Learning in the Shadows

Life and study without a wall of books is unthinkable.

Andrew Bonar wrote in his diary: “Led today to notice that all my books that come to help my study and suggest what I might preach, as well as those papers, and the like, that stir up the soul, are all part of God’s calling of me.  By these He carries on what He began, and so by every verse of Scripture which He gives me heart to feel.”

That well describes the pastor’s and my experience.  The use of books in pastoral ministry is a necessity and a delight.  I work amidst leaning stacks of books.  Sometimes one author says all I need; at other times, I need to take counsel in many.  The best of them are always pointing to, explaining, and upholding Scripture. Their company is an encouragement.  They (books and authors) are my friends and mentors.

Along with a number of books I am currently reading from in my studies of the Sermon on the Mount, I usually have a few other books on the table to supplement my studies of the Bible and theology.

Carl F. H. Henry, a man of books and the author of books.

In recent weeks, I have been reading from a new book called Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury.  (It is published by Crossway Books.)  I have known of Dr. Henry for years and have read some of his books.  His greatest and most daunting work is his six volume God, Revelation, and Authority.  I got that set last year and have only glanced through portions of it.  I will probably tackle Henry by reading some of his shorter works and referencing his massive works little by little.

Thornbury’s study of Carl Henry is a great spur to understanding and appreciating this pillar of evangelical theology.  Carl Henry was a great thinker and defender of Biblical Christianity.  A few years back, I gave some lectures on pivotal Calvinist worldview thinkers.  Every book I read opened the doors to more studies.  There beyond the great Dutch Calvinists and American Presbyterians were others, such as Carl F. H. Henry.

Henry was a defender of orthodox theology and God’s revelation.  I could not yet begin to describe whatever limitations or faults he might have had in his theology.  My goal at this point is to understand and appreciate.  Henry, by the way, attended Wheaton College many years ago and was mentored by Professor Gordon Clark.

A serious study of a serious Christian thinker.

I also picked up another book in recent days and started reading it.  This book is titled The Minister in His Study by Wilbur M. Smith.  I cannot find a picture of it on the Internet. It is a Moody Press book that was published in 1973.  The dust jacket has a picture of an older Professor Wilbur M. Smith looking solemn and wise, standing in front of a wall of books.  There is no way this cover would have boosted book sales, but I am more interested in learning from a book by a man with 25,000 volumes than I am in cover art.

This is a book about books by another great Christian thinker.  I read Smith’s book Before I Forget some years back.  It detailed his life and beliefs during the tumultuous years when Princeton Seminary and Presbyterians were battling over the essentials of the faith.  J. Gresham Machen led a corp of teachers and students out of Princeton and started Westminster Theological Seminary.  Smith was there and was a supporter of Machen.  I also have Smith’s book Therefore Stand.

In The Minister In His Study, Smith rattles off essential books that a minister needs to have and use in his Bible studies.  I love books about books, but this one is sending me reeling.  Prof. Smith, who taught at Moody Bible College, Fuller Theological Institute, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, urged, encouraged, and assumed that the pastor would spend 3 hours a day, five days a week, working on a sermon.  He also assumed and encouraged pastors to read extensively from a number of Bible and theological encyclopedias.

I now want the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia  (spelled correctly!, four volumes, c. 1930).  Smith mentioned Machen visiting his home, pulling out volume one, turning to William P. Armstrong’s article “Chronology of the New Testament,” and asking, “Have you mastered this article?”  Smith, embarrassed, answered, “No.”  Machen caressed the page and said, “This is a precious work, and you should give it a careful study.”


Wilbur M. Smith, D.D.

Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, scholar and teacher.

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