with you a few of my own favorites.

I would begin, first and foremost, with John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Most Christians have heard of this title, and probably those who attended a Christian high school are at least vaguely familiar with it, yet this Christian classic goes largely ignored by the vast majority of Bible believers today. And even those who are not complete noobz to Bunyan’s allegory usually stifle yawns when the mere thought of reading it invades their consciousness and threatens to overwhelm the endangered neurons threatened with extinction by social media consumption. As with most literature of the Puritan era, whatever exposure one may have had to the work probably left an indelible imprint on the brain in the shape of complete boredom. And understandably so. Many folks these days struggle enough with modern English, so any attempt at devouring a book written 400 years ago is immediately impaired by reading comprehension challenges. I get it. I really do. It takes hard work and practice to read and comprehend early modern English. But it’s good for us – our brains – to focus on such reading material.

If your experience of Bunyan’s Pilgrim is powering through it with sheer determination as a reading assignment for English Lit, then your apprehensiveness of re-reading the tales of Christian and his pilgrim companions are certainly legitimate ones. But I beg of you to give it another try. No book report will be assigned this time. I promise.

Honestly, I wish all Christians would not only read The Pilgrim’s Progress but read it regularly. And don't settle for those abridged versions or those versions that leave out the second part. Bunyan wrote two parts to the book: one about Christian and the other about Christiana (Christian's wife). The second part is very helpful in adding some detail and explanation to the first. So be sure to get a version with parts 1 and 2. It’s also helpful to understand part 1 to be an allegory of the individual Christian, whereas part 2 is more like a tale of the local church endeavoring to help each other on the way to the Celestial City. Unfortunately, many publishers today choose to leave out part 2.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a book that will not entertain mentally so much as it will edify spiritually. It is ill-suited for the passive reading style with which we engage most works of fiction; rather it should be approached meditatively: read, ruminate, repeat. Preachers especially ought to be as familiar with this story as they are the pop-culture garbage that daily pollutes our attention. Bunyan's delightful allegory is as rich as a diamond mine in its abundance of illustrations of vital Christian doctrine. It's also helpfully pastoral, as it explains through the medium of storytelling the struggles and battles we Christians face in this life. We see in the allegory the importance of vanquishing guilt by looking to the cross, of diligence in guarding our assurance of salvation, and of entering the Valley of Humiliation properly – and much more.

Really, you should try to read everything John Bunyan has written. Many men are honored posthumously, but the Tinker of Bedford was such a gifted writer and such a biblical thinker that even his contemporaries lauded his God-given gift of pen and pulpit. The scholarly John Owen famously said of Bunyan’s preaching, “If I could possess the tinker's abilities to grip men’s hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning." 

And so for my second book recommendation, I must include Bunyan's book on prayer (the Banner of Truth edition is simply titled Prayer). Everything that I have read from Bunyan has edified me, but few books have changed me. This book changed how I prayed.

In it, Bunyan defines prayer as “a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.” I know it sounds wordy, but the rest of his exposition (the first half of the book) is an explanation of each phrase, and it is excellent. What helped me the most was the truth that we should pray for what God has surely promised instead of what we simply want.

The third book I would encourage you to add to your reading list is one aimed primarily at preachers: Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. To their own detriment, many independent Baptist preachers have eschewed Baxter’s book because it has in the title the taboo word “reformed” - the assumption being made is that the book is about Reformed theology. This is a false assumption. Baxter’s book is not a primer for Reformed theology, but a prescription for a ministry reformed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. It is a thorough exposition of Acts 20:28 – a book born from what would’ve been a sermon for a preachers’ meeting. Other than the Bible, this is the most soul-convicting, sin-exposing book I have read – which is exactly what we preachers need (and often). Most ministers today lap up church growth literature like a cat at a milk bowl, but Baxter’s book is the thick cream of Bible meditation - not the blue john of today’s market-driven mindset. He is not giving us some listicle for attracting visitors or some discourse on church branding and logos; he gets to the root of the matter: ministers must be first and foremost holy servants of God. This is where we fail or succeed; this is where our ministries live or die.

The fourth Puritan work I would encourage you to read is William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour. This is a massive volume, but it is worth breaking through the Philistine host of distractions and inattention in order to draw water out of the well of Gurnall’s scriptural exegesis. His well is deep, but the water is near the top – every page has something to refresh your soul. Don’t let the size of this tome give you the false impression that this is some lofty academic work that is meant to impress by its sheer volume. It isn’t. Gurnall writes as a pastor to his people. After all, this book was a compilation of the sermons he preached to his church from Ephesians 6:10-20.

