To Preach a Book: Preparing

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

Somewhere along the way, the American consumer has been sold on buying furniture requiring assembly. That used to mean really cheap furniture and an afternoon of toil to have a bookshelf or cabinet. It seems the price tags on those pieces have increased and we still have to assemble them ourselves. Next thing you know, we will be scanning and bagging our own groceries at the store.

Most of the instructions that come with the flat pieces and little bags of hardware advise the assembler to first layout and identify all the pieces to ensure you have everything you need. We never do that, of course. We dive in and put it together halfway and then realize we’ve got it wrong, or that we are missing something. I’ve done it before and will probably do it again.

Selecting the book I’m going to preach through is the crucial first step, but I’m still not ready to start studying the text and preparing sermons. I like to follow the assembly instructions and make sure I have all the bits and pieces I’m going to need to get through this book from beginning to end. I’m trying to make this list as complete as I can.

Over time, I have gathered a library and have a number of resources I go to repeatedly. Some of these are hard copies and some are digital. I will not get to all of them over the course of the study. Some I will read very little and some will be read entirely when preaching through a book. I like to have more available than I’m going to need and you never know when you may come across something requiring a great deal of study and you want to have the best resources available you can.

Books

Books are the preacher’s business. Ebooks have their benefits and uses, as do hard copies. I have and use some of both. Some books are also part of Bible study apps. I will talk about these technologies later, which have more to do with utilization. Here I am more concerned with the content of books. I want to layout books in several different categories to help in preaching through a book of the Bible.

Study Bibles
I have a large number of study Bibles, so this is a good place to provide a disclaimer that holds good for the rest of the lists. I am not going to list every book I own, but rather those I am most likely to use, whether seldom or frequently, in the course of this study. I may end up using a book while studying Ruth that I did not anticipate and so it is not on the list. If that happens, the book will most likely be mentioned in a later post.

Study Bibles typically have articles or notes on the text of the book, an outline of the book, and an introduction to the book noting author, date, themes, etc. Study Bibles can be general or have some focused perspective, e.g., biblical theology. I like to have a range of these. I mostly use these for the book introductions. Here are the study Bibles for Ruth, in no particular order.

The MacArthur Study Bible
A general study Bible with brief notes on the text and good book introductions.

The Complete Jewish Study Bible
A study Bible which focuses on Jewish custom and tradition.

The Gospel Transformation Study Bible
A study Bible that focuses on the gospel in each book of the Bible.

The Biblical Theology Study Bible
A study Bible focusing on the biblical theology of the books that connects to the overarching redemptive story of Scripture as a whole.

The Literary Study Bible
A study Bible focusing on literary analysis of the Bible books, which includes information on genre, literary motifs, rhetorical devices, and contribution to the master story of the Bible.

The NET Bible Full Notes
A Bible with extensive translation notes, including translation decisions, meaning, and usage.

Commentaries
Commentaries vary widely in their format, style, and depth, and, therefore, their usefulness. I haven’t found much help from commentaries that are mostly formatted sermon manuscripts. Commentaries are not infallible, but I use commentaries to help check my work.

Expositional commentaries can be helpful is discerning if I have captured the main point of a passage, or if I have missed something important. I use exegetical commentaries to check for information on original languages, nuance of meanings, or translational issues that may need further investigation. I refer to theological commentaries to check for themes in a passage and connections with other texts and themes. I use literary commentaries to check on genre specific structures, motifs, and themes. I use practical commentaries to check applications and bridges from the text to today.

There is no one commentary that does it all, but often a single commentary will actually cover several of those areas. Of course, I want to work through these issues with the passage for myself before referring to commentaries to help check my work. Here are the commentaries I have laid out for Ruth, in no particular order.

The Story of God Bible Commentary—Ruth and Esther
If you follow the link, you will notice this volume is not available yet, so I don’t have it. I include it because I would definitely have it and use it if it were available. I have some of these commentaries and really like what I have used so far. The commentary focuses on overarching redemptive history and placing books and their passages within that framework.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary—Ruth
I have used other commentaries in this series and found them helpful. I was surprised by how extensive this commentary is on Ruth. The single volume is around 300 pages. This commentary covers literary structure, language, themes, theology, and application.

