Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Recommendation for Your First Puritan Book

Of the Puritan books that I’ve read so far, what I would recommend as the first book for someone who’s interested in starting to read them would be All Things for Good, by Thomas Watson. This is an excellent exposition of Romans 8:28. In addition to being relatively short and easy to read, it’s representative of Puritan thought on God’s sovereignty, providence, and grace as it applies to our lives. Here are two quotes from this book.

Question. What shall we do to love God?
[short] Answer: Study God.
[long] Answer: Did we study Him more, we should love Him more. Take a view of His superlative excellencies, His holiness, His incomprehensible goodness. The angels know God better than we, and clearly behold the splendour of His majesty; therefore they are so deeply enamoured with Him. Labour for an interest in God. “O God, thou art my God” (Psalm 63.1). That pronoun “my”, is a sweet loadstone to love; a man loves that which is his own. The more we believe, the more we love: faith is the root, and love is the flower that grows upon it. “Faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5.6). Make it your earnest request to God, that He will give you a heart to love Him. This is an acceptable request, surely God will not deny it. When king Solomon asked wisdom of God, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3.9), “the speech pleased the Lord” (verse 10). So when you cry to God, “Lord, give me a heart to love Thee. It is my grief, I can love Thee no more. Oh, kindle this fire from heaven upon the altar of my heart!” surely this prayer pleases the Lord, and He will pour of His Spirit upon you, whose golden oil shall make the lamp of your love burn bright.

Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions work for good. Discontent is a sin which puts us upon sin. ‘Fret not thyself to do evil’ (Psalm 37:8). He that frets will be ready to do evil: fretting Jonah was sinning Jonah (Jonah 4:9). The devil blows the coals of passion and discontent, and then warms himself at the fire. Oh, let us not nourish this angry viper in our breast. Let this text produce patience, ‘All things work for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8:28). Shall we be discontented at that which works for our good? If one friend should throw a bag of money at another, and in throwing it, should graze his head, he would not be troubled much, seeing by this means he had got a bag of money. So the Lord may bruise us by afflictions, but it is to enrich us. These afflictions work for us a weight of glory, and shall we be discontented?

–Thomas Watson, All Things for Good (Puritan Paperbacks)

If you would like other ideas, Joel Beeke has some recommendations in an article Reading the Puritans, which is from his book Meet the Puritans.

The Puritans can be difficult to read. Their wording, grammatical structure, and detail can be hard for the contemporary mind to grasp. It is best to read short books from some popular Puritan writers before atempting to read Puritans of more theological profundity, such as Owen and Thomas Goodwin (1600–1679). I recommend beginning with Puritan divines like Tomas Watson (c. 1620–1686), John Flavel (1628–1691), and George Swinnock (c. 1627–1673). Watson wrote succinctly, clearly, and simply. His Art of Divine Contentment, Heaven Taken by Storm, and The Doctrine of Repentance are good places to begin.

Flavel, who was pastor at the seaport of Dartmouth, became known as a seaman’s preacher. He is one of the simplest Puritans to read. His Mystery of Providence is flled with pastoral and comforting counsel. Swinnock showed a special sensitivity to the Scriptures and could explain doctrines with great wisdom and clarity. You might try his The Fading of the Flesh and The Flourishing of Faith, recently edited by Stephen Yuille and printed in a contemporary style.

I’ve read Watson’s Art of Divine Contentment. I think All Things for Good would be an easier read. I’ve also read Flavel’s Mystery of Providence, which is an excellent choice, in addition to A Saint Indeed: Or the Great Work of a Christian in Keeping the Heart in the Several Conditions of Life (or just Keeping the Heart), which is an exposition of Proverbs 14:23 which I really liked a lot and would also highly recommend.

All Things for Good

Bible Reading Plans

As the new year comes along, many people evaluate their Bible reading or want to start reading it, and this blog can’t go without a post on something so important, so here is a modified repost. Scripture doesn’t command us to read it exactly once a year, but there are many who live by a book they haven’t read in its entirety. There was a long period of time when I didn’t read my Bible as much as I should have, but I always loved it, and because of God re-instilling the want to do it, thankfully the enthusiasm and purpose returned later on.