My final in this list of favorites is a book of collected sayings of Thomas Brooks, compiled by Charles Spurgeon and titled Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks. Thomas Brooks is one of Spurgeon’s favorite preachers, and he’s one of mine too. I’ll let Mr. Spurgeon himself tell you why this is a worthy read: “As a writer, Thomas Brooks scatters stars with both hands. He has dust of gold. In his storehouse are all manner of precious stones. Genius is always marvelous, but when sanctified it is matchless. You have presented to you here the choice sayings of one of the King’s mighty men. The great divine who wrote these precious sentences was of the race of giants. He was head and shoulders above all the people., not in his stature, but in mind, soul, and grace. Treasure these gems and adorn yourself with them by putting them into the golden setting of holy practice, which is the end the writer aimed at.”

I must conclude by exhorting you to read not only these five favorites of mine but as many of the Puritan works as you can possibly get your hands on. It is no coincidence that Charles Spurgeon, a preacher eminently blessed of God and universally admired by believers of all stripes, cut his teeth at an early age on the books of the Puritans. 

Permit me to share with you just one more word from Spurgeon, “The Last of the Puritans,” as he describes his reading habits when he was a small child perusing the books in his grandfather’s library:

“Some of these were enormous folios, such as a boy could hardly lift. Here I first struck up acquaintance with the martyrs, and specially with ‘Old Bonner,' who burned them; next with Bunyan and his ‘Pilgrim'; and further on, with the great masters of Scriptural theology, with whom no moderns are worthy to be named in the same day...Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company. Out of the present contempt into which Puritanism has fallen, many brave hearts and true will fetch it, by the help of God, ere many years have passed."

So go on, brave heart, and fetch Puritanism and bring its champions into the ranks of your own library.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Plea for Puritans

Bring the Books 5

Note: Today's post was written by Pastor Joe Cassada of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri, a church he started over twenty years ago. We have known each other a long time. He has a depth to his ministry rare to find in this day and age. I am pleased to offer you his thoughts on the wisdom of reading the Puritans.

In 1558, Elizabeth I became queen, and with her reign came the Golden Age of England which saw such history-altering events as the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the unsurpassed literary contributions of William Shakespeare. Elizabeth also continued the Protestant-leaning political reforms that her father Henry VIII had begun.

But for many Englishmen, the reforms didn’t go far enough – more work had to be done, more of the pope’s cobwebs needed pulling down from the corners of English churches. A new group, known as the Puritans, sought to purge all remnants of Roman worship from the English Church.

These Puritans were men whose spiritual convictions were descended from flint-faced martyrs like Wycliffe, Ridley, Latimer, Cranmer, Tyndale, and others. The Puritans, like their spiritual mentors before them, had faced such challenges as death, plague, war, imprisonment and banishment. The persecution they endured was not a Twitter maelstrom in cyberspace, but real death, real imprisonment, and real torture at the hands of real enemies.

But like any religious movement, the Puritans came in different flavors. Some favored a Presbyterian form of government while others championed congregationalism (the Independents). Many wanted to remain in the Church of England, but another similar group known as the Separatists sought for complete separation of church and state. The Puritans didn’t always agree with one another, they weren’t infallible in their opinions, and some of them retained the spirit of persecution - the state church goblin of the Old World that haunted English life even in the American colonies. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the Puritans’ writings are a cut-above anything the English language has to offer in the area of theology and spirituality.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t distinguish between Separatists, Puritans, Independents, etc. in the remainder of this essay. Although it isn’t as technically precise as some would require, I will use the term “Puritan” to refer to any author who was sympathetic to the core principles of Puritanism and wrote from the early 17th to mid 18th centuries - whether he be the Baptist John Bunyan or the New England Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards.

The purpose of this article is to answer the question “why should I read the Puritans?”
But answering that question begins by addressing the reverse: why aren’t more people (especially pastors and preachers) reading the Puritans today? It seems to me, from my conversations with others about this matter, that there are two reasons the Puritans go unread.

The first reason that the Puritans are largely ignored today is that many people simply are unaware of them. Most folks have never heard of John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, John Flavel, et al. When folks look for Christian books to read, often their first stop is the Christian bookstore. Other than a modernized version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the Puritan pickings are slim at best – at times completely nonexistent. Self-help drivel, B-list celebrity Christian bios, and Amish fiction fill the shelves, but nary a copy of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ or The Privy Key of Heaven is to be found. Christian book stores are retail businesses, so they are servants to the master of supply-and-demand. The average American Christian would rather read Tim Tebow than Thomas Brooks. Christian retailers know this, and the typical inventory of a Christian bookstore is proof. So the Puritans will remain hidden from the view of the average Joe Schmoe Christian whose reading list is mostly dictated by popular culture.

