From looking at all the books on the shelves on a lot of pastors’ shelves, I realize one thing. Most of the pastors do not read on difficult subjects. Many have hardly read a serious theological book or biblical research book after they graduated. I think it’s a shame. I can already hear the objections
“Well, Sam, I couldn’t see the relevance when I took the class in seminary. Of course, I don’t mean YOUR class (me shaking my head), but if I didn’t see the relevance then, what makes you think it’s relevant now?”
One answer! Relevance is overrated. What is relevant to many students is a little TV program break of Lost or Big Bang Theory with a new cup of Starbucks between papers. I promise relevance is what one makes of it. Let me explain.
The reason why we see no relevance in this or that technical subject is because we have not understood the subject. When a kid started wrestling, I’m sure s/he finds all agility drills useless. The benefit will not be realized until much later. The same goes with all the academic subjects (versus the less academic “practical” classes). Some difficult research needs deep reflection in order to find relevance, but it is in the deep reflection that a preacher grows. Forget about all the quick-fix trendy subjects such as church growth or the latest definition of what discipleship is. All that stuff is just old ideas packaged in modern language. Try reading some Moltmann or Bauckham, Michael Bird, or N. T. Wright. Make that the regular stable.
I propose that every preacher ought to read one or two difficult books in the following areas at least a few times a year: theology, Old Testament studies and New Testament studies. I would avoid all Christian popular fluff. I call that pop Christian junk food. Don’t believe me? Who’s reading the popular stuff from ten years ago? Who even remember what that was? Do you know why? It was junk then, and it is junk now. I would however read a Packer or Stott still. When I buy books now (since i have limited shelf space), I always ask myself whether I would refer to this book some ten to fifteen years from now. We buy a lot of junk and consume more of it. This is the thing. Doctors are not allowed to perform surgery unless they continue to research on the latest findings in their area, but preachers are allowed to preach on the subject matter they have not kept up for years. One has to wonder. Now where’s my Hurtado?