Some want to, but just can’t get themselves to do it. I suppose time management is part of this. It shouldn’t be difficult because it only takes about ten minutes of reading a day to read through the book in a year. It may seem like a big task that’s hard to get started. More importantly, asking God to help one want to read it is as important as anything. There are a wide variety of plans, and if the whole Bible is daunting, there is something about that below.

Many feel that they need to understand everything they read. I’ve learned that there are different objectives in the various types of reading and studying. Reading through the Bible is to familiarize ourselves with what it says. This needs to be done regularly, whether it’s once a year, twice a year or once every few years. We need to be saturated in Scripture to learn and be reminded of what it says, which is something the Holy Spirit helps us with (John 14:26). But we have to read it for him to remind us of what it says. Also, if Scripture interprets Scripture, then we need to read the Scripture that might interpret the Scripture that we’re interpreting. There is also repeated reading of smaller portions for even more familiarity. There is ‘devotional’ reading, for lack of a better term, where we read a very small portion very slowly and intently and pray through everything we read. Reading the whole Bible is essential.

Here is a great post on this subject:
How to Read the Whole Bible in 2014 – Justin Taylor

You can also find just about every type of reading plan there is on YouVersion. I would stay clear of many of the devotionals on this site.

If you’re really ambitious, then you probably know about Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System. I wrote about it in a previous post.

There are some of you reading this post who have an extraordinarily difficult time reading anything that takes concentration, whether it’s because of mental illness, medication, pain, learning disability or whatever. As the first of the previous links quotes, “it is better to read a single chapter of the Scriptures every day without fail, than to read 15 or 20 on an irregular, impulsive basis1.” And as someone else has said, nowhere in the Bible does it say that we need to read through it once a year.

There is no timetable, schedule, deadline, demand or guilt put on us by God. Although those who are able must get to know and spend time in the Bible, for those who it is a great challenge, just read one paragraph a day and think on it afterwards or later in the day. If you can’t read, there are many audio sources out there for free. For this too, you can do a small amount a day. With all this talk of reading through the Bible in a year, or twice a year or 90 days, I want to encourage those who may feel guilt because of an unusual situation, to give it their all to just read a little and know that God is pleased with you because of what Christ did on the cross for you, not because of what you do. If you have limitations, God knew you would have these (Psalm 139:13-16) and created you to glorify Him (John 9:2-3).

What a great treasure we have. I pray that we will all relish Scripture more and more, and that God will reveal more of himself through His Spirit as we read and study.

Also see:

1. Cf. Orthodox Daily Prayers (South Canaan: St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1982), page 3: “It is better to say a few prayers every day without fail than to say a great number of prayers on an irregular, impulsive basis.”

Holy Bible

Biggest Book Blog Post Ever–Christian Books Read in 2017

By biggest, I mean on this blog. I read far more books in 2017 than I have in any other year. In case you’d like to see all of what I’ve read, you can find them at Good Reads journey in books for 2017. I never, ever thought I’d be someone who would read a book a week (although many of them were short). I only mention this because I had a very bad reading drought–as far as books outside the Bible–around the first half of 2016. I was rather bewildered and prayed quite a bit about it. A wise person told me that God sometimes prunes the good things in our lives (John 15:2b). It showed me how much God is in control of even our desires for what we like to do in our leisure time. Spending more time reading is part of the reason I’ve been blogging less.

I often have ‘the year of…’. This year was the year of Puritans, in addition to fiction, and reading books for the second or third time. I also spent time on learning about speed reading and comprehension/concentration, which helped with the amount of books read, (somewhat–I didn’t get that fast, and you don’t want to speed-read Puritans) and some memory type stuff, along with mind mapping.

Here are some highlights, although I’ll mention all of the Puritan books because every one of them was great:

Puritan Books

I had a strong interest in the Puritans a few years ago; at first I think I liked the idea of them as much as anything else. I got just a little tired and needed a break from them. Then after reading Perkins, I got to appreciate them so much more. I think they have become a permanent staple.

