White Elephant in the room [5]

ote to readers:I prolly did a disservice to iMonk by posting Q10 here rather than giving it to him, but it's my post and I'm putting it here. Q9 will show up on is blog when he has a minute to get it up.

You can follow the whole "interview" with these links:
[Q1] Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10

Thanks for indulging me.

10. Our state Baptist paper used to publish an annual list of books recommended by our state denominational leadership. In all the years I read that list, I can never remember a book that wasn't on the subject of church growth or self help. In other words, no books on theology or the gospel. How important are the reading habits of pastors in shaping disciples who are reading good books?

Let me preface this answer by saying, that I am a layman who is now speaking to any pastor who is reading this with honest love of Christ, his Church, and the Gospel, and for you personally. This is also my opinion, but if anyone wants to argue with me about it I will be willing to argue within reasonable limits. Let me also say that my short list here presumes that every week, as a pastor, you are reading, studying, considering, and then expositing God’s word for the sake of your flock – so please don’t start with the “what about the Bible” objections.

First of all, any pastor who is not a reader and a writer of some sufficient means needs to think about his career choice. I’m not saying you ought to quit: I’m saying you need to think about what exactly you ought to be doing as the shepherd of the sheep. I’m pretty sure it’s not playing golf, so to speak.

Second of all, you have to be reading enriching stuff. You know: primarily the Bible, of course, but then stuff about the Bible by other men of good faith. And not blogs, for pete’s sake. Stop by my blog for a laugh once in a while, but my blog ought not to be on your top shelf. It disturbs me when pastors are reading books like Iraq: the Next Move which ought to be classed as fiction but is instead being used to supply sermons and small group study time. Read things of substance that are not vaguely topical and vaguely intimating that they have finally found a use for Rev 19:7 or whatever.

Third of all, you should be reading challenging stuff. Sometimes you have to read a decent Presbyterian defense of paedobaptism to be a convinced credobaptist. Sometimes you have to read Ehrman to become a passionate advocate of the Bible as God’s word. Sometimes you have to read Mark Driscoll because some kid in your congregation may pick it up after reading centuri0n give Pastor Driscoll the business, and you’ll have to answer questions about the difference between being “missional” and being “vulgar” – which both cent and Pastor Driscoll violate. Read something that makes you a better pastor on a broader playing field to people you didn’t think you would be ministering to.

Last of all, you should also be reading to keep your brain in shape. I just had a mock argument with Banty Rooster this week because he was asking his readers to vote for To Kill a Mocking Bird in some on-line survey as the best American novel ever – when plainly The Scarlet Letter is the greatest American novel, and perhaps the greatest novel in English. And people were actually voting for Huck Finn which is itself a sort of slap in the face to anybody who’s read it more than twice. But I have this fear that Mattson and I were the only ones in on the joke. It shouldn’t be that way. You don’t have to be a pericope-loving desiderata-sniffer in order to be a literate and mentally-agile person. But for pete’s sake: you should be reading to keep your brain from being more than a place that keeps the top of your skull from caving in.

Your reading habits make you a better person for the sake of the Gospel. Without abusing the text, when the church started getting bigger in the first egeneration of Christians, what did the Apostles do? They enlisted men of good faith to minister to the daily needs of the church so that they could then dedicate themselves to the study of God’s word. For reference sake, they weren’t watching the simulcast from the church in Antioch: they were reading in order to study God’s word.

You: read. Read! If you’re not a reader, you had better figure out what you need to do to get there. And if your primary diet is not something like theology, what exactly are you feeding your flock?

And that really brings me to my final point, Michael: notice that I said “something like theology”. There is something quite amazing about the history of Christian literature: it is all “something like” theology even when it is not exactly a book on systematics. For example, Hawthorne is unequivocally Christian literature – from his social criticism to his fiction, it revolves around the relationship of man to God through Christ. But is Hawthorne “theology”? His work could not exist without theology, but it is not merely or exclusively theology.

See: if I have any sympathy for the “emergents”, it is that they wish they were Hawthorne, and Bunyan, and Milton, and Shakespeare, and whoever else is rightly in that crowd. There really is something to the idea that real missionary zeal is expressed when we create art which magnifies God in truth and spirit – because it reaches out in a way that simple propositions do not reach out.

The problem is that this ideal is not preaching but merely praxis. In the same way that opening a soup kitchen is a nice thing to do which may or may not be spreading the Gospel, making a poem or a book or a movie which is anecdotal and expresses Christian values may or may not be spreading the Gospel. The only way to preach the Gospel is to preach the Gospel.

But we do not preach the Gospel to people who just hatched out of their eggs, so to speak; we don’t preach to pod people who just emerged and just now need to find out what to think. We preach to people who live in a real world with flesh that bruises and bleeds and also sometimes tickles, and bones which break, and eyes that cry from both joy and sorrow. So to be a great pastor, one has to read “something like theology” to be able to preach to the people God gives him.

Anyone who argues against that has never read Spurgeon or Edwards in anything but a superficial way, but anyone who thinks this is the approach of either the emergents or of those whom they frankly despise is out of his mind. A pastor does not have to be a genius, or a Ph.D. of Literature, or even a better-than-most poet or writer: he just has to expand himself by reading for enrichment.

If he does that, he will be better at discipling because he will be equipped to do God’s work. End of story, and thanks for the questions.