Article by: Matt Smethurst
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers and leaders through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Curtis Woods—associate executive director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and contributing author to Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention (B&H Academic, 2017) [read TGC’s review]—about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped his view of gospel ministry, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
I’m currently reading W. E. B. Du Bois’s Dusk of Dawn and Edward Blum’s work on Du Bois, American Prophet, for personal gratification. I spend the majority of my time reading primary works on the life and thought of Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784), an enslaved African-American woman who was arguably the mother of the African-American literary tradition. Wheatley was a phenomenal woman of God and evangelical thinker who used subversive speech to confront patriarchal Anglo-American supremacy from a sophisticated biblio-theological worldview.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
I regularly visit Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral, Augustine’s Confessions, and the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. These works constantly remind me of my need for sanctification and to put my hope in the gospel, not in this world order. Augustine encourages me to fight the fight of faith in an extremely sexualized culture, especially since I lived much of my teenage and young adult years according to the course of this world. Augustine has become a dear friend and mentor in multiple areas of life. MLK inspires me to live as a “transformed non-conformist” in a perverse and crooked generation.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you view gospel ministry?
I would probably say Augustine’s The City of God and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. They both illustrate how important it is to apply the gospel to every area of life. Augustine and Calvin possessed pastoral hearts, desiring the kingdom above earthly comfort and ease. I need constant challenges in this area so that my family and church see a man who has “a mind for truth and a heart for God.”
What books have most shaped your understanding of racial justice?
I have recommended Beverly Tatum’s work Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? to thousands of people. I’d also add The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. These jewels profoundly shaped my understanding of racial justice.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
Without question, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Vincent Carretta’s Phillis Wheatley: A Biography of a Genius in Bondage, and Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery. These works remind me of the sacrifices my ancestors made for me to have access to literature and critical reflection. I won’t squander their blood for ephemeral social networking affinities.
Which book do you wish every evangelical would read and why?
Holy Scripture. Read it a lot! Bible intake and prayer, in the context of community, are the greatest means of grace that will transform our affections toward one another.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
He no longer calls us “slaves” but “friends.” Jesus is my Lord, Savior, and older brother who extends the bond of friendship every day I awake. “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
Also in the On My Shelf series: Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler
Matt Smethurst is managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. You can follow him on Twitter.