Reading for Discipleship
Outside of reading the Bible, the books we read have some of the biggest impacts on our lives. From the time I was 14 my dad would give me a stack of 3-5 theology books to read each summer and it was through these books I began asking more in depth questions about God and the Bible. This shaped my life in very positive ways. So I wanted to give a short list of books that I think will make a great introduction to the Bible and theology.
But first, a disclaimer. Not everyone is a reader and that’s ok. If you don’t read 20 books, or even 5 books, a year you aren’t in sin. I know people who rarely read books of any kind but regularly read the word, faithfully attend a local church, and are actively engaged in community. This is praiseworthy. When we read books one of the things we are doing is picking mentors from other places and times. But no mentor can ever replace a local church and a community who truly knows you.
So, for the readers, here‘s a short list to get you started this year:
The 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Baptist Catechism. If we’re picking mentors from the past what better than a confession of faith that has stood the test of time and been the doctrinal standard for thousands of churches. A confession of faith doesn’t simply belong on a church’s website. It should inform, disciple, and serve as a light in controversy and disagreements. That’s what Spurgeon thought and why he reprinted the 1689 within the first couple years of his ministry. This is why it’s CGC’s confession of faith. One of the more helpful devotions I’ve been through was simply reading a paragraph at a time with the Scripture proofs and working through an entire body of faith. If you read through this and internalize it in your mind and heart, you will have a firm grasp on the whole counsel of God. Likewise with the catechism. These short questions and answers guide you through the entire theology of the Bible. And they are perfect for family worship. Take one question and answer a week. Read them, memorize the more important ones, review each week, and teach your family what the Bible says about each topic. This is how the saints of the past discipled their people and we need to recover that method. If the Baptist Catechism is a little daunting then I would highly recommend The New City Catechism.
None Greater - Matthew Barrett. I have a general rule: If Matthew Barrett writes it, I should read it. Barrett is one of the best modern theologians and he writes in an accessible way. In this book he gives a comprehensive and readable theology of the person of God. There is nothing more important than knowing our God. This book will walk you through the person and attributes of God and deepen your understanding of who he is. And as your understanding is deepened so will your worship be. The doctrine of God is one of the most attacked doctrines throughout history and in our day. Not only does the predominant religion of our state, Utah, have an unbiblical theology proper, but the evangelical church in the West today is also losing hold of some of her most precious truths. Read this book and you will find yourself grounded deeply and your worship of God enflamed. (He’s also coming out with another book, Simply Trinity, in March that will also be a must-read.)
The Mystery of Christ - Samuel Renihan. The same rule I have for Barrett applies to Renihan. In this book he walks us through covenant theology, which is the study of the overarching storyline and structure of the Bible. He shows how the covenants of the Bible should be understood and how they reveal Christ. Reading this book will help you see the Bible as a Christ-saturated whole. Learning covenant theology has been one of the most enriching and helpful disciplines in my life. Reading this book will bring the whole Bible together and help you place each book and passage in proper relation to one another.
God Dwells Among Us - Mitchell Kim and G.K. Beale. This book is a distillation of Beale’s academic work on the temple. Reading this book will help you make sense of some of the Bible’s major arcs and will awaken you to see and understand God’s work in your life and the world. When I read this book and Beale’s larger work, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission,” I realized three things: The temple of God (my heart and the church) must be kept holy, the spiritual is just as real and important as the physical, if not more so, and the temple must be expanded. The gospel MUST go out into the world.
The Whole Christ - Sinclair Ferguson. Though last, this book is far from least. I place Ferguson’s work in the top 5 most important books I’ve ever read. Have you ever felt like God was angry at you until Jesus convinced him to love you? Or do you base your assurance of salvation on your works? Then you need to read this book. This book will be a Copernican revolution to your soul and help you take your eyes off yourself and fix them on the gospel. The Father wasn’t convinced by Christ to love you. Jesus died for you BECAUSE the Father loved you from before the foundation of the world. And your assurance isn’t based on your good works. Your assurance is based on the work of Jesus. And from this assurance good works of gratitude will flow. This book will realign your understanding of the law and the gospel in the most foundational and important ways.
If you feel compelled to take up and read one or more of these works may I recommend that you do so in community. Get a friend, your spouse, your pastor, or a small group together and work through these. Books are simply a means to an end: communion with God and with one another. So take up and read!