Take Up and Read!
Throughout my years of ministry, I have emphasized to those within my purview the importance of reading for the on-going growth and spiritual development of believers. “Readers are Leaders and Leaders are Readers” is more than a mantra to me. It is a driving conviction of my life. With the mind that God gave us, as a pattern and way of life, we are to be growing in our understanding of truth, in our knowledge of God and the Scriptures, and in our joyful obedience and application of all that we are learning. Many factors work against us in obeying the command to “grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Among them are the lures of the culture, the distractions of a busy life, and a developed lack of interest in the hard work that reading and studying require.
It is my hope for and challenge to each of you that 2019 be a year of spiritual growth and understanding. It is never too late to start reading, and one is never too old to keep on learning. The Lord Himself commands us to love Him with all of our minds (Mt. 22:37-38). But perhaps you don’t know where to find good books or where to begin. So, with this article, I offer you my “Pastor Gregg Recommends” list for 2019. I have found each of these books to be rewarding and beneficial to my own spiritual development. Thus, I highly recommend them to you. I encourage you to make it a goal to read as many of them as you can during this next year. And please tell me if you are reading them and how you have benefited from them. Joyful learning is contagious and encourages all of us!
“Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” by Roland H. Bainton; Abingdon Press; Reprint edition (August 6, 2013); Online versions can be read here: https://archive.org/details/hereistandalifeo017222mbp/page/n23
Dr. Bainton (1894-1984) was a scholar of Reformation history and theology at Yale University. He set out to write what he hoped to be the definitive work on the life, ministry, theology, and impact of Martin Luther. The result is this book, which is an interesting read that brings one through the events of this great Reformer’s life and shows the challenges he faced in 16th century Europe in the fight for the Gospel. In it you will discover the issues at stake, the power-brokers at play, and the events that changed world history and the Church for the better. If you were only to read one book on the life of Martin Luther, this would be the one. You will receive not only a rich education in history, but also a deeper appreciation of the rich spiritual heritage we have as descendants of the Protestant Reformers.
The Pilgrim’s Progress (In Modern English) by John Bunyan; Bridge-Logos Publishers; Revised and Updated edition (February 1, 2000); Electronic and audio versions: https://www.monergism.com/pilgrims-progress-modern-english
A true classic of English and Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a delightful and colorful allegory of the Gospel as we follow Christian in his ventures through this life on the way to the Celestial City. This story of salvation is entertaining, instructive, useful, and attractive to believers of all ages. Join Christian as he runs to the narrow gate and begins the long and arduous climb on the path of salvation. Along the way he encounters and is challenged by characters such as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, and Talkative, passes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and is encouraged by Hopeful and Faithful. This masterpiece of poetry, allegory, and theology works especially well as a read-aloud book with children. I recommend it in modern English to avoid some of the archaic language that may bog down and discourage the contemporary reader.
The Cross of Christ by John Stott; InterVarsity Press Books; 20th Anniversary edition (August 31, 2006); Available as a Kindle download and audio book through Amazon.com
This is how theology should be written! John Stott possessed the depth of a scholar, the beauty of a poet, and the heart of a pastor, and that unique combination shines through in this classic work of the cross. As you read it, you will grow in your depth of understanding of why Jesus went to the cross, in your knowledge of what He accomplished there, and in your devotion to the LORD who loves you so. As you read and ponder the depth and breadth of Stott’s teaching, expect to have your mind stimulated, your heart warmed, and your life drawn to Him in deeper and deeper devotion. At times you will shout out for joy as you read of what Jesus accomplished for you. At other times, you will drop to your knees in humble gratitude for the path He walked on your behalf. This is a book that you cannot walk away from unchanged.
Rediscovering Holiness by J. I. Packer; Baker Books; Reissue edition (September 15, 2009); Available as a Kindle download and audio book through Amazon.com
The topic of holiness often seems so other-worldly that many believers struggle to understand the concept. What does it mean to be holy? How does one grow in holiness? How do we cut through the numerous and contradictory voices in our culture offering the “key” to spiritual growth and know what the Bible actually says on this subject? What are the resources that God makes available so that we can be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16)? The answer to these and many other questions are found in this well-written and comprehensive look at the subject. While offering sound and solid teaching, this is no mere academic slog. It offers warm and practical application and understanding so that each and every believer can grow in holiness and in the joy and freedom that comes from becoming more and more like Jesus.
Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley; Crossway (April 30, 2016); Available as a Kindle download and audio book through Amazon.com
This short book is not short on importance. In a straight-forward way, it shows the biblical teaching on the conscience, how to calibrate the conscience to properly discern right from wrong, and how to use the conscience as a guide to daily and moral decisions. Along the way there is practical counsel for dealing in a grace-filled way with those who have different convictions on secondary matters and how to maintain unity in the midst of diversity. This is a wonderful book that brings clarity on a misunderstood and often neglected topic. It is a real antidote to many (false) contemporary views on the subject.
May you find this list helpful and encouraging. Reading is an investment that pays dividends, both now and for eternity. I hope to find you soon in a good book! It is a privilege to serve as your Senior Pastor. Please know that I love and pray for you all. I wish you all the best in Christ Jesus for 2019. Happy New Year greetings to you and yours!
P.S. Please note that many books, included the ones listed here, are available as audio books. Listening to books is a good way to redeem “lost time”, such as while driving or doing common tasks around the house.