  • The Works of William Perkins, Volume 1 – This was the best book of the year–most of it an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • A Treatise of Self-denial by Thomas Manton – This is not a very popular subject (!) but for me it’s the second best book of the year.
  • The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded by John Owen – I think this is underrated.
  • The Person of Christ by John Owen – This was difficult to read but had some deep content that was great material for praise and wonder.
  • Sacred Dissertations on the Lords Prayer by Herman Witsius – He’s not technically a Puritan, but Dutch Further Reformer is close enough. This is so far my favorite of the books I’ve read on this subject. I read the original facsimile on my tablet, which is pretty much all you’ll get in any printed book.
  • The Soul’s Conflict with Itself and Victory Over Itself by Faith by Richard Sibbes – This was the most difficult book to read. It’s within Volume 1 of his works. I’ll be reading more from that. This was one of the books that got D. Martin Lloyd-Jones interested in the Puritans. He says that it was very helpful for him and I can see why.
  • The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod by Thomas Brooks – God used this in a major way.
  • The Vanity of Thoughts by Thomas Goodwin – An excellent and unusually book on our thought life, but not enough on how to deal with them.
  • Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke – I didn’t read all 900 pages, but this really got me straightened out on their history and some of who’s who. (Borrowed)

Contemporary Christian Fiction

I was going to read more of this and watch a little less TV. I read four fiction books and they were a disappointment. Since I was so unfamiliar with the subject, I spent a lot of time looking at books and reviews. It wasn’t worth it. I might read a couple more in 2018. I’d like to go old school and try Dostoyevsky. In any case, I’m watching less TV.

Reading Books for the Second Time

  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer – I can see how much this influenced me when I first read it around xxxx decade(s) ago.
  • In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair B. Ferguson
  • The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer – This is a good spiritual barometer for me, even if I don’t agree with some of his theology.
  • A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering by Michael S. Horton
  • All Things for Good by Thomas Watson is a book what I would recommend for reading a Puritan for the first time if anyone has trouble with the old English. The paperback edition is inexpensive and the ebook is free.

I would like to continue re-reading more of the good books I already have, which is very beneficial.

Introductory Biblical Theology

  • From Creation to New Creation by Tim Chester
  • What Is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton Jr.

I plan to continue reading this subject in 2018. These books are very helpful.

I also read two excellent books each by Carl Trueman and Timothy Keller. Some people I follow on Twitter have been poking fun of Keller’s flowery language, among other things, but I really liked his books on Prayer and Suffering. Below is a photo of a book signed by Carl Trueman that a pastor friend of mine had him sign when he was at a conference. This was really nice since I’m not able to attend them, and I’m a fan of the fellow curmudgeon. The book was an excellent introduction to Luther’s theology, even if some of it was a bit over my head. He makes history relevant. I also borrowed Fool’s Rush In Where Monkeys Fear To Tread. This is a fun book. If I owned it, there would be highlighting all over it; if it were digital, you would have seen a lot of quotes here.

Carl Trueman Signature

I could go on, but I better stop there. I didn’t take the time to link the books or insert cover art (do you blame me?). If you’d like to search for any, you can use my Amazon affiliate link. I’d also recommend Reformation Heritage Books, Westminster Books, and also searching on Monergism for free e-books, which is where I’ve gotten many of the Puritan books that I read.

This post might be for my own benefit more than anything else. I commend you if you made it all the way here.

Stinging Quote by Sinclair Ferguson

This quote by Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Devoted to God, is one of the more difficult ones I’ve read from a contemporary Christian author. It’s an area of sin that’s often overlooked.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath,
Colossians 3:8 ESV

Here Paul is speaking about settled hostility [anger]. […]

Paul adds we are to put away wrath. […]

But what if–as one scholar puts it–we translate Paul’s term here as ‘exasperation’? That gets under the skin! If all Paul meant was ‘rage’ we might think of others to whom these words apply, but hardly ourselves. But ‘exasperation’? Respectable impatience? Irritation when things go wrong? Surely these cannot be classed as real sin? But this is to remove God from our perspective. For the root cause of impatience and exasperation lies in our response to the providence by which God superintends our lives. At the end of the day the deep object of our exasperation is the Lord himself. For it is his sovereign purposes and detailed plans, and the way in which he has ordered our steps to bring us into the situation, that has been the catalyst of our exasperation.

