February 1, 2006
CJ directed 4 questions to me in a recent post here. Here are some brief answers.
1) Why did you create this annual rotation of theologians? I love C. S. Lewis’ introduction to Penelope Lawson’s translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word. In it, Lewis talks about the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds by reading old books. I’ve several times heard folks exhorting the young to adopt one author to make him your special life time study. I’m greedy. I wanted more. And no one was looking. At least until now!
2) What has been the fruit and effect of this reading schedule upon your soul? I am humbled, inspired, encouraged. Instructed. Slowly but surely, I feel like I’ve come to understand each of these men better, particularly as I try to read their works chronologically (usually but not always). I hear Stott as the young student worker (and perhaps a little more Arminian sounding in his first edition of "Becoming a Christian"). I see Carl Henry as the young journalist, studying theology. I come to understand more of the Doctor’s life history and Spurgeon’s trajectory. In the process, over the years, I feel that I come to know these men, and something of the times they were part of. I feel that I am humbled by not only bringing my questions to them, and so reading only Death of Death, or the Institutes, but I’m listening to Edwards in sermons I’ve never heard of and being struck by the solemnity of a 19-year old young man in New York preaching things like this in his sermon "The Nakedness of Job" (Works [Yale Edition] volume 10, pp. 404-410:
Perhaps, when you read the history of Job, you read it as a strange thing that happened but once in the world; but, for the time to come, read it as a thing that happens daily, and frequently, for every man at death is as much deprived of all his worldly goods as Job was. . . . The history of job is only a shadow of death; it is no more than happens to every man in the world,” Jonathan Edwards. . . . We cannot think too often of our latter end. . . . Death serves all alike; as he deals with the poor, so he deals with the rich: is not awed at the appearance of a proud palace, a numerous attendance, or a majestic countenance; pulls a king out of his throne, and summons him before the judgment seat of God, with as few compliments and as little ceremony as he takes the poor man out of his cottage. Death is as rude with emperors as with beggars, and handles one with as much gentleness as the other. . . . Such is the folly of the world. They pursue violently after the world, slave and tire themselves for a little of it, are exceeding anxious and careful about it. Their minds are gnawn with care and anxiety; they undergo abundance of difficulties for it, and will often violate their consciences, disobey their God, and go very near hellfireso near as to scorch themcome so near to the pit that their feet are every moment ready to slip. When they lose the world, they mourn as if they had met with a loss that it is impossible should be repaired either in this world or the next, and when they have got a little of the world, they please themselves with the thoughts of it as much as if they were sure they could never lose it, neither by death nor otherwise . . . . Before, they were careless and at ease, as if death were not wont to come into their parts of the world . . . .”
You see how material like this blesses my soul. I could go on almost infinitely expressing how my own relationship with the Lord and reading of His Word is enriched by those who’ve gone before me, but have left some written sustenance for me. These books standing on my shelves are my friends. They stand politely, waiting for me to sit down and listen to some of the most thoughtful and inspiring members of the Christian family known to me. They await only my time and attention.
3) in your ministry? The effects in my ministry are probably largely the reflections of what these readings have done in my own soul. Luther on the Psalms has often done a poor job, and this makes me careful in how I see Christ in the Psalms. Owen is sometimes overly sharp in his criticisms and this makes me careful of criticism. On the other hand, taking what seemed obvious to Augustine and wondering why it isn’t obvious to me has probably made me more thoughtful of some assertions. And Warfield’s care over the text has certainly encouraged my own carefulness in Word ministry. I know that my sermons & writings are littered with quotations from these men. More immediately, I also have a "Theology Breakfast" many Thursday mornings from 7-8am where I simply read from these men to whomever appears. Over the years, this has helped to introduce these men to those select few in the congregation who are willing & able to come to break their fast of theology.
4) Also, please do a post on the five to ten most influential books you have read. I love reading "MOST" lists and hate writing them. I will answer this question autobiographically, about which books I perceive to have been particularly used of God in my own life, not necessarily commending these books as the 5 or 10 BEST books out there, or that I would recommend now to everyone.
In the 1960’s–my mother’s reading to me of biographies of everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee to Frank Lloyd Wright. My own reading of the Harvard Classics series, especially the Socratic Dialogues of Plato.
In the 1970’s–The gospels (as a non-Christian), A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, Roy Hession’s Calvary Road, C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, Frederick Crewes’ The Pooh Perplex, J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. The article on Luke’s use of pnuema in Kittel’s. J. I. Packer’s Introduction to Owen’s Death of Death.
In the 1980’s–Dale Moody’s The Word of Truth (because it was so bad, it awoke be to the Southern Baptist situation), John Calvin’s Institutes (this helped turn me from a Presbyterian church-attending agnostic on baptism into a Presbyterian-church attending credobaptist), B. B. Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, B. B. Warfield’s Perfectionism, John L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology, Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Carl Henry, God, Revelation & Authority, H. C. Porter’s Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (because it made the period come alive to me).
In the 1990’s–Richard Mueller’s study on Arminius. I must confess that at this point, by the time I go to my pastorate in 1994, life gets so much THICKER that there is more of a blur, and I am less aware of the influence of individual volumes. It’s not that I’ve stopped reading in the last 12 years, but I am busy now mining Scripture, and being deliberately shaped by so many books, but often in ways that have already been established. So the category of "Influential" is more difficult for me to discern.
In the 2000’s–Ed Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, CJ Mahaney’s Humility.
Dear CJ, I hope that this has helped to answer the question. And now, with Lig, I await your own answers!