dord (dôrd), n. density of mind; chiefly exhibited by one who attempts to demonstrate supposed knowledge --adj. dord'ish


Pray for Virginia Tech

This hits close to home, probably closer than any other national tragedy that I can remember. When the Columbine shootings happened, I was a homeschooler and in junior high. On 9/11, I'd never been to New York City or Washington, D.C., and never flown on an airplane. Both of these events were horrifying, yet still distant. While I still can't truly imagine what everyone at Virginia Tech is going through...

I'm a college student, going to a public university. I spend hours every day in The University of Akron's engineering building. I'm even taking one of the same classes that the gunman interrupted...

But reading news reports and feeling sad doesn't do anything for anyone.

I'm reminded again of the brevity of life--that each day could be my last. Did I live this day for the glory of Jesus Christ? How will I live tomorrow?

And I'm reminded again to pray. So many people are, now more than ever, searching for peace and hope. I pray that they won't stop searching until they find true peace and hope in Jesus Christ. I pray that God will give Christians in the Blacksburg area wisdom and strength as they seek to minister to those who are hurting so deeply. I pray that those who are injured will recover. I pray that God will be glorified in the midst of great tragedy.



Why Review?

I recently decided to begin to post reviews of the books that I read. How I go about this will, in some respects, develop along the way. Some reviews may be mere synopses; others might include my own reflections on the book. In my last post, I explained why I read. What I've decided to do here is give, up front, my reasons for beginning to write reviews of those books.

Why write book reviews?

1. To help me to remember more of what I read. Unfortunately, as I look back at some of the titles I've read over the last couple of years, I can't remember much--maybe a general impression of the book, perhaps a point or two. I always remember what I'm reading better when I am able to to talk about it with others. There's something about having to verbalize the things that I've learned that helps me to remember them long term. Sitting down to write a review will hopefully have the same effect.

So why write them for my blog?

2. First, as an extra motivation to write something sensible. In the same way that blogging helps me to develop my thoughts logically (see #4 under Reasons for Blogging), knowing that someone else might (gasp!) read my review should keep me from merely jotting down poor synopses and ill-defined impressions.

3. To write something accessible. This goes two ways. Obviously, a blogged review is vastly more accessible to others than a review kept on a computer hard drive or in a notebook. On the one hand, it would be great if anyone else benefits from reading a review I write. Beyond this, however, the reviews would be more accessible to myself. Having them all on my blog sure beats flipping through notebooks trying to find what I wrote where!

4. I like to recommend good books to people I know. This could serve as a way of doing that--in an even better way than just saying You might like this.

Those of you who know me well were, I'm sure, waiting for this part. (i.e. Here is where Jason explains how he will run a multi-level numerical analysis of each book's quality.) Well, guess what, I'm not going to give numerical ratings. I have, however, decided to list books that I read/review in one of four different categories:

Must Read
Highly Recommended
Don't Bother

Don't think of them as being 1-4 stars. Reading takes time, and I try to choose what I know to be good books. These ratings are a way of separating the good from the really good, and the really good from the exceptionally good. If you really want to think in terms of numbers, even books listed as "Recommended" would probably be about a 7 on a 1-10 scale. When I say that I would recommend reading a book, I mean it. But there are a handful of books that I honestly believe everyone should read. (As an example, I loved reading John Piper's Life as a Vapor and recommend reading it, but don't find myself recommending it as a life-changing book to practically everyone I know, as I do with his book Don't Waste Your Life.) All right, enough said about reviewing books--my first review is, Lord willing, coming in the next week.



Why Read?

Becoming a Reader
I've been reading for about two years now. Yeah, I've technically known how to read since I was four or five, but I wasn't a reader. I would read for school or read for fun--The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or countless other short stories--but I wasn't a reader. I liked to consider myself sophisticated enough to enjoy reading, but I wasn't a reader. I loved good fiction. I still do. There's nothing like getting lost in the world of Lewis, Tolkien, Scott, Doyle, Henry, Dickens... there I go again. There are many good things to be said about fiction, but that is not what I aim to do here.

In February 2005 I saw a copy of Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions & Eternity lying around the house, and decided to pick it up and start reading. I don't remember exactly why. Perhaps it was because I'd heard it was a good book. Perhaps it was because I knew that I didn't really know the value of good books, but wanted to. Perhaps I wanted to figure out what Alcorn thought of college loans in light of Christian stewardship. The truth is that all of these reasons may have played a part in my decision to pick it up. But why I picked it up doesn't matter anymore. I read through the first chapter, and read another chapter the next day. This continued for a few weeks until, lo and behold, I finished the book. I enjoyed it. Yes, I was convicted on numerous fronts, and knew that the true benefit of reading the book would be in the application of its principles, but I enjoyed it.