So in fact ‘exasperation’ spells spiritual danger. Yet most of us do not think of it as serious sin. In fact we may have said (even with a sense of pride): ‘I am not the kind of person to suffer fools gladly. [Matt. 5:22] I am easily exasperated by them.’ But if so we have become deaf to what we are really saying. For such exasperation is an expression of the warped and distorted old way of life in Adam. It is un-Christlike and needs to be put off. At its heart is a self-exaltation over others, and a dissatisfaction with the way God is ordering and orchestrating the events of our lives.

–Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God

Can you imagine what the more argumentative areas of social media would look like if everyone were to take this message seriously? The tenor would be completely transformed. We can easily slip into group-think when we’re constantly bombarded with people being overly blunt with each other. It can become normal. Even if we don’t perceive our words as very harsh–should the other person, or people watching on take it differently–our words don’t come to rest; they can float into other people’s minds as a curse (Proverbs 26:2).

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
Colossians 3:13 NLT

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
2 Timothy 2:23-24

Devoted To God Book Cover

Book Lernin’ – Topics

I just found this post in the Drafts area of the blog, so I thought I’d finish it up and post it, even though it’s more than a half a year late:

Last year may have been the year of topics as far as reading. I wanted to learn about what God’s glory is, exactly, what God’s Kingdom entails, what The Name of the Lord means, and more about contentment. These were the highlights of the year.

The Glory of God, Christopher W. Morgan (Editor) – Each chapter is written by a different person. A most excellent book.

Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd – This has been mentioned so many times, and I finally read it–very worthwile.

Name above All Names by Alistair Begg, Sinclair B. Ferguson – This was the most easy to read book, with everything explained at a popular level.

The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs – One of the two or three classic books on the subject by Puritans.

The winner is:
The Glory of God

Timothy Keller on Prayer – Part 2 of 2

Here are eleven quotes from his book on Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. This is the best book I’ve read on prayer so far. It’s something I like to read about regularly.

[Prayer is] A personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God.

What is prayer, then, in its fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.

It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. … He does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself. Prayer is a striving to ‘take hold of God’ (Isa. 64:7) the way in ancient times people took hold of the cloak of a great man as they appealed to him, or the way in modern times we embrace someone to show love.

Our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. [We] speak only to the degree we are spoken to. … The wedding of the Bible and prayer anchors your life down in the real God.

We must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will eventually lead to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. … Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.)

God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.

If God’s words are his personal, active presence, then to put your trust in God’s words is to put your trust in God.

Prayer is the way that truth is worked into your heart to create new instincts, reflexes, and dispositions.

If I am in denial about my own weakness and sin, there will be a concomitant blindness to the greatness and glory of God.

We should remember Augustine’s letter to Anicia. There he says, in short, that you should not begin to pray for all you want until you realize that in God you have all you need. That is, unless we know that God is the one thing we truly need, our petitions and supplications may become, simply, forms of worry and lust. We can use prayer as just another way to pursue many things that we want too much.

It takes pride to be anxious, to know how my life should go.

“we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing.” This is an insightful and practical idea. [Packer’s ‘arguing with God in prayer’. –Packer and Nystrom, Praying: Finding Our Way] … This means embedding theological reasoning in our prayers.

Also see: Timothy Keller on Prayer – Part 1

Around the Web – Bible Reading Edition

Unlock the Riches of Scripture | Desiring God

When I read a sentence, what I want to know is What did the author intend by it? not What new ideas do I have when I read it?

He promotes active reading by asking questions (he has eight), which is exactly what I’ve been learning when it comes to improving reading comprehension.

Stop Trying to Read the Bible in a Year! – jtcochran.com

If your driving motive to read the Bible is to get it done in a year, rather than to meet with the living God and become entranced by his glory, then you will burn out, right around now in fact: January 15th.

