Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's in your Pastor's Library?

One of the greatest inventions of the 21st century is Table Talk Radio. This is a lively Lutheran theological game-show. It is a little too Lutheran at times, but until some Reformed Baptists start something similar, I’ll keep on listening to the Lutherans!

The great thing about Table Talk Radio is the ability of those at home to play along. Many are the times when I have been yelling at the computer that Pastor needs to guess something else on ‘Bible Bee’ (I think I do really well on that), or laughed at the cluelessness of Vicar Evan.

One of the lesser-played games is called “What’s in Your Pastor’s Library?” The game can be quite amusing, but the point is one that every church member ought to have an interest in. What is in your pastor’s library? Is it the latest books on leadership and the latest best-selling Christian paperback? Is it volume after volume of material by the latest trendy writers whose books will be completely unsellable in a decade’s time? All too often I am afraid this is the case.

A pastor’s library is his equipment for the work. If a pastor has a library that is too small or that is wrongly-oriented, it will affect his effectiveness. The first priority of the pastor is to “preach the Word”, so the priority in his library must be books that are intended to help him to do that, good, sound commentaries. Second must be those books about preaching and interpreting the Word that are intended to develop the pastor’s ability to “preach the Word.”

Nor should the books in the pastor’s library all be from the same period in Church history. They should at least come from the whole period from the Reformation to the present day, though a good library ought also to include selected writings from the Church Fathers and at least Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? from the Middle Ages. No serious pastor’s library should be without books by John Calvin and Martin Luther, those men were masters in Israel, and understood the Bible as few others ever have. From the 17th century we must have the Puritans, Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, Richard Baxter and John Owen. Those translations from the Continental masters of the same period are often worth their weight in gold, a case in point are the sermons of Jean Daille on Philippians and Colossians. From the 18th century come the writings of John Wesley and George Whitefield. The Reformed pastor who refuses to read Wesley robs himself of a great source of encouragement and Bible teaching. From the Baptists come the writings of John Gill and Andrew Fuller. The two men are quite different in many ways, but both well worth reading. John Newton’s works are of course beyond praise. Jonathan Edwards’ works are a gold-mine of God-centred thought.

The 19th century is a veritable gold-mine, little tapped. In addition to the Hodges, to the Alexanders, to the great men of the Southern Presbyterian Church such as Thornwell and Dabney, and to Spurgeon, there are a host of writers from the 19th century who are a great help to the reader. One thing every pastor should try to obtain is a set of the early Cunningham Lectures; each of these volumes is a definitive treatise on a point of Christian doctrine. James Denney’s The Death of Christ should have a place in every pastor’s library. Equally, the works of R.W. Dale of Birmingham are a precious store-house of thought.

The 20th century provides a lot of good works as well. B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, A.W. Tozer, G. Campbell Morgan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Stott, those are a few of the great 20th century writers.

Nor should all your pastor’s books be from his own tradition. One of the signs of a narrow fundamentalism is a refusal to read people from an even slightly different tradition. Pastors in particular need to be mature enough to read material they may disagree with in part. I know of no Reformed treatise like C.F.W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Reformed pastors need to read Wesley and the Lutherans, Baptists need to read books by Paedobaptists. Arminians need to read Calvinists.

And the pastor’s library has to have some history in it. If we do not know where we are coming from, we will have trouble telling where we are going. Historical reading has three purposes. First of all, to warn; there is nothing new under the sun in terms of heresy, what has been will be again. Historical works dealing with old heresies are often bang up to date! Secondly, we read history to inspire; we read of times of revival and times of persecution. Read the old histories of Wesley and Whitefield, of the rise of the Primitive Methodists, and you will breathe a different air! Thirdly, we read them to teach. The past was a lot like the present in many ways. Jonathan Edwards was treated abominably by his church and given the right foot of fellowship. The biographies of pastors can be a great help to young pastors, pointing out how others dealt with the problems we meet today.

So what’s in you pastor’s library? You will be able to tell from the pulpit or platform. And if the answer is rather bad, well, Christmas is coming, and what better time to buy your pastor a good book? Where to start? Start with good commentaries, they are always useful.

No comments: