I love words. We’ve already covered that. As may be expected then, I love to read. A wide variety of genres, really, but mostly I love to read good books. Books that make you think and encourage discussion. And I love that discussion, too. Well, usually…I don’t love discussion that dissolves into pointless argument, but I do love drawing out the positives and negatives within a book and the things about the Lord we can see and learn from it. Some books, of course, are completely packed with Biblical truth, whereas others may be Christian but written from a different theological viewpoint. Others may be written by Christian authors but not have an overtly theological nature, and of course most books are not Christian in the slightest, by author or subject matter. Does this mean any books outside of the specific theological category we may fall in are not worth reading? I don’t think so. Part of the wonder of God’s ability to reveal Himself is the fact that many, many books can have thought provoking concepts and faith-sharpening moments, regardless of whether we may disagree with part or most of them, or whether the authors even set out to demonstrate God at all. Now, does this mean that we as Christians should just rush headlong into the incredibly junk-saturated book market and read whatever we want? I wouldn’t recommend that either. Don’t read into my thoughts above a universal blanket statement to embrace all literature. There are a whole lot of books out there that are not worth reading in the slightest, and just as with all things in life, we as Christians must be discerning in what we ingest. What we put into our bodies (in all mediums) will result in what comes out. That is the essence of why we practice the spiritual disciplines, and for that matter, discipline of many forms! But more about that another time. Our discernment in what we ingest through reading is not only so it doesn’t cause us to sin in thought life or action, but also through a desire to honor God and steward both our intellect and our time. And though I want to say this carefully, I don’t believe the above statement applies only to “secular” books. The Christian book market is in some ways just as saturated as the secular, and there are plenty of Christian books out there that are probably not good uses of our intellect or time as well.
Of course there are also the factors of age, maturity, and specific interests. There are some books that I have read and considered worth reading personally, but would only recommend to a small group of discerning readers who would be able to sort through the considerable “junk” within them to find the pearls, and who would find that particular kind of pearl attractive, because of their life circumstances, background, or line of work. Similarly within Christian literature, a book may be well worth reading (in my opinion) with the exception of a few statements, sections, or theological conclusions. Depending on how much we’re talking about and how large the issue, some may want to reject the book as a whole, and that is sometimes appropriate. For example, if a book is openly defending multiple paths to God outside of Christ, that red flag is most likely a little too suffocating to see around. (This brings up an interesting side point of how sometimes I am likely to be more “forgiving” with a secular book because it clearly did not set out to support a Christian agenda. But when a book has placed itself under the umbrella of Christianity, I want to see it accurately representing that instead of defaming or watering it down from the inside.) But anyway…back on track: some of these books with minor sections of disagreement, as I said above, are still well worth reading. Would I recommend some to a brand new Christian for their spiritual growth, though? Probably not. Just as Scripture talks about milk and meat at different levels of maturity, not everyone is prepared for the same leveling of filtering required to draw the truth from certain books. Also, some books may be appropriate for someone wrestling within a certain sin area that may not be applicable, and could perhaps even be harmful, for someone who is not already in tune to a struggle in that area.
Okay, so why am I going on about all this anyway? Well, primarily because I love books. I’m passionate about them, love to talk about them, love to recommend them to others, and I want to see us making good and worthwhile choices in the things we read. There is so much depth and treasure out there within the pages of books that the Lord has given us for our access. Not only thoughts and experiences and wisdom from the lives of His children who have gone before (sometimes long before, sometimes more like beside), but also humor and imagery and entertainment and history and fantastical worlds and the beauty of good writing in and of itself, all of which can be gifts from the Lord as well. I want to help people discover those treasures. I want to help people sort through the massive stream of books out there to find those that are particularly appealing, useful, and edifying. I want to share some of the pearls I find along the way, or perhaps some of the junk (because of course that happens sometimes, despite our best intentions in choosing). I want to use my passion, and the time I have to pursue it right now, to sharpen others.
[Yeah, time. That’s problematic with reading, I won’t deny it. And there are some people who (I am learning to accept this… 😉 ) will just never like reading. (Although you probably haven’t made it this far into this blog post if so.) Many people, though, perhaps even most, will be reading something a lot of the time. How quickly we each progress through that something may vary, but shouldn’t a shortage of time and opportunity be all the more reason to endeavor to find worthwhile books in the first place? I have definitely felt the frustration that comes from finishing a book that ended up, for whatever reason, just not being worth the time devoted to it. It would help if I could stop reading those books halfway through, when I first realize this, but I tend to have issues with that…]
So, all that being said, I do read a lot of Christian thought, life and theology books. I am continually sharpened and challenged by them and find them a great tool of use by the Lord for my faith. And because I love discipleship and working with young adults, I am also continually searching for more resources to use in those settings and relationships. However, I also love good writing, and so I read a lot of classics, and “modern classics,” if such an idea exists. (It’d be nice if good subject matter was always indicative of good writing, or vice versa, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.) I do think it can be profitable to read current novels and popular fiction (both Christian and non), if doing so can help me to lend an informed Christian voice to the conversation, or if they’ve been recommended by someone I trust, but again, that is not a blanket statement for non-discerning reading. Did I read Blue Like Jazz and The Shack? yes. I also read the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games, and found things worth reading and discussing in all of them. But I have not, and never will, read Fifty Shades of Grey. (Does the reading of erotic novels by Christian women and girls need to be addressed and discussed? yes. Do we need to read the book to have those conversations? no. Thankfully, many Christian female bloggers are addressing these issues and having these conversations: If you’re interested in some worthwhile posts regarding this book specifically, all from a female Christian wife and mother perspective, check out Jenny Rae Armstrong, Karen Yates, and Jonalyn Fincher‘s articles.)
I’ve written all this because there’s going to be a lot more to come about books on here as long as this blog continues: quotes, book reviews, recommendations, and discussions. It’s something I care about, find worth spending time within, and see the Lord’s fingerprints all over. So before launching into too many reviews or lists or thoughts from current reads, I wanted you to know where I am coming from, and why I think it matters.
There’s a verse I love to bring up in this discussion that follows on the heels of the well-known threefold command in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks…” The next three commands are not as well known or often quoted, but I believe apply beautifully to this topic, and connect the passage as a whole from those first commands to the exultant promise with which it ends,
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things, hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
J.B. Phillips’ translation says it this way, which I think casts further light, “Never damp the fire of the Spirit, and never despise what is spoken in the name of the Lord. By all means use your judgment, and hold on to whatever is good.”
The Spirit can use many means to feed the fire in us. The Lord can instruct us in many ways through those who speak in His name. But by all means, use your judgment, and hold fast; in what you read, speak, and share; to what is good.
February 8, 2013 at 6:17 am
Awesome post – thanks Age!
February 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm
Love your thoughts on literature! And I agree with you on the 50 Shades point, most definitely.