The Case for Reading: Why Christians Should Be Readers

I believe, along with Jesus, that Christians should use all their minds to love God (Matt. 22:37). One of the best ways of loving God with all our minds is to read. I believe that all Christians should be, on some level, readers. The following is my argument for why we should be readers. Of course, there’s a danger in trying to convince people who don’t normally read to read, because in order to do so, those people have to read this article. If you don’t read much, please take a few minutes to read this article. I’ll try to be clear and brief.

God Gave Us a Book

The first reason why we should read is that God gave us a book, or an anthology of 66 books. Of course, I’m talking about God’s written Word, the Bible. Think about this: God could have ordered and arranged history so that, instead of the Bible, we had a collection of pictures to look at, or a set of DVDs to watch. But God didn’t do that. He gave us a book. God chose to reveal himself in specific ways through the written word. Yes, the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). Yes, creation points to a powerful, eternal, divine Creator (Rom. 1:20). Yes, even our consciences testify to the existence of God (Rom. 2:14-15). But those things don’t give us many details about who God is, who we are, what our problem is, and how that problem can be solved. If we want to know anything specific about God and how to relate to him, we need to read the Bible.

The fact that God has chosen to reveal himself to us through his written Word, the Bible, gives us a hint that there’s something about the written word that is important. God could have revealed himself to us in a series of pictures, or in a number of videos, or even through his audible voice (he could speak an individualized message to us each day). So what is it that sets the written word apart from pictures, audio, and video?

Why the Written Word Is Special

The written word is more specific than pictures. Sure, God could communicate to us in a series of pictures that, when put together, present a story. But a series of pictures would leave too much to our interpretation. We would have to guess at the meaning. We need God’s message to be clearer, more specific, and more precise.

Then why didn’t God give us audio or video? Wouldn’t it be great to see video of Jesus performing miracles? Wouldn’t it be great to at least hear his voice on a CD or on an MP3 recording? Well, yes, these things would be great. But I think the written word is even better for the following reasons.

One, when we watch videos, we are passively engaged. It’s very easy to watch TV, movies, or clips on YouTube without thinking too much. Video doesn’t require us to think critically. We sit back and the images wash over us. The same can happen when we listen to recordings. But when we read, we are actively engaged. Unless we force our eyes to continue moving and our brains to continue thinking, we won’t continue to read. Also, reading forces us to use our critical thinking abilities as well as our imagination. In order to follow an author’s argument, we have to think. Concentrated thinking is what we need in this age of distraction.

Two, when we read, we must pay attention to everything the author writes. Have you ever tried listening to an audio book while driving a car? How often do you “space out” and not pay attention? Have you ever spaced out (or nodded off) during a sermon? If you’re like me, your attention may drift. I’ve listened to audio books while driving, walking the dog, or doing yard work. Sometimes, I focus well. At other times, my attention wanders. When I catch myself drifting, I could try to rewind and go back to the place when I last paid attention. But that is difficult to do. (If we’re listening to or watching something live, it’s impossible to do that.) Also, when listening to an audio book, or sermon, or lecture, I will hear something that forces me to stop and think. Perhaps the author/speaker says something that I haven’t heard before, or something that requires me to chew on for a bit in order to process the information. When I’m listening to a recording, it’s not always easy to pause. But when I read, if I am to continue, I must pay attention. Every once in a while, I may find myself thinking about something else while my eyes glaze over the words on a page in front of me. But I catch myself and I can easily go back and re-read what I had been reading inattentively. If I read something that I need to think deeply about, I can re-read that sentence or paragraph. Or I can stop and think for a while and then continue when I’m ready.

Three, when something is written down, it’s easier to refer back to it. The written world is also public information. (That’s why the written word is better than some private, audible voice from God. If only we heard that, how could we prove to others that God spoke to us?) We can easily quote the Bible by providing the book, chapter, and verse. We can quote other books by referring to page numbers. And when we see something written, we can read it again and again. Think about Paul’s letters to Timothy. In his second letter to his younger colleague, he writes, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). How could Timothy think over what Paul said if he didn’t have Paul’s words written down? Sure, we can think when we hear or see something. But the written word demands thought. Paul’s desire to continue learning and thinking is demonstrated in his command to Timothy in that same letter: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). Whether Paul had Scripture or other writings in mind, we don’t know. But it seems clear that he wanted to read while he was in prison.

Four, reading helps us to have a deeper understanding of an issue. News stories on TV and radio only go so deep. Sound bites and memes only go so far. If we want to learn more, we’ll have to read. Reading is simply the best way to gather information.

We Read to Sharpen the Mind

Now that I’ve given us some reasons to see why the written word is different from, and superior to, video and audio, let’s think about why we should read.

Let’s go back to the idea of loving God with all our minds (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). In order to love God and live for him, we need to learn how to think well. We need to discern what is true and what is false. We need to learn the content of the Bible, how to interpret that content, and how to apply it to every area of our lives. That requires learning and thinking. It is through the renewal of our minds that we are transformed (Rom. 12:2). That transformation won’t occur unless we learn how to think Christianly. And learning how to think as Christians probably won’t happen apart from reading.

