Trinity College Library (Ireland)

[Adapted from Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory of 1673]

Because God has made available the excellent, holy writings of his servants; and many may have a good book, on any day or at any hour of the week, even those who have no access to a good preacher – I advise all God’s servants to be thankful for so great a gift as books, and to make use of them, and to read much. For reading can be more conducive to knowledge than hearing is, because you may choose what subjects, and the best treatises, you please; and you may read as often as you please; and you may peruse again and again whatever you forget; and you may take your time as you go, to fix it in your mind. And as is the case with very many, reading does more than hearing to move the heart – because lively books may be more easily accessed than lively preachers.

Especially these sorts of men and women should be much in reading:

  1. Mothers and Fathers, or heads of households, who have more souls to care for than just their own.
  2. People who live where there is no preaching; or, where there is only bad preaching. (Bad preaching is even worse than none!)
  3. Infirmed people, servants, and children, who are forced on many Lord’s Days to stay at home, while others have the opportunity to hear the Word preached.
  4. And non-working persons, since they have more leisure than others have.

To all these, but especially to parents, I shall here give a few directions.

Direction 1 – I presuppose that you keep the devil’s books out of your hands and house. I mean graphic romance novels or “love-books”, and the false, bewitching and seducing books of all false teachers; and the railing books by various factions written against each other, on purpose, to teach men to hate one another. For where these are allowed to corrupt the mind, other useful writings are forestalled in their benefits. It is an awful wonder to see how powerfully these kinds of writings poison the minds of children, and of many other empty heads.

Also refrain from books that are written by contemporary “sons of Korah“; those written to breed distastes and discontents in the minds of the people against their governors – both magistrates and ministers. For there is always something, even in the best leaders, for the tongues of seditious men to fasten on, and then to aggravate in the people’s ears and minds; and there is something even in godly people, which tempts them all too easily to become ill-tempered,  then to take aim and take fire, before they are aware of what they are doing. Rarely do most people, even godly people, foresee the evil to which such treachery leads.

Direction 2 – When you read to your family, or to others, let it be seasonably and timely – at a time when silence and participation are most likely to bear fruit; not when children are crying or talking, or servants bustling to disturb you. Distraction is worst in the greatest businesses.

Direction 3 – Choose such books as are most suitable to your condition, or to the spiritual condition of those you read to. It is worse than unprofitable to read books designed for comforting troubled minds to those that are block-headedly self-secure, and who have hardened, obstinate, un-humbled hearts. It is just as bad as a physician giving medicines or remedies that are contrary to a patient’s need, and that would actually nourish the disease! So it is to read books that are too high-a-style, or subject too deep, to dull or ignorant hearers. We use to say: “That which is one man’s meat, is another man’s poison.” It is not enough that the substance is good – but it must be agreeable to the situation for which it is used.

Direction 4 – In a common family, begin with those books which both, and at once, inform the understanding about the fundamentals of the faith and awaken the affections of the heart, such as treatises about regeneration, conversion, or repentance.

Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.

“Remember that they are not the most learned, who read most – but those who read that which is most necessary and profitable.”

Direction 5 – Next, read over those books which are most suited to the state of young Christians for their growth in grace, and for their exercise of faith, and love, and obedience, and for the mortifying of selfishness, pride, sensuality, worldliness, and other of the most dangerous sins.

Direction 6 – At the same time labor to methodize your knowledge; and to that end read first and learn some short catechism, and then some larger catechism. And let the catechism be kept in memory while you live, and the rest be thoroughly understood.

Direction 7 – Next read (to yourselves or or to your families) some larger expositions of the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; such as Thomas Watson on the Commandments; that your understanding may be more full, particular, and distinct, and your families may not be limited to a mere general knowledge, which, in truth, is not as valuable as genuine understanding.

Direction 8 – Read often and much those books that direct you in a course of daily communion with God, and a holy ordering of your daily life.

Prodigal Church

April 26, 2017

My thanks to Jared Wilson, not only for another thoughtful book, but for expressing many of the very things I would like to express.  In his 2015 book, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Wilson has written a book I wish I had written.

