Thursday, 21 July 2016
On Reading Books
It's a hard position to defend as a Christian because we are, by definition, "people of a book", the Scriptures. It is the truth that sanctifies us, comforts us, leads us and teaches us. So frankly if we are not readers of The Book, at the very least, we shall be poor followers of the Word.
The tale of Les
What is more, love for The Book often leads to a great love of reading in general. I once worked at Yale Locks in Willenhall where I met a labourer by the name of Les. Recently converted his mind had come alive. Not just his heart but his mind. He would have been one of those "I don't read" types (except of course The Sun) but God's word, like yeast in a batch of dough was shaping every part of his life including his mind. He became a great reader - and some of those books were heavy stuff. (It is a complete myth that working class blokes are thick - this man had more intelligence than most graduates I have met).
So reading books and being a Christian kindof go together.
But this can be a problem: it's possible to be a reader and not be a learner. Unless the reading is disciplined you can end up deeper in the trenches of tradition and prejudice than ever before.
The example of Holy Scripture
The divinely inspired Scriptures set for us a noble example of how to read. We are given many different varieties of reading material in the 66 books of holy writ. We have biography and letter, poetry and prophecy, law and song. Some books are easy to understand and some hard. Some can be read "off the surface" others require a whole lot of background study. With the divine example in mind, we might draw up a few guidelines for reading books.
Suggested guidelines for reading books
(1) Read widely. It would be a mistake to limit your reading to one class of books. Read Christian books (mainly) but read secular books as well to understand the world you are living in. Read doctrine, read history, read biography, read poetry, read generally.
(2) Read the best. Since life is short, choose carefully. Make sure the book has good reviews (good=written by layman, "I found it helpful", ignore the comments of the doctors and teachers of the law, "a praiseworthy summary of the author's PhD manuscript"). Best is often old. Why? Because time sifts out the rubbish. A new book bigged up by a publishing company spending millions to earn millions may be worthless and tomorrow consigned to the (big) dustbin of history. If in doubt, speed-read before reading.
(3) Read outside your comfort Zone. Reading can actually make a man more ignorant if all he does is read to confirm his prejudices! Some do that until they are experts in dots and commas. Read books you do not want to read! Let them challenge you. Example: I am correctly reading a whole set of books on the Anabaptists. These guys were despised by the Reformers - especially the big shots like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin - (of whom I once thought of a tad too highly!). I am quickly becoming an Anabaptist as a result! Or, to correct myself, I think their contribution to Christianity has been greatly underestimated by history and the Reformed churches.
(4) Read outside your interest Zone. So you read outside of your comfort Zone: you read the Anabaptists if you are Reformed, the Calvinists if you are Arminian. But what about something totally different. Do you read enough biography? Enough history? Some fiction (a little)? (Steady!)
(5) Read One Book the Most. Some years ago a good man, a good pastor went astray seriously. Those around him had sensed this drift many years before. The man admitted that for every Christian book he read, he was determined to read a secular one (ratio 1:1). Perhaps that's a poor balance. Because we can be tainted even by standing in the way of sinners and turn into chaff that the wind blows away. We need to guard our thoughts and fill them with the law of the Lord. And if we meditate on that law we will become like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season. Above all else, disciplined above all else, make the reading and study of God's most holy Word, your primary reading.