Jake Eggertsen has put together a great post having collected wisdom from a number of ministers on the books they read and believe all preachers should read.
Here are my answers to his three questions (at least my answers for today):
Skimming through a friends copy of John Lennox’s Gunning for God: Why the new atheists are missing the taget I came across this striking quote from Professor Andrew Sims former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists taken from an article in The Times (£) newspaper:
The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land.
In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism;purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.
On tuesday I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye. For those unfamiliar with this beautiful Welsh town it is the second-hand book capital of the world. One sleepy village with 38 second-hand book shops! Pride of purchase for the day was Henry Wace’s Bampton Lectures of 1879. Buying books is the easy bit but making time to read is a constant struggle. Yesterday in a post entitled ‘Pastors: Fight for the time to read’ Justin Taylor posted the following extract from CH Spurgeon reflecting on Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4:13 to bring Paul’s books to him in prison. Stirring stuff!
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.
Even an apostle must read.
Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!
How rebuked they are by the apostle!
He is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!
He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).
The man who never reads will never be read.
He who never quotes will never be quoted.
He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.
Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers and expositions of the Bible.
Carl Trueman unearths nuggets of pure gold from Jim Packer.
(HT: Lawson Hembree)
Tony Reinke’s book Lit! Contains a load of practical advice on how to read widely and read well. The final chapter Raising readers is a superb chapter on encouraging children to read. Some of them are most obviously directed at parents but there’s a lot that grand-parents, God-parents, aunts and uncles can glean.
The headings are taken from the book as is anything in italics.
1. Fill your home with books.
Nothing encourages children to read than readily-accessible books. A home full of books is a home that demonstrates the importance of reading.
To save paper (or money), take them regularly to the library.
2. Read to your kids. Make daily reading with them a priority.
3. Don’t stop reading to your kids.
I found this a thought-provoking suggestion. Reike makes a case for reading out loud with your children from birth through to college!
That may seem a bit much but there are ways and means of making reading a family activity. See some of the points below and what about listening to audio-books together especially in the car on longer journeys ( see 7 below) and then re-reading extracts on return as a highlight.
4. Read your own books in front of your kids.
Seeing that reading books is a high priority in your own life will motivate them.
Neil adds: I would add try to engage your kids with some of the content of what you’re reading. Tell them what you’re reading and why it’s important to you or entertaining to you.
5. Teach your children to read.
As you train them in the basics of reading, find ways to motivate your children. We have motivated our children by offering to buy them brand new books when they can being to read simple sentences. And we encourage them by offering to take them on ‘dates’ to the local library.
6. Push entertainment into the background
Reinke offers this advice from Thomas Spence’s How to Raise Boys who read
The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple – keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.
7. Listen to audio books in the car
8. Hunt for the best books
Look for books that will engage your kind of child and ask others for recommendations.
Neil adds – it may even encourage your child to read it if it is borrowed from a good friend who’s also enjoyed it.
9. Anticipate new books
Be on look out for new titles by an author your child has enjoyed and you have appreciated.
10. Celebrate the classics
Find ways to get significant dates from your favourite books, and the birthdays of your favourite authors, into your calendar so you can celebrate.
Neil comments: We’ve enjoyed reading our own copies of books we read as children to our 6 year old son. It’s special if they know that you loved the same book when you were their age.
11. Cultivate your child’s moral imagination
Imaginative literature like myth or fantasy is not only permissible for children, but it provides us with an opportunity to cultivate the moral imagination of our children. Our family has been blessed by the moral lessons in C.S.Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The rich spiritual and moral lessons in these books make rereading them a priority in our home.
12. Help interpret worldviews as you read to your children
Reading literature together allows parents to read about sin and evil and goodness and beauty – and to pause and help the child interpret those realities in light of Scripture.
13. Read your favourite excerpts to your children
Even young children can enjoy edited extracts from your own reading
14. Invite your children to read to the family
I will buy [my oldest son,9,] as many books as he can read, so long as he agrees to mark his five favourite pages in each book, bring those marked pages to the dinner table, explain the context, and read them to the family. This practice models a love of reading for his younger brother and sister.
15. Challenge your children to improve books
I particularly appreciated this idea! Encourage your children to engage with the books they read by suggesting alternative endings or better story-lines or even to bring the themes of the book in line with a Christian worldview.
16. Most importantly, read the Bible together as a family.
Christian audio has a great range of books to listen to including one free download a month. This month it’s John Piper’s Think.