I think this is a good post. I also think it’s good to read the Bible in large quantities, like the ‘ten bookmarks‘ method he sarcastically alluded to. (I’m not offended by the remark.) I like to switch it up every 9 to 18 months, and often do more than one type of reading or studying at once.

On the other hand, a post about reading through the Bible:
A Spreading Goodness » Bible Read Throughs

20 Reading Tips | HeadHeartHand Blog – for regular books

5. Double-up: Research has shown that our understanding and recall starts diminishing after about 30 minutes of reading a book. But science has also shown that if we change to another book after 30 minutes, it seems to refresh and refuel our minds and we return to higher levels of comprehension. Many experienced readers read two or more books at a time.

I’ve been doing this and it’s been working very well.

Andy Naselli recites Romans from memory:

Romans from Bethlehem Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Photo of a Bible

Being Content In All Circumstances

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
Ecclesiastes 7:10

Contentment is a terribly difficult subject for those who’s lives aren’t what they’d like them to be. The Puritans wrote some great books on this subject, including The Crook in the Lot, The Art of Divine Contentment, and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (quoted from below).

‘O if I had it again, I would do better than I did before.’ But this may be but a temptation. You should rather think, ‘What does God require of me in the circumstances I am now brought into?’ You should labor to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.

I cannot better compare the folly of those men and women who think they will get contentment by musing about other circumstances than to the way of children: perhaps they have climbed a hill and look a good way off and see another hill, and they think if they were on the top of that, they would be able to touch the clouds with their fingers; but when they are on the top of that hill, alas, they are as far from the clouds as they were before. So it is with many who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, ‘Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.

–Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Monergism Ebook Edition

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

Book Cover

9 Minutes With God – Learn Who Jesus Really Is

This is a repost. I made a few slight grammar and punctuation changes with the PDF document, and added an experimental Epub file.

When I first became a Christian, after or while reading through the book of John, I used the little pamphlet put out by The Navigators (NavPress) called 7 Minutes With God. This got me started on having a “quiet time” or what I now call devotional time or spiritual disciplines (what a scary word) which has stayed with me for over 25 years now.

While looking for this online, I found some adaptations and decided to write my own. If you like it, I would be thrilled if you use it for yourself or to give to others.

Nine Minutes With God (PDF File)

Nine Minutes With God (Epub File)

If you’re wondering how to start, or need to restart with some structure, this may help.

If you have any suggestions for ways to improve it, please let me know. This is meant to be printed and I purposely used a rather large typeface for the older folks.

Photo of a Bible

Benefits of Reading Old Books

I’ve been finding that the best books on suffering are books that are about Jesus, or the cross, or God’s character, or general theology. Many modern books on suffering are either about ‘secrets’ to overcoming it, or the better books need to convince us that suffering shouldn’t be a surprise, or that it’s not outside of God’s will.

The older books on theology mention a lot about affliction both because they lived in it, and because it’s mentioned so much in Scripture.

If we only look to the Bible for verses about our own inner needs and psychological comfort, or for physical needs and material things we think we need, we may be missing the broader teachings that will ultimately transform us instead of just inform us.

The problem with reading only contemporary work is that we all sound so contemporary that our talks and sermons soon descend to the level of kitsch. We talk fluently about the importance of self-identity, ecological responsibility, tolerance, becoming a follower of Jesus (but rarely becoming a Christian), how the Bible helps us in our pain and suffering, and conduct seminars on money management and divorce recovery. Not for a moment would I suggest that the Bible fails to address such topics—but the Bible is not primarily about such topics. If we integrate more reading of, say, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, and John Flavel (to pick on three Johns), we might be inclined to devote more attention in our addresses to what it means to be made in the image of God, to the dreadfulness of sin, to the nature of the gospel, to the blessed Trinity, to truth, to discipleship, to the Bible’s insistence that Christians will suffer, to learning how to die well, to the prospect of the new heaven and the new earth, to the glories of the new covenant, to the sheer beauty of Jesus Christ, to confidence in a God who is both sovereign and good, to the non-negotiability of repentance and faith, to the importance of endurance and perseverance, to the beauty of holiness and the importance of the local church. Is the Bible truly authoritative in our lives and ministries when we skirt these and other truly important themes that other generations of Christians rightly found in the Bible?