New American Commentary—Judges, Ruth
I haven’t used any commentaries from this series yet. This was written by Daniel Block, who also wrote the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary above. The NAC is laid out quite differently from the ZEC and seems to have a different focus. I’m not sure how much I will use it, but it’s available.

Teach the Text Commentary—Judges and Ruth
I haven’t used any of this series before now. This commentary focuses on big picture themes and ideas in the text and presents historical and cultural background information. It also includes sections for each unit in the book on teaching and illustrating the text.

The NIV Application Commentary—Judges, Ruth
I have used other volumes in this series and really like these commentaries. It is a good blend of exposition, literary, and theological commentary. Each section ends with application and bridging contexts.

The MacArthur Bible Commentary
This is a single volume commentary of the whole Bible. It doesn’t necessarily have comments on every verse. The comments are brief and useful.

New Bible Commentary
This is another single volume commentary on the whole Bible. It doesn’t go verse by verse, but rather section by section. The comments are brief but helpful.

Dictionaries
General Bible dictionaries can be handy for looking up names, places, and terms. I have a bunch of them and most of them are in the Bible study apps I use. I’m not going to list them individually, but if I refer to one and find it useful, I will mention that in a later post. I also use language dictionaries for help with the original languages. Here are those that I have laid out for Ruth.

Strong’s Concordance & Vines Expository Dictionary
These are usually readily available for free in various digital formats. Strong’s give root definitions and Vine’s gives definitions and distinguishes for usage.

Brown Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
Lexical definitions and usage information.

Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament
This is keyed to the Strong’s numbers and shows every verse where the Hebrew word occurs, regardless of how it is translated.

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
More up to date than Strong’s.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
Articles explaining the meaning and usage of different words.

The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
This was originally published in a five volume set. It is a more up to date lexicon, which also covers the Aramaic. It has in-depth articles on meaning and usage.

Overviews
These are books that are treatments of the biblical book as a whole. This would include book introductions. I use these most in the early part of the study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

The MacArthur Bible Handbook
This is a book by book survey of the whole Bible that gives an introduction and overview of each book in a few pages. It is concise but typically covers the author, date of writing, background, setting, historical and theological themes, a section on the Christology of the book, an outline, and ends with answering a number of challenging questions about the book.

Old Testament Survey
This is a book by book survey with literary and narrative analysis and a focus on canonical context.

The Message of the Old Testament
This book is sermons preached on each book of the Old Testament. It is a brief introduction and overview of each book. This is a case where printed sermons are helpful. The beginning, after the opening illustration, and ending of the sermons are what I found most helpful. The book focuses on the big picture and is also helpful on practical applications of the book as a whole.

Theologies
These are books that generally do not provide verse by verse commentary but focus more on the theology taught in the book, whether systematic or biblical. Sometimes they are laid out to go section by section and sometime they are laid out to go more topically in a thematic arrangement. I tend to use these more in the early part of the study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

The Theology of the Book of Ruth
This book focuses on certain words and themes to connect Ruth with other historical narratives and reveal the theological message of the book.

From Famine to Fullness
This book focuses on the Gospel and Gospel implications in the book through focusing on major themes in the book of Ruth.

Unceasing Kindness
This is a biblical theology treatment of Ruth. It seeks to read Ruth in the wider context of Scripture and trace big picture themes such as redemption, famine, and covenant kindness (hesed).

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment
This books go through each book of the Bible and focuses on the biblical theology of the books, which connects them together in the overarching story of the Bible.

He Will Reign Forever
This book goes through the Bible from beginning to end to trace the theme of Christ’s kingdom. Some books are covered in greater detail than others.

Special Issues
Each book of the Bible has special issues attached to it. These may be controversial issues, cultural issues, theological issues, etc. If you dig much into resources for the book of Ruth, you will find issues such as postmodern interpretations of the book as a feminist or minority/foreigner polemic. Our own ministry context will help us discern how much we need to speak to such issues.

There are perennial issues we do need to study. The book of Ruth is a part of the history of Israel and particularly during the period of the judges. Aspects of Old Covenant law are crucial to the book, such as the law of redemption, levirate marriage, inheritance, and gleaning. These are important issues in the book and though they will probably be touched on in the commentaries and such, they will probably require further study. Here are the books I have laid out for Ruth.

