Regular readers of the blog, and those who know me will be well aware that I love reading. This hasn’t always been a passion and love of mine however. Before my conversion the only books I had ever read were Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls and the parts of Macbeth that I really had to read. Of course all of that was for English Literature in school. As a Christian, however, my desire to read grew and developed, and as I reflect on reading permit me to suggest four reasons why Christians should be readers.
Aids Bible Reading
The Bible is literature. To be sure it is God’s very word; it is true, without error, and living and active. But it is also literature. Scripture is words, in sentences, in paragraphs, in books. Therefore, we should be readers because reading will aid our Bible reading.
I am not suggesting that we grab the heaviest commentary we can find, read it and then we will understand everything Scripture says. Rather as we read a variety of books – theology, novels, poetry, character studies, history, science-fiction – we will become familiar with a variety of styles of writing, the use of language and grammar, and the individual characteristics of authors. In doing so we will then be better equipped to read and understand Scripture. After all the Bible consists of poetry books, historical books, apocalyptic books; the Bible has many different human authors all bringing their own distinctive style into play; within books there is parable, allegory, proverb, sermon and prophecy.
Unless we are experts in English literature it is very difficult for us to begin to comprehend and learn all of the subtleties of language. However, if we read widely over an extended period of time we will naturally (and not too taxingly) develop an understanding of literature. In doing so we will be aided in reading our Bibles better.
Supplements our Teaching in Church
Your pastor may love you, he may pour hours into his study and teaching of Scripture, he may work tirelessly at applying the principles of Scripture to the world around you, and you may know and appreciate that. However, your pastor (as good as he may be) cannot be an expert in everything. Indeed, given the busyness of pastoral ministry it may be difficult for him to have expertise in anything (jack of all trades, master in none). Therefore, it would benefit you to read experts in particular fields.
There is a myriad of different areas of life that your pastor or elders may not be able to speak to: same-sex attraction, inability to conceive, Christianity in the political world, transgender issues, suffering, depression, music, art, Christianity in the law courts, or the stock markets, child protection issues, and on we could go. It is not feasible that a few men can possess an in-depth knowledge of all of the issues that their individual members are going to face.
So how do you cope with those issues? The tricky theological issues, or the sensitive life-setting questions? Read the experts. There are thousands upon thousands of experts all across the world – people who have spent 14 years researching the emotional, spiritual and physical issues surrounding the inability to conceive. Biblical counsellors who have devoted their life to studying and helping those suffering from depression. Doctoral students who have forsaken everything to understand some tricky theological concept. We should not overlook God’s goodness in providing these people to offer us expertise in areas where we need it.
Reading cannot and should not replace the teaching we receive in our home church, but it most certainly can supplement it.
Broadens our Horizons
We are all individuals, and for that reason we all approach certain topics from particular vantage points. Consequently, when we pick up a book on a particular topic we are likely to have our eyes opened to another angle or issue that we had not previously thought of or considered much. For example, I recently picked up a book on Martin Luther. I had read lots about the great reformer – his feisty character, sharp wit and utter determination. However, this author applied all of this to Luther’s preaching. I had never really considered Luther a preacher before and this angle helped broaden my horizons.
The more we read, the wider our horizon becomes. Perhaps a novel will reveal a character trait of humanity that you’ve not noticed before; or a practical theology book will remind you that all illness is not caused by spiritual forces; or your favourite author will say something crazy that will let you know they are human after all. As we read our eyes will be opened to things we have not noticed before or just did not know. Consequently, we will have our horizon’s broadened – and that is a good thing.
We are people of Knowledge and Truth
As Christians we are people of knowledge and truth:
These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgements that are true and make for peace (Zech. 8:16)
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another (Eph. 4:25)
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth (1 Jn. 3:18)
While God is the source of all truth, in his goodness and grace he has used means to impart that truth to his people. Some of those means are authors and books. If we love knowledge and truth we will read so that we are comforted, corrected and made certain in the truth.