For a long time now I’ve had a fascination with the connection between modern day Christians and those who came before us. That is to say, I love reading the works of great minds that came before me. I love learning from them as a pupil learns from a teacher. I love identifying with what God was doing for the advancement of the Kingdom, through another life and in another time. That being said, I was very intrigued by a question posed to David Platt on the Radical.net blog yesterday, “Who in church history would you most like to meet?” That’s a great question for God’s Kingdom is timeless. As I said before, I believe it’s important to identify with those saints that came before us. It’s important that we learn from them. We must understand that God was working through the lives of others before our time. It didn’t start with us. Therefore I’d not only like to answer the question myself, I’d like to pose it to you as well.
Outside of the Bible, I would most like to meet Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and C.S. Lewis. For me, each of these men represents an unwavering commitment to thinking deeply about the things of God. However, their commitment did not end with their minds, in that their thoughts led to an overflow of emotion in their feelings for Him as well. And, all this was expressed through their great literary skills which they used so beautifully unto the glory of their Lord. If I had to be more specific, I’d say I am particularly grateful for the word pictures drawn by Edwards and Bunyan. While Edwards has given me a much deeper understanding of who God is, Bunyan has painted an amazing picture of how life with Him looks. Lewis has taught me about the nature of worship and the roll of thinking in the Christian life. Some of the books that have particularly inspired me by these men would include:
The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards
An Essay on the Trinity by Jonathan Edwards
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C.S. Lewis
What about you? Who would you most like to meet from church history (outside the pages of the Bible)? And why?
Early 15th-century Latin Bible, handwritten in Belgium, on display at Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Thou mayest hear sermons often, and do well in practicing what thou hearest; but thou must not expect to be told thee in a pulpit all that though oughtest to do, but be studious in searching the Scriptures, and reading good books; what though hearest may be forgotten, but what thou readest may better be retained.”
~ John Bunyan ~
Being an avid reader myself it probably goes without saying that I am a huge proponent of reading. (particularly non-fictional reading) I realize I am biased in this opinion, but I do think it is a great way for one to grow. However, whether you are naturally inclined toward reading or not, every Christian ought to spend time reading their Bible. It is reading of the Bible after all, that gives us the greatest grasp of who God is and what He has done. And, it is on this understanding that we build our faith. Thus, extra-biblical materials are icing on the cake, so to speak. You might even say it’s like taking a supplemental vitamin. For just as supplemental vitamins enhance ones health, so extra-biblical materials can enhance ones Spiritual growth.
Let me back up for a moment and define what I mean by extra-biblical materials. Extra-biblical materials are any forms of religious literature not found within the canon of Scripture. They are Spirit inspired (hopefully), but not God breathed. They are often enlightening, but not infallible. Extra-biblical material is any literature that helps us to better understand Scripture.
It is in regards to such reading that I would like to offer a word of advice today. Read with intentionality! What do I mean? Don’t read just anything. As Bunyan says, read good books. Identify authors that inspire you and read lot’s of their stuff. Reading multiple books by a single author allows one to better understand where they are coming from and how they think. I have found that reading in such a manner can be very similar to sitting under a professor. Then read books by authors that influenced them. Read old books. Reading books from former generations often lends itself to the development of a broader perspective. It also stands to reason, that books that have stood the test of time probably did so for a reason (although of course not all old books are good). Most importantly read books by authors that put a supreme value on the authority of Scripture. Scripture must be used to form thoughts, not to support them. In the end all extra-biblical reading should bring us back to a better understanding of God.
Need a place to start? Try John Piper, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, or C.S. Lewis. Those are my four favorites anyway. Happy reading!
I’ve been thinking lately about the development of my theology, and my subsequent world view, and it has occurred to me just how much it has been influenced by the writings of five men in particular. Now one might argue that our theology should be developed directly from the Bible, so let me clarify what I mean. I believe that each of these men have given me keys for which to unlock the mysteries and unlimited deepness that lie within the Bible’s pages. You might say I’ve looked to these men as mentors that have aided me in my journey to know and love God more deeply.
Again, while there are many writings within the Bible that have greatly influenced my life, (i.e. the letters of Paul, the psalms of David, the four gospels) the following list consists of men whose writings are not held within those pages. For, as I said above, these are writers that have made more clear those writings of the others. It should also be noted that this list is not in order of influence, but in chronological order according to the time in which I was first introduced to their writings. There is no way to fully convey the influence they have had on my life in a single blog post. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a short summary of why I am thankful for each of them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Bonhoeffer was the first of my influences that I read seriously. It was he that first rocked my world, so to speak, in my understanding of the Gospel. It was he that taught me that while “Jesus is God’s YES to humanity” accepting that “Yes” costs us our life.
C.S. Lewis – My first reading of Lewis actually took place before I read Bonhoeffer. However, I read the bulk of his writings post Bonhoeffer. One of the many things I am thankful to Lewis for is a more full understanding of the nature of worship. I also attribute to Lewis the beginnings of my development in thinking deeply about the things of God.
John Piper – I was introduced to Piper for the first time by a very good friend of mine that I sat beside through a majority of the Masters of Christian Studies program I attended at Union University. I think it would be most accurate to say that Piper built on the foundation that Lewis laid in regards to thinking deeply about God. It has also been Piper that has helped in fanning into a flame my love and passion for following Jesus.
John Bunyan – I first read “The Pilgrim’s Progress” simply because it was a classic. It has since become my favorite book of all time. I love “The Pilgrim’s Progress” because it paints such a clear picture of what it is to follow Christ. It shows that the Christian walk is a journey that, despite it’s peril, is fully worth the cost.
Jonathan Edwards – I was recently introduced to Jonathan Edwards by means of my continued readings of John Piper. Let me say, if all you know of Jonathan Edwards is the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” you have not yet experienced the depth of Jonathan Edwards. I am not exaggerating when I say he probably had the greatest mind in American History. His writings on the nature of God have lead me into a much deeper state of understanding and awe of the majesty, sovereignty, and holiness of God. He has forever altered the way I understand God.
“Bless’d be the day that I began A pilgrim for to be; And blessed also be that man That thereto moved me. ‘Tis true, ‘twas long ere I began To seek to live for ever: But now I run fast as I can; ‘Tis better late than never. Our tears to joy, our fears to faith, Are turned, as we see; Thus our beginning (as one saith) Shows what our end will be.”
What an amazing description of a pilgrims arrival to heaven!
“Now while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold, a company of the heavenly host came to meet them; to whom it was said by the other two Shining Ones, These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name; and he hath sent us to fetch them, and we have brought them thus far on their desired journey, that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy. Then the heavenly host gave a great shout, saying, ‘Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'”