Leviticus
Commentary on Leviticus with helpful comments on the law.

Deuteronomy
Commentary on Deuteronomy with helpful explanations of the law.

Institutes of Biblical Law
Three volume work on the Old Covenant law more extensive than the commentaries. Rushdoony was a scholar and he was also a covenant theologian and postmill reconstructionist. His explanations of the law in its original context are clear and helpful, but you obviously need to be careful with his contemporary application.

Digital Tools

If you are a young preacher and not computer literate, you need to invest the time to get literate. Digital tools save time and help organize your study. They can also help to build an easily searchable library of your own work for future use. I started out by hand but quickly transitioned to digital and am only glad I did. Today we have various devices and can have apps that sync across all those devices. I realize technologies can present their own problems, but if we discipline ourselves to use them well, they can be a tremendous blessing

I use a Kindle reader as well as the Kindle app on my phone and computer. You can truly have a library in your pocket and with you all the time. The portability means you can read in those little snatches of time while you’re waiting on the doctor or your wife, or something else. You can highlight and make notes in the app and have them sync across all devices. I always have the Kindle app open on my computer when I am studying. The app also gives you the ability to search the text of the books. The vast majority of books I have on Kindle were either free or less than $3.

I use three different Bible apps for studying. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. I primarily use Olive Tree with numerous resources I’ve added through the years when they were on a good sale. I use e-Sword with a host of free resources I download from the web. I also use Logos, but that is mainly for commentaries and books I got for free for the app. All those apps can be downloaded for free and come with varying free resources.

I use Microsoft Office apps and have for many years. There are alternatives out there, but I haven’t used very many of them. I use Excel spreadsheets for making charts and otherwise organizing information. I don’t use Word a whole lot, but I probably like outlining on Word the best.

I also use Evernote, which has a host of capabilities I don’t use. I primarily use this app to clip articles from the web I want to save. The app syncs across all devices and is very handy.

My primary sermon writing app is Scrivener. This app was developed first as a novel writing app, but it has expanded through the years to be useful for any sort of long form writing. In the app you can create documents and drag and drop them to rearrange them how you want. The app has a research folder for storing notes, articles, outlines, or whatever you want. You can also attach notes to a document that stay with it but don’t print out unless you choose to do so. All my digital papers are in one place in this app. I have a project entitled Ruth. I have various study notes and relevant documents in there along with my sermon notes I will print and take to the pulpit. Everything for Ruth is there in one app. It has a word processor, but it is much more than a word processor. It does have a fairly steep learning curve, but I have considered it well worth the time.

Analog Tools

For all my commending of technology, I still work with analog tools to accomplish my study. I use a blend of both. For marking up, scratching down notes, and so on I find nothing beats a pencil and paper. A lot of what ends up in the digital documents I produce during the course of studying a book starts out as furious markings and scribblings on paper closely approximating the copywork of a pre-kindergartener.

I have been using Scripture Journals for a while in the study of books I’m preaching. These journals are 5.75×8 with a lay-flat binding and flexible card stock covers. One page has the biblical text and the facing page is a ruled blank page for notes. There is also marginal space on the text pages for notes as well. As I study a book, I will use this journal through the whole process. I will underline, circle, bracket, draw arrows, and write notes during the whole process. These are very handy for keeping notes in one place that is tied to specific verses. As I read books or commentaries, I will make notes. As I study the passage I’m going to preach, I will make notes. These journals have become indispensable to me and an improvement over my old system of printed or copied Bible pages for this purpose.

I still use printable Bible pages, but for a different purpose than I use those journals. I have a printable Word document for each book of the Bible. You can find the one for Ruth here. That document will actually be my starting point, which we will get to in another post. Sermon Audio also offers PDF files of their Paperback Bible you can download and print. It is a similar layout as the Scripture Journal, but it is loose-leaf. The biblical text is on the facing pages and there is a wide outside margin that is ruled for notes. You can find those here.