–D.A. Carson, Too Little Reading, Especially the Reading of Older Commentaries and Theological Works in a Themelios article: Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives

Themelios

Possible Problems With Book Reading Goals

On David Murray’s HeadHeartHand Blog’s site, I found Four Reasons to Slow Down at Desiring God. I had been thinking about writing a blog post on Why Reading Goals Are Bad, which is somewhat of a click-bait title, and mention why that could be bad for personal reasons I can think of. I thought I would add things mentioned in this article to them.

His reasons, without the full explanations, are:

  1. We are pursuing transformation, not information.
    “God’s purpose in our learning is that we become Christlike (Romans 8:29), not that we become information databases.”
  2. Real growth takes a long time.
    “the most important things take a long time to grow and mature. They can’t be rushed.”
  3. Goals matter and develop over time.
    “Goals reveal how godly or ungodly our desires are.”
    I would need more clarification on this.
  4. We cannot love what we do not linger over.
    “Comprehension requires time-consuming concentration and meditation.”

He sets his goals as hours, which is what I’ve started to do–except it’s minutes per day–partly because I’ve had a big slump in the amount of extra-biblical reading I’ve been doing. I aim for a certain amount of time, and however many books that ends up being, Goodreads will tell me at the end of the year. Even though my reading slump started in spring or early summer of last year (2016), I still managed to read about 17 books, which really surprised me.

I should say at this point that I’m not saying that lofty reading goals (or challenges) are bad. I think it’s possible to read 50-100 books in a year and still not violate any of his or my potential problems.

Other reasons I’ve come up with:

  • Like the first and fourth reasons above, it can cause us not to pause and meditate on something because we want to get our book done and make our goal. Especially lamentable would be if we don’t stop to praise or thank God related to something we just read.
  • We don’t take notes or take the time to gather quotes from the book.
  • This could be an area of pride. Read 104 books in a year and don’t tell anyone about it.
  • You don’t want to read one chapter from a systematic theology, NT or OT introduction, or a reference book, etc. because it doesn’t count as a book. Or you could be tempted to cheat and call it a book. And then brag about how many books you read.
  • You might not want to skim parts of books if you feel that’s cheating.
  • You might not want to read large books like Calvin’s Institutes, a systematic theology, or a commentary.
  • Worst of all, you may be tempted to read the Bible less.* Starting last year, I was reading the Bible more than reading books, and the Bible reading was substantial, even though I was in a book reading slump. That was a good thing.

On the other hand, if you have trouble reading books:
Reading books on theology has been extremely important to me. Because of learning about doctrine (teachings), I have a much better understanding of the Bible when I read it, even if it’s just a relatively tiny amount of knowledge. This makes reading the Bible more enjoyable and it becomes more effective spiritually. A whole book could be written on many of the other benefits of reading in general, and I see articles and blog posts on that subject regularly as new research comes along. For those who don’t read, if one just reads ten minutes a day, they’ll be surprised at what they can learn and how many books can be read in a year. That includes the Bible too.

*Extra credit: Quotes on the importance of Scripture over the Bible.

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.

–C.H. Spurgeon, from the sermon “Holy Longings,” as quoted in Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke, pp. 27-28

“In time,” Luther opined, “my books will lie forgotten in the dust.” This was no lament on the Reformer’s part. In fact, Luther found much “consolation” in the possibility — or rather likelihood — that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. “Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books],” he wrote, “not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench.” Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the “countless mass of books” written over time which, “like a crawling swarm of vermin,” had served to supplant the place which should belong to “the Bible” in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.

–Aaron Denlinger, Luther on Book-Showers and Big, Long, Shaggy Donkey Ears

Bible Reading Plans

As the new year comes along, many people evaluate their Bible reading or want to start reading it, and this blog can’t go without a post on something so important, so here is a modified repost. Scripture doesn’t command us to read it exactly once a year, but there are many who live by a book they haven’t read in its entirety. There was a long period of time when I didn’t read my Bible as much as I should have, but I always loved it, and because of God re-instilling the want to do it, thankfully the enthusiasm and purpose returned later on.

