John Stott famously claimed that preachers should study for sermons with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. His point was that good preachers are not only adept in their “Word study” but also in their understanding of the world around them. In today’s Classic Materials, Don Carson offers some practical pointers towards this latter aim.
1. Most preachers ought to devote more time to reading--widely. It is never right to skimp in Bible study, theology, church history, or excellent biography; but in addition, we must read books and journals and news magazines that help us understand our own age and culture.
Here are several principles that I try to implement into my own reading (outside of Scripture, commentaries, theology etc).
First, I try to read material from competing perspectives.
Secondly, certain authors I regularly skim: Os Guinness, Brian McLaren, Thomas Sowell, John Piper, Juan Williams, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell and others - not because I agree with all they say, but because they are trying to understand the culture.
Thirdly, ocassionally I read ‘blockbuster’ books, simply because so many people are reading them that I think I must find out what is shaping the minds of the masses.
Fourthly, ocassionally I devote a block of time - six months, say, or a year - to try to get inside some movement. For instance, I devoted a considerable block to reading the primary authors in the various schools of Reformed Theology, Global Evangelism, Church Planting, Spiritual Disciplines, etc.
Not everyone reads at the same rate; not everyone’s ministry requires the same extent of reading. Some manage far more than I. At no time should such reading ever squeeze out the primary importance of understanding the word of God. But I believe selective rapid reading of many sources can help preachers better understand the world in which they serve.
2. Discussion with friends and colleagues with similar interests is a great help. This may be formal, for instance an agreed evening once a month to discuss a book or film in the light of Christian commitments; it may be informal, depending, of course, on the structures and friendships of one’s life. No-one understands everything; thoughtful, widely read and devout friends are to be cherished and nourished.
3. Nowadays there are some good audio resources available. I sometimes drive substantial distances, but never without an mp3, CD, or God forbid...a tape. The Mars Hill (fairly priced) and DesiringGod (free) audio files offer good value. In addition, many ministries today are recorded, and preachers do well to listen to other preachers who are particularly gifted in the handling of the Word and in applying it to life (such as Mars Hill, DesiringGod, Truth for Life, Grace to You, etc...)
4. It is essential to talk with non-Christians, whether one on one, in small groups, or in large crowds. There is no more important avenue towards understanding our world.