Choose Your On-Ramp
I was reading a commentary on 1-2 Peter by R.C. Sproul a couple of days ago, and I came upon this bit of humble wisdom: "If people would read Luther and Calvin they could take my books and burn them, because all I try to do is direct people back to the giants. All Luther and all Calvin wanted to do was direct people back to the Word of God, because that Word is not only living but also abiding--forever."
That's a good perspective to have. It also assumes something that is not easy to verbalize to the current crop of Americans: the idea that we're gradually getting stupider, not smarter, as the generations roll by. It's true, though. Just take a look at McGuffey's readers (schoolbooks from the 1800s) and see what children that long ago were able to understand and appreciate; compare with today's youths, who are very savvy on video games, less so with philosphical thoughts.
Awhile back, I read a book by Philip Yancey called "Soul Survivor," in which he celebrates thirteen authors who had a profound influence on his life and philosophy, including such worthies as Chesterton, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, among other folks that I wasn't as familiar with. I read through a lot of them--at least one of their representative works--and frankly, didn't get too much from most of them. They were apparently at too high of a level of sophistication for my feeble country brain to appreciate, though some of them have grown on me with more years under my belt. But the point is, I could read and understand Yancey, and he was trying to point me on to someone whose thoughts he respected more than his own.
I have written a couple of small books as well. Mere trifles, compared to the much better works by the others I have named in this article. But my aim with those books--which I understood several years ago, long before I read the quote by R.C. Sproul which led off this article--was to point people who weren't too sophisticated with their thoughts about theology toward someone I thought might be accessible to them, someone who could take them further along the road to understanding than I could. I wanted to give them an entry point--an on-ramp, if you will, to the highway of increasing understanding and becoming obedient to God's will and ways. A way to avoid the tangled backroads of our own confusion and hesitancy, and access a more direct route toward our desired end.
By all means, start with reading the Bible. But if you find that that practice doesn't lead you directly into a place where you understand more about God than you started out with, enhance your reading by taking up somebody else who has traveled the road before you. I suspect that, if you are just starting out, Luther and Calvin will be too much for you. So read R.C. Sproul, who will help you understand Luther and Calvin. If R.C. Sproul is too much for you, read my book Enemies of God, which is written in plain enough 21st-century American that you will be able to understand it easily. Eventually you will be able to grasp things at a higher and much richer level, and you will be drawn happily down the path to a greater appreciation for the beautiful intricacy of God's plans and purposes for mankind.
If you can follow my thinking when you read what I've written (even just on this blog), you're ready to go beyond to somebody that can lead you further. Here are just a few of my suggested authors, along with one of their best books each:
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
If you want more referrals, just drop me a line, and I'll give you some more ideas. And if reading is too taxing for you, and you'd just prefer to listen, you can't do any better than by listening to these two podcasts, the first of them daily, and the second of them twice-weekly.
Renewing Your Mind, the teaching arm of Ligonier Ministries
White Horse Inn, a discussion show featuring theology's relevance to modern culture, among other topics
Both of these programs have phone apps available at your app store.
So there are a handful of resources for you. If you've gone beyond these already, that's great! Try your hand at some Spurgeon, or (my wife's favorite) Marcus Rainsford. But in any case, make sure you're on the road to greater discoveries of the grandeur of God. Choose an on-ramp.