Should Christians be readers?

by Gavin  

Should Christians be readers?

Should Christians be readers?

 

The SABC’S Hlaudi Motsoeneng thinks too much education is no good:

 

“All that many educated people know how to do is to read the whole day. They don’t have time to think.”

 

One could only hope that he was misquoted, but that was apparently part of his address to the SADTU national executive committee at Kopanong Conference Centre in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, on Wednesday 1st June 2016.  That is a bold, yet infinitely scary, statement.  The mind boggles at the long-term implications were that to be heeded by the countless listeners that would clutch on to that as an excuse to not read.

 

Enter the Christian thinker and prolific author, C.S. Lewis… A biographer records :

 

Lewis was born into a bookish family of Protestants in Belfast, Ireland. Eclectic in their reading tastes, they purchased and read “endless” books. “There were books in the study, books in the dining room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds,” Lewis remembered, and none were off-limits to him. On rainy days—and there were many in northern Ireland—he pulled volumes off the shelves and entered into worlds created by authors such as Conan Doyle, E. Nesbit, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

Now, look at Lewis’ life and influence.  One has to question whether he would have developed such weighty thoughts, contributed so much to the literature and thought of Christendom, and being responsible for such prolific and meaningful literary output, were it not for the shaping and formative influences gained by his reading habits.  Surely Lewis’ own thinking was shaped by his engagement with the world, and authors from different backgrounds, traditions, opinions and era?  Surely his own thoughts would have been the weaker if he were not a reader?  Surely the world and Christian history would have been the poorer were it not for a solid foundation of mental process shaped by reading?  Generations of children (also readers, by the way!) would have been impoverished had they not had access to the magnificent “Chronicles of Narnia” series penned by Lewis, shaped no doubt by his own reading.

 

This is the self-same Lewis who gave this sage counsel :

 

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.

 

He advocated balance, seeing the value of older works and the insights from the past.

 

Now, juxtapose that wisdom against what the Chief Operations Officer of our national broadcaster is seemingly proposing… that education and reading appears to be a bad thing. Hmmm… really?  I wonder how C.S. Lewis would respond?  In fact, one wonders who will have the greater legacy in the world, and why?

 

That then begs the question as to whether Christians should be readers.  It should be a no-brainer that a regular diet of God’s eternal truth, as revealed I the Bible, should be normative for the Christian.  We need to hear and respond to God’s written revelation – that is true.  But beyond that?

 

Interestingly, as an historical vignette on the side, the origin of the Sunday School was founded on the need to see reading as a skill developed in children.  The earliest Sunday Schools focussed on education of children, providing instruction to poor working children on their only free day of the week. To be sure, the teachers used the Bible as their primary textbook, because evangelism and the inculcation of biblical truth was the core goal.   But reading as a means of upliftment was an essential purpose in this emerging ministry area.

 

Back to our main discussion then… should Christians read?  If so, what?  Let’s assume a solid and rich diet of biblical truth already features – we hope!  Delving into Scripture with a meditative, prayerful heart should be part and parcel of daily life for the believer.  But along with that there is much value in reading Christian books.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and the insights, observations and applications of wise and godly writers can be a means of growing, stretching and refining us.  Read!

 

John Piper notes that:

 

Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless God-besotted labor and aspiration

 

Warren Wiersbe challenged preachers in this way :

 

Every preacher ought to read books about words and good writing

 

I would encourage our Randburg Baptist Church to read – widely and broadly, but with discernment.  One doesn’t have to agree with everything that is written, but the mental engagement with material and thoughts can sharpen and shape us too.

 

Beyond that, surely a reading diet of the classics, biography, history, contemporary analysis etc is a critical means of just expanding your mind?  While not Christian per se, there is much wisdom and insight out in the world, made possible my God’s common grace.  Even a rank pagan can have much to offer in his analysis and thought on the world, current affairs and politics.  To be sure, it will lack a biblical worldview, but it doesn’t mean that we shy away from engaging on the thoughts, does it?  Different perspective, counter-views and critical debate help sharpen and refine our thoughts.

 

To close, let’s go back to Lewis for a moment.  In his book “An Experiment in Criticism,” Lewis explained that reading widely has two major benefits: (1) the opportunity to experience places we've never experienced before, and (2) the opportunity to think thoughts we've never before considered.

 

Surely, that is a good reason to read.  And good reasons for the Christian to read – to keep growing and being stretched, and to have our thoughts stimulated.  Hlaudi Motsoeneng thinks people should stop reading and just think… Lewis would no doubt disagree, and rightly so. 

2 comments

Comment from: Cobus [Visitor]
Cobus

Thanks Gav, I totally agree.I will forever be grateful to my Mom for encouraging us to read (we started with the Bible - my earliest memory). She also encouraged us to explore, and make decisions and mistakes, and then offered wise council. It is a legacy which can be passed on from generation to generation, and which can bare much fruit.
Just thought/ paraphrase on Mr Motsoeneng’s comment - “I think, therefore I am, therefore I stop!”

06/08/16 @ 08:13 pm
Comment from: Gavin [Member]

Thanks Cobus - legacy is a good word to use, and the effects of stimulated thought and stretched minds are then seen decades down the line. But if our current generations stop reading and just think, one wonder the content of the thoughts that occur…

06/09/16 @ 05:55 pm

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