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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 [ref]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/.[/ref]
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.
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.