Reading in the Local Church

Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry. Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity. Of all the various means God has used to sanctify me in the past few years, he has used Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting books as much as any other. I praise God for faithful professors at Union University who put these life-changing books in my hands.

As a pastor, I want to provide the same service for my people here by putting good books in their hands. I want them to read clear theology. I want them to be challenged in their pursuit of godliness. I want them to hear some of the voices of the great cloud of witnesses who have already run the race. And yet, I have not been called to shepherd a group of seminary students, for whom reading represents a major portion of their lives. Instead, Christ has captured in my small, rural setting men and women with demanding jobs, growing families, most of whom have never had reading Christian literature made a great priority within the church. But this does not mean the abandonment of reading projects. What it does call for is some strategic selectivity.

I am looking for books that are challenging, but which are clearly written and communicate meaty biblical/theological truths in a fairly simple way. On an even more practical level, I am looking for books that don’t look intimidating. The time may very well come to crack open Calvin’s Institutes together, but for now, I want something 200 pages or less. And where as if I were collecting sources for a paper I would stick to the primary sources, this is where those great synthesizers and summarizers do the church such a great service. 

So these are the books I am looking for – collecting little libraries in every category from doctrine to church history to devotional literature. I want to draw more attention to specific titles my church and I have found helpful here in the future, but for now I am thinking of all of Donald Whitney’s books, the 9 Marks series of books, some of D.A. Carson’s more popular-level devotional books like A Call to Spiritual Reformation, the Gospel-centered books by C.J. Mahaney and Jerry Bridges, and the inspiring biography George Muller Delighted in God! by Roger Steer. Of course, I am never opposed to raising the bar and slipping in a few Puritan works here and there when they are particularly clear, like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Grace Abounding.

None of this is revolutionary information, I realize, but it has already borne so much fruit here at my church, particularly in the lives of some of our men. When an author can make the Gospel particularly clear, like Mahaney in The Cross-Centered Life, it can sometimes do more for the man reading and re-reading his words than a whole series of my sermons. I am writing as one profoundly grateful for the ministry of the faithful men who have served the church by their writings, and eager to encourage others to make use of their labors. Do you regularly read with your fellow church members? If not, I could not recommend it more strongly. If so, what has been helpful?

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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