We Read to Know God’s Word

The most important book we will read is the Bible. The Bible is a long book, and it takes a while to read. The Bible has 1189 chapters. According to one count, there are 757,058 words in the English Standard Version.[1] There are about 550 words on this page. That means that if the Bible were printed with the type-setting you see on this page, it would be 1,376 pages. If you want to read the Bible in one year, you have to read 3.26 chapters per day, or 3.77 pages per day. That’s certainly possible. But you won’t read the whole Bible if you don’t read on a regular basis. And if you don’t know the Bible, you are essentially gagging God. He has spoken in his Word. Are you listening? If you want to know God, read the whole Bible, and when you finish, read it again.

We Read to Know How to Read God’s Word

I’ve benefitted enormously from reading other books besides the Bible. Yes, these books are not inerrant and infallible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from others. After all, Jesus has given the church, among other people, “teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:11-14). I have read a number of books that have taught me how to read the Bible. Besides being long, the Bible is complicated and was written in different times and cultures than ours. That means we have a bit of homework to do to read the Bible well. If you want to read the Bible well, you probably need to read some other books, too.

We Read to Know How to Apply God’s Word

In addition to knowing God’s Word and how to read it, we need to know how to apply biblical principles to all of life. We can benefit from the writings of those who have thought long and hard about how the Bible applies to marriage, raising children, politics, finances, work, and a number of other issues. The core message of Christianity is so simple that a child can grasp it. Yet its implications are so extensive that it takes a lifetime to understand how it relates to all of life.[2]

We Read to Know More about God’s World

As I indicated above, God has revealed something of himself in his world. So, the more we know about God’s world, the more we can be amazed at how great God is. When we learn about science, such as the complexity of the laws of physics or the design of our bodies, we can be in awe of God’s creative powers. When we read about history, we can wonder at God’s providence. When we read biographies of creative and heroic people, we see the image of God reflected in their lives.

We Read to Develop Our Imaginations

Reading fiction is important, because it helps us understand human nature better. The best authors of fiction force us to reflect more deeply on real life. And fiction also helps us to imagine what the world could be. However, we must read good quality fiction. Quality Christian fiction should cause us to reflect on God’s world in powerful ways. We can also learn from non-Christian fiction, too. The doctrine of common grace shows us that even non-Christians have a grasp of truth. (That’s why Paul can quote two Greek poets in Acts 17:28.)

What if I’m Not a Good Reader?

I don’t expect us all to read an equal amount. Some of us are faster readers than others. Some of us are more interested in reading than others. But I still think everyone should read. Think about this: We should all take care of our bodies. God gave us our bodies. They are good gifts to be used for his glory. Paul indicates that exercise is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8). We all know we should eat a healthy diet and exercise. That doesn’t mean all of us will be nutritionists and athletes. But we should still try to eat healthy food and get some exercise, even if it’s just walking. If we take care of our bodies, we can use our bodies to work for God’s kingdom. In the same way, all of us can read a bit, even if we’re not academics or pastors or Bible teachers. We can all use our minds for the work of God’s kingdom.

Some of us are better listeners than readers. Some of us are too busy to read a lot. In that case, I would recommend listening to audio books. You can borrow audio books from your local library or buy them through various retailers. Christianaudio.com sells audio books and they offer a free book in a digital format each month. You can download the files to a computer and put them on CDs, your smart phone, or your MP3 player. Christianaudio.com also offers an app so your audio books can be downloaded directly to your phone or tablet.

My last word of encouragement: If you don’t actively read something that is good for your mind, you will be shaped and affected by something. And most of the messages and information that comes our way is not Christian and not true. C. S. Lewis wrote, “If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated.”[3] But not all the world is Christian. Therefore, we have to “prepare our minds for action” (1 Pet. 1:13) and learn how to discern truth from lies. The unread mind is an unarmed mind.

What Should I Read?

Not all books are worth reading, so choose wisely. Feel free to ask me for book recommendations. We have a list of recommended books on our website: https://wbcommunity.org/reading. WORLD, a Christian magazine, honors what they believe to be the best books of the year.[4] The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association has annual award winners, too.[5] You can also look at the titles in our library in the foyer. I plan to write more about the library in the very near future.

Notes

  1. “Bible Statistics,” True Paradigm, August 26, 2012, http://bethyada.blogspot.com/2012/08/bible-statistics.html.
  2. One of my favorite theologians, D. A. Carson, puts it this way: “This massive worldview touches everything, embraces everything. It can be simply put, for it has a center; it can be endlessly expounded and lived out, for in its scope it has no restrictive perimeter.” D. A. Carson, “Athens Revisited,” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 387.
  3. “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 58.
  4. https://world.wng.org/2016/06/2016_books_of_the_year.
  5. http://christianbookexpo.com/christianbookawards/winners2016.php.

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