We live in a day in which there is a new, hip, cool, contemporary Christian book or a book about the Church hitting the shelves every minute (potential exaggeration). To a degree, many of the writers think they have the next best plan for how to transform the Church, how to reach more millennials, how to make the Church more relevant for society, or some other novel idea that has apparently never been thought of before. Modern Christian literature is inundated with material to make you a better you, feel better about you, boost your self-esteem, and everything in between. Again, all seemingly new ideas being promoted to keep up with the postmodern culture and how one feels about themselves.
Early on in my Christian life, I was this guy. I was the new wave of Christianity that kicked against the traditions of old, thinking that I was more spiritual than this person or that person because I raised my hands in worship, moved around a little more, wore shorts and a t-shirt to church as a non-conformist, and read Relevant magazine (before it was as irrelevant as it is today). I was a rebel Christian that refused to be kept in a box, and anything that happened before I was born again in 2005 was old and outdated. It was my charge to find a new way of doing church because the old way and the old guys were not getting it right.
As I started my trek into revamping the 2000 year old tradition, I began to realize something about the new wave of Christianity that was emerging. Much, not all, of the culturally relevant Christians had little depth to what they were promoting. I began to see little depth in biblical knowledge, theological understanding, or doctrine being handled from the pulpits. I began to read book by people that Relevant magazine promoted, only to find out many of the books I read were by Universalists promoting a gospel contrary to that of the Bible.
As a young Christian, the Lord began to open my mind and my heart to people such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and R.C. Sproul. My first memorable encounter with John Piper was my Freshman year of college at a conference our college group had attended. I had never heard anyone expound the Scripture in such an authoritative, yet grace-filled, manner as John Piper. I immediately went to the bookstore of the conference and bought his books Desiring God ( purchase Desiring God) and God is the Gospel (purchase God Is The Gospel). These two books began to open my eyes to the deep things of God in a way that none of the cutting edge books I was picking up on the shelf at Books-A-Million were. Tony Merida then became the Pastor at the church I was attending and I began to hear the Word of God expounded week in and week out in a manner very similar to Piper. I started studying Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (purchase Systematic Theology) with Tony and a group of other guys, being exposed to good theology that would shape my thinking, even up to today.
In this process of learning, one thing remained the same for guys like Piper, Grudem, and Sproul. They heavily referenced and relied upon dead guys for their theological insight. They were quoting and reading guys like Edwards, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, and Augustine. They were alluding to things said by guys dating back to second and third century Churches and the theological ideologies that had shaped them. Are you telling me that I, in the 2000s, could learn something about Church and God from guys that existed many years before my time?
King Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9, ESV). Solomon is not a moron. Solomon had great wisdom and with this quote, he is on to something. The Church has been around since the first century, and who was I, or am I, to think that the writings of men God has used mightily 1500, 1000, 500, or 50 years ago are not relevant to my spiritual growth or the furtherance of the twenty-first-century church that I am serving? We should read the dead men because the dead men have something to say. Not only that, but these guys communicate on a level that , sadly, most American Pastors and Theologians are incapable of communicating upon today. We live in an anti-intellectual church age, and the state of theology behind most American pulpits is disheartening. It would serve every Pastor, thinker, Sunday School Teacher, and Church member well to grab Calvin’s Institutes (purchase The Institutes), Augustine’s Confessions (purchase Confessions), Edwards Religious Affections (purchase Religious Affections), or anyone mixed with that group, so that we can be better equipped to battle the schemes of the Devil, especially when it comes to doctrinal formations of the Church.
Now hear this, I am not saying that anyone writing books today are off base, I can name thousands of modern books that are gifts to the Church and gifts to God’s people. Yet, do not think that a book has to be written within the last 20 years in order to be relevant for the Church. I am also not saying that we need to divert back to all the old traditions and never make any changes within the Church in order to reach people or try new things. I think the Church is losing the battle in a lot of areas because it refuses to change. My point is nothing less than one of encouraging everyone to read guys who have been dead for many years and thank our great God for their theological contributions for the furtherance of the Gospel and of the Church.