Last of all, I need pens, pencils, highlighters, and paper. This is a long post, so I will make this short. You need to find what is serviceable for you and cheap. You want to avoid preciousness, because you actually need to use these supplies. You can spend a lot of money for fancy pens and paper, but those resources have so much preciousness that you don’t want to waste them and you’re inhibited from the free marking you need to do. If you’re going to write full sermon manuscripts by hand, then you need better pens and paper. If you’re going to think on paper, mark, and scribble, you need cheap stuff that works.

Up Next

In the next post, I will get to the actual beginning of the study to preach through a book.

This post is part of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

How to …

How many ways could there be?

How many ways could there be?

Advice abounds and I suppose I’m adding to the abundance.

Mortimer Adler’s, “How to Read a Book,” is oft referred to as a classic and, therefore, is one of those books you must read. I haven’t read it. I’m not opposed to it. I don’t have anything against it. I just haven’t got to it and don’t know when I will. One does wonder how many ways there could be to read a book other than reading it, and maybe that’s why I should read that book.

Some suggest you read slowly through just a few books a year to get a mastery of them and others suggest you read quickly through many books to get a broad view. Donald Carson actually said he reads 500 books a year! He does go on to qualify that there’s reading and there’s reading and there’s reading. His words could be misconstrued but I believe he made a very good point about the difference between books and the attention they should be given. My own view accords so I will get to it.

All books are not equal because all authors are not equal. Sometimes authors are not even equal with themselves when their books across twenty years or more are compared. So books are not all worth equal attention and there’s a host of factors that contribute to this such as your current position in life, time, responsibilities, etc. Let me advance my methods and then give a final piece of advice that is guaranteed to be worth exactly what your paying for it.

Method or madness?

Some people read books very slowly, poring over each phrase, footnote, or Scripture reference in order to drain every drop out of it. I guess that’s fine but I’ve never done that. If I come across a dramatically profound section in a book, I will slow down and give it more time. My method of reading a book is to start at the beginning and read at my normal reading pace to the end. Nothing fancy, but it gets the potatoes washed and peeled and put in the stew.

I have three categories for books.

  1. Books to be read. This is where the majority of books go for me. I consider reading to be starting in the front and reading my way to the back. This is the bulk of my personal reading and I try to do it across several different types of books.
  2. Books to be referenced. These are books I am never going to read front to back. I go to a book like this for a particular reason and I’m going to read the relevant chapter(s) only. This would include books like, “An Introduction to the New Testament.”
  3. Books to be discarded. These are books that are not worth finishing. I will quit reading a book if it turns out to be insufferable. I don’t start too many books that I don’t finish, but there are some. I was reading something once that referenced “Don Quixote.” It’s one of those oft mentioned classics that I hadn’t read so I started it. I got about halfway through and chucked it. I found it long, rambling, boring, and without a point. It had some good sections here and there but I didn’t think it worth the time. Maybe I’m missing something but I have too many books I want to read to fool around with books I don’t want to read.

As I read, I do a couple of things; sometimes one or the other and sometimes both. I do a lot of reading on the Kindle app so I highlight any parts that are either great quotes or things that strike me. I may also write something about it in a notebook and particularly if it’s something I want to come back to later for more thought.

If I belong to a school of reading philosophy, it is the school of maintaining one’s personal compost heap. I like to build up layer after layer and let it set and mix and decompose and let the soil be nourished. I’ve personally found this method to fertilize the mind, but maybe it’s not for everybody. I don’t know. I don’t have everybody’s mind. I’m stuck with my own so I like to fill up and sort later.

I’m sure many can find fault with me and my methods. It’s like the time I received a criticism of my beard for being scraggly. I believe that was the term employed. The owner of the criticism was blessed to also be the owner of a full, thick beard, which I suspect he had as much to with as he did the distance of the crown of his head to the floor. I could only put lips together and nod in sympathy with his assessment and lament to him that I could only grow the beard I’ve got. No matter the effort expended, I can’t grow another man’s beard on my own face. Suffice it to say I can’t read with another man’s brain. I can only use the gray matter bestowed upon me from the womb.

A couple of fragments do not a basket full make

I was asked about reading recently and this subject is also one I have been thinking about writing something on so it seemed to work together. Let me finish with a couple of pieces of final advice. Read what you want to and the way you want to. We all have differences to the way we think and learn and the constraints on our time, not to mention our differing needs. Don’t worry too much about what others think you should read and the way you should do it. You should always process advice, keep what’s helpful for you and toss the rest. Never be a slave.

