A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya to lead worship at a camp for missionary kids. I was also asked to preach one night on a great topic for youth of all ages: penal substitutionary atonement. Up to that point, I’d preached exactly one other time in my life. However, I looked forward to this challenge. In addition to the Scriptures, I used two primary books for my study on the topic. The first was In My Place Condemned He Stood, a collection of essays on the atonement by J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, and others. The second book was John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, a nearly 400-page treatise on Christ’s work on the cross. These books were indispensable in my study of the cross and instrumental in my understanding of atonement. They remain two of my favorite books to this very day.
Early last week, at the age of 90, John Stott went to be with the one he spent his life making much of. I read tweets and blogs from various individuals reflecting on what Stott had meant to the evangelical world and the mighty way God had used him. He was indeed an incredible man, humbly devoted to the will of the Father.
I say all of this to emphasize something I’m afraid we’re losing sight of. Our culture is all about “keeping up with the Jones’s.” We are preoccupied with what is now while keeping an eye out for what is coming next. Unfortunately, our churches often reflect this as well. We are singing the newest songs (Hillsong), listening to the hippest pastor’s podcasts (Mark Driscoll), and joining the wave of the most popular movement (social justice). Now none of that is inherently bad (in fact, I used the examples I did because I am a fan of all of them). However, if the latest and greatest is all we glean wisdom from, we are missing out on wisdom that God has given through saints that have come long before us.
At the other extreme are those who refuse to use any resource outside of the Scripture in their studies. These are the same folks who believe seminary is pointless. We hold the Bible in the highest regard and believe it has authority above anything else; however, to claim that you can’t learn anything from other individuals is awfully arrogant. I’m thankful for seminary professors, mentors, and friends who have poured into me the things that the Lord has taught them. If you believe that you can’t learn anything from older believers and older books, then you don’t believe that the Spirit of God has been at work in the lives of believers for over 2000 years. Nothing is hindering you from partaking of the wealth of knowledge that’s been shared in that time span.
Next time you’re at Lifeway, instead of picking up the latest Francis Chan book, maybe you should head to the “Classics” section and check out G.K. Chesterton, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon. I feel quite confident that you’ll be glad you did.