Knowing God

January 11, 2016

Thinking Man (B&W)

More than 200 names for God are recorded in the Bible.  All of them are important.  Each of them reveals and affirms certain characteristics of God.  While God is incomprehensible – we will never exhaust what there is to know about Him – He is nevertheless knowable.  He has revealed himself to us.  To know God is to recognize what He is like – and what He is not like.  As J.I. Packer once said:

“Those who know God have great thoughts of God.”

So what is God like?

This is not an academic question.  Though certainly there are some Academics in the news recently who may have been well served to have given a little more thought to the question before holding a press conference only to display syncretistic ignorance.  But even in that instance the question is not merely academic.  It is personal.

When asked: “What is the greatest commandment?”,  Jesus unhesitatingly declared: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22.36-40; Deuteronomy 6.1-7) So let me ask a somewhat rhetorical question: “How can one love God if little to nothing is known about God?  Further, even if it is possible to love a god one knows little about, (and I suspect that it may be possible,) how can we claim to be keeping the command to “Love God with all your mind” if we do not engage our minds to learn more and more about him?

Now let me be clear about something: If you are reading this post, and you feel you are less knowledgeable theologically than you think you ought to be, I am not trying to shame you.  Truth is this: I am fairly theologically educated.  If you have any knowledge of God at all, the difference between your little knowledge and my educated knowledge is so minimal when compared to what knowledge there is to be known about God, that any sense of haughtiness I might be inclined to project would be laughable, if such pomposity would not be so pathetic.  My concern is not who knows more than who, but rather whether we  know God, and whether, in keeping with the greatest command, we are engaging our minds to be continually growing in our knowledge of God.

If you have a desire to love the Lord with all your mind, let me offer a handful of suggested books about God with which to feed your mind.  None of these are technical, but all are excellent. (To my mind, these are actually better than most of the technical theological books I have read.)

This list is far from exhaustive. There are many excellent books on this subject, and I welcome anyone who would like to add to this list to do so in the comment section.  Sadly, there are many, many, bad books under this heading as well.  Some of the better books I left off this list are Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Reason for God by Timothy Keller.  While I enjoyed and highly commend both of these, the list above reflects a thorough introduction and/or reflection, yet easy reads.  Keller’s is excellent for those asking the question: Is There a God? Packer’s would be on my list for next steps.

I will end with this: Earlier this year I heard a statement, attributed to John Piper (though I have been unable to confirm it is his), that stuck with me, resonates, and is appropriate to ponder:

“The mind provides kindling for the heart.”

Jesus Outside the Lines

March 31, 2015

This afternoon I started reading Scott Sauls‘ refreshing new book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. It seems timely – at least for me.

I for one am growing weary of a culture in which increasingly polemic debates seem never ending.  And while I was at first skeptical of the phrase, considering it a bit exaggerated and overblown, I am more-and-more inclined to agree that the United States is appropriately labeled a “post-truth society” – where what matters are not the facts, but rather striking a blow for your political side. That’s what it seems to me, as I read and watch the news regarding the Riots of Ferguson, Missouri, the RFRA in Indiana, among other items.

There is truth. There is wisdom. And what’s more, there are effective ways of finding the wisdom without sacrificing truth.That’s what I long for.  I want to engage in intelligent discussion, both with those with whom I agree and with those with whom I do not agree.  I want to understand, so I can process things from perspectives I may not presently possess. I want to be heard, without being demonized as either a bigot or a half-hearted traitor.  I want to align myself to truth and wisdom, and I want to see truth and wisdom win the day.  I get that most things are more complex than we may want to make them.  I get that we can act wrongly even in those times when we are in the right.  But call me naive, or utopian, but that is what I want.

That is what Scott Sauls advocates in these pages.  Having not yet finished the book, I cannot say that everything Sauls writes will be as music to my ears.  But I can say is, having read a couple of related interviews, what Sauls endeavors to do resonates with my sensibilities.

It is not compromise I desire, but something transcendent: I want to remember that God is truth, for his truth to reign. I want for God’s people to be the champions for the good of all humanity – which is, after all, created after God’s image.  And I want these truths and values brought wisely, winsomely, and effectively into the Public Square.  The fact that some – maybe many – don’t want these ideas in the Public Square is no reason to stop taking them there.  And the fact that some seem to despise these ideas is no excuse for Christians to act in a manner unworthy of the Gospel, as we engage those who oppose and even hate us.

