Summer moves on and the pages keep turning. I love the extra bursts of time for reading in the summer, especially in the morning hours. I love the lack of structure, the freedom to read what I want and as much as I want, and the range of reading that books offer.
Right now, my mornings begin with Bible reading and brewing coffee. (I am a truck driver when it comes to coffee, so look elsewhere for sophisticated talk about blends and brews.) As has happened in the past, my reading begins with R. C. Sproul stopping by. I am reading his latest book Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Sproul is probably the best popularizer and simple presenter of theology in the country today. By training and gifts, he could have been a more in-depth and original academic theologian. But he also has a great teaching style and simple writing style. I am always caught between two thoughts while reading Sproul: “I already knew that” and “I never knew that.” Often both thoughts occur while reading a single paragraph.
This past year at Veritas Academy, I taught a course called Theology and Apologetics. The students and I both loved the class. I used James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith. That is a good, weighty, and readable book. But when I teach the course again, I will, D.V., use Sproul’s book. He has 60 short chapters with pertinent Bible verses and just enough meat and explanation to launch a discussion or further studies. This book is, as the subtitle says, an introduction to systematic theology.
After a chapter from Sproul, I read from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. This book is too perilously close to being a self-help book for me to normally read. But I need help, and not self-help. I need Christ-centered directives for living and implementing the Gospel in my life. My work for the past 19 years has been in what we usually term “full-time Christian service.” But working at a church and in a Christian school and around Christians does not mean that we (or I) have it all figured out. Time and task management is a problem. This book borrows from some of the popular approaches to being highly effective, but the foundation is the Bible.
The chapter I read today was titled “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matters.” It is about the necessity of good works. Of course, good works don’t save us, but they are the result of being saved. This chapter was a healthy reminder that the good works we do are not just “missionary activities,” but the everyday tasks we have in the home and office.
After this, I turn to my reading of history from a Christian perspective. I recently finished D. G. Hart’s outstanding book Calvinism: A History. Now I am reading from The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief by George Marsden. Marsden is an outstanding and brilliant Christian historian. His biography of Jonathan Edwards is great, as is his book Fundamentalism and American Culture. This book is not a history of the political or social events of the 1950s. It is an analysis of the ideas growing out of the time. There was a greater sense of concensus in the 1950s. Looking back, that time appears more stable, unified, and moral than our time. But, to borrow from William Butler Yeats, the center could not hold.
This book demands that the caffeine is working. It is more of a “Hmmm” book rather than a “Wow” read. It ties in with several other things I have read or thought about in recent months that relate back to the 1950s. I hope to say more about this book later.
If time permits each day, I read bits from two different Banner of Truth books. One is John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray. This book is a double bonus. First, I want every book that Iain Murray has ever written. I have and have read quite a few of his biographical and historical studies. He writes Christian biographies and histories that are readable, scholarly, and encouraging. Second, this book is about John MacArthur. MacArthur is far from perfect and I am sure that plenty of Calvinists have found faults in him and his theology. (I had serious questions about his book Strange Fire, which I reviewed on this blog some months back.) But there is much in the life, the ministry, and the writings of MacArthur that are amazing. He is not as theologically astute as R. C. Sproul, but he has done a great job of modeling expository preaching and the Calvinistic doctrines of grace.
My other Banner of Truth read is about someone as obscure as MacArthur is well known. I refer to the book Pleading for a Reformation Vision: The Life and Selected Writings of William Childs Robinson, 1897-1982 by David Calhoun. Calhoun has written 3 outstanding volumes on Presbyterian history. Two volumes were devoted to Princeton Theological Seminary and a more recent volume focused on the Southern seminary–Columbia Seminary. One of the later teachers at Columbia Seminary was William Childs Robinson. Calvinism went underground for a time in American history. Those who held to the Reformed Faith in all its particulars were marginalized or in most cases buried and forgotten. But during the years when Calvinism was less well known and less often proclaimed, there were those who held on, taught others, pored over Scripture and the old theological studies, and taught others. William Childs Robinson was one such man. This is an encouraging study about a great, but little known, warrior for the faith.