How Do You Decide What to Read?


BookStacksThere are a lot of incredible books available to read on the market today. When I travel to Nigeria each year I am reminded how embarrassingly fortunate we are in the West to have access to books upon books that much of the rest of the world simply cannot access with the ease we enjoy. I simply download it, or have it delivered to my doorstep, in most cases within 2 days. I still love having print books, but am an avid user of Logos Bible Software and the Amazon Kindle App on my iPad. So with so many options, how in the world can we decide what to read? Old books, new books, non-fiction, fiction, theology, sociology…

Over the years I’ve developed a method of reading that has worked well for me. I admit, it probably wouldn’t work well for most, but I also realize that as a pastor I have a responsibility to read a lot more than most, along with the freedom to do it a bit more regularly (although, not as often as some might assume – pastors really are busy most of the time!). So, while my way may not be the best for you, if you don’t have a plan and get frustrated with half read books laying around the house, this may encourage you to come up with a better plan for yourself.

I read books in 7 categories that I have going simultaneously. Some of the books I may read once per week, and others I may read through in a single sitting, depending on my particular need for the specific topic. However, I don’t start a new book in a specific category until the previous book in that category is complete, or at least as complete as I want it to be. So here they are:

Christian Living – These are, by far, the most popular books in Christian publishing and I enjoy a lot of them. However, most of them follow a very similar pattern and are easy for me to read through quickly. These are books that I most frequently recommend to Christians and have available on our book table at church, mainly because they are written with specific needs or ideas in mind. And I’ll tell you a secret: It’s rare for me to read every page, or even every chapter of a book before I consider it complete, and that is most prevalent in this genre. It’s also quite rare that I’ll read a preface, forward or introduction… and who in the world reads acknowledgements?

Systematic Theology – This may not always be an entire systematic theology work, but may be a systematic theology topic. So, for example, a book on the Atonement or Eschatology. However, sometimes it does include entire systematic theologies which can be quite edifying, even though it’s usually a big undertaking.

Biblical Theology – I may blog about it sometime, but I believe Christianity has largely lost its biblical theology which has come at the cost of losing the big story. Biblical theology is incredibly important but rarely taught, and even more rarely understood. I’m thankful for what seems to be somewhat of a recovery of biblical theology in some Christian circles. Nevertheless, there are some great biblical theology works out there, and in order to stay sharp, I read as much as I can. Biblical theology has increased my communion with God and my ability to see the forest through the trees when I work through the Scriptures.

Future Sermon/teaching Series – I try to plan ahead at least 3 months when it comes to what I’m preaching and teaching at Ephesus Church. Additionally, I am sometimes invited to preach in other contexts and I want to be prepared. With a busy life and the constant necessity to be ready for this Sunday, my goal is to at least be reading for what’s up next. I’m not writing or outlining, but I’m at least thinking, and I’ve found it helpful when I finally get there.

Sociology – Some of the most insightful reading I do is in this category. I’m fascinated by the way people think and the things they come up with. Some sociological writing is very helpful and, although most of the time it’s not from a Christian worldview, the best of it compliments biblical Christianity quite nicely and provides some excellent sermon illustrations.

Classical – I am constantly working to become a better classicist. The conversation between the philosophers and poets has been going on since the beginning, and most modern education has silenced it altogether. The writers of the Bible undoubtedly wrote with much of the conversation in mind, and I don’t want to miss it. Reading the great books has significantly affected how I read the Scriptures and how I think about history and worldview.

Hobbies – I’m a guy, so I have a lot of hobbies! I like to read books that help me in those hobbies, and to give my mind a peaceful retreat into things less taxing on the brain than the rest of the categories. The book rack at Lowe’s can be a dangerous place for me… even though I know I will never accomplish most of the DIY projects I’d love to do. I mean, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 – why not?! And of course, all avid golfers need tips and tweeks, gardeners need to know the latest techniques, and beekeepers are a strange breed of incessant innovators.

My only addition to this is that there are always books I’m reading for my current teaching series’, however I generally read/use those as I’m preparing sermons and/or classes. I suppose they’re a category, but by the time I get to that part of my study I am usually using them as reference.

So, that’s what I do. What about you? What have you found useful in organizing your reading?

(By: Nick Kennicott)

New Blog Theme!


Now that the Decablog is over two years old, we thought it would be a good time to try out a new theme. Because we are cheap and don’t want to pay WordPress a single penny, we are constrained by their free options. It’s pretty different, so if anyone has feedback you can leave a comment (click the little speech bubble with the plus sign below) or drop us a note via our other social media outlets. Thank you to all who regularly visit the site, it is very encouraging to us. We are excited for what the future may bring. May God be glorified above all!

Writing About Worship…


The Decablog has been rather quiet in recent months due in part to both of our time being taken up with some non-blog writing projects (and, you know, stuff like ministry). In fact, the Decabloggers plan to spend about a week in May collaborating on a project we are both very excited to develop and see how the Lord might use. More on that when the time is right.

I (Alford) have found myself engaged in several writing projects, one of which has been the adaptation of a Sunday School series on the Church at worship into a readable format. Because I have not had much time to devote to Decablog specific writing, I’m posting some excerpts from this work in progress below. Keep in mind that it is a rough draft and is excerpted from all over a very large document, but feedback and suggestions are always welcome. I may do this with some other projects in the coming months as well.

On the terrifying beauty of worship:

The great hymn writer Isaac Watts beautifully described the church at worship with the following refrain:

How sweet and awful is the place

With Christ within the doors

While everlasting love displays

The choicest of her stores

How can something be both sweet and awful at the same time? Is that not an oxymoron, akin to a dark sunrise, or a lovely horror? How can something be sweet and awful? As we begin this study of the church at worship, we need to first see that far from being a contradiction, that short line contains the glorious reality of the church at worship in all its terrifying beauty.

