Pastor’s Friday Comment (08.06.21)

I gave away my books this week. Okay, I didn’t give away all my books. I still have a ton at home, but, after pulling out a few that I wanted to keep, I found new homes for the books in my office. I gave young people whom I have mentored over the years the first crack at them, found a few sets of commentaries that could be sold to benefit a local library, and then packed up about three dozen boxes and took them to Goodwill.

Letting go of a forty-something-year collection wasn’t as hard as you might expect. I came to the realization a few years ago that I was holding onto books that I would never read again because I subconsciously believed that being surrounded by a lot of books made me look smart. Even if that were true, it isn’t a good enough reason to hold onto anything.

Nevertheless, going through the various sections of my library – biblical, historical-theological, practical – I had time to reflect on some things.

For one thing, I realized that I have had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants. Great theologians, biblical scholars, and ministry practitioners devoted their lives to articulating beliefs and skills in language and concepts that would allow ministers to be more effective in their work. So much of their blood, sweat, and tears was poured into their writing, and all I had to do was take the time and invest the thought in reading their books to take hold of insights that had taken them years to acquire and express. I’m not sure as I held classic volumes in my hands and struggled to understand their concepts that I fully appreciated all that those books represented. But now, in retrospect, I am grateful for all they have taught me, and I am contrite about all I failed to learn.

I’ve also come to understand that some books aren’t classics, but they were invaluable in their time. Christian thinkers and ministers read the signs of their times. They understand the challenges and the needs of people in their day and they suggest ways in which the Church can respond to those needs, applying the Gospel to their time. But ideas from the past decade, let alone the last century, seldom have relevance to how the Church must respond to our contemporary world. I had no trouble letting go of “how to” books that were more than a few years old. I’m grateful for what they taught me, but we have to live our lives today. One of my mentors used to say that you can look at a minister’s library and tell when his mind died. Staying current has always been a challenge, but it is essential – not just for ministers, but for anyone who cares about responding as a Christian to the world around us.

Quite a few of the books reminded me of the great times I had with a small group of our men at our weekly breakfasts. Over the years we read dozens of books together and each week my own Christian pilgrimage was enriched by the insights of these godly men who took both their walk with God and the thoughts of others with equal seriousness. One of the strengths of Parkway through the years has been your willingness to wrestle with hard issues and difficult material, allowing others to have their opinions and to inform your own. I hope all of you will continue to find ways to engage with others in both the study of God’s word and the writing of great thinkers.

I intend to keep reading, probably even more than I have in the past. But I suppose I’ll read a bit differently. I won’t constantly be on the lookout for sermon illustrations. I won’t have to wonder how I can distil someone else’s thoughts into language that anyone can understand. I can read harder stuff because I won’t have to be in a hurry to do something else. I can read for pleasure just because I can. 

In an age when there seems to be a premium placed on ignorance, when some people actually take pride in not knowing, I have had the privilege of walking alongside a group of intellectually curious, open minded people who are willing to wrestle with lofty ideas and difficult concepts. Keep it up. God gave you a mind, so I assume you are expected to use it.