I can remember back to my sophomore year in high school, and Mrs. Miller’s English class. I sat in the second-to-last row next to Jon McIntyre. It was that year that we read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a great book though I didn’t think so at the time. I remember the weight I felt when Mrs. Miller would assign us 20 pages of reading as homework for the night. 20 PAGES!!! I thought my life was going to end…do you know how long it was going to take for me to read 20 PAGES?! Probably about 25 minutes at the most… But that’s not the point. The point is, at that stage of my life, I hated to read. The last thing I wanted to do was sit still somewhere, and read some “dumb” novel for high school English class. All the while thinking to myself, “What on earth does this have to do with me?” And, “I wonder if they have CliffsNotes at Barnes & Noble? That way I can read a 20 page summary of the whole book, and save myself some valuable time that could be wasted on something worthwhile.”
I’m sure that I am not the only one who thought like this in high school…
As I grew up, went to college, and then graduate school, I longed for the days in Mrs. Miller’s English class when the reading assignment was 20 pages. I soon found out in the world of “higher education” that the reading requirement would be greatly increased. A common reading assignment, with all classes combined, now steadily grew into the hundreds of pages. However, the quantitative increase actually fostered in me a love for reading. Who would have thought? I actually began to like, even love, books and reading. The more I read, whether required or for pleasure, I realized there are some amazing books that have been written. I also realized how much I could learn. Conversely, I found out that for every good book written, there exists roughly 3x’s as much literary crap…
Now, I spend my days as a teacher handing out similar reading assignments. However, though there are some great literary works of both fiction and non-fiction (both sacred and secular), as a Bible teacher I have the pleasure of pointing my students to some incredible, Bible-saturated books! The challenge exists, though, in trying to convince my Jr. and Sr. high students that reading isn’t a punishment…as I once thought it was. And, I know that they don’t hate to read because, for some ridiculous reason (that I can’t muster the irrationality to understand), they spend little time on my assignments, and instead read teenage vampire romance novels. Then after doing poorly on the reading pop quiz, they ask me if I have ever read, or am going to read, the Twilight series. I kindly and definitively let them know there are thousands of books that I must read, and would be better for me, before I ever pick up anything by Stephenie Meyer.
As a Christian, it is my desire to think like one. After all, as Christians we are commanded to love the Lord with our entire mind. As well, I believe that right thinking, embraced and employed, leads to right living. One of the ways that I refine my thoughts about God and the Christian life, other than time spent in God’s Word, is to read the work of those who have had great thoughts about God and the Christian life (this is not to say that there isn’t literature outside the theological realm that is worth my time). From Athanasius and Augustine, to the Reformers and the Puritans, and on into the more modern day works of C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and J.I. Packer (only to name a few…), the affect that these works (when tested against the Scriptures) can have on growing the Christian mind is staggering.
C.H. Spurgeon said of Paul’s desire for books in 2 Timothy 4:13:
He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.
Oh that God would form in us the desire to read Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated books, and the discernment to avoid those that would be a waste of time!
Great books that I would recommend to you…
On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
The Glory of Christ, by John Owen
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper
The Reason for God, by Tim Keller
…these are, of course, only a few (some easier to read than others)…