In recent years I have been reading – relishing, absorbing and studying – books by or about Christians who have long since died. Several years ago when I completed the contract for my full-time employment and chose not to return to the job market, I purposed to read more classics on Christianity, theology and the Christian life. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A. W. Tozer. I also added more biographies of Christians to my reading list. Think Bonhoeffer (again), Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, Richard Wurmbrand. Practical theology and written sermons coupled with stories of encouragement and examples of successes and failures in living the Christian life throughout the generations has had more influence on my spiritual growth and learning than any other input aside from the Bible itself.
I don’t use the word classic lightly. Unlike Disney, which always proclaims their latest offering as ‘an instant classic’, the Christian classics have stood the test of time and theological scrutiny, maintain their relevance, and are still in print. Having started last summer, I am currently two-thirds through Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. It sounds so tedious. Why would anyone not in seminary read a huge volume on The Sermon on the Mount? Folks, this book is incredible! Based on transcribed sermons, which were given in a conversational manner (easy to read) in 1950’s London, I am continually underlining and amazed at the relevancy and application to my life today. Good sermons and good books are like that. The truths of Scripture don’t change and the nature of man hasn’t changed. When you overlay the two, looking at man in light of the truth of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, it will always be relevant.
Allow me to share some examples from Lloyd-Jones’ volume.
Over the past few years the idea of hipster Christianity has gained momentum. There has even been talk of the hipster Jesus. We want Jesus to be popular, so perhaps viewing Him as a hipster is a positive development. But, in the context of Christians and persecution (Matthew 5:10-12), Lloyd-Jones has very relevant commentary. “If our conception of [Jesus] is such that He
can be admired and applauded by the non-Christian, we have a wrong view of Him. The effect of Jesus Christ upon His contemporaries was that many threw stones at Him. They hated Him; and finally, choosing a murderer instead of Him, they put Him to death. This is the effect Jesus Christ always has upon the world. But you see there are other ideas about Him. There are worldly people who tell us they admire Jesus Christ, but that is because they have never seen Him. If they saw Him, they would hate Him as His contemporaries did. He does not change; man does not change. So let us be careful that our ideas about Christ are such that the natural man cannot easily admire or applaud. (117)
This past year certain manifestations of sin have become more pronounced and accepted and, consequently, denounced by followers of Christ. There has also been talk of more war and more bombing. When I read these words, knowing Lloyd-Jones and his congregation had lived through the bombing of London during World War II, I knew he did not discuss this topic lightly. “The Christian’s concern is to view life in this world in the light of the gospel; and, according to the gospel, the trouble
with mankind is not any one particular manifestation of sin, but rather sin itself. . . If every man and woman in this world knew what it was to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ there would be no danger of war. Here is the only way to real peace. All other considerations eventually do not touch the problem, and all denunciations that are so constantly made of various countries and peoples and persons will not have the slightest effect upon the international situation. Thus we often waste our time, and God’s time, in expressing our human thoughts and sentiments instead of considering His Word (italics added). (61)
One would think Lloyd-Jones was referencing social media with his last statement, but I am reminded human behavior is fairly consistent throughout the ages. His congregation had different reference points, but the truth of his statement is timeless.
There has also been much written, shared and discussed recently on God the Father, particularly in regards to God and the monotheistic faiths. Just a few days ago, while studying the Lord’s Prayer, which is found in the Sermon on the Mount, I read these words: “It is only those who are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who can say, ‘Our Father.’ It is only the
people of whom the Beatitudes are true who can say with any confidence, ‘Our Father.’ Now I know that this is an unpopular doctrine today, but it is the doctrine of the Bible. The world today believes in the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. That is not found in the Bible. . . it is only those who are in the Lord Jesus Christ who are truly children of God. We become the children of God only through adoption. (328,9)
Page after page, as Lloyd-Jones explains what these Scriptures mean and applies them to life, they seem more relevant than when he first penned them. This is why it is a classic. And this is why all followers of Jesus – housewives, seminary students, high school kids, the highly educated to the non-educated, the working middle-class, those on welfare – can be encouraged in their faith by digesting a classic. Today’s bestsellers might be an easy read with contemporary jargon and references to current events, but don’t disregard the meat that has encouraged, instructed and fed generations of Believers before you.
It’s a little late to put a classic on your Christmas list, but it’s not too late to buy one with your Christmas gift card.
8 responses to “Read any dead people lately?”
A non-fiction history is usually in my reading pile. When I’m ruminating over trends and ideas, I often wonder, “what is the history of this idea?” What have people in the past said about this. I remember really beginning to enjoy history in Jr. High when I spent a year studying church history. It really highlighted how history impacts us at a personal level every day.
I totally agree with you here “but I am reminded human behavior is fairly consistent throughout the ages.” There really is noting new under the sun. I”m going to check out some of these books. I’ve been reading a lot of history lately.
Hi there. Thanks for replying.
There aren’t any particular authors I’d recommend, but generally groups like the Gospel Coalition. Jim Packer and Kevin DeYoung have dome some work on the revival of the catechisms and catechesis, and I find that fascinating, but also a very positive step.
A comment on tradition, perhaps, but mostly a comment on being discerning in what you read. As you mentioned, there is plenty to be critical of in the culture of Christian publishing and consumerism. Referring to your last sentence, is there are particular current writer or book you would recommend?
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In essence, isn’t this article actually about the importance of tradition?
In the early to mid 1980s in England, in most cases, all these books disappeared from Christian books shelves and were replaced with narcissistic conversion testimonies, and half-baked ‘Christian books’ based on subjective and de-contextualised verses from Scripture. They were simply personal viewpoints, and often doctrinally dubious.
There were many factors, but this was one of the main ones that led me to become Catholic. That Evangelicals had a strong tradition which was shown by this trend which was a denial and repudiation of it.
The reason it was so stark in England was that until the 80s we have a handful of denominations, and what the arrival of these books and merchandise from the States showed, wasn’t an arrival of ‘non-denominationalism’ as they called it, but non-doctrinalism: a free-for-all. The content of these books implied anything one believed was ‘Biblical’, or Christian’, as long as you could link it to a scripture verse. In America, this ‘non-denominationalism’ had been a slow-creeping thing since the Awakenings, but here, a novum, and so alien.
The only Evangelicals I read today – and gain a lot of insight from – are the few alive, who read dead people.
Thanks! I know we are often torn with what to do with our gift cards, what to buy. This is a win-win!
Hey, I like that ending! Thank you for this post. I say a hearty AMEN.