By Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
Review by Scott Lamb
If you are reading this, then you are … literate.
But, being literate doesn’t necessarily mean that you avail yourself of the soul-enriching benefits of literature.
Cornelius Plantinga, president emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary, has written a gem of a book encouraging pastors to improve their preaching through purposeful engagement with literature. And when he says “literature,” he is specifically referring to books that fall outside of Biblical and theological studies.
Reading for Preaching: The preacher in conversation with storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists | published by Eerdman | 2013 | paperback | $14.00.
Plantinga rightly believes that common grace allows us the joy of discovering wisdom and truth even in the writings of authors who are not Christian — or even anti-Christian. He exhorts preachers to “tune their ear” to wisdom by hearing echoes of fallen humanity and divine grace on the pages of books we pick up and consume as part of a planned program of “general reading.”
“Good reading generates delight,” writes Plantinga, “and the preacher should enjoy it without guilt. Delight is a part of God’s shalom and the preacher who enters the world of delight goes with God.”
The content for this book came from Plantinga’s 2012 Warfield Lectures he presented at his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary. But even before the lectures, Plantinga has been interacting with this thesis — that good reading makes for better preaching — through his annual teaching of a seminar titled the same as the book. He writes:
“We sit to read and then to consider why a preacher wants to do it. The seminars have changed my life. Nothing in over thirty years of theological education has given me the joy of watching preachers discover the wonders within general literature and then imagine how to strengthen their preaching with them. Nothing has taught me more about the common grace of God than the fact that a lot of the wonders have been written into their books by people who do not know God.”
This book is brief (133 pages) and gets to the point quickly. Even more, Plantinga did not write an un-delightful book of exhortations to preachers to be delighted in good books. You will enjoy the reading of this book as much as he hopes you will enjoy poring through some of his “Selected Reading List” titles.
Plantinga ends the book with these words:
“One last question for preachers: Do you think you simply don’t have enough time to read? But what if a program of general reading would measurably strengthen your preaching? What if, like Eugene Peterson, you begin to schedule reading periods as sermon prep time? What if some of the things that otherwise take your time can be delegated while sermon prep time cannot? Sunday sermons remain, for most of us, the single biggest ministry of the week to the most congregants. Wouldn’t that make sermon preparation a top priority? Along with whatever strengthens it?”