The second reason the fruit of the Puritan field goes ungleaned is that, frankly, they are hard to understand. The modern-day reader struggles with 17th century English. The Puritans used more words than we do – and sometimes the same words differently. Even the updated versions of Puritan works can leave modern readers flummoxed. We are a hyper-distracted, over-stimulated, entertainment-saturated society – and one sentence by a Puritan writer feels like The Tale of Two Cities for many who can’t even sit still for a 2 minute cat video. For some, sitting down and reading Jonathan Edwards evokes the legal torture they endured in the Shakespeare unit of their 8th grade English class.
So, understandably, the Puritans go largely ignored. And I believe this is a tragic course that needs reversing. Why?

Because if we forget where we came from, we will make the same mistakes of the past. George Santayana, in his book Reason in Common Sense, famously put it this way: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And whatever your view of Baptist history may be, we can agree on this truth: modern Baptists, fundamentalists, and evangelicals are downstream of the Puritans. The same theological controversies we find ourselves embroiled in today have probably been addressed by the Puritans in some fashion, whether specifically and in detail or in generalities and raw principle. But we are forgetting our past, and so we are tragically condemned to repeat it. The great pendulum swing of this generation is to jump from the frying pan of their parents’ legalism and into the fire of liberal antinomianism. I can’t help but wonder if this gaping wound of the American Christian conscience, which seems to drain holiness from our pulpits and pews, could not be stymied if more preachers, pastors, and Bible college
students were familiar with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity; or if maybe (just maybe!) this idolatry of church growth and this prevalent seeker-sensitive hogwash that has saturated nearly every denomination, Bible college, and seminary might be checked if Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor was more popular than Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church.

The second reason we must read the Puritans is because the Puritans experienced life in a way we have not. They suffered, they fought, they bled, and they died. They pioneered, they risked, they stood their ground, and they faced man’s worst fears. They knew what convictions were because they were tested in a way we have never been, and probably never will be tested. If you must read the biography of the latest B-list celebrity who made a profession of faith while living in the lap of relative luxury, at least supplement it with John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. If you absolutely must read the latest Amish princess romance novel then please, oh please, read The Pilgrim’s Progress.
John Bunyan spent 12 years in Bedford jail for his beliefs, during which time he wrote the aforementioned The Pilgrim’s Progress. At the time of his arrest, his wife Elizabeth was pregnant. The child would later be still-born. Elizabeth was tasked with raising their 4 children (one of whom was blind) without the family bread winner. Meanwhile Bunyan languished in a cell, his freedom offered at the price of his convictions. Can you imagine the torment of mind and body as a man worries for his wife and family knowing that the only barrier to his liberation and his family’s welfare is his willingness to compromise? Such rock-ribbed passion for truth is as rare today as a flip phone.

Before John Flavel wrote his book about grieving, A Token for Mourners, he had lost his parents to the plague in 1665, had experienced the death of a child, and had buried two wives. I believe the man knew what he was talking about when he spoke of grief. Jonathan Edwards, the famed leader of the Great Awakening and preacher of America’s most famous sermon, Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God, was fired from the church he pastored for over 20 years because of his convictions concerning the Lord’s Supper.

The list could go on, but understand that because of the church-state turmoil that ravaged England (and the American colonies) in the 16th and 17th century, and because of the plain hardship of life back then, the Puritans knew well the taste of the dregs in the cup of suffering. They did not write from ivory palaces and beds of ease. They wrote from prisons, sick beds, and horseback. They wrote on scraps of paper by dim candle light. They wrote for the Truth’s sake, not for book deals, personal marketing, and publishing revenue.

The third reason we should read the Puritans is because the Puritans were deeply spiritual and intellectual. I do not mean that they were spooky academic elitists, I mean they lived deeply spiritual lives and were themselves well read and studied in Scripture and literature. Their archaic grammar, though considered a deterrent to their popularity, should be considered an advantage. Reading the Puritans will stretch the modern American English mind beyond the brain-atrophying tweets, texts, and YouTube videos that dominate our communications. Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 30,000 words. Today, an educated English-speaking person probably has an inventory of about 15,000 words. (1) Simply put, reading the Puritans will not only edify the spirit, it will educate the mind.

