Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Read Dead People

I remember during my grade school years in the Bronx, there was a popular public service announcement that ran on television every weekday after school during the cartoons. It was about the importance of reading and was produced by a foundation named "R.I.F." The announcement would always feature a celebrity and some kids touting how basic reading is to all the endeavors of life. At the end, they would always close by repeating the foundation’s famous motto, "reading is fundamental," hence the name "R.I.F."

Truer words were never spoken. Consider, of all the ways Almighty God could have chosen to reveal Himself to us, He chose the medium of writing to be the mode of His special self-revelation. Since it is only through the Holy Bible that man has access to the special revelation of God that leads to salvation; reading is not only fundamental, it is vital! It would behoove any person who has a severe allergy to fire and brimstone to read and believe the words of sacred Scripture.

Just as reading the Bible is of paramount importance, there are important works of faithful men which are almost as indispensable for our growth in the Christian faith. There seems to be a great deal of neglect toward these great writers simply because they have committed the unforgivable sin of dying. Many of today’s readers miss out on a wealth of godly wisdom simply because they think yesterdays authors are irrelevant in our time. They believe that all our current "advances" in sciences and technology make us inherently smarter than those "dead guys." One has only to watch his local news broadcast to understand that what Paul wrote in Romans 1:22 is even more appropriate today: "Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . "

Of course, the Bible alone is "God-breathed" and is alone the final rule for our faith and practice.This understanding is what makes the works of the great Christian authors so valuable. There is no attempt to present some new revelation, which is the hallmark of many of today’s "Christian" authors. The faithful Christian authors of antiquity deeply revered the Holy Writ. They strove relentlessly to bring God’s Word to bear on the life of fallen man. And they did so without political correctness or sensitivity to the proclivities of sinful human hearts. God’s work through these authors has fortified our faith against repeated attacks from false religions and secular philosophies from without and from well-disguised heresies and apostasies within. We would do well to seek these "ancient paths" and "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).

"But wait a minute! ‘Christian’ books are flying off the shelves at bookstores. Even secular booksellers have dozens of ‘christian’ titles on sale. So, what is your complaint?" Let’s just say that the best of today’s popular "christian" writing doesn’t have much in the way of teeth. The popular writing is pathetically short on deep theology. Charles Haddon Spurgeon ( himself a "dead guy") said, " . . . the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father."

The vast majority of today’s "christian" writing read like cookbooks. The chefs, excuse me, authors provide recipes for people to have their needs met or to the "5 steps to finding the 5 keys to unlock the 5 doors to God’s fivefold plan for your spiritual and financial breakthrough." Of course, the law of supply and demand also applies to Christian book sales. So, what the people want the people get. This is plainly evident when you compare the sales record of "The Prayer of Jabez" to that of Calvin’s "The Institutes of Christian Religion".

When one considers the reasons for the snubbing of the rich history of profound Christian writing, many possibilities come to mind. I believe that lack of exposure, perceived impracticality and anti-intellectual bias are three of the major culprits. Any one of these conditions is enough to rob a growing believer of a wealth of time-tested wisdom. With all that is facing the Church of Jesus Christ in this country alone, none of these excuses must be uncontested. We must take advantage of the God-honoring testimonies that refuse to pander to the lowest common denominator . . . self.

"Quicker, faster, better" is the name of the game in our "microwave" society. We want everything as quickly and painlessly as possible. Thoroughness and painstaking accuracy are expendable, especially where our comfort and self-image are concerned. We have come a long way since the days of the Pony Express. Just a few short years ago, for many of us, we had to be content to wait for the mailman; now "dial-up" is too slow, so "broadband" is a must have. I’m sure that within the next two years "broadband" will be a dinosaur. This need for speed has also infected our growth as Christians. We want to go from pagan to "glorified" via the quickest, shortest and most painless route possible. We treat our faith just as we treat finding "it" on Ebay.

J.C. Ryle (another "dead guy") author of the classic "Holiness" said, "The natural heart in most men hates exertion in religion, and cordially dislikes patient, painstaking inquiry." This mind set finds its perfect match in today’s "christian" writing. The majority of these authors are telling us how to get God’s best . . . now! We no longer seem to care about holiness, mortifying sin, or true communion with God. Thus being conformed to the image of Christ has to wait until our "He-motions" have been soothed.

The writers of old invested multiplied hours in drinking deeply of Scripture. Of course, they had much fewer distractions in their time. There was no television, radio or internet, but they lived through the defining times of Christian history. The celebrated "christian" authors of today are constantly jetting across the globe, making movies, producing concerts and making television appearances. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, how much time can there possibly be left for sitting at Jesus’ feet to feast on His Spirit and His Truth? The popular writing dreadfully lacks any thorough exposition of the Scripture. There is only the patronizing empathy with our struggles and the "sound-bite" quick remedies that the Holy Spirit allegedly "dropped" into their spirit.

In the book of Jeremiah, God commands His people to seek the "ancient paths." We would be wise to do so presently. We should take advantage of the wisdom of Augustine ("Confessions"), Luther ("The Bondage of the Will") and Calvin. It is a grand misreading of Scripture that leads so many of these popular authors to proclaim that "God is doing a new thing." He is absolutely not doing a "new" thing. All of the Father’s purposes in redemptive history were completed in Christ Jesus before the foundations of the earth and they have not changed. We must avail ourselves to a thoughtful and defensible faith. Our Lord commands us to "regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect . . ." (I Peter 3:15esv). He also commands us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3nkjv). We cannot do this if we are preoccupied with ourselves. We are in the midst of spiritual warfare and the battle for the minds of men. We cannot afford to be so intensely self-absorbed and self-concerned. The writings of men like J. C. Ryle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("The Cost of Discipleship") and Francis Schaeffer ("A Christian Manifesto") spur us to stand for Christ in this the evil day. Knowing their struggles for this faith will help us to know what is truly worth fighting for.

The popular writers of today are mere tour guides of the temporal. There is a complete and utter lack of focus on eternal verities. While they oversell our "rights and privileges" as Christians, they undersell sober theological considerations of God Himself. What does it mean that God is eternal, immutable and holy? Why does the triune-nature of God explain the love and personalness of the God of Christianity better than the God of Islam or Mormonism? We are the children of the Most High God. We should be completely consumed with knowing Him and all available accurate knowledge about Him. Instead current brokers, excuse me, authors just feed us with schemes to get stuff from Him. The piercing insights of John Owen ("Mortification of Sin" "Communion with God") lead us to a greater understanding of what is required of us. There are benefits for us and there are promises made to us; however, with God the eternal is always in view. We must be constantly aware that we are only sojourners and pilgrims here. Our primary duty having been born-again is now to glorify God, not ourselves. Dead people like Jeremiah Burroughs ("Gospel Fear"), Jonathan Edwards ("Religious Affections") and John Bunyan ("The Pilgrim’s Progress) give us strong admonition to do just that.

There is undeniably an anti-intellectual bias afoot in our society today. Unfortunately this bias is all too alive and well within the Church of Jesus Christ. We must be like the men of Issachar in I Chronicles 12:32, knowing the times. The "mermaid’s song" that is today’s popular "christian" writing will only serve to lure us into indistinctness and ineffectualness. We should take the less-traveled path of the "studied" faith. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to " . . . love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind"(Matthew 22:37nkjv). The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.

"The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals," Samuel Davies (1725-1761)

I do not wish to broad-brush all of today’s authors as poor. There are today many writers whose efforts reflect the heart and commitment of many of the "dead guys" I have listed. I want to give "props" to the Luthers, Calvins and Owens of today: R. C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson and many more.

B. L. B. B
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)

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