Finally, you shouldn’t worry too much about the number of books read in any given time. Always keep a book with you and with mobile devices it’s easier than ever. I remember one of the puritan writers saying something about learning the value of a quarter of an hour. One of the ways to redeem time is to push reading into all the margins of life. Do you have to wait a few minutes? Good, read for five or ten minutes. You will be surprised by how much you can read doing this.

Review: Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists

Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists
Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two stars means, “I didn’t like it.” Three stars means, “I liked it.” This is one of those occasions where I’m stuck somewhere between. I didn’t like the concept of preaching presented in this book–a twenty-four minute sermon, full of literary illustrations and allusions, delivered by a man or a woman. I also didn’t like the fact most of the examples came from fiction works.

I liked the main premise of the book: preachers who read widely will most likely become better preachers. I liked the many benefits of reading explained in this book. I liked the author’s attempts to eschew the utilitarian reading-for-illustrations mindset. He wrote such things as, “Illustrations can be tricky, as we shall see, and reading expressly for them is probably not such a good idea.” And, “But reading just for illustrations feels a little too much like work. It also feels as if I am missing the point of reading, just as if I read the Bible only to see what it has to say about the colors green and red. I want to be reading stories and articles for nobler reasons while an incident or insight or saying rises up from the page and begs to slip into one of my sermons.”

Good points are scattered throughout this book. You may also have your interest piqued and directed to some new books for you. New reading ideas are always welcome. I don’t recommend reading for illustrations, though occasionally a quote or reference might be useful. I prefer reading good works the way Tolkien envisioned it, to add duff to the forest floor of your mind.

Reading is beneficial for preachers and non-preachers as well. A reading mind is an expanding mind and a non-reading one is a shrinking mind. If you choose to read this book, read it carefully with discernment.

View all my reviews

Note: This review was originally posted at Short Booklog.

Reading Altitude

What have the prophets of Israel to do with fancy dress balls?

What have the prophets of Israel to do with fancy dress balls?

Advice for preachers from Jane Austen?

Dress balls, pretentious social etiquette, and pursuing husbands. Sound like a nightmare? I know. I understand.

To get past the fluff and frills, I recommend Peter Leithart’s Miniatures and Morals. Leithart’s literary analyses are fascinating and he helps you see that Jane Austen was a brilliant writer, story crafter, and character artisan. There is much more to her writing than balls, ribbons, and meddlesome matchmakers. Whether you ever read anything by Austen or not, I still think Leithart’s book is worth reading.

As to her advice for preachers, it isn’t delivered directly. It is a statement about reading from her horror satire novel, Northanger Abbey. It is actually about taking the trouble to learn to read and that the difficulty is well worth it to be able to read.

you … may perhaps be brought to acknowledge that it is very well worth-while (sic) to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it. 1

This quote has another application beyond the struggle to learn spelling, vocabulary, and grammar. It is also true of reading above your own head. The brain is like a muscle and reading like exercise. It stretches and strengthens the mind. Sherlock Holmes theorized the brain was “like a little empty attic” where the acquisition of knowledge was furnishing the room. He believed the walls were not elastic and after a time, each addition of knowledge caused the irretrievable loss of another piece of knowledge.

“All that we see, hear, read, or think is thrown “on one’s personal compost-heap” to decompose into rich fertilizer for yields in the years ahead.”

While the human brain is certainly limited, I don’t think the detective had quite the right picture. Tolkien’s appraisal of the mind as a forest floor or compost heap is more apt. He spoke of the origin of his own stories as growing “like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.” 2 All that we see, hear, read, or think is thrown “on one’s personal compost-heap” to decompose into rich fertilizer for yields in the years ahead.

The way to strengthen muscles is through progressive resistance. You keep lifting just beyond your ability until you are truly maxxed out. You strengthen your mind the same way. Read above your head and your capacity will grow. Be advised though that reading above your head is torturous for a time. Stick to it and you will steady out.