The pap and piffle called “books” that many modern preachers write today is appallingly shallow at best and moon-bat crazy at worst. I have in my library a certain book written by a fundamental Baptist, whom I will leave unnamed, that states that the prophecies of Nostradamus, an asteroid hurling towards earth, and the Mayan calendar are three of eight prophetic “clocks a tickin’” that all point to some prophetic “event” in 2012. This is some of the nonsense called “theology” that is becoming more and more common in our own fundamental Baptist churches. Not long ago, another famous IFB celeb preacher wrote (and preached) that the Lord’s Supper was akin to having sex with Jesus. What outrageous blasphemy! Perhaps if more fundamental Baptists had swum in the depths of the refreshing waters of Puritan literature they would have recognized the tepid, festering scum puddles offered up on book tables and in pulpits.

Although nothing will ever surpass the sanctifying power of God’s Word, I am convinced that if we would sharpen our discernment with the wetting stone of Puritan writing then there would be less of a market for these dull, vapid, and blasphemous volumes foisted on God’s people in stores, websites, and periodicals, both in wider evangelicalism and in our own independent fundamental Baptist circles.


1. Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English, in Donald L. Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008) 37

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Wisdom of Reading Dead Guys

Bring the Books 4

History has long fascinated me. I suppose I have read more history books than any other genre, running well into the thousands now. My Audible book list is heavily weighted to history, and to biography, which is another form of history really.

Along the way I have learned a few things. Yes, I have learned a veritable plethora of facts, and an educated perspective on economics, technology, science, medicine, war, and the rise and fall of civilizations, but I have also learned some things about how we view the world. Specifically, to the purposes of this post, I have learned that history's verdict is often correct.

What I mean by this is that is it fairly common for people to either overestimate or underestimate a man, a movement, or a technological advance in its own time but that things generally settle out accurately as the river of time rolls on. In 1911, Ferdinand Foch, who would go on to command all Allied forces in World War One, said about the new-fangled flying machines, "Airplanes are interesting scientific toys, but they are of no military value." Needless to say, history's verdict is soundly on the other side of the argument, and rightly so. Time tells.

In the area of literature, time reveals its verdicts in what are commonly called the classics. My parents have not owned a television for pushing fifty years now so I grew up in a home without one. But they took me to the Girard Free Library so often I grew to feel at home in those tall stacks. It was in those stacks I discovered Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Hardy, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jonathan Swift, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, James Fenimore Cooper, Sir Walter Scott, and Alexandre Dumas. Why were these authors available to me as a young man, decades even centuries after they had died? Because their books had stood the test of time. They had proven themselves to have an enduring appeal across oceans and cultures and worldviews.

Alfred Edersheim
I do not read much classic literature anymore. I have read all of it that I care to, my reading time is more precious now, and my appetite for fiction has waned. But in the primary genre I read now – theology, or church books, for lack of a better term – more and more I find myself turning to its classics. Alfred Edersheim was a relatively obscure, retired minister when he published The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah in 1883. There is a reason it is considered perhaps the best book on the life of Christ ever written – because it is. The combination of warm-hearted devotion, fanatical attention to detail, patient historical research, orthodox doctrine, an ability to paint word pictures, and a background steeped in the Talmud produced a 1,500 page masterpiece. I have read it three times, and I will probably read it again a time or two before I die. It is matchless, and its enduring, widely acknowledged respect has proven it for almost 150 years.

There is, however, another incentive to prioritize reading the dead guys, as I call them, over reading the fad-of-the-moment-guy-with-the-big-ministry book. Yes, history reveals what has an enduring appeal and for good reason, but even more importantly history reveals the arc of a man's ministry. Time shows us, not just the appeal of a book, but the sum and substance of the ministry of the author of that book. This is critical for it reaches to the heart of what I said last in the last post – that we must be careful who we read for they influence us. Why? Because the living author we read carries within him the seeds of his own future, and he often transplants those seeds into the books he writes. As a reader, I may and do all unknowingly swallow them long before they are revealed by history to be the dangerous things they will later grow into.

