Checking In

January 31, 2006

Hello friends. Al, we prayed for you in private and from the pulpit on Sunday. I trust that the funeral services for your dear father-in-law went well, and that the Lord strengthened you to bring his Word.

I am delinquent in beginning to answer CJ’s good questions, but I’ll make a start (though I won’t make an end of it) here. CJ asked:

When and how did your love for reading begin? 

I really can’t remember exactly. My mother was a former university prof and voracious reader, and my Dad was a printer and publisher, so books have been a part of my life as long as food. I do remember loving to read history and biography (particularly military history) from a very early age. I was captivated by figures like the first Duke of Marlborough (ancestor of Winston Churchill and victor over the forces of Louis XIV, the Sun King, at Blenheim), Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, Robert the Bruce, Oliver Cromwell, George Monck, George Washington, etc.

I also remember being utterly enthralled by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as part of an assignment in AP english in High School. No other work of fiction has ever impacted me like LOTR. I’ve been lost in Middle Earth ever since. Nevertheless, I didn’t study hard until I got to college and my love for reading grew in History and English courses at Furman University. I really did not read advanced academic or historical theology until seminary. For instance, I "met" John Calvin for the first time as a ministerial student, not as a high schooler or collegian. Nevertheless, in high school, I was reading Packer, Stott, Blanchard, Schaeffer, and the like.

Describe your present practice of the spiritual disciplines and provide us with the specifics, if you would (reading of Scripture, supplemental books, how much time you devote to this each day, etc). 

My devotional reading practice began in high school with Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan, and with IVP’s Search the Scriptures. I have used some variation of these ever since. Devotional reading varies from day to day, but I attempt to approach almost all my reading devotionally. Asking questions of the book like: What does this teach me about my God? How does the Gospel illumine this truth, and have I thus rightly responded to this truth? How does this truth expose my sin and need of grace?

Apart from the daily study of Scripture for the edification of your soul, approximately how much time do you devote to reading each day or week? 

I really don’t know. I’m tempted to say "all too little" — though I aspire to respond appropriately to the famous admonition of my PhD supervisor at the University of Edinburgh, New College, Professor David F. Wright, who once said: "Time not spent reading is wasted time." And then he added with a twinkle in his eye: "well, almost."

What books are you presently reading?

Well, gobs of commentaries for one thing. I read about 15-18 commentaries along as I preach through a Bible book, so I’m reveling in Ephesians, Numbers, the Psalms and 1 Samuel right now, as I preach through Ephesians and the third book of the Psalms and prepare to begin series on Numbers and 1 Samuel. At any given time I’m reading 5-7 manuscripts for endorsement or review. In addition, I try to keep up with the currents in Systematic Theology, Church History and theological studies in general. I have about 25 periodicals that I like to track as well.

What have been the five to ten most influential books you have read? 

Almost impossible to answer, but here’s a list of books that have, in one way or another, rocked my world.

1. The Westminster Confession of Faith. Yes, it’s only about fifteen pages long (without Scripture references) but it is the apex of Protestant Orthodox confessional formulations and a model of pastoral theology and doctrinal clarity.

2. B.B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students. Warfield got all over me in seminary, and my admiration grows yearly. He answered Barth a quarter-century before Barth published his views. He out-read, out-thought and out-wrote every man of his generation, but we aren’t listening to him. the loss is ours. His Inspiration and Authority of the Bible is magisterial and still unchallenged.

3. J.I. Packer, Knowing God. I first met Dr. Packer as a teenager, at a Bible Conference. I’d read him before I met him, and I’ve loved his lecturing and writing ever since. His Fundamentalism and the Word of God has been equally influential on me. And his A Quest for Godliness has fueled hundreds of hours of meditation and reflection.

4. Sinclair Ferguson’s Kingdom Life in a Fallen Worlda popular, devotional treatment of the Sermon on the Mount that still thrills my soul.

5. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied grabbed me for the doctrines of grace and has never let go.

6. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism spoke to realities I had already seen with my own eyes in mainline churches. Seminal. As was Ned Stonehouse’s biography of J Gresham Machen.

7. J.C. Ryle, Holiness – like Owen’s Mortification of Sin – cut me to the quick.

8. David F. Wells, No Place for Truth – provided me with a grid for assessing church and culture that was dramatically important for everything I am tyring to do in the church and the churches today.

9. Calvin’s Institutes – reading them through with David Calhoun at Covenant Seminary was one of the great privileges and delights of my life.

10. Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology – still, I think, my favorite ST text.

11. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Prescription Against Heretics and Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching – all reveal the early Fathers with their best foot forward. Hearing Irenaeus describe the elder who taught him, who was himself taught by John (yes, that John, the one whom Jesus loved, the Apostle), sent chills up and down my spine the first time I read it – and still thrills me at the thought of our closeness to the Apostles.

12. Tertullian – you pick it, is it Against Marcion, On the Flesh of Christ, Apology or what? No one was more fiery in rhetoric, and yet as substantive as Tertullian.

13. Athanasius – On the Incarnation (and CS Lewis’ famous “Old Books” introduction).

14. Luther – On the Bondage of the Will, with Packer’s great introduction.

15. Donald Macleod, Behold Your God, A Faith to Live By, The Person of Christ. The modern theologian who has pastored me most by his writing and preaching.

Finally, who do you like in the Super Bowl? The Steelers. Sentimental pick for Jerome Bettis’ and RC Sproul’s sake. Usually, I tend to be an NFC kind of guy.