Just one final word of caution. Remembering Tolkien’s metaphor, what you toss on the pile is not ready for immediate use. It needs time to break down and mix. Reading beyond your means can be frustrating, tormenting, and exhilarating. You will be tempted by the excitement to wax eloquent at once. Be patient. A fruitful harvest is not reaped immediately the field is plowed or seed sown, but it will come.

So it is worthwhile to be tormented for a while by reading above your head to be able to read above your head for the rest of your life.

Notes:

  1. Austen, Jane (2013-02-11). Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Love and Friendship, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Lady Susan, Mansfield Park & more! (Kindle Locations 28480-28481). Doma Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
  2. Carpenter, Humphrey (2000). J.R.R. Tolkien: a biography. (p. 126). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The Reading Preacher

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. ~ 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.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:12

What should preachers read?

I have been asked at different times and also have read and listened to different discussions about what kind of reading preachers should do. This discussion starts on the footing of two assumptions. First, the Bible is the one book for all preachers of the Gospel. God’s very Word is the primary place of reading, study, meditation, devotion, and memorization. All further references to reading is always to be taken as less than the reading of the Word of God.

The second assumed footing is that preachers should read. I love that assumption and believe it, though not everyone shares it. Some may see reading as a luxury at best that they don’t have time to do. Others may see reading as a distraction away from the more important works of the ministry. Still others may see reading as sinister and are afraid of reading any other man unless they be led astray. Other objections are made but I don’t want to try to answer all objections just now. Rather, let me give a few brief encouragements to reading before we pass on to the substance of reading.

The pastor/preacher needs to know a little bit about everything. Consider Jesus, Paul, and Solomon in their preaching and teaching. They incorporated familiarity with about all areas of life. They incorporated pieces of agriculture, business, investing, government, sailing, fishing, travel, geography, biology, botany, zoology, building, finance, labor, philosophy, literature, history, sports, war, and more 1

It would take a lifetime, perhaps longer, to gain experience in all these areas, but you can read about them and expand your knowledge sooner. The point here is not to gain knowledge to flaunt or act as a know-it-all. Knowledge without wisdom only tends to arrogance (1 Corinthians 8:1). You must be a thoughtful reader, reflecting on what you read, comparing with your life experience, and discerning truth. Being able to use and apply the knowledge you gain will make you a more competent teacher (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24). If you are gaining knowledge with wisdom, it will humble you as you begin to understand how much you don’t know.

Areas of Reading
With the aforementioned in mind, let me suggest that the preacher’s reading should be in different areas of emphasis. Some of these will be directly related to Bible study and others to life in the world. The following list is alphabetical and not in order of importance. Some areas will be more naturally interesting to you than others, but I think it is important at times to read outside your own niche interests.

