I enjoy reading theology that is not for preparation. That is, the reading that I enjoy that is not for teaching or sermon preparation. I would like to call it a hobby, but I don’t think it would do it justice.
I don’t know if you do this, when I visit a fellow pastor/teacher I always have a quick glance at the shelves around the room or what is on the desk to see what they are reading. I think all clergy can fall prey to this. My Systematic Theology professor in seminary would deliberately place a Dictionary of Outer Mongolian in a prominent spot on the shelf so that an eager young student like me would say to himself, “Wow! He knows Outer Mongolian, he must have a brain the size of a planet!”
I thought I would do my own little glance around the desk and easy chair. Since the second half of 2010 to now my reading list seems to have assumed a definite focus in three related directions.
Here’s the first cluster:
- All is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism by Marsha Witten
- Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean
- Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton
I’ve been spending a lot of time in looking for ways to understand North American culture. These three works are related to each other. The second two are commentaries on the massive National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR). One interpretation of the study is how the default understanding of American teens (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – MTD) has come from their parents. MTD is what they have been taught from their parents in the first and primary way, and from their pastors and churches.
The second cluster
- The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash
- Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today by John Stott
- Calvin’s Preaching by Tom Parker
- The Method of Grace by John Flavel
- Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ by Alec Motyer
While reading and learning about the current culture and the sobering conclusions of NSYR, I have spent more and more time relearning the priority and importance of preaching the whole counsel of God. For probably the fifth time in my ministry I have got down under the hood, as it were, of my preaching and totally overhauled how I do it from beginning to end. I realized that I was practicing a “Where’s Waldo?” hermeneutic, inviting my listeners to find themselves (like the little man in the woolen hat) in the text of Scripture. But the truth is they are not in Scripture at all, Jesus Christ is whom we find in Scripture, not ourselves. Once understood and applied there is a recovery of the grace-gospel, an understanding of salvation by grace rather than moral effort which brings about a personal renewal.
The third cluster
- The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Richard Lovelace
- Lectures on Revivals of Religion by William Sprague
- Revival by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening by William Williams
- The Power of Prayer: The New York Revival of 1858 by Samuel Prime
- The Lost Soul of American Protestantism by Darryl Hart
Actually this last cluster is cheating a bit. Full disclosure, I have been chipping away at learning the factors of revival and renewal since my sabbatical in 2009 as I prepared to teach the Reformation studies course for the Diocesan School for Deacons. I ended with the Great Awakening in my studies.
When I include the work God has done in me, I’ve reapplied the understanding of salvation by grace through faith to myself.