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Summer Reading: Time for a Change of Pace

In the Nick of Time

Jeff Straub

In last week’s Nick, Kevin mentioned some of the books that he had read during the past twelve months. I thought I might follow up with an essay on summer reading. Christians need to read. Pastors need to read. Reading informs our mind, instructs our sensibilities, broadens our understanding, corrects our misconceptions, challenges our assumptions, and entertains our hearts. As important as reading is, it also poses a bit of a problem—there is so much to read and so little time in which to do it. Reading for me, therefore, must be a selective endeavor. I generally want to own the books I read, so I have to buy them first, necessitating a priority in finances. I want to mark my books (neat, light pencil underlining or marginalia of agreement or disagreement) and put Post-It flags at places where important things are said. As I read one book, I see another book referenced that arouses my interest, and eventually that one makes its way onto my “To Be Read” shelf. I am not a particularly fast reader. I envy the speed reader. Dan Brown used to counsel our students at orientation to “Read faster, force yourself to read faster!” I try this and it works—sometimes—but for me reading is still work, enjoyable work, but work nevertheless.

The important questions are, what will I read and when will I read it? Right now, I have about fifty books that have accumulated on my “To Be Read” shelf. Some of these books will eventually be read, while others will find their way to a regular bookshelf, never having been read. It is just a sad part of life: I will never read most of the books I buy.

My personal reading goal is 12,000 pages per year. This amounts to about 250 pages (or about one book) per week. Some books will be read over a month, while others require only a day or two. This is not particularly ambitious, just a modest goal. So I need to plan my reading carefully. This summer I plan to read David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie (Penguin Press, 2006). This tome of 801 pages will take a couple of weeks to digest. Why a biography of Carnegie? He was not a Baptist, and doubtless not an evangelical Christian, but he was one of the most influential men in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Like his friend John D. Rockefeller, Sr., a devout Baptist, he helped reshape American industry. Knowledge of these men helps to understand their era. A similar book that has my attention now is Antony Thomas, Rhodes: The Race for Africa (St. Martin’s Press, 1996). In order to understand modern Africa, one must have an appreciation for the colonial era and its European domination. Cecil John Rhodes (1853–1902), now vilified as the founder of apartheid and compared to Adolph Hitler, was the founder of De Beers Diamond Company. For better or worse, he left an indelible mark on southern Africa. Though dead over a century, his legacy continues to engender controversy. The University of Cape Town removed the statue of Rhodes from its place on campus, while Oxford University decided to allow their monument to remain. Speaking of Africa, I also plan to read Matthew G. Stanard, Selling the Congo: A History of European Pro-Empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism (University of Nebraska, 2011). Both of these books will provide a deeper insight into the challenges Western missionaries face serving in contemporary Africa.

Let me answer the question of what I read and when I read it directly. During the semesters, I try to read at least 1,000 pages of current literature on whatever class I am teaching. Sometimes these are new books assigned to students which I read along with them, while others are books meant to deepen my understanding of what I teach. I supplement my semester reading with project reading or reading for papers I am writing.

During the summers, I play catch-up in my reading. I try to read books that I have placed on the “shelf,” but which have not beckoned strongly enough to have been read. For this reason, I will peruse Brian Stanley’s The History of the Baptist Missionary Society 1792-1992 (T&T Clark, 1992). Granted, it is almost 25 years old, but it remains the best source for a detailed history of the legacy of William Carey. I will also read for papers I am working on. So added to my summer reading list is Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (Moody, 2012); Alan F. Sell, Christ and Controversy: The Person of Christ in Nonconformist Thought and Ecclesial Experience, 1600-2000 (Wipf & Stock, 2011); William C. Watson, Dispensationalism Before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century Apocalypticism (Lampton, 2015) and Fenggang Yang, Religion in China: Survival and Revival Under Communist Rule (Oxford, 2012). In one way or another, all of these topics interest me and these volumes will help me prepare for what I am doing with the topics.

As you might notice, this is a diverse list of books. Missing from the list is leisure reading. I am not much for reading novels. I am periodically tempted to reread Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the seventh time. However, if I start “The Fellowship of the Ring,” I have to read all of the trilogy non-stop and then go back and reread The Hobbit, despite already knowing the rest of the story. Alas, Tolkien must wait for another day. There are just so many good books that interest me academically and professionally that fiction seems to be left behind.

I might also add I find it hard to read widely when I am writing. I have a shelf with perhaps 20,000 pages on Pentecostalism, only half of which I have read, so this summer I will throw in a book or two from that shelf. I need to read Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Addison-Wesley, 1995) and Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Harvard, 2001). At least one will get read this summer and maybe both.

The last book on my summer reading list is Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia—and How It Died (HarperOne, 2008). My summer is just beginning and I am already exhausted thinking about it. I will be in Africa teaching (Zambia and Kenya) for nearly three weeks and then in Toronto for another week of research. During these four weeks, it will be hard to keep up with the reading pace, so I will have to double up at other times. Oh, the joy of a book! They are treasured friends with so much to share. Alas, I must end this essay now as Rhodes beckons.


This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.


Now From the Altar of My Heart
John Mason (1645–1694)

Now from the altar of my heart
Let incense flames arise;
Assist me, Lord, to offer up
Mine evening sacrifice.

Awake, my love! Awake, my joy!
Awake, my heart and tongue!
Sleep not: when mercies loudly call,
Break forth into a song.

This day God was my Sun and Shield,
My Keeper and my Guide;
His care was on my frailty shown,
His mercies multiplied.

Minutes and mercies multiplied
Have made up all this day;
Minutes came quick but mercies were
More fleet and free than they.

New time, new favor, and new joys
Do a new song require;
Till I shall praise Thee as I would,
Accept my heart’s desire.

Man’s life’s a book of history,
The leaves thereof are days,
The letters mercies closely joined,
The title is Thy praise.

Lord of my time, whose hand hath set
New time upon my score,
Then I shall praise for all my time,
When time shall be no more.

About Guest Author

This guest article has been published because an editor has determined its contents to be supportive of the values of Religious Affections Ministries. Its publication does not imply full agreement between its author and RAM on other matters.