In reading John Piper’s brief biography of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, I was stuck by Luther’s concern for the supremacy and priority of the Word of God in believers’ lives. These words presented a challenge to me to spend more time in the Word and not prioritizing “secondary” sources like commentaries and other books. I’m grateful for past and present church leaders whom God has gifted to expound the Word of God and protect precious doctrines, but they are to be given second billing in my reading lists or free-time reading. The secondary sources should be read with vigor and should also point us to Scripture, not replace it. Luther writes:
“The writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be led to the Holy Scriptures. As it is, however, we read them only to be absorbed in them and never come to the Scriptures. We are like men who study the signposts and never travel the road. The dear fathers wished by their writing, to lead us to the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures, though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we ought to work and toil.
“…For a great variety of reading confuses and does not teach. It makes the student like a man who dwells everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular. Just as we do not daily enjoy the society of every one of our friends but only that of a chosen few, so it should also be in our reading. The number of theological books should…be reduced, and a selection should be made of the best of them; for many books to not make men learned, nor does much reading. But reading something good, and reading it frequently, however little it may be, is the practice that makes men learned in the Scripture and makes them pious besides.”
This also got me thinking about something that’s been at the top of my mind lately, that of “celebrity” pastors or authors. A tendency especially among Generation X-ers and Millenials, myself definitely included, is to “follow” a certain well-known pastor or author – even vehemently or blindly at times. Examples in Reformed circles include people holding so tightly to men like John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Michael Horton, Doug Wilson, etc., that the truth of the Word of God seems to play second fiddle. These men have been gifted with talent and visibility, but the reality is that they are still sinners, just like you and I. Only Christ is to be followed, as Paul exhorts the Corinthians:
“What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas.’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13)
My point is that I have seen this sin in my own life: “following” certain pastors, authors, or teachers while neglecting my own study of the Word, as well as neglecting meditation on my own local pastors’ words. A seminary professor also recently saw this tendency among students: you can read it here. I hope to practice putting serious study of the Word at the top of my “reading list” while also paying more attention to the words of the faithful teachers of the Word God has brought into my life, and reading other books in light of the priority of Scripture.
Spending quality time in the Scriptures brings glory to God and contributes greatly to my ongoing sanctification, edification, and joy in Christ. There are thousands of solid books out there written by strong teachers which could take a lifetime to read, but the One Book should be read and reread seventy-times-seven more than any of those. I need to be more like the faithful Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).