Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Welcome to our new rubric! Like the fresh-faced new teacher who shows up the first day of school after the long summer break, our rubric deserves a proper introduction. Otherwise we classmates don’t know who she is or what she is doing here. This article intends to do just that.
In keeping with an unspoken, perhaps unnoticed, but long-standing tradition of the Standard Bearer, the title for this rubric is lifted directly from the Authorized Version of the Bible. In this particular case, II Timothy 4:13. It is a fitting piece of Scripture to use, because it helps describe our methods and purpose with this new column. In it the apostle Paul, writing from prison, tells Timothy to bring with him to Rome a coat that he left at Troas with a fellow named Carpus. Then he adds, “Bring . . . the books . . . especially the parchments.”
Legitimately, for our purposes, we abbreviated this phrase to “Bring the books….” Although Paul uses two different words, “books” and “parchments,” he actually asks for one class of things, scrolls. He distinguishes only between the materials used to make them. ‘Books’ were papyrus scrolls. ‘Parchments’ were scrolls of animal skin, and, being more durable, were more valuable and likely one reason he especially wanted them. But both were scrolls, or what today we would call, generically, books. Nowadays, the apostle might say, “Bring the paperbacks, especially the hard covers.”
This brief command, “Bring the books . . . ,” is insightful. Paul was a reader! This Spirit-filled apostle, who was taken up into heaven itself, received visions and revelations of the Lord, and was personally instructed by Jesus, read books. Paul had a library! This poor preacher, who often labored night and day as a tent-maker just to make ends meet, saw fit to spend a portion of his meager living to purchase books, which, in those days before the printing press, were also expensive. What foolishness then, that ordinary Christian men and women would now consider reading quite worthless and a small library a waste of good money.
Whereas Paul’s books were physically brought to him, we will ‘bring the books’ by way of short reviews published regularly here. We will do so for the same reason the apostle issued his directive—their value. Like his coat, Paul wanted the books because they were personally necessary. But—and this is significant—inasmuch as he was separated unto the gospel of God as an apostle (Rom. 1:1), any personal benefit further served his ministry in the kingdom of heaven. So also for us. And not just clergy either. Since all Christians hold the office of prophet, whereby they confess the name of Jesus, bringing the books not only has personal value, but benefits the glorious kingdom in which we labor. It is an effective way to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt.
Of course books, whether papyrus or parchment, hardcover or soft, have little intrinsic worth. Their value is in the content, the particular knowledge they preserve, and they are beneficial only if that knowledge is transmitted by reading. Therefore, by ‘bringing the books,’ we intend to encourage reading itself. For the modern prophet, reading is not merely an art, and one quickly being lost. But it is essential to a healthy spiritual life. With good reason our lover of books also exhorted Timothy to “give attendance to reading.” For one, the more sure word of prophecy is in written form, Scripture. Reading ought to be developed, if only to assist our comprehension of The Book. Besides, reading serves the hearing of the Word. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). And hearing is processed by a developed mind, proving what is that good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). Sadly, in our frenetic age of I-pod, Facebook, TiVo, and 200 channel TV, Christian men and women are losing their mind. Lacking the ability to concentrate, think critically, and organize thoughts logically because their reading skills are so undeveloped, many not only struggle to understand Scripture, but they can hardly make sense of a sermon without outlines, props, PowerPoint, or theatrics. We are not immune to this disease.
The Standard Bearer does not merely want to encourage reading in general, however. We also want to promote the reading of certain kinds of books. Wisely, Solomon warned that “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12). Some are simply a waste of time to read. Others ought not be read because they promote filth and invoke vile passions. Still others, although perhaps personally appealing due to their knowledge of a particular aspect of the physical realm, would be inappropriate for the general readership of this magazine. I doubt, for example, that my personal enthusiasm for books on relativity theory, quantum physics, and WWII history is shared by most of you. We intend, therefore, to promote certain books highly valued for broad-based, spiritually beneficial content.
However, we will not restrict those books we bring unnecessarily. When Paul asked for his books, the Holy Spirit did not inform us of their specific content. Good thing. Otherwise some overly pious soul might suppose the only worthwhile books were what Paul read. There are people like that, who imagine the only good books are what ministers write, ministers read, or what ministers recommend. That is one reason we will encourage reviews in this rubric from the laity—we’re interested in any books our readers think spiritually beneficial in their everyday life and work in the kingdom of heaven. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that, because we don’t know exactly what parchments Paul owned, they were limited to his own epistles and a good dogmatics. We might be surprised at what he read. He knew the wisdom of the philosophers as well as of Solomon (Col. 2:8), was familiar with Greek poets (Acts 17:18-28) as well as the Hebrew, and studied the truth of Jesus as well as traditions of the Pharisees (Acts 22:3).
So expect us to bring a wide variety of books—books that facilitate spiritual development of the kingdom citizens both in their mind of Christ (theology, apologetics, and biblical studies) and holy body (practical living and devotionals); new books that give the present generation of the church fresh insight, and old books that connect us to the church universal by transmitting its rich heritage, knowledge, and experience (Bible and church history, biographies, missions); books that are soundly orthodox and that develop the truth (like RFPA materials), and books that may contain worldly wisdom, trends, and heresies so we can exhort, convince, and oppose the gainsayers and deceivers (Tit. 1:9-13).
You may expect several other things besides variety as we ‘bring the books.’ Expect reviews longer than simply a book notice, but shorter than an in-depth analysis and critique, so we are encouraged actually to read the book itself, not just the review. And at the risk of being charged with crass commercialism, expect us to give you the precise information needed in order to go purchase the book yourself and build your library. Since reviews will be brief, and we assume a spiritually mature, discerning, Standard Bearer reading audience, expect reviews that may not point out every error, weakness, or doctrinal deviation in a book, but neither that give place to the devil. And expect a wide spectrum of reviewers, young and old, laity and officebearers, students and teachers, men and women. If you have recently enjoyed a good book that you feel would be beneficial to our audience, we encourage you to submit a review to this writer. Don’t be intimidated or worry that not everyone will personally agree, because we also expect that our readership, being knit together in the bond of love, will also exercise goodwill, kind judgment, and gracious patience.
So, now you know more about our new teacher. Please welcome her this year as she brings the books. Enjoy.