I came to faith in Christ while in high school, and ever since then I have been a lover of the Book, i.e., the Bible. It didn’t take me long, though, to fall in love with books in general—all kinds. I started off with Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Not Even A Hint (which since then has been retitled, Sex Is Not the Problem, Lust Is). I later moved on to John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to the Apostles and came to grips with what the gospel was (and was not). During my college years I came across J. C. Ryle’s Holiness, which for me opened whole new vistas on the nature of sanctification in the believer’s life.
But I didn’t simply read Christian books. I quickly began devouring stories like The Chronicles of Narnia (okay, you can quibble about that one) and Harry Potter and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For two years, almost every Saturday morning with a cup of coffee, I worked my way through David McCullough’s wonderful retelling of President John Adams. I could endlessly go on and share how different books have come into my life and have helped me think better and see the world differently.
But I will say this, in many ways we are what we read. Though not always perceived, books make certain indelible impressions upon the reader. We will not always be aware of the mark they are making, but unquestionably books are molding us and refining us, allowing us to expand our thinking, to venture into worlds unknown and times not our own.
While there is a shift now taking place with the emergence of the e-book, I believe books—actual printed works with covers in-between—will continue to have an integral role in our society, not least in the presentation and exchange of ideas, and in the simple yet beautiful act of painting with words as stories unfold and worlds are created and history is retold and leaders are formed. All this is but a foretaste of the power of books.
I say all that to simply set the stage for why I so enjoyed reading Tony Reinke’s new book, Lit!: A Christian Guide To Reading Books. I think Leland Ryken’s blurb got it right:
“Reinke writes with an infectious and winsome enthusiasm. It is hard to imagine a reader of this book who would not catch the spark for reading after encountering Reinke’s excitement about reading and his carefully reasoned defense of it.”
I picked up the book today and could not put it down. As a lover of books, to say I enjoyed it is an understatement. I was instructed and challenged all throughout. In the first half Reinke gives us the theological underpinnings of reading from within a Christian worldview. And in the latter half of the book he offers some practical advice on reading, ranging from how to decide what to read to note-taking in the marginalia to reading together with others in community. Rather than giving a thorough review of the book, I’ll just provide some of the quotes that resonated with me or simply made a point very well.
Here they are. Enjoy.
“The concern is whether Christians … will be patient enough to find meaning embedded in words, or if we will grow content with the superficial pleasures offered to us in the rapidly shifting images in our culture…. [A]s a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode.”
“We do not yet live in the age of the eye; we live in the age of the ear, we live in the age of revelation and promises and books…. For now we sing, ‘Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight.’ “
“The difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning.”
“Revealed truth does not answer all the questions in life, but it does provide a framework for understanding everything else.”
“Christians can read a broad array of books for our personal benefit, but only if we read with discernment. And we will only read with discernment if the biblical convictions are firmly settled in our minds and hearts. Once they are, we have a touchstone to determine what is pure gold and what is worthless.”
“God is the source of all beauty, and beautiful literature written by non-Christians is a gift from the Giver. And it’s a gift to he enjoyed.”
“Mature readers know when to read quickly and when to read slowly…. Each book has its own terrain…. The perceptive reader can read the terrain and shift gears in response.”
“We get one chance at this life. We have one body, one mind, and one life to live. Reading provides us with a vicarious experience of others’ lives.”
“Reading literature is about absorption, about bring lost in a story, and about delighting in the beautiful prose of a gifted writer.”
“Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist.”
“Book reading is not just a matter of time management; it’s a matter of warfare.”
“[W]e like distraction. We want distraction. Distraction is how we stay busy enough to avoid the self-discipline required to read books.”
“I am quick to Tweet and slow to think. I am quick to Google and slow to ponder.”
“Childlike faith in the gospel is an unsinkable buoy when we find ourselves drowning in the details of a books that is over our head.”
“In the good news of Jesus Christ, overwhelmed readers find peace, and joy, and the courage to keep reading…. We grab a new book and we press on, not as slaves bound to a chore, but as liberated sinners who read to delight in the gifts of our God. We press on, reading and thanking God for the light we do see in books, and for his illuminating grace that lights our way.”
Reinke near the end of the book makes the point that mature readers…
1) prize wisdom;
2) cherish old books;
3) keep literature in its place;
4) avoid making books into idols; and
5) cling to the Savior.
If you already are a reader or would simply like to begin building the experience of reading in your life, then this is a book for you. Tolle lege.
(UPDATE: Just for today — Feb. 26, 2013 — the Kindle version is marked down to $0.99. Get it here.)