The cliche, “You are what you eat,” goes well beyond what we put into our stomachs. Jeremiah understood that when he wrote: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts" Jeremiah 15:16.
It is far more important what we feed our minds, than our stomachs, regardless of the medium; and we are contending in a time and with a people who either do not read or are reading books, magazines and periodicals that undermine and contradict what they hear preached in church. The term “Christian bookstore” is an oxymoron in its own right. Let’s concede that long before there were market-driven ministries, there were market-driven Christian bookstores. The endless process of making more books will always be about selling more books. The best way to sell more books is to offer what the market is seeking, regardless of its benefit or harm. The result is that our people, who may honestly be seeking something worthwhile to help their spiritual growth, may actually become distracted and derailed from a deeper spiritual life by materials that substitute self-help programs for growth in godliness and escapism into manmade fantasy instead of our Hope in Christ. So what shall we do to correct the problem?
Besides the obvious necessity of reading our Bibles and church recommended publications, like devotionals, printed sermons, Sunday school lesson materials, etcetera, our people need both direction and example in what they should be reading. Not that our people would or even should read everything their pastor reads, because our preparations often take us into materials that would not be beneficial for them. Even so, a necessary and fundamental message they need to see is that their pastor reads; he stays informed; he is aware of the issues of the day, even before his people ever hear of them; he is an example of the perpetual study that is vital to pastoral leadership and ministry. These things are evident not because he quotes from his books in the pulpit (please!), nor that he chases the fads of his day suggested by the latest book off the press, but because he knows the issues of the day and can answer the changing tides of human wisdom with the infinite and unmoveable wisdom of the Word of God.
My encouragement to pastors, especially younger men in the ministry, is to find the older fundamentalist books, those written more than 50-60 years ago. Apart from the writings of the Modernists and Liberals of the early 20th century, there is a perceptible difference in the character and style of the older fundamentalist writers that has been lost in the last 50 years. The content is not out of date as some today presume, because it rests squarely on the Scriptures, while modern writing tends more towards statistics and the wisdom of men. You will also find that the older books are not “dumbed down” nor are they irreverent as some newer books have become. Making such comparisons, it seems that it is rather difficult, if not impossible to sustain a separated mindset and ministry, if all I read are the books published in the last 10 to 20 years. It is not just being willfully ignorant of the forces, movements and changes that marked the great battles for Truth fought by our spiritual forefathers. It is also a sin of presumption to purposely limit our reading to the spectrum of current writings while summarily dismissing the wisdom and richness of godly works written by faithful men who served their generation and would serve ours, if we would hear them.
Perhaps the challenge of reading older books is the problem of finding them or knowing what we should be looking for. Actually, with the advent of the Internet, finding older books has become easier than before. There are a variety of sources from Amazon.com to booklook.com and abebooks.com (formerly D.A. Schroeder), to name but a few. A title and author name is sufficient to find a book available across the country, if not across the world. Even the veritable Ebay.com offers a large number of religious books from a variety of sources, with the opportunity to bid and hopefully win a bargain. The problem, however, is to be able to find the really good books of the past. You see, many of these used book sources have acquired the libraries of pastors who are either retired or deceased. The point is, however, that while the former generation of pastors gathered and used good books in their ministries, they have passed off the scene along with their books. The result is that even the character of available used books has changed in reflection of the changing spiritual climate of our churches and nation. A classic example of the problem was a book sale at Eastern Theological Seminary.
The book sale offered a wide variety of books that had been culled from pastor’s libraries recently donated to the Seminary. What books needed for the seminary library were kept, while duplicates were offered to students and a few outsiders from time to time. Over the years we would eagerly look forward to the sales, and it was especially interesting to go shoulder to shoulder with the students, scanning the shelves for treasures. However, it quickly became clear that none of the students recognized the old classics or great authors of the past. They would blindly skip F.B. Meyer to greedily seize Kierkegaard or Ferre, or not knowing what to collect would ask me what they should buy. Some students that day would be surprised to find that the books they bought would sharply contradict what they were being taught in the classroom.
