I start my seminary classes in a few weeks but I’ve already learned an important lesson from the books I’ve been assigned to read – read more broadly.
The truth is that each of us tends to glom on to certain individuals and their teachings. Some people have an outsized influence on our lives and on our coming to faith. It’s only natural that you’d hold tightly to their views and interpretations. You may have grown up in a solid Bible believing church and had little interaction with people from other denominations. Therefore, your view of certain doctrines is modeled and molded after your experience, maybe more than your own individual study of the Scripture. You don’t question it. Most of us don’t like conflict and so we stay where we are, not willing to have our own views challenged. As a result, our perspective on things is narrower than it should be.
My early Christian life went like this – as a new Christian, I was influenced and discipled by people who liked authors like J.I. Packer, Elisabeth Elliot, and John MacArthur. I read their books and was introduced to other authors like Jerry Bridges, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper. And it was there, with the writings of Piper, that I stopped and stayed awhile. A long while. It’s not like I didn’t read anything else, but in those early years of my Christian life, I devoured most anything John Piper wrote and listened to countless sermons, either on CD or on the Desiring God website. Did I agree with Piper on everything? No, but probably most things. He has been like a spiritual father to me. From him I learned the importance of the affections and how to fight sin. He introduced me to Jonathan Edwards and other “good old dead guys.” He made Calvinism come alive to me and always challenged me to go deeper in my understanding of the Bible.
Along the way I’ve realized how much my own understanding of the Bible and my own teaching of it has been influenced by John Piper. That’s not all bad, but it is one dimensional and, if left unchecked, it could lead to a kind of laziness where I just trust what he says without question. If we only stay in our own comfortable backyard of theological knowledge, we never meet any new friends who can add so much depth to our own understanding.
This is why I’m excited about the books I’ve been assigned to read. I’m taking one New Testament class and one class on the story of Scripture. The authors I’ve been assigned to read are almost all new to me. No Piper. A lot of them use categories and vocabulary that I’m not familiar with. One of them surprised me by quoting and praising the insights of some female theologians and pastors I’d never heard of. I don’t believe Scripture permits women to be pastors, so I would have never taken the time to read their views. I’m learning that just because we don’t agree on secondary issues doesn’t mean I have to throw out their views entirely.
I know that as I get further and further into my degree program, and become exposed to even more diverse perspectives, my own theological convictions will be challenged and sharpened and broadened. I pray I will gain the wisdom that comes from many counselors, not just two or three favorites.