“take and read” Good Books to Strengthen Pastoral Ministry, Issue 99

December 1, 2016 by Presbyterian Foundation

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?  

Suggestion for December reading:

  • Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 1968.

“Theological interpretation of Scripture” is now featured in theological commentary series from Westminster John Knox, Brazos, SCM, and other publishers. Theological commentaries are a response to limitations of the “historical-critical” method of interpretation that dominated commentaries for over a century. Historical-critical interpretation remains necessary and valuable for understanding Scripture, but it provides an incomplete perspective. While it is important to understand what biblical “authors” intended and what biblical “books” meant to ancient Israel and the first century church, it is even more important to understand what they mean in our time and place, and what they intend for us here and now.

Theological commentaries are particularly important tools for pastors. When we conclude Scripture readings in worship by saying, “The Word of the Lord,” we promise something more than “The word of Jeremiah to Judah” in the sixth century B.C., or “The word of the Johannine circle” to a particular Christian community in the late first century. Congregations have not gathered for a history lesson. On the other hand, we also promise that the Scripture reading will be something more than a launching pad for “the personal opinions of the preacher.”

Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans, first published in 1919 while he was a pastor, “fell like a bombshell on the playground of theologians” (Karl Adam). It was a radical departure from 19th century liberalism and from historical-critical methodology. But it was a commentary on Paul’s letter, not free-floating theology. In Barth’s preface to the English translation, he wrote, “The publication of this book in English may perhaps lead to a fresh formulation of the problem, ‘What is exegesis?’ No one can, of course, bring out the meaning of a text without at the same time adding something to it. Moreover, no interpreter is rid of the danger of adding more than he extracts. I neither was nor am I free from this danger. And yet I should be altogether misunderstood if my readers refused to credit me with the honesty of, at any rate, intending to explain the text.”

Although almost a century old, Barth’s Romans still falls like a bombshell on our playground. It cuts through our easy assumptions and casual interpretations. The book is not one to be read through quickly or to be dipped into from time to time in order to find out what Barth has to say about a particular chapter or verse. Neither is it to be read for its own sake. Its value can only be known by reading it together with Romans itself, slowly, from beginning to end.

A recommended plan for reading Paul and Barth together: Barth divides The Epistle to the Romans into 40 sections of commentary, ranging in length from 15-20 pages. Reading Paul and Barth together, section by section, Monday through Friday, will take about two months . . . longer if the sections are broken up into subsections. It is worth the disciplined time. Reading Paul and Barth together, pastorally, will enrich understanding that will enrich both preaching and teaching in the church.

Featured Video: Positive Investment – Education

The little town of Bethlehem is often on our minds this time of year. In Bethlehem today, one of the hills where shepherds once watched their flocks is now home to a Christian university which offers hope to the young people of Palestine.

Positive Investment – Education from Presbyterian Foundation on Vimeo.

Year-End Giving for your Congregation

For most Presbyterian churches, December is the biggest giving month of the year. The combination of the Christmas emphasis on giving and the tax code’s rewards for charitable gifts will have many of your members writing checks. There are additional ways to give, and your church budget could benefit if your members know about them:

IRA Distributions: Senior citizens aged 70 ½ and older are required to take an annual distribution from their individual retirement accounts. Those distributions may result in lower taxes if they are directed as charitable gifts. Learn more

Stock Gifts: Many Presbyterians like to make gifts of appreciated stocks at year-end – both for tax reasons and because more personal wealth is often held in investments than in cash. The Presbyterian Foundation can accept these gifts on your congregation’s behalf if you are not set up to handle them. Learn more

Nontraditional Assets: The Foundation may also accept gifts of real estate and other non-traditional or non-liquid assets and convert them to cash for your ministry. Learn more

Contact your regional Ministry Relations Officer to learn more about ways your church can benefit from members’ year-end generosity.