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Entries in Reading (50)


One of the best daily devotional books I have ever read

I have a collection of daily devotional books on my shelf:

Faith Alone, Martin Luther
Heart Aflame, John Calvin
Daily Readings, J.C. Ryle
Walking with God Day by Day, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The J.I. Packer Classic Collection
Voices from the Past, Richard Rushing, ed.

I read my Bible and pray daily, but I also like to read short passages to get me thinking. Even though it is not a daily devotional in the sense that the others are (they are all dated and contain 365 readings), J.I. Packer's  Concise Theology is a fantastic daily read. I have been reading one chapter every morning with my Bible reading and prayer, and each morning, I have occasion to think about a doctrinal matter. Packer also includes Bible passages, so that if I want to look further, I can. 

The entries are short, only about two and a half pages each, and can be read in a short amount of time. But they are rich and give an excellent grounding in basic Christian doctrine. They are perhaps not meant to be devotional, but the truths explored in this volume give rise to devotion and praise. 

If you have not read it, do so, and make it a daily appointment so that you may have time to think over each truth carefully.


Don't take your reading cues from what everyone is talking about

I was driving home from a visit to my daughter on Thursday, and as I cruised along in the warm twilight, I thought about how many trips I'd made down that same road since she went away to school eleven years ago. I thought about what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I was in a very different place eleven years ago, personally and spirituallly. There were things which pre-occupied my mind which no longer do. I've mentioned this before, but I'm kind of sad now that I have many books on my shelf taking up space about things for which I no longer have an interest; and some issues that no one else is interested in, either. While my interesting in learning about doctrine, theology, and Christian practice has remained, how I satisfy that interest has changed; just like the circumstances of my life have changed in the past eleven years. In between then and now, things have happened which have made me stop and think about what is most helpful in my spiritual growth and what has helped me most over the past eleven years.

After reading Becky's book, I remembered that I have J.I. Packer's Concise Theology on my shelf. It has been a while since I looked at it. I decided to read it along with my morning bible reading. As I read, I am being reminded of the foundational truths that a Christian must know. So far, I'm only on page 55 but I have already read about God's omnipresence, self-sufficiency, wisdom, love, and holineses, just to name a few things. There are no "issues" being discussed; only the truths that never change. I was reminded of this today:

We should never forget that in any case theology is for doxology: the truest expression of trust in a great God will always be worship, and it will always be proper worship to praise God for being far greater than we know.

How is what I am reading fostering a worship of God? While there is always a place for reading for pleasure or just general information, understanding how theology leads to worship is an important truth. Sure, I can follow the debates about worship music, but those debates may change over the years, while the basic truths will remain constant. Some of those debates are interesting, but they don't necessarily shape my understanding about worship. That can be said for many of the hot issues that dominate the Christian reading habit.

It's so easy to get caught up with what everyone else is talking about. When we read book reviews, or book promotion threads on social media, we are receiving suggestions of what to read. It's not a good idea to read something solely because everyone is reading it or talking about it. We need to include books that will teach us the truth which endures. I'm learning to ask myself "Will I find this book interesting even a year from now?"

Ten years from now, what will I think about the books I am reading right now? I want to think that what I'm reading now will still be on my shelf.


If we aren't good readers, we may misunderstand the Bible

I have been reading Linguistics and Biblical Exegesis. So far, this is a very fascinating read. And I've already ordered one of the books which has been mentioned frequently in the footnotes. Ah, footnotes, how I do love thee.

In the introductory essay, the writer, Wendy Widder, comments:

Lingustic analysis focuses on trying to understand the language of a text. If we misunderstand a language we will also misunderstand a text. (emphasis mine)

This is true for biblical Greek, but how about English? As someone who teaches teens, this is often at the front of my thinking: how well do my students read English? The first time my husband and I taught teens was over 20 years ago. Literacy has changed among that group from what I have seen. And I'm not alone in that observation.

When my daughter was a teaching assistant while working on her Master's of English, after having been out of high school for only five years herself, she commented on how poorly many of the students read. She didn't think most students were very well-prepared for university. How well do our young people read? And I'm not talking about those with learning challenges; that is a separate issue.

As their leaders and teachers in the Church, do we encourage reading in general? Yes, we are there to teach, but part of being a good teacher is preparing someone to learn independently. We do have Bible versions that are easier, but one thing we have to remember is that the more dynamic translations often have to sacrifice nuance in order to attain readability; nuance that more difficult translations can reveal. A version like the NIV is great for someone who is 12 years old, but the average student on the brink of graduating from high school can manage the ESV or the NASB. They will, after all, confront more difficult reading if they go to college or university. We warn our kids about the perils of things online, but do we encourage them to put down their phones, video games, and streaming services to read?

