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Summer Is For Reading

Summer is often the time of year when many people devote themselves to reading. In light of that, I am going to make three recommendations for your Summer reading. I am going to promote books from three categories: Fun, Old, and New.

First, let’s look at the Fun category. Here my selection is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. Your initial reaction may be like mine, “Are you serious? You just made this up, correct?” I did not make it up, and I can truthfully say this one book revolutionized my reading habits. I wish I had read it sooner. The authors explain the four levels of reading and when to apply each one. The summary on the fly leaf of my copy puts it in these words, “You will learn how to analyze a book, comprehend its structure, dissect its main argument, and consider its bias…You will learn when you can afford to skim a books’ less important parts.” It has been around since 1940 so you can find it everywhere – even your local library. It will help you overcome today’s information overload, and you will have fun doing it.

Second, let’s consider the Old category. Here I strongly endorse The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. There are numerous versions of this in book form. I urge you to read a copy edited by Jonathan Edwards since he knew Brainerd personally. Philip E. Howard, Jr. has a version giving a biographical sketch of the life and work of Jonathan Edwards. We have The Works of Jonathan Edwards in the library, and the Life of Brainerd can be found in Volume II. John Piper has an excellent chapter devoted to Brainerd in The Hidden Smile of God.

Why should you read this book? John Piper answers with a few questions of his own, “Why did John Wesley say, ‘Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd’? Why was it written of Henry Martyn that ‘perusing the life of David Brainerd, his soul was filled with a holy emulation of that extraordinary man; and after deep consideration and fervent prayer, he was at length fixed in a resolution to imitate his example’? Why did William Carey regard Edward’s Life of Brainerd as precious and holy? Why did Robert Morrison and Robert McCheyne of Scotland and John Mills of America and Fredrick Schwartz of Germany and David Livingstone of England, and Andrew Murray of South Africa and Jim Elliot of twentieth-century American look upon Brainerd with a kind of awe and draw power from him as countless others have?”

Be prepared to be challenged by Brainerd’s self-denying life and strenuous labors. His life is an example of genuine piety put into practice.

Finally, consider a book from what I am calling the New category. Here I propose you read America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark Noll. Here is a beautifully written study of American religious thought in its cultural and political context. It is a big book (445 pages), but if you are interested in the least about how religious beliefs have shaped our country, you won’t be able to put it down.

Consider some of the chapter titles: Theology and History, Republicanism and Religion, Christian Republicanism, Theistic Common Sense, The Americanization of Calvinism and Methodism, The “Bible Alone’ and a Reformed, Literal Hermeneutic.

Here is how Mark Noll begins his book, “This book is a contextual history of Christian theology. Its pages describe evolutionary changes in Christian doctrine that occurred from the 1730s to the 1860s, a period when theology played an extraordinarily important role in American thought, but the emphasis throughout is on the contexts –ecclesiastical, social, political, intellectual, and commercial— in which those changes took place. Because it features connections between theological development and early American history, the book often asks how religion influenced the early United States. Yet Christian theology, not the United States, is the primary concern.”

I believe the time you spend with this book will be richly rewarding. It will help you understand our country’s past and prepare you to engage in the debates we face in our culture today. You pass it by at your own peril.

May God grant you a richly rewarding Summer.

Your elder,

Jim Gordon