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A Pastor’s Reflections: The Tyranny of the Last Book

April 22, 2014


One of my favorite times of the year is November, not because of Thanksgiving (I prefer cow to bird, personally—Turkey is the vanilla ice cream of the food world—bland, bland, bland, unless, of course, you dress it up with bacon and stuffing, then it’s ok). I love November because its theological book season! November is the month when publishers release a good percentage of their latest books because it’s when there are a glut of theological and scholarly conferences. I look forward to receiving the latest book catalog, peruse, mark, and then add them to my Amazon wish list just in time for Christmas. I look forward to books on the latest hot-topic, or topics of my own personal interest. As sick as it sounds, I really enjoy reading published doctoral dissertations (yes, I know, my wife says I need to seek help).

But one of the potential pitfalls with reading the latest and greatest theory or hypothesis is that your mind can become held captive to the idea. Sometimes, a book can be so fascinating that, literally, it keeps me up at night. I think about the ideas and then start to connect them with other doctrines or texts within the Scriptures. I remember, for example, reading a book that had an essay about the garden of Eden being the first earthly temple and was swept away by the idea. Such experiences can be excellent catalysts for theological reflection, meditation, preaching, and teaching. On the other hand, books can sometimes be so captivating that they hold your mind hostage in a bad way. You can take a half-baked idea and run with it. For example, I once read a book that claimed that Calvin did not believe that the serpent in the garden of Eden was a literal serpent but that it was a metaphorical symbol employed by the text. The idea sounded interesting but unlikely. Had I believed it and ran with it, I might have incorporated the idea in my teaching or preaching and seriously misled my congregation. Blessedly, by God’s grace, I exercised some caution, patiently researched the claim over a number of weeks, and concluded that the book’s claim was incorrect.

The point is, even though a book might captivate your mind, be cautious regarding how much you allow it to influence your ministry. Take the time to evaluate, weigh, carefully consider, and determine to what degree the idea is correct and beneficial. Sometimes the better part of wisdom is patience. Yes, he who hesitates is lost, and the early bird gets the worm. But you should also look before you leap and consider that the early worm gets eaten! Such patience and wisdom is valuable not only for pastors but for life. Don’t be carried away by the latest idea. Exercise wisdom with the ideas you choose to promote, teach, and preach.