To understand it, we first have to understand that the word ‘awful’ was in the past used in a slightly different way than it commonly is used now. When we say ‘awful’ now, we are typically making a negative judgment; we are saying that whatever we attach that adjective to is bad, ugly, dangerous, or repulsive. But what is at the root of the word itself? It is the word awe, a word that describes wondrous shock, the overwhelming sense of encounter with glory. It is a word drenched in humility, one that clearly ascribes to its intended object a vastly higher place and position than the one who utters is. It captures the heart of the Prophet Isaiah when he saw the vision of heavenly glory in the temple:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

(Isaiah 6:1-5, ESV)

So in the manner Mr. Watts employs the term that which is awful is that which is full of awe. Truly, this the only appropriate way to describe an encounter with the living God of Scripture. Pastor Albert N. Martin describes the experience of Isaiah as one being shattered. It is indeed a shattering experience to get a real sense of the awful presence of the living God.

Yet to describe an encounter with the Lord as awful is only to deal with half of what Mr. Watts says in his hymn, for he also says this encounter is sweet. That truth is also no less evident in Scripture. Our God is the one who came to us in the incarnate divinity of Jesus Christ. He is the God who draws near, who personally encounters men and women in such a way that they react like the woman in Luke 7:36-50. She was seen as filthy and was therefore despised by her peers, yet felt she had such a sweet access to Christ that she could kiss his feet and wash them with her tears. Our God is a consuming fire according to Hebrews 12:29, yet the incarnate Second Person of this triune consuming fire took the little children into his lap and tenderly blessed them. Truly, how sweet and awful is the place, with Christ within the doors!

On the legitimacy of worshiping God for His glory revealed in creation:

It is critical to not depreciate these forms of worship. Personal prayer and Bible reading need little explanation, but those are not the only legitimate moments of special worship that happen outside the gathered church. I remember being a young kid and going on duck hunting trips with my Dad. We would get up before dawn in temperatures well below freezing, load up a small boat and set out into the marshes of Eastern Washington State. The water would often be frozen over, so we would have to use the bow of the boat to actually break a path through the ice. The dog and I would compete for the best seat, with the dog either usually winning or just sitting on top of me. We would eventually make it to our intended location, my Dad would make extremely bad coffee, and we would watch the sun come up as we waited for the morning flights of ducks and geese to start their calls in the foggy air. Words fail to describe the silent beauty of the first rays of sunlight hitting the frozen ice and rolling hills stretched out before us. My father was never accused of being a talkative man, but in those times he would speak freely of the sense of wonder he felt, and of how his heart was in these moments turned in praise to the Creator of this stunning symphony of sights and sounds. He often used the word worship.

The above story could scarcely be more unlike a church service (except for the bad coffee), but it was a moment within life uniquely and particularly focused on worship. Any who balk at labeling it as such should probably reread the first half of Psalm 19.

On the Word-centric nature of the Church at worship:

There is more to being Biblical than merely quoting Bible verses. The point is not simply that the church should read the Bible and hold it in high regard. Those things are, I hope, a given. Rather, the point is that the entire context of Church Worship is Biblical is the sense that it is tenaciously Word-centric. Not only is the Bible the supreme and unique authority (as was argued in the Introduction), the Bible provides content and meaning to every thing the Church does when it gathers together. This is why the preached Word must have priority and centrality in the worship of the Church. It is the Word which not only mandates, but also explains and gives significance to everything the church does when she assembles in worship. Without the Word we would not know Who we are praying and singing to. Without the Word our sacraments would be empty rituals at best. Without the Word our sermons could never transcend the level of a motivational talk or group therapy session. Yet when the Word is not only an attendant feature, but is the very animating life of every element within New Covenant Church Worship, then the Biblical Context begins to be truly realized. It is not by accident that pastoral ministry is described as the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).

On Church worship as the epicenter of spiritual life, and the paradoxical liberty of a principled approach:

We have established the basic definition of worship, have discussed the various forms this worship takes in different parts of our lives, and have examined the context of New Covenant Church Worship which sets it apart as unique and central within the Christian life. I have many family members who lived through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. A year or so after that event, my Grandmother took me on a visit to the epicenter. It was in the hills outside Santa Cruz, in a densely forested area. The trees were lying about in a jumbled heap as though some giant child had been playing with them and left out his mess. Clearly, the epicenter is where the heart of the action is.

The church at worship is the epicenter of our spiritual lives. It follows that our God would take a unique interest in what goes one there. In fact, he has given us nonnegotiable Biblical principles to guide us as we think though what we do in worship and why we do it. We often don’t like the idea of having to submit to laws and guidelines. Many of us never liked to color within the lines, but we must learn to harmonize the freedom of liberty with the faithfulness of submission. The old Westminster Confession of Faith reflected this balance wonderfully. In the chapter on Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience, it tells us that God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. But this same document also says in its chapter on Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day that the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

The careful reader will notice that the one section which emphasizes liberty and the other which emphasizes submitting all worship to Scripture are actually completely complimentary and dependent on one another. A radically Biblical approach to worship liberates the consciences of Christians from the novel inventions of their fellow men. No mere man has the right to compel a Christian to worship in any way he cannot demonstrate as authorized by the Word of God. Holding tenaciously to Scriptural prescriptions for worship is the cure for the manifold diseases which distract and derail the church at worship. This does not mean that God has given us an exacting schedule to follow in our Sunday morning worship service, but it does mean that the principles he has ordained for us in his Word are absolutely binding, and therefore paradoxically liberating.

(by: Nicolas Alford)