Some want to, but just can’t get themselves to do it. I suppose time management is part of this. It shouldn’t be difficult because it only takes about ten minutes of reading a day to read through the book in a year. It may seem like a big task that’s hard to get started. More importantly, asking God to help one want to read it is as important as anything. There are a wide variety of plans, and if the whole Bible is daunting, there is something about that below.

Many feel that they need to understand everything they read. I’ve learned that there are different objectives in the various types of reading and studying. Reading through the Bible is to familiarize ourselves with what it says. This needs to be done regularly, whether it’s once a year, twice a year or once every few years. We need to be saturated in Scripture to learn and be reminded of what it says, which is something the Holy Spirit helps us with (John 14:26). But we have to read it for him to remind us of what it says. Also, if Scripture interprets Scripture, then we need to read the Scripture that might interpret the Scripture that we’re interpreting. There is also repeated reading of smaller portions for even more familiarity. There is ‘devotional’ reading, for lack of a better term, where we read a very small portion very slowly and intently and pray through everything we read. Reading the whole Bible is essential.

Here is a great post on this subject:
How to Read the Whole Bible in 2014 – Justin Taylor

You can also find just about every type of reading plan there is on YouVersion. I would stay clear of many of the devotionals on this site.

If you’re really ambitious, then you probably know about Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System. I wrote about it in a previous post.

There are some of you reading this post who have an extraordinarily difficult time reading anything that takes concentration, whether it’s because of mental illness, medication, pain, learning disability or whatever. As the first of the previous links quotes, “it is better to read a single chapter of the Scriptures every day without fail, than to read 15 or 20 on an irregular, impulsive basis1.” And as someone else has said, nowhere in the Bible does it say that we need to read through it once a year.

There is no timetable, schedule, deadline, demand or guilt put on us by God. Although those who are able must get to know and spend time in the Bible, for those who it is a great challenge, just read one paragraph a day and think on it afterwards or later in the day. If you can’t read, there are many audio sources out there for free. For this too, you can do a small amount a day. With all this talk of reading through the Bible in a year, or twice a year or 90 days, I want to encourage those who may feel guilt because of an unusual situation, to give it their all to just read a little and know that God is pleased with you because of what Christ did on the cross for you, not because of what you do. If you have limitations, God knew you would have these (Psalm 139:13-16) and created you to glorify Him (John 9:2-3).

What a great treasure we have. I pray that we will all relish Scripture more and more, and that God will reveal more of himself through His Spirit as we read and study.

Also see:

1. Cf. Orthodox Daily Prayers (South Canaan: St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1982), page 3: “It is better to say a few prayers every day without fail than to say a great number of prayers on an irregular, impulsive basis.”

Around the Web-2016’s Favorite Books

This is the obligatory roundup of posts about books that people liked from the year, devotional recommendations, and one looking forward to next year. I’ve kept the list short.

If I’m motivated enough, I’d like to put up a post about some of the books that I read.

Top 16 Books of 2016 | Desiring God

My Top Books of 2016 – Tim Challies

Daily Devotionals: Recommendations « The Reformed Reader

12 Christian Books Releasing in 2017 to Keep On Your Radar | Anchored in Christ

Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System-Everything You Need to Know

C.S. Lewis and Sinclair Ferguson both said that they wish they had read the Bible more.

Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System is a popular and intriguing reading plan where one chapter of each of ten ‘Lists’ of the Bible are read each day. So, List 1 is the Gospels, List 2 is the , another is the historical books, the wisdom books, Psalms is by itself, etc. so that you’re reading ten chapters a day. When you’re done with each list, you start that list over. As each section starts over at a different time, you’re reading different parts of the Bible together the next time you cycle through each list.

Instead of writing more about how the system works, I’ll let you read through the excellent article Professor Horner wrote, and then you can read a little about my experience, if that matters to you, along with a list of resources.