So far, Scott Sauls is not disappointing.

Related articles:

Role of the Holy Spirit

February 20, 2015

Holy Spirit (Blue, Yellow, Red)

The Holy Spirit is mysterious to many, perhaps especially to those in more intellectually inclined traditions. Most Christians probably understand that historic orthodoxy recognizes the Holy Spirit to be part of the Trinity, and therefore God, but I suspect many are somewhat less certain about what that means.  Often the Holy Spirit is referred to as a depersonalized “it” despite being the third person of the Trinity. Maybe even more questions surround what exactly the Holy Spirit does.

Some time ago I ran across a satirical confession of faith, one that ostensibly reflects the functional beliefs of a typcical American evanglical. Mimicking the pattern of the Apostle’s Creed, the clause regarding the the Holy Spirit declares:

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, who did some weird stuff at Pentecost, but doesn’t do much more anymore except speak to the hearts of individual believers.

How close to the experience or belief of most, I cannot say. But I suspect, and fear, that it is discomfortingly close to the functional belief of too many.

Recently I have enjoyed a four-part series of posts by Jon Payne from Sovereign Grace Ministries blog, titled: The Role of Holy Spirit. I commend them for a thoughtful introduction and overview:

  • Part 1 – Introduction
  • Part 2 – The Trouble With Nicodemus
  • Part 3 – Who is the Holy Spirit? and What Does He Do?
  • Part 4 – Transaction at the Fountain

I believe this series provides a good Introduction and/or refresher about this one who is often referred to as “The Shy Member of the Trinity”.  Hopefully it will whet your appetite to look further, and to study more deeply.

For those who are interested in digging into this subject, into this Person of the Holy Spirit, I would suggest two things:

First, stay away from some of the more bizarre claims by the likes of Benny Hinn, Perry Stone, Lester Summerall, and others from the Name-It-Claim-It camp, who refer to themselves as “Full Gospel” Christians.  More often than not, there is little gospel reflected in the writings of these folks – at least not the gospel of the Bible.  (See Galatians 1.6-9)  These, at best, offer fascinations that lead away from the Cross.

Second, delve into a copy of one or more of the following books.  This list is hardly exhaustive, but I think all of these provide substantive and sound insights about the Holy Spirit:

Mom Enough

February 19, 2015

There should be little debate that the most influential group of people in the world are Moms.  While not necessarily true in every individual situation, collectively it is difficult to image any group running even a close second.  With this in mind, John Piper plugs a new book, Mom Enough, written by a collection of godly women who are also gifted writers:

  • Carolyn McCulley
  • Rachel Jankovic
  • Gloria Furman
  • Rachel Pieh Jones
  • Christine Hoover
  • Trillia Newbell
  • Christina Fox

On a personal note, Christina Fox, and her now husband George, were members of the church I had the privilege to pastor in Chattanooga while they were both attending Covenant College.  It has been exciting to see how God has worked in Christina, and how he is now working through her writing and her speaking.  Check out Christina’s blog: To Show Them Jesus

If you are a Mom, know a mom, or have a mom, this book is written for you.

In the present sermon series in our church I am working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Rather I should say “we” are working through the book of Galatians, as while I am preaching the bulk of the messages I am sharing the teaching with my Associate, Camper Mundy, and a couple of other pastors who are part of our church.  But in my preparations for each message there are a few non-technical resources I am uising that would also be beneficial for anyone who is studying Galatians – whether a seminary graduate or a typical church member wanting simply to deepen his/her understanding of this letter.

One of these resources is Tim Keller’s Galatians For You.  In the video above Tim introduces his intent in developing this book, and offers some suggestions of how it might be used beneficailly.  And though perhaps to those hearing my message may assume seeming little of Keller’s words may be overtly expressed my messages, without question the depth of Keller’s insights has helped shaped my understanding of this book and how the message applies to us today.

Below is a short list of some of the non-technical resources I am reading (or re-reading) during this series, Freedom: A Study of Galatians.