My (not so successful) year of time-tested theology


I had big plans. Big plans I say! Unfortunately, they didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

See, I started 2015 with this big idea: I was going to read a bunch of time-tested theology. This was a reactionary decision to my reading a lot (and I mean a LOT) of modern books over the last few years that have either been retreading the same ideas, or were so useless that I felt like I needed a shower after reading them. So, I made my choices: I was going to read Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (because Derek Rishmawy worked hard to make him cool again), The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, and Augustine’s Confessions. I created a reading plan for Bavinck (which you can see here), I picked up a delightful new edition of The Institutes, and I dusted off my long-ago purchased copy of Confessions.

And then life happened. Or rather, a lot of things in life happened.

I started school, and rocked my first course at Covenant Seminary, which required a lot of reading and thinking time. I found myself in a fairly dry place spiritually at the midway point of the year, really needing to refocus on my Bible reading and personal study (this is still a bit of a struggle, in all honesty). Between work, family, school, serving with our church, and the blog, something had to give… and it was my reading project.

How far did I get? About half-way through the third volume of Reformed Dogmatics (though I’m still picking away at it). And along the way, I learned a few important things:

1. I should have planned out Bavinck to be read over the full year. Looking back, I realize I bit off more than I could chew, which was foolish. I gave myself a far too aggressive plan, which was not a good idea. Instead, I should have focused just on Reformed Dogmatics and spaced the four volumes out over the year. Tackling one every three months is far more realistic. It also would have helped me enjoy it a little more.

2. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. This is probably the hardest thing for me to admit, since I don’t like quitting anything. I am one of those “I must succeed” guys. So quitting is an admission of defeat, except when it’s not. For me, having to quit was a good thing because (along with all the other good reasons I had), I found that even with the pace I was keeping I was struggling to really process and consider what I was reading in favor of turning pages. And even as someone who regularly reads an average of two books a week, that’s not okay from my perspective. Reading is to be enjoyed, not to be treated as a task to be completed.

3. My failure will inform the future. Despite the failure, I won’t stop trying to challenge myself like this, which is why later this week I’ll be sharing a bit more about how I’m planning to structure my reading this coming year. But whatever I do will be informed by what I experienced in 2015. Recognizing that school will make my reading more challenging is helpful. Knowing that something unexpected could derail the whole thing is worth factoring in.

4. Taking care of my soul is more important than reaching a goal. As I said earlier, last year was a very dry year for me spiritually. There’s no besetting sin that I’m aware of (I’d assume my wife would have picked up on something by now); there’s just this funk that makes it hard to read my Bible, to pray consistently, to sing (even to songs I want to sing to). So this is something that I’m being extremely watchful of—not only in choosing what my next goal will be, but in working to accomplish it. Whatever my plans are for the coming year, they’re going to be pursued with the knowledge that I need to consistently take care of my own soul. Because if I neglect that, then what I’m reading really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, does it?

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.