  • Apologetics – Give preference in this category to presuppositional authors rather than evidentialist authors. It will take a while to get a handle on it, but it will be time well spent. I confess in the beginning of my ministry, I ignored apologetics altogether. I thought the subject was about nothing more than arguing with atheists and agnostics and it seemed pointless. I was very wrong. While apologetics does deal with unbelievers, it is more important to pastoral ministry. It will help you strengthen the faith of your people which is under relentless attack daily.
  • Biblical Studies – These are topical books that deal with some subject of study from the Bible. These books focus on one primary topic, such as the ten commandments, the tabernacle, the life of Jesus, etc.
  • Biography – Christian biography is at the top of this list, i.e. pastors, missionaries, etc. However, don’t discount biographies of different people in history such as generals, presidents, kings, scientists, inventors, athletes, and business men. Much can be learned in various areas by reading about people in different walks of life.
  • Business/Personal Finance/Self-Improvement – These books must be read carefully, but the preacher needs to know about business and how to steward different areas of life, e.g. money, time management, and personal discipline.
  • Church History – The folly of youth is displayed about every ten years when a college-age group of kids think they have discovered the gospel and the church for the first time in centuries. To borrow phrase of Paul, “I would not have you to be ignorant.” The history of the Lord’s church is a history of God’s faithfulness and the truth of His Word (Matthew 16:18). Neither His church, nor His gospel has been lost. His Word does not fail.
  • Commentaries – You probably won’t read a lot of commentaries from beginning to end, but you should be reading in them relevant to different passages you are studying. Commentaries sometimes provide exegetical and application help, but are usually most helpful in getting your own thoughts going about a text. They are also helpful to check your work. If no one at any time has ever seen what you are seeing in a text, you should proceed very cautiously.
  • Logic, Rhetoric, and Argument – Understanding logic and such will help you understand the reasoned arguments in the Bible, detect logical fallacies and specious reasoning in others, and form sound arguments of your own. You will become a more critical thinker and a more apt teacher.
  • Marriage and Family – This subject is of vital importance in the community, country, church, and the world. The family–husband, wife, and children–is the God-designed institution and is to be honored highly. Be careful in this area to select biblically faithful authors and not the worldly-minded.
  • Pastoral/Preaching – The call to ministry cannot be taken too seriously. The preacher needs to grow immensely in this area. You will have many experiences as you go along and reading well will help you to consider those experiences and grow in wisdom from them. Your preaching, also, can always improve and should. Your grandmother loves you and thinks you’re the best preacher since Spurgeon, but she is not exactly an unbiased and capable critic. The pursuit to grow is unending for the preacher of God’s Word. Seek authors in this area who are consciously competent to be a real help to you.
  • Sermons – Few sermons are worth reading, but those that are, are worth reading. Spurgeon’s sermons are well worth reading. You must be extremely careful here to know how to read and profit from the sermons of others. Don’t plagiarize or puppet some other preacher.
  • Theology – Read systematic and biblical theologies. They each have their place and value. Biblical theology is the fad right now and has bred some peculiar snobbery where systematics are denounced and despised. They don’t know what they are talking about and will be bumped off the bandwagon on the next bend. We need both theologies and we need to learn from both and understand what each contributes.
  • World History – All history is God’s history. He is always at work whether we can tell it or not. We need to know about the kingdoms of the world and what their place on God’s stage is for His own glory.
  • Writing – The art and craft of writing is really about thinking well and effective communication. You may not aspire to publishing but learning more about language and its use will help you in forming sermons, writing letters, and being a better communicator. It will also make you a better reader, listener, and learner.

I realize that list seems like a lot, and it is, but often one book will cover many of these different areas. It is not as daunting as it might seem. There are other categories that could be listed, but I have tried to be specific to the preacher. I have one final category that I wanted to say a little more about, so I saved it for the end.

Recreational Reading?
I do recommend reading works of fiction and literature. Stick mostly with the classic works and authors. Be very selective among any current authors. It might seem like a waste, but I believe such reading is beneficial. I don’t think it should dominate our reading, but it has a place. Think about some of these benefits.

  • The reading in the above areas is mostly heavy reading. Fiction is relaxing to the mind and provides a break. I don’t mean we should suspend reason or truth to read fiction, but such books can be refreshing. They put your mind into different avenues of thought
  • Fiction stimulates the imagination and fuels creativity. Good story will add spice to the blandness of your mind.
  • Fiction can expand your mind and your vocabulary. This helps you learn, think, and communicate more clearly and effectively.
  • Knowledgeable and professional writers across all areas agree on at least one thing. If you want to write well, read well. Reading those who are masters of their craft will teach you to be a better reader and writer.
  • Though I have grouped fiction in the “recreational” category, you can already see there is an educative value in it. Good fiction can help us understand the world we live in and the human condition. It’s not a primary source, but it is a good source. The characters and situations are fictional and sometimes the world is even a fantasy, but there are still things to be learned. This often works through comparing reality to this particular view of reality, or mythical reality. The parables use this sort of method in instructing, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

In this vein, I leave you with one last recommendation. Read the works of Arthur Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes. You can find these collected into one volume for cheap. Read a story from time to time. Holmes as a character is not without his flaws. He is the embodiment of rationalist modernity. Holmes’ worldview is strictly naturalistic materialism. He believes everything can be explained by natural means. However, he provides numerous examples of logical thinking and inductive reasoning. It may not suit everyone’s tastes, but I have found them enjoyable and even informative.

I hope this can be of some help. I also hope you will comment and we can have a good conversation.

Notes:

  1. McDurmon, Joel (2009, May 15). What Does Your Preacher Know? [Web Article]. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from http://americanvision.org/1859/does-your-preacher-know/.