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

4.05.2007

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.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Laedelas Greenleaf said...

Nice, Jason, very nice. Do you have any advice for a wanna-be reader? I have a hard time finishing non-fiction theological books, though I love reading the first few chapters :-P Did you struggle with that when you started to develop this habit?

4/06/2007 2:09 PM

 
Blogger Jason said...

Here's a few things that come to mind:

Think in manageable terms. Books can look overwhelming, but, if you keep plugging along a chapter (or even a few pages) each day, you will finish. John Piper, in When I Don't Desire God, explained how, at 15 minutes per day, one could read about ten good sized books a year.

When every day is not possible, try to read some at least one or two days a week. (Sometimes I only have time to read on weekends.) You'll see progress, and shouldn't feel discouraged. One of the biggest things is to not let weeks go by without reading.

Books don't have to be difficult reads to be substantive, either. Randy Alcorn's books are easier to read than many, even when they're long. Have you read Heaven? It's almost 500 pages, but really fascinating. At over 40 chapters, it can easily take a couple months to read, but the chapters are very readable in one sitting. (Plus the subject is very good.)

One other thing I've found helpful is to be working on two books at once, especially when one is a difficult or slow read. For instance, last summer I read Growing Up Christian while I was reading The Cost of Discipleship.

Finally, remind yourself why you're reading. Sometimes I fall into the trap of just trying to get through a book. It's better to read slowly, and think about it and apply it, than to read mammoth amounts just to have read. The goal isn't to fulfill an annual book quota, but to draw closer to God.

RE your second quesion: I've always hated getting halfway through a good book or game or movie and then quitting. For me, what was historically a problem was not so much leaving books unfinished, but never even starting them. I just wasn't interested in non-fiction. At the same time, sometimes an author says to feel free to jump around, or not to read a book straight through. There's nothing wrong--and a whole lot of benefits--in choosing just a couple of chapters to read out of Systematic Theology. And it definitely beats feeling so overwhelmed at the look of it that you don't ever pick it up.

4/07/2007 12:20 PM

 
Blogger Laedelas Greenleaf said...

Thanks. My next problem is to find the book I was reading last fall...

4/10/2007 12:35 AM

 
Anonymous Stephen said...

I left a comment here a few days ago, but I guess something went wrong.

Your post was very insigtful. I think I would fit your definition of a reader, and probably have for some time. More and more, however, I do see the great importance and enrichment of reading good, solid books, books that make me think.

As an aside, I still value the time I spent reading fiction as a child (that sounds wierd, "as a child") because those books also make me think; they make me think in a narrative way, in a creative, inspirational way. I still cherish the times I can capture for good fiction.

Lately, with my work schedule being extra crazy--- with landscaping and self employment, I have to work till dark fairly often--- I don't have much time for reading. Thus, I have learned lessons on capitalizing on what I do find time to read. I read, and then I try to give concentrated effort to ruminate upon what I have read.

5/19/2007 11:30 PM

 

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