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why love and read old, dead people

September 8, 2009

A few weeks ago Alan Hood, our Student Pastor, and I heard someone say that pastors shouldn’t quote or reference old, dead theologians in their sermons because it’s out of touch with everyday life.  It’s kind of a running gag between Alan and I now – I prod Alan for secretly dressing like a hobbit…

Alan the Hobbit

Alan the Hobbit

… and Alan prods me for being out of touch and quoting dead pastors and theologians like Tertullian…

this is Tertullian and he could beat up Nick Saban, Alan

this is Tertullian and he could beat up Nick Saban, Alan

For the record, Alan isn’t against reading and quoting old pastors and theologians… we just have to have something to prod each other about 🙂

I’ve taken some time to think about whether this is helpful or not in my preaching over the last couple of weeks and here are some reasons I think it’s good for us as a church…

1) Wisdom from outside our culture.  Socrates said, “If you want to know what it’s like to be wet, don’t ask a fish.”  In other words, you have to have been OUTSIDE of something at some point in order to have a reference point from which to really understand it.  There are 1,000 things about our culture that are sinful that we take for granted because we’ve been immersed in 21st century American values from birth.  When you read a 17th century Puritan, you’re reading someone with TREMENDOUS Biblical insight who is outside of your culture and you start to see things about yourself that you’ve never seen before.

2) It reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses we have.  One of the greatest things about being a Christian is the knowledge that we’re part of a rich, two-thousand-year-old family. We have brothers and sisters who have lived, learned, suffered, and followed Christ for millennia.  This isn’t a new gig.

3) Time-tested.  The fact of the matter is there probably isn’t a single book published in the last 25 yrs that people will be reading in 300 years from now.  If a book survives that long it’s because it’s incredible.

4) Hebrews command to remember our leaders who went before us.  Hebrews 13:7 commands us to “Remember your leaders who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.”  When you read Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Augustine, or Martin Lloyd-Jones, you’re obeying this command.

5) We’ve got over 2,000 years of Biblical thought on our side.  It’s stupid NOT to draw from that.

Honestly, the reason I quote them all the time is because I’ve been more impacted and challenged by the depth of the writing of older authors and pastors than anything new.  Here’s a quick reading list of books more than 100 years old that I’d suggest starting with if you’re looking…

  • “Morning and Evening”, Charles Spurgeon.  It’s the best daily devotional you will ever find.  Honestly, anything by Charles Spurgeon.
  • “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, John Bunyan.  Besides the Bible, the best-selling book of all time.  If you get it, make sure you get it in updated English.
  • “The Mortification of Sin”, John Owen.  This is an advanced read, but one of the most rich and challenging books I’ve ever read in my life.  It tackles the question, “How does a Christian fight sin?”
  • “Confessions”, Augustine.  Sex-addict-turned-theologian, this is the autobiography of how Augustine (a literal genius) found Christ.
  • “The Life and Diary of David Brainerd”, published by Jonathan Edwards.  Excerpts from a young, 18th century college dropout’s journal.  Tells the story of how God used him to bring hundreds of Native Americans to Christ through great suffering.

If one person reads one of these books, I’ll consider this blog post worth it.  Hope you start to draw water from the deep well of our faith too.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009 10:45 pm

    great list–you should read some Andrew Murray–especially Abide in Christ and the Believer’s Daily Renewal. My all time favorites, and I buy them in bulk to share w/Bible study girls!

  2. September 8, 2009 10:50 pm

    Oh–and his book on humility. that was a hard but necessary read for me in college…and Absolute Surrender… I think that’s it for now

  3. Lance Howerton permalink
    September 9, 2009 6:13 am

    Old guys rule! Oh, that is me. Dead guys rule! Ever since Susan shared this phrase I have owned it. “Be a student not a critic.” To do that you must learn from everyone, dead, living, young and old. We are a “do” society. How much can I accomplish, how fast can I do it… If we are not careful we are about doing, and sometimes getting rather than listening and learning. I can easily fall into the doing catagory. Always someplace to go and something else to get done, emails to read, calls to return, sink to fix, grass to cut… My list gets longer and my time gets shorter. I gotta work on that. However, there was a time when life was slower and there was more time, and I believe even importance placed on thinking, processing, and learning. Even listening was more of a part of our culture. You can’t learn if you don’t listen. Our learning seems have become about the push and rush to get educated to get a good job and to get ahead. I think the old, oops dead guys have something on us.

    • September 9, 2009 8:38 am

      Moses was 80 when God started speaking to him. He in turn gave us the first five books of the Bible and included in that we find the 10 commandments, the primary guidelines for a healthy society. Just sayin’…

      Concerning those who tell us to make pop culture our primary sermon illustrations… I have no problem with their perspective. I think I am most concerned with setting aside real life stories, individuals who have journied with God for a lifetime, people who have already taken or have been forced down the path we may someday walk, for an illustration from the latest Justin Timberlake song, Lost episode, or the hottest reality show. Pop culture illustrations may add to the cool factor but when using these illustrations exclusively we will never learn from real life fellow followers…
      1) the complexity and thrill of wrestling with God
      2) what life can be like when a person is walking daily with God
      3) how to battle the enemy
      4) when and how to trust God in eras of life when it seems no one else can be trusted
      etc…, etc…, etc…

      Let’s face it… The Bible is a book full of information written by people who are now dead. Are the individuals questioning the use of illustrations from old, dead people quoting these old, dead guys, the ones who gave us the Bible? Just sayin’… again.

  4. Beth permalink
    September 9, 2009 10:28 am

    I still in enjoy “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. This book has been a devotional for me for at least 15 years. The insights and truths are always fresh, thought provoking and challenging. It’s passages are short, but the depth is HUGE!

  5. Mary Bea permalink
    September 9, 2009 11:36 am

    The kids and I read a short biography on John Bunyan a couple of weeks ago and we were amazed to discover that he was a troublemaker as a child and that his road to Christ was a hard one…and that he wrote most of PP in prison where he was put for preaching… at the end of reading it Bailey asked if we could read his book…so it’s on our list. However, I’ve found a audio book that I might cheat with…

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