Jeremy Paxman has a reputation of being a bit of a Bulldog. Yet last night on Newsnight the Bulldog failed to bark, let alone attack, preferring a tickle on the tummy from Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins once famously said
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
As we know, atheism does hold a pretty bleak outlook on life but now the nihilist who believes in only ‘blind pitiless indifference’ has given his atheism a make-over. His new book The Magic of Reality conveniently hides from view his belief that nothing can really be considered morally evil preferring to find solace in the wonders of science; science in some sense reveals a magical reality according to Dawkins. It might be a book for children but it skilfully disguises the darker realities that this universe is indifferent to human notions of truth, beauty and goodness preferring to blind us with science.
And so last night was a perfect opportunity for Paxman to put Dawkins’ arguments to the test and in doing so expose the manifest contradictions in his portrayal of atheism. But instead we were exposed to a pretty sycophantic interview in which Dawkins and Paxman laughted together after giving the straw-man they had invented a bit of a kicking. Paxman’s question to Dawkins ‘Do you really care that there are a lot of stupid people around?’ summed up the level of discussion. To watch it tune in at around 43 minutes.
By simply accepting Dawkins’ flawed premise that religion and science are opposed to each other Paxman missed a great opportunity for a grown up conversation. A conversation that would have been considerably more profitable to the thinking mind if held in conjunction with another author who has a new book out and who has debated Dawkins on a number of occasions.
Professor John Lennox of Oxford University also has a book already out in the US and coming out in the UK next week called Seven Days That Divide the World in which he discusses the relationship between the Bible and science. Alvin Plantinga, describes it as being ‘as good as it gets in the religion/science area.’
There might be good reasons as to why John Lennox could not have attended, or might even have preferred not to attend, but there cannot be any good reasons for Paxman going along with Dawkins’ pretence that religion is nothing more than a misguided myth.
DeYoung tells us why he’s written it in his introduction;
No doubt, the church in the West has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everthing we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western Church is not to reinvent or to be relevnat but to remember.
The Catechism is made up of 129 questions and is based on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer and in his book DeYoung provides a commentary on the questions in 52 chapters.
By way of taster here is DeYoung on question 25 and his chapter ‘The Most Important Doctrine you Never Think About’
Q. Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
A. Because that is how God has revealed Himself in the Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.
First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarised in seven statements
1. There is one God
2. The Father is God
3. The Son is God
4. The Holy Spirit is God
5. The Father is not the Son
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit
7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father
All three persons of the Tinity share the same ‘Godness.’ One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest [but also] the persons are not three Gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.
Why does any of this matter?
DeYoung mentions three to get us thinking;
1. The Trinity matters for creation. God unlike the gods in other creation stories, did not need to go outside Himslef to creat the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like HIs own two hands (to use Irenaeus’s’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos.
God created by speaking (the WOrd) as teh Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act.
2. The Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement.
Islam emphasizes unity – unity of language, culture and expression – wihtout allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity – diversity of opinion, beliefs, and background – without attemtplting to see thigns in any kind of meta-unity.
Christianity, with it’s understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity…It is possible to hope that GOd’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.
3. The trinity matters for relationships.
Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that He might show love and know love, thereby making love a created think (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity, we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most brilliant men Scotland has ever produced. Amongst his many achievements he was chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews University and later chair of theology in Edinburgh. His influence and impact were truly massive and this short biography is well worth a read by way of introduction.
It is his sermon ‘The expulsive power of a new affection‘ by which he is probably best known. It is based on 1 John 2:15 ‘” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” and in the sermon Chalmers shows us how the gospel is God’s means not only of forgiving our sin but bringing about the heart transformation that God promises us in the New Covenant.
Chalmers demonstrates how the gospel alone has the power to truly set us free from sin. Where will-power and external religion are powerless to bring about the necessary change of heart it is the gospel that has life-changing power.
How does it work? Quite simply ‘the ONLY way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one ‘ because ‘what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed‘.
As we strive for godliness and if we’re in ministry as we strive to lead others to godliness let us seek the beauty of Christ and let us nurture a new greater love, the love for Christ that delivers us from sin.
Below is an extract from the sermon:
The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one….Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine [leading to godliness]….
On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities that he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.
Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable…to…godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.
Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.
[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed–and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.
It is thus that the boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more 'mature'] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable….
The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us–it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, and the only way that deliverance is possible.
Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies….Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.
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