The other question that needs to be addressed is which books should we seek among those published before 1950? While many younger men in ministry have presumptuously written off the patriarchs that pioneered the way before them, there are many who being dead yet speak if we would take the time to read their writings. We can name but a few here, like Ironside, Spurgeon, Mackintosh, Morgan, Henry, Anderson, Chafer, Haldeman, Ketcham, MacPherson, Meyer, Moody, Pierson, Scroggie, Tozer and Tulga. Some of them are unknown to younger men and not all of them fit exactly into our mold, but they were richly blessed of God and invested time to set down in writing the wisdom God granted to them to be passed on to those who follow in their footsteps.
Which brings us to the need for godly men to write today. If reading is becoming a lost art, then writing is fast becoming a lost labor of love. The measure of success, interest and impact of the contemporary authors (in the compromised sense of the term) and their teachings is only significant because they stand unanswered and unchallenged by Separatists who hold the position marked by the IBFNA and have the skills to write but have failed to follow through. There have been a few among us who have written and been published in the past, but there are still too few recent good books to guide our young men today. We have the tools of desktop publishing; we have worldwide distribution across the internet; we can distribute both electronically and in print; and most importantly, we have something that needs to be heard from us, because few, if any, are speaking out on all the issues that require an answer today. It will be an ever-growing need in our churches to both encourage, perhaps teach, our people to read and then to direct them to things worth reading. There are better devotionals, better magazines and periodicals and better books (although many may now be out of print) that have helped shape our thinking, that our people need to experience for themselves. Part of our ministry must include getting those better materials into the hands of our people and challenging them to read each one through completely.
So even between ourselves, we need to encourage the reading of works that have blessed or challenged our hearts through the years of ministry. Perhaps those books that have gone out of print can still be found or perhaps those whose ministries are winding down would be willing to share with younger men in ministry the treasures that have stirred their hearts over the years.
Last November I put out an informal survey among some of our fellowship, just to simply ask what they had been reading recently. The following are some of the responses received. They are not necessarily being recommended either in subject or author but offer a small glimpse of what is being read. You are invited to share your current reading or recommendations to the editor for future issues:
From Pastor Michael Ascher:
1. Move On To Maturity by Evangelist Michael A. Redick. NosNuma International Ptc. Ltd., 2006. Michael Redick can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Tall Law (When "Trying Hard to do Better" Isn't Good Enough!) by Steven B. Curington. Boyd Stevens Publications, Canada. Steve Curington is founder of the ministry, Reformers Unanimous International, based out of Rockford, Illinois. The RU website is www.reformu.com.
3. Quieting a Noisy Soul by Dr. Jim Berg. BJU Press and available through www.bjup.com.
From Rev. Jerry Johnson: My current books:
1. Not by Chance—Learning to Trust a Sovereign God by Layton Talbert. BJU Press 2001. Good, but needs to be read alongside Trusting God by Jerry Bridges.
2. The Heart of the Gospel by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Crossway Books, 1991. 3. Just ordered Heaven by Randy Alcorn to read next.
4. Operation Drumbeat - The dramatic true story of Germany's first U-Boat attacks long the American coast in WWII by Michael Gannon. Harper-Collins, 1990. After I finish this one, I'll read The Jungle War, a history of the Burma-Inda-China Theater of WWII by Gerald Astor, John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
From Dr. Robert Delnay:
1. Jerome Corsi, The Late Great USA, 2007
2. Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, 2007, and Inside American Education, 1993
3. Mark Steyn, America Alone, 2007
From Pastor Thomas Hamilton:
1. Our Sufficiency in Christ by John MacArthur.
2. Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp
3. In the Beginning Was Information by Werner Gitt.
From your editor: I might as well add my own current, extracurricular
1. America in Crimson Red; The Baptist History of America by James R. Beller 2004
2. Character and Destiny: A Nation In Search of its Soul by D. James Kennedy 1994
3. Psychological Seduction: The Failure of Modern Psychology by William K. Kilpatrick 1983
Ecclesiastes 12:12 "And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
Dr. Charles L. Dear