At a recent conference for Pastors here in the States I witnessed one of the largest conference bookstores that I’ve ever seen. My friends and I commented on the embarrassment of riches that we enjoy in the West. If I desire a certain title, I can have a print copy sent to me in a matter of days. Or I can order the digital version for my iPad in minutes, if not seconds. So much of my Christian growth over the years has depended on books. God has used certain ones to speak to me in specific seasons of my life—with huge results.
The importance of the written word is difficult to comprehend. In terms of church history, its impact would be hard to overstate. God has used the canon of the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the early church fathers, and the pamphlets of the Reformation as vital means of building His church. By His design, the written word continues to be one of the most effective vehicles for passing truth to the next generation.
For hundreds of years, Christians in the West have been privileged to have abundant access to good literature. This wealth of reading goes back to the Gutenberg press, which changed the entire known world in a year. In modern times, access to the written word has greatly increased with the advent of computers and Internet.
Although access to the Internet is increasing, the Global South has generally not yet tasted this bounty. The church there often suffers from a famine of Biblical resources. Many people groups have no Scriptures in their language. Others have no Christian literature to equip pastors and elders to lead their congregations. And where books are lacking, believers are subject to false teaching, undermined doctrine, and weak living.
This disparity of resources gets to the core mission of TGC International Outreach.
When thinking of missions, we typically envision the classic missionary, crossing cultures for the sake of the Gospel. That is still a vital part of God’s plan, especially as we consider the more recent missiological emphasis on ‘from everywhere, to everywhere.’ But many are not aware of the powerful role that literature plays in spreading Gospel truth to the nations.
Here are a few noteworthy quotes that speak to the significance of the written word for the life of believers and for the cause of missions. These are the reasons why text in printed and digital form is at the core of our work in Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church.
Paul is inspired, yet he wants books; he has been preaching nearly thirty years, yet he wants books; he has a wider experience than most people, yet he wants books; he has been caught up into heaven and heard things which it is unlawful to utter, yet he wants books; he has written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books. – C.H. Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4:13
There are two things in the entire history of missions that have been absolutely central. One, obviously, is the Bible itself. The other is the printed page. There is absolutely nothing else in terms of mission methodology that outranks the importance of the printed page. Meetings come and go and personalities appear and are gone. But, the printed page continues to speak. –Ralph Winter
. . . printed books are more portable than pulpits, more numerous than priests, and the messages they contain are more easily internalized. –Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, p. 169)
The printed page is a missionary that can go anywhere and do so at minimum cost. It enters closed lands and reaches all strata of society. It does not grow weary. It needs no furlough. It lives longer than any missionary. It never gets ill. It penetrates through the mind to the heart and conscience. It has and is producing results everywhere. It has often lain dormant yet retained its life and bloomed years later. – Samuel Zwemer
Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being, which we owe to authors…In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do. –C.S. Lewis
You will be in the company of the greatest minds and hearts for the rest of your life, and you will become their peers if you read for understanding and for life. –John Piper
If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will. – Daniel Webster
We are asking God for individuals and churches who will help us build the long-term sustainability of this mission by supporting our International Outreach Capacity Fund. Would you prayerfully consider a monthly gift to this fund, so that we can continue to provide Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church?
(I'm grateful to William Mackenzie at Christian Focus for sharing several of these quotes with me and for being an inspirational force for book ministry around the world.)
Bill Walsh is Director of International Outreach for The Gospel Coalition. He worked for Desiring God Ministries for 13 years. Starting in 2006, he and a small team built a global network of partners for the cause of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church. This initiative joined TGC in 2012. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in Minneapolis and has two adult children, Beau and Regan. Contact Bill at Bill.Walsh@TheGospelCoalition.org.