As with the last post, this one is an attempt to lay a philosophical foundation that will guide your reading. As such, I do not want to press it to closely with specific examples, but in the interest of being clear let me illustrate it with two contrasting men. Both of these men are dead. Both of them had large ministries. Both of them authored books, as well illustrated by my own bookshelves. I have read thousands of pages of one man’s work, yet the other one’s books collect dust in my library. Why? Because when I grasped this concept – that history reveals the arc of a man's ministry as good or bad, and that I want to read the good ones – I realized that I was comfortable with the total ministry of one man and uncomfortable with the other. In short, with the perfected vision of hindsight, I wanted one man's influence to grow in my life, and I did not trust the other.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was born in Wales in 1899. He grew up in a theologically repressive Calvinist Methodist church, though he would later largely return to its tenets. Intellectually brilliant, he went into the medical field, and became one of London's up-and-coming doctors, assisting Royal Physician Sir Thomas Horder. While still in his twenties, with the world as his oyster, God captured his heart. He surrendered to the call to preach, and without formal theological training he went home to Wales to resurrect a dying chapel in a rough, blue-collar coal town. Over the course of ten years both his work and his preaching gradually came to the attention of others, and in 1939 an aging G. Campbell Morgan tapped him as his successor in London's famed Westminster Chapel. For nigh on thirty years nearly 2000 people filled its great hall morning and evening on Sundays to hear his evangelistic and expository messages. The expository messages, particularly, became the foundation for book series he would continue to publish long after he retired.

Lloyd-Jones was not a perfect man, but he was a man of proven integrity, committed to his wife, a good father to his children, and careful in his pastoring. Doctrinally, he had his weaknesses in my view. He was not Baptist, so his ecclesiology is faulty. He was what I call a soft Calvinist, so his soteriology is faulty. His main text is always the King James but he will occasionally refer to another translation. Yet he was a fervent preacher with a heart hot for God. He was a firm fundamentalist, and a proponent of both ecclesiastical separation and personal separation. Above all, he exercised an unswerving loyalty to the Word of God, and a constant care in revealing its truth. Consequently, his books are deep and rich without being academic or dry. He was a bold, unhesitating preacher, standing against the spirit of his age, and it shows in his writing.

Charles Grandison Finney
Charles Grandison Finney was a native New Englander, born in 1792. His era of evangelism – the early to mid 1800s – is generally seen in American church history as the forerunner of Moody, Sunday, and Graham. Rejecting the hard Calvinism of his youth, when he came to Christ as a lawyer he did so with a vengeance. He became a veritable whirlwind in the pulpit. His revivals routinely brought great numbers of salvations and additions to the church, as well as great flummox to the ministerial community around that church. In later years, facing health and family challenges, he shifted into pastoral work in New York City. His life’s work, however, was the building up and administration of Oberlin College in Ohio.

Finney was a fiery preacher, a fervent soul winner, a man whose ministry was marked by intensity, the power of the Holy Spirit, and a passionate desire to produce results for the Lord. As he aged, he kept much of that, and at Oberlin sought to build a theological framework to match his rejection of Calvinism and embrace of soul winning. The framework he chose to construct became not just unwieldy, but downright heretical. In time, he embraced sinless perfectionism, rejected the sacrificial model of the atonement, and rejected eternal security.

What do I see when I look at the arc of each man's ministry? I see one that shines brighter as the years pass, one that calls to me, "Be firm, be bold, be careful, be right, be holy, be committed, and be faithful." The other? It is a cautionary tale of a good beginning, massive statistical accomplishment, and a doctrinally disastrous finish. So which one do I read now? Yeah, you guessed it.

(Parenthetically – can I do that for a whole paragraph? – I find it telling that the independent Baptist circles in which I have run my entire life often mention Finney in a glowing, positive manner, and never mention Lloyd-Jones at all. It is like they see Finney’s soul winning zeal and talk of the fulness of the Spirit and think that makes him quotable and recommendable whereas Lloyd-Jones’ soft Calvinism makes him neither. It is an egregious mis-classification, in my view. Now, back to the blog post…)

Brethren, do not let the point get lost in the personalities. When you pull up the most recent hot shot author of the day on your Kindle you have no realistic idea where his ministry is going to take him, but you do know this: if you read after him, he will take you where he is going. That is just how influence works. But dead guys? You know exactly where their ministry took them, and that knowledge can be a sure and certain guide in your approach to whether and how you allow them to influence your life.

As has already been mentioned and will be again, there are substantially more riches in the dead guys on your shelf than the current flavor of the moment. But in addition to that, there is safety in those dead guys. You do not read a book. You read an author. Go find a dead guy, examine his doctrine, manner of life, and ministry carefully. All of it, beginning to end. When those speak to you, open his books and let him pour the unsearchable riches of Christ into your soul.

Here lies wisdom.