Often, because we know young people are developing social connections, what we offer them in youth groups is a lot of social interaction. That is good, but I wonder if anyone has ever offered a youth group the opportunity to read a book together. Perhaps that is too nerdy. My daughter would have loved that. While the female youth events often revolved around maintaining purity and watching Pride and Prejudice, my daughter would have loved to read a good book and talk about it. She was born to be a lover of reading, but even those who don't love it as she does need to read well.

I was challenged as a teacher by the principle that misunderstanding language will mean we misunderstand the biblical text. When I am teaching teens, I'm doing more than telling them what the spiritual implications of the passage are; I am also contributing to their understanding of language. It is an opportunity to encourage good reading skills. It encourages me to stop the habit I've had of using the NIV to teach them, but return to using either the ESV or NASB.


Read hard books

I'm just finishing How to Study and Apply the New Testament by Andy Naselli. Every time I read a book, I've always got a few fellow book lovers in mind as I read. Will I recommend the book to that person? As I read Naselli's book, I knew that I would have to qualify my recommendation. I do indeed recommend this book, but with the qualifcation that some may think this book is difficult.

Naselli's writing is not difficult, and the examples he uses are understandable. But if on has only read introductory books on Bible study, this may seem daunting. One of my favourite Bible study introductory books is Reading the Bible for All Its Worth. Yet, I have had friends tell me it's too difficult. I am of average intelligence, and while I found it work when I first read it, it was manageable. I think we have forgotten that not everything must come easy. I think we are so used to reading online, where the average reading level is not overly difficult, that we find more difficult writing a chore. 

Naselli's book contains a chapter on Greek grammar. That chapter right there would turn a lot of people off. Naselli himself acknowledgs that. But he uses both the Greek words (for people who know them) and he transliterates them so that non-Greek users can at least pronounce them in their heads. And the simple fact of the matter is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. We can't assume that the New Testament was written for us English speakers. There is value in getting a basic understanding of Greek, because it is a very different language.

There is value in reading hard books. In first grade, I loved reading about Mr. Mugs and when I finished one book in the series, I wanted to keep going. That is how we become better readers. That doesn't stop when we leave school. We can always become better readers. It is especially important now when we live in such an image-saturated world. Who needs to express oneself with wit and skill when one can find a GIF of a silly television show to express one's emotion?

Reading hard books helps us grow as readers. A few years ago, I read what was one of the more challenging books I have read, Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer. There were times when as I read when all I could discern was something similar to the sound of Charlie Brown's teacher. But I persisted, and then there were moments of clarity where I was blown away by what I read. 

If a book is difficult, press on. Get a dictionary. Read in small sections. Diagram the sentences if you have to. Just keep going.

Personally, I think there is a glut of introductory Bible study books. What I would like to see is more in between Bible study for beginners and advanced hermeneutics books. I would say Naselli is in that intermediate category. And it is a good book to follow up those introductory volumes. And for those for whom such matters are important, he uses footnotes, and the paper is very nice for annotating.

While I would recommend the book, I definitely want to emphasize that Naselli's bias is clear regarding what influences him. If you are not a John Piper fan, this book may irritate you. In his chapter about practical theology, he comments that he turns to men like Al Mohler, Justin Taylor, Collin Hansen, and Tim Keller for their analysis of the culture. That seems to me a group that would ultimately sound like an echo chamber. And while I respect them all, I would not turn to them for cultural analysis of Canada. I would be interested to see cultural analysis from more people outside their particular group, not just with a different theological perspective, but those from a non-Western stance and from voices other than just men.

That said, it was a valuable read.


"Dreary" modern books?

I have a built in book case in my living/dining room. Every time I come to sit down at my desk, I see it. On the top shelf, there is a 10-volume set of the writings of B.B. Warfield. I love sets of books where each volume looks the same. Beyond looking pretty, I have enjoyed partaking of those books over the years. There is still much which I have not read, but I have found everything I've read by Warfield worth the effort. 

I was reminded of the value of reading older books as I read Nasell's How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. In a chapter discussing historical-cultural context, he quotes C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve  pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadquate and things he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern book on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.

This past year in Church History, we were exposed to a large volume of primary source writings, and I enjoyed that immensely. I was introduced to theologians I'd never read before, and had been hesitant to read from. Karl Barth was a fascinating read. It really is true that going to the source first is helpful. And that applies to the primary source of the Bible. How often do I spend time reading what people say about what the Bible rather than finding out for myself? 

This summer, I'm moving my books, shelves, and desk to my new study. The books on the built-in shelf will remain where they are so that I may see Warfield up there regularly, and be challenged to read widely, and not neglect those older books.