Professor Grant Horners Bible Reading System | Scribd – The Facebook page is no longer there.

I kept my eye on this reading plan, or ‘system’, for a few years. In April of 2015, I started praying that God would motivate me to want to start with it. About two days later I thought, “Why not just start now? You know you want to.” So I started then, very slightly modifying it to nine chapters a day, for about 18 months. It didn’t seem like a year and a half. (And it’s taken me this long to write a blog post about it!)

This system is mainly for familiarity with the Bible. Certainly, we should be praying through the Bible, meditating on it, and studying it. Right now I’m meditating and praying through much of the NT with a study Bible, and also slowly praying through the Psalms. I want to get more motivated to do more studying, which I did much more of in the past. I plan on returning to Professor Horner’s system within a year or two. So this isn’t made to be an all inclusive plan for your Bible consumption. Lately, I’ve only been able to do one aspect of Bible reading at a time. I’ve been spending the same amount of time on what I’m doing now as when I was reading nine chapters a day. Since it never seemed burdensome, I thought I’d keep up the discipline and not lose the mental callouses that have been built up.

Part of the goal of this system, as the article above says, is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. This happens more as we learn more of the Bible. For me, there was much more interpretation going on than I expected. But it wasn’t just Scripture interpreting Scripture. For sure, God was giving me insight into His Word. But I think he was doing that through the discipline of reading a lot of it. It was surprising, because as Professor Horner says, you need to just get through the text and not stop to look things up. The goal is to get to know Scripture better. It is Scripture that changes us in so many ways, and ingesting large doses of it may be helpful in ways we might not realize if we’re not usually spending as much time with it as this requires.

The best way to learn Biblical theology, the best way to get you out of the world’s way of thinking and into the Bible’s is to study the Bible itself. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Read the Bible. A lot.

–James M. Hamilton Jr., What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

If your Bible is falling apart, you probably aren’t.

–John MacArthur, as told to Grant Horner after looking at his tattered Bible (as found in the article above)

There’s a lot more I could write about, but I’ll stop there. I haven’t seen a list of apps anywhere, so I hope these are helpful.

Android Apps
YouVersion – This stops after one year, unfortunately. I didn’t want to start over; I wanted to keep going with the lists where I was.

Bookmarks – Complete Bible Reading Tool – Each of the ten lists are separate, so you could read each of the ten sections at separate paces if you would want to, and also pick up where you left off if you used YouVerion.

Pocket Bible – This has a ‘year 2’. I used both of these after year one of the YouVersion app.

Online
Prof. Horner's Bible Reading System

Traditional (paper) Bookmarks
New Bookmarks: Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System | Nathan W. Bingham

My wife used these and usually read about five chapters a day.

Lists for Printouts
At Scribd, you can sign up for a free month if you haven’t already. Then you can download the documents, as far as I can tell.

Professor Grant Horner Bible Reading Plan Checklist

Grant Horner Bible Reading System – Spreadsheet

Also see:
Quotes On Reading the Bible | Scripture Zealot blog

Photo of a Bible

First five books of the Bible.

Luther and Spurgeon on Books

After using Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System for a year and a half, while also having a dry spell for reading books at the same time, I’ve realized the importance of Scripture and have been less into reading books. I’m praying that my ambition for outside reading will return, but God has been using this period in my life to show me some things.

Scripture is what changes us and shows us who God is. Some of us really love our books, but I have to be sure to keep the right priorities. I hate to admit that it wasn’t until last year that I was able to spend much more time with the Bible than with books.

“In time,” Luther opined, “my books will lie forgotten in the dust.” This was no lament on the Reformer’s part. In fact, Luther found much “consolation” in the possibility — or rather likelihood — that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. “Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books],” he wrote, “not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench.” Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the “countless mass of books” written over time which, “like a crawling swarm of vermin,” had served to supplant the place which should belong to “the Bible” in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.

–Aaron Denlinger, Reformation 21 blog

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.

–C.H. Spurgeon, from the sermon “Holy Longings,” as quoted in Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke, pp. 27-28

Photo of a Bible