By Will Dole
The written word may be going by the wayside as the latest technology tantalizes the eyes of viewers through high-definition images at every turn. It seems reading black words on a white page is becoming a bore to a growing generation of young men desiring increased visual stimulation.
Ever stop and think what would happen to the world, if people—especially Christian men called to lead—quit reading? What would happen to our little piece of the world if we became apathetic about reading?
Whether we are responsible for a nation, church, family, small group or contingent of loved ones and friends, as men, we need to always be reading good books. Of course, we can never read too much of God’s Word, but outside of that we also need to read books which encourage us to hold fast to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, move us to trust in God alone and remind us to live by faith alone.
Does this oppose our acceptance of scripture alone to be our rule of faith and life?
Not at all. Part of our Berean responsibility and privilege is to diligently examine Scripture to see if what we are reading from someone else is true (Acts 17:11). We are enabled to do this through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
So, wouldn’t it make more sense to stick to the Bible and forget all this other reading and verifying? It would be less work, anyway.
Let’s look at the rationale for reading good books that is particularly applicable to young men.
First of all, reading introduces ideas from outside our own head. Proverbs 14:12 tells us that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This means that depending merely on our own thoughts will not serve well in the long run, even if they are thoughts about the Bible.
Our natural tendency is to become set in our ways, insulating ourselves from both criticism and those who may disagree with us. If we allow this to happen, our minds will not be sufficiently challenged. If we remain unchallenged, we can become blind to our own sin and ignorant to our own errors which could lead to a hardened heart incapable of being corrected. However, reading good biblical content can combat this natural sinful tendency we have toward a selfish and callous heart.
Reading what other authors have to say pays off because since they don’t know us personally, they are not writing for our approval. They write to espouse what they believe to be correct, and their opinion will occasionally, or perhaps often, contradict our own. This forces us to interact with concepts with which we do not agree. We then, return to Scripture viewing it in a new light. We study God’s Word to see how it applies. Our ideas, thoughts and opinions may be changed in the process, and as long as we aren’t changing the core beliefs of the gospel of Christ, that can be a good thing and part of God’s sanctification process to make us more and more like His Son.
There’s another reason we should read a lot. Reading fights the Laodicean Principal. It keeps us from becoming lukewarm, lazy or lethargic. Reading spurs. It jabs. It pokes and prods. How easy it is for us to become lax in our faith? For example, we might assume that because we aren’t having sex outside marriage, doing drugs or haven’t killed anyone lately that somehow we’re alright. We can quickly begin to think we don’t need the mercy of God. We may think we are healthy and have no need of a doctor, forgetting the very purpose of Christ, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). How utterly wrong we are! We need others to gently expose the fallacies we embrace which subconsciously elevate our works and subtly diminish the gift of perfection we have received from God through faith in Christ. We need voices from outside to call us out, to illuminate blind spots and point out unseen weaknesses.
It has been said that it is not books that change lives, but sentences. For example, a teacher may need to communicate only a few points during a lecture, yet the all other information provided within the session is often vital for our ability to fully understand those main points.
For example, in his fictional work, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes a sinister demon who instructs a lesser demon on how to draw a Christian away from God. The striking point Lewis makes is how often the regular, mundane and even good things of life can pull our attention away from God. It’s easy to intellectually agree with this grave possibility, but when we allow ourselves to ponder the idea and soak in the creative ways Lewis communicates this thought over the course of the hours, days, weeks or however long it takes for us to complete reading the book, we may find that we are motivated enough to take the necessary action to avoid such a regrettable demise. That’s much better than just understanding the main point.
So, we should read. We need to read the Bible over and over. Once a strong foundation is built on His gospel of grace and the person of Christ is well known, then we can start reading books that come from trusted sources with trusted theologies. After we cut our teeth on works such as these, we should branch out to fiction and other views which we not so readily embrace. We can grab a book like Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, if needed. Read for 15 minutes per day in bite-sized chunks that we can easily digest as we begin to gain speed. Read for hours at a time, if possible, just make sure to read!
Still don’t know where to start?
Here’s a short list of books that helped me:
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller—a new look at the most famous parable, maybe even at Christianity, itself.
The Holiness of God by RC Sproul—exposes the radical nature of sin in light of the Holy God it offends.
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper—a call to something more than just exist in this life.
Basic Christianity by John Stott—a clear explanation and defense of Christianity.
Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears—a topical summary of biblical teachings, easy to read and very helpful.