To have a habit, one must make a habit. That is by no means a profound insight; nonetheless, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we can drift toward good habits. Yeah, right. Habits--good ones, anyway--must be formed purposefully. They aren't solidified overnight, but they can be begun overnight. Today, I can say that reading has become more of a habit. By God's grace, after two years and a few dozen books, it's hard to think about not reading. I genuinely love to read, and can think of numerous books that have been a tremendous means of God's grace in my life. But the only way to be a reader is to read, and the only way to read is to pick up the book and sit down. Really, aspects of a Christian's devotional life (I include reading solid doctrinal books in this category) are a good picture of sanctification: it's all by God's grace, but if we sit on our hands, waiting for it to "happen," nothing will happen.

Prioritized Reading
We must read the Bible, first and foremost. It would be a foolish thing to be caught up in reading fallible (though excellent) books, while ignoring the infallible, revealed Word of God. Even more important than being a reader is being a student of God's Word. There may be times when we are struggling in truly desiring to read God's Word, and God uses another book in a special way, but this will ultimately point us to the value of the Scriptures as the revealed Word of God. All great books will ultimately point us to God and His Word, because the most beautiful truths we read in other books are reflections of the truth and beauty found in God's Word.

What Is A Reader?
I don't have a wonderful definition to put forward, but I realized it would be helpful to explain what I'm talking about when I speak of being a reader. Being a reader goes beyond being able to read the the menu in a fast food drive-thru. It goes beyond being able to a read magazine or newspaper. It even goes beyond reading the book that the care group is going through. Rather, a reader is one who systematically, voluntarily reads good books (not merely for the excitement of reading them, though reading and understanding doctrine can be exciting) because he recognizes the opportunity that he has to learn from the wealth of wisdom that God has given to others.

Why Is It Important?
As I said above, God has given a wealth of wisdom to others. In reading the words of men who have been lifelong students of the Bible, my own understanding of the Bible has gained much greater depth. Reading the words of men who have gone through trials and suffering and been challenged with all manner of godless philosophies--and who have only grown in their confidence in God and in His Word--is an unspeakable encouragement to me to trust in God. John Piper has helped me to see my own need to have a passion for the glory of God. Wayne Grudem has helped me to better understand numerous Biblical doctrines. Francis Schaeffer has helped to see the truth and beauty of the Biblical worldview. I could go on, but I'm sure you understand. If you don't, read. Then you will.

The quote from John Piper (taken from When I Don't Desire God) that I posted earlier this week says it well, so I'll post it again.
"It's true that the joy of serious reading and the thinking that goes with it sometimes called study) may not be as immediate as the joy of singing in church, or seeing a sunset, or talking with a friend, or hearing a preacher with lots of stories. But the payload for joy may be greater. Raking is easier than digging, but you only get leaves. If you dig you may get diamonds."
What's the Hurry?
So why am I so concerned with reading good books now? To begin with, it is foolish to delay forming good habits. As J.C. Ryle said in Thoughts for Young Men, "What young men will be in all probability depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget that... Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak when it is a sapling--a hundred men cannot bend it when it is a full-grown tree."

There's more than that, though. As busy as life feels now, I realize that I currently have more available time than I will at any time later in life. The demands of college, numerous as the are, won't compare with those of (hopefully someday) being a husband and father with a real job. I never plan to stop reading, but I do see this time in life as a window of opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time learning sound Biblical doctrine.

Don't Read Just Anything
Sadly, not everything that is called a "Christian" book really magnifies Christ. There are many books that teach of satisfaction apart from Christ, and a Christian life without the Cross. Ultimately, a book should uphold God's Word. Even the words of the most trusted authors must be tested against the Scriptures. (Here again we see the importance of reading the Bible itself.) Thankfully, authors whose passion is the glory of God will encourage us to do this, and often provide relevant Scripture passages to help us do so.

Let's Not Fool Ourselves
The following are two possible results of reading doctrinally sound books:
--Reading without application, leading only to intellectual pride.
--Reading followed by application, leading to sanctification.
Now, there are other possibilities. One could be Pharisaical about the application. Or one might, having received God's grace to change, take pride in himself. But my point here is that the impact of a book is measured not in how much knowledge it imparts, or even in how much conviction it initially brings, but in the lasting impact it has over the following months and years. Has conviction lead to lasting change?

We don't read books on doctrine just so that we can recite definitions of God's attributes. We don't read books on apologetics just so that we can memorize arguments or techniques. We don't read books on humility just to be able to identify pride. On the contrary, we study doctrine so that we can better know God, apologetics so that we will increase in compassion for the lost and better know how to share the Gospel, and humility so that we can identify pride in our hearts and put it to death.

God has given us, as 21st-century Americans, the access to an incredible amount of Biblical resources. May we use them, and use them wisely, keeping in mind at all times that they are a means of God's grace to us, for His glory and our joy in Him.



April's Quote to Ponder

"Raking is easier than digging, but you only get leaves. If you dig you may get diamonds."
--John Piper, When I Don't Desire God