When I was in high school I hated to read. I despised reading until my pastor handed me two John Piper books. I have been a reader ever since and my faith has benefited greatly. In the coming days I will be giving a list of books that I have truly benefited from this year. But before I do, I wanted to express several reasons for my radical change from a book hater to a lover of the written word and how my faith has benefited.
1. I have watched less television. TV can be quite numbing to the mind, hardening to the heart, and teasing to the soul. We are teased with temporary pleasures in the form of mindless entertainment. Books give us something deeper. Some books that is. I am not saying that I have given up TV entirely. I am not to that point yet. My wife and I still enjoy watching certain programs like Criminal Minds. And I watch some sports shows, documentaries, and, of course, many games.
I believe that even television can at times be beneficial when viewed through a Christian worldview. The pervasiveness of sin is clearly seen in Criminal Minds perhaps, along with other themes that can help our minds and hearts grow in the gospel. Nevertheless, overall television cannot give the soul lasting satisfaction the way a good book can, not to mention the eternal satisfaction that comes from the life-giving truth of Scripture.
2. The insights, experiences, and imaginations of many writers. My faith has grown through reading because of what and who I have read. Reading influential theologians, helpful pastors, experienced missionaries, talented wordsmiths, and imaginative authors that all point to Christ (intentionally or not) in Scripture has helped me to see and savor Jesus in fuller ways. Men like D.A. Carson, J.I. Packer, John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, Kevin DeYoung, John Frame, Wayne Grudem, and many others have greatly benefited the church through their writings and their insights will only nurture the Christian soul. And writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have awakened our minds to worlds unimaginable.
3. The more books I read the more fulfilled I am with the Book. Not only do the majority of the books I read point me to the Bible, but the more I read the more satisfied I become with the written word. If you fill your day with nothing but images, the written word will not thrill you, your imagination and thought process will be greatly debilitated, and you will become too easily satisfied. Our minds and hearts can become so easily desensitized to the countless images that come our way via TV, Internet, phones, tablets, etc. It is notable that the God of the universe chose to reveal himself to us through the written Word. How amazing is this passage after all:
When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. And the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and on them were all the words that the LORD had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And at the end of the forty days and forty nights the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant (Deuteronomy 9:9-11)
So, the more familiar, comfortable, and satisfied I have become with reading many forms of literature, the more I have come to desire to read Scripture, which provides ultimate satisfaction.
4. Reading expands the mind. Reading allows you to further your knowledge of a particular subject or topic and gives you the arsenal to be prepared to discuss various positions. That is why I enjoy reading books by men and women I disagree with. It helps sharpen my own worldview or theological position. For example, earlier this year I read both For Calvinism and Against Calvinism (I also read Arminian Theology and more recently Five Points). Reading these two together was very helpful in forming intelligent thoughts and developing accurate depictions of two opposing soteriological systems (Calvinism and Arminianism). The point is that reading expands the mind. Television has the tendency to muddy our thought process and inhibit deep thinking.
The more I read, the more deeply I think about Christian truths, and the more clearly I can see the glory of God in Jesus. The more I read, the more familiar I become with various worldviews. Reading breeds understanding, which makes practical ministry much more tenable.
5. Reading engages the heart. Nothing can soften your heart like reading a good book that gets at your emotions. Good writers can pierce readers’ hearts in all the right ways. John Piper is one pastor-theologian who is uncanny at tugging at my emotions. I cannot help but be led to worship after reading something he has written. Descriptions of characters, scenes, or realities go much deeper and are much richer in books than they are on TV. It is good to have your emotions tugged from time to time. Christians need their affections stirred for Christ and saturating in books gives great practice at being emotionally stirred by the written word.
Because of these reasons (and there are more), I plan to read even more books in 2014 than I did in 2013, as I pray that I will glorify God through what I read, how I read, and the effect reading has on my mind and heart. I want to continue to grow in Christlikeness, and I have found in the past five years that reading does this far greater than any other form of entertainment. I want to relish, cherish, and treasure Christ more than I ever have before. I believe a way to foster this is to read and read well.