I need a balanced diet. And I need to be fed and fed a lot. I speak of the pastor’s desk and not of the dining table, which is ironic since the dining table is where I do my reading. I always have ever-growing, tilting stacks of books around me. Some have been finished, but I want to scan back over parts. Many have bookmarks at various places. These are the current reads that will be finished with the next few weeks, or months, or years. Some will be read from cover to cover, while others will be dipped into at parts. And then there are the new ones, inviting me to peer inside.
This past month, I finished two very different books. They were Inerrancy and the Gospels by Vern Poythress and Power Through Praying by E. M. Bounds. As I said, these were two very different books by two very different authors on very different subjects. Poythress is a professor of New Testament studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has numerous degrees and has authored quite a few books on theological subjects. He is a living exemplar of the great tradition of Presbyterian theologians and worldview thinkers. In other words, he is standing on the shoulders of such men as Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and Cornelius Van Til.
E. M. Bounds was a Methodist pastor who lived in the South from 1835 to 1913. He served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army and was imprisoned by the Federals for a time during the War Between the States. During the last seventeen years of his life, he wrote a series of books on the spiritual life. The recurring theme and pattern was the call to prayer. Rising at four in the morning and praying until seven, he practiced what he preached and wrote.
Both of these books were hard and challenging reads.
Poythress’ book discusses how the Gospels are to be harmonized. We have four Gospels that give similar accounts of events out of the life of Christ. Each author includes details the others leave out. Some of the varied accounts can be easily explained, while others are more difficult to reconcile. Scoffers and critics and lazy Bible students can dismiss the differences and assume that the writers were mistaken at points. The key word in the title of Poythress’ book is Inerrancy. Poythress does not give easy, “look at the answer key,” solutions to these accounts. He gives theological, literary, and linguistic approaches to solving the concerns. Underlying the tools are the presuppositions. These are that God is reliable and truthful; therefore, His Word is reliable and truthful. Add this also, God wants us to labor over the Scriptures.
This is serious theological reading. I felt like I was sitting in Dr. Poythress’ classroom. I also felt like I needed to do more homework. I certainly had to pay attention. Karl Barth was right when he said that theology was sermon preparation. I am realizing more and more that I need to be better at the one so that I can improve on the other.
Pastor Bounds’ book, Power Through Prayer, was also a difficult book. The chapters were short; the language was simple; the ideas were clearly expressed. There was no need to have a dictionary or any theological resources handy while reading this book. The copy I had was an old pocketbook size trade paperback that came out around 1978. The cover boasts “More than 300,000 copies in print!”
The difficulty of Bounds’ books on prayer is in the doing of what he said. It is an all embracing call for serious, devoted, lengthy praying. In Bounds’ case, remember he prayed for 3 hours a day. I stumble when I read this book. While reading it, I prayed prayers like “God help me” many times. This is an undiluted, uncompromising, unabashed demand that God’s people, and especially preachers, go before God.
I had the testimony of two witnesses encouraging me to read Bounds. George Grant has often spoken and written of the ministry and ministry of E. M. Bounds. This past year, Andrew Sandlin read through a number of Bounds’ writings and continually exhorted me to do the same. They were right. One read is not enough. And once again, sitting under the teaching of E. M. Bounds, I realize that I have homework to do.