I've noted, with some degree of envy, the lists of pastors and others who speak of their top ten favorite books they've read this year. To be honest, I don't think I could even write a top ten list on this topic. I'm not sure I've read enough books this year to make a top ten list, and will struggle to fulfill my editor's request for the annual books in review post.
"There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." - Bertrand Russell
I am not against the voracious reader by any means; but I am somewhat perplexed by the penchant of some who make public their impressive reading habits. The most learned people I know don't need to tell everyone how widely read they are.
Seeing how many books some pastors (and home-schoolers) read can give one a temporary crisis of assurance. But maybe they don't have to prepare two sermons each week, visit people, raise several children, show hospitality, pay attention to their wife, answer a hundred emails a week, and take out the papers and the trash.
So I'm writing this short post to tell you that you can still be a Christian, even a Confessionally Reformed Christian, if you don't read more than 10 books a year. You don't need to feel (too) inadequate. You don't need to post pictures on Facebook of famous libraries, telling everyone how much you wish you could live in one. You don't need to claim this picture below is your recent Amazon book order:
I think the only thing worse than bragging about the books we read is bragging about how little sleep you've had the previous night (or bragging that you don't care what people think, which is a dead give-away that in fact you do).
Quite apart, then, from the manner in which we inform others of our reading habits, let's not forget that the only book we actually have to read is God's book (see Matt. 22:29; Josh. 1:8; Deut. 17:18; Ezra 7:10; Job 23:12; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 17:11). His book should always be our #1 priority. Is it? We should aim to master its contents. Do we? Be a man or woman of the Scriptures. It isn't a sin to have no clue who Tolkien is, but it may be a sin to be grossly ignorant of the elementary truths of God's word because of neglect of the Bible.
In this Reformed world where many aren't afraid to speak of their reading habits, I'm still shocked at the relative poor knowledge of the Scriptures that characterizes Western Christians who have access to a multitude of Bibles and study Bibles. Luther worried that even his own books would keep men and women from reading the Scriptures. A lot of seminarians come to Seminary with woeful biblical knowledge, and I wonder if they leave having made much improvement in this area.
Pastors should be especially well-versed in the Scriptures. It is easy to tell when a preacher is comfortable in God's word. The extremely learned Thomas Goodwin read widely. But his own son said of his dad:
"...But the Scriptures were what he most studied..."
Samuel Hopkins observed of Jonathan Edwards that he studied the Scriptures:
"...more than all other books..."
What is the most deplorable mistake that students of theology make? According to John Owen:
Not a few of us can relate to Owen's confession. But it is no coincidence that some of the best theologians over church history were men of the Scriptures first and foremost, otherwise they would have, like Berkhof, merely regurgitated Reformed theology!"I know not a more deplorable mistake in the studies of the divines, both preachers and others, than their diversion from an immediate, direct study of the Scriptures themselves unto the studying of commentators, critics, scholiasts, annotators, and the like helps...Not that I condemn the use and study of them, which I wish men were more diligent in, but desire pardon if I mistake...by the experience of my own folly for many years, that many which seriously study the things of God do yet rather make it their business to inquire after the sense of other men from the Scriptures than to search studiously into them themselves" (Works, 4:213).
So read a lot, but aim to read and understand God's Word, so you can form your own views and opinions:
"Wood drastically.." - "Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth"? You got that from Vickers' "Work in Essex County," page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter?