Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Should We Read?

The following post is part of a talk I gave at the MI homeschool convention in May of this year. During my talk I wanted to explain to people not only how to read with Christian discernment, but also why we read in the first place.

Photo Credit

Why do we read?  

Certainly every book lover comes up against this question at some point. Why do I read? Why do I love these these stories? What benefit do they serve? Is it really glorifying and serving God to read about the knight saving the fair maiden and the good king prevailing at the end of a long and bloody combat?

We all answer this question in similar ways. "I'm reading a story that illustrates courage," we say, "or sacrificial love", or "family ties". In essence, we pull out character qualities that are worthy of imitation and use those as our reason for justifying the particular story we pick up. But whether we are reading fiction or nonfiction or biography, book-lovers crave affirmation of their passion. Certainly there are many people who consider reading a waste of time--an alternate reality that cannot compare to real life activities. But for the bibliophile, reading is something more. It's a thirst, zeal, similar to that a musician feels when listening to a piece of music they want to play, or an artist feels looking at a landscape they would love to paint.  It's a love that's hard to explain. And we know instinctively, though we find it hard to put into words, that reading books is important--vital to our mental and spiritual well-being.

We need a defensible and biblical explanation of why we read. Biblical apologetics apply to much more than science and theology and practical living. It applies to every area of life: fiction included.  And we need to do more than recognize our love for reading. We need to study it, to make it a God-honoring love.
In Colossians 2:1-5 we read a key foundation for why reading is so vital. Paul writes: "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ."

Our goal as Christians should be to know the Christ who died for us. To know him better and deeper all the days of our life. When we read, our reason should be to know Christ.
John 1:1 says that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Christ chose to reveal himself to us with his physical presence, but also with the use of language and words. Time and again he told his messengers to write his words down with ink and paper, that the truth he gave them might be preserved forever. Written books that conform to biblical standards and laws are preserved statements of truth.

Very well then, books in themselves are biblically defensible, but what about fiction? To answer this question, we look again at a specific phrase in Colossians. "In Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." I did a little word study using the helps on a Bible website I utilize quite often, and found some interesting information. The Greek word for knowledge here is gnosis, a feminine noun derived from /inṓskō, which means to "experientially know"-- a functional or working knowledge gleaned from personal experience, which connects the theory to the application.

Fiction helps connect the theory to the application of that theory. Jesus did this many times in Scripture. With the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the tax-collector, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, he used story to connect the head-knowledge to the heart-knowledge. In the Old Testament we see Nathan telling a story to convict David of his sin, and God told the Israelites not only to pass on the principles they were to live by, but also the stories from their history in which His grace and power was show.

When we read fiction, we are also exercised in an important skill that all Christians need to know. Another purpose of gaining knowledge or reading is "that no one may delude us with plausible arguments"--or in other words, philosophies that go against the principles and character of God.  It's easy to distinguish false knowledge in a philosophy text. But when real people are deluded or trying to delude us, it's generally not that simply put forth. When we learn to distinguish falsehood in story, we are applying the principles we learn in nonfiction to living examples. It's very similar to doing story problems. You can work out the Pythagorean Theorem to the last degree, but the story problems show you why the concepts matter in real life.

 We need both kinds of books. People who read only fiction generally struggle with having a solid theological foundation for their beliefs. And people who read only nonfiction tend to struggle with relating with others in real-life. But people who read and treasure each kind can not only know what they should believe, but apply it with love and grace to those around them.  

Seeking after knowledge through books is vital so that we may be firmly grounded in the faith. That we may be able to defend everything, from the existence of God to the application of biblical justice in our favorite mystery. It is important that we learn wisdom and knowledge to know Christ, and to avoid the empty philosophies of the world.

 Chances are that many of you being homeschooled have probably heard of the four learning styles. Well, if you're a reader like me, you're most likely a visual learner. Visual learners love reading materials--love books so much that they don't always need bookmarks, because they can precisely remember where information is located on a page.   This is the way God has wired us book lovers to seek after the knowledge of Christ. He has created us to crave written words and to love stories because that is the way He wants us to use to know Him more.

Once we know why we read, we are then ready to learn how to read with discernment.
For a long time for me, reading was a fun thing. I would hear about these people who evaluated the books they read, and that sounded beyond dull. Who would ever want to pick apart a good story?  Reading is supposed to be relaxing. This attitude may not have done much damage when I was twelve. But as I grew older, I realized what a faulty foundation my mindset was built on. That's like eating whatever you want, no matter whether it's good for you or not, and a very damaging habit if not overcome fairly quickly. Gradually, as I begin blogging and sharing title suggestions with others, God gave me a delight for evaluating the books I was reading, inspired in some part by the responsibility I felt to make sure my recommendations were good ones.  It is so rewarding to take your reading a little deeper than surface level and discover the joys and the philosophies behind the characters you love.
It is our duty, while we take pleasure in our reading, to make sure that we are guarding the philosophies that enter our mind. Some people guard their intellect by sheltering it and end up stunting it; but one of the key verses I've found to define my reading is one I've mentioned before here on the blog. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says: For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ 

It takes effort to read with discernment; but it is a rewarding exercise, and you get so much more out of the book then saying "Oh, this book looks all right, maybe I'll give it a try." Guarding our hearts and minds is an active thing and requires a little digging and research. Being wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil takes much prayer and vigilance.

However, we want to make sure that we're not only guarding our hearts, but feeding and growing them as well. That's why, though I look at all my books and take them captive to a Christian perspective, I read books from different worldviews. God's standards of truth are unchangeable, and non-Christian authors who are using good standards and good stories and good morals are borrowing them from God's moral framework, even if they don't acknowledge that. They can't help it, and they can't get away from it.
So how do we choose as a Christian? We choose with discernment those books that will grow us in the knowledge of Christ.  
 The most important thing when we're reading a book is entering it with the mindset that we as the reader are the one in charge. We accept or reject according to how it compares with the principles we find in Scripture. Sometimes we look at a book with the idea that the author is the expert, and who are we to contradict them? But God has made his wisdom available to all of us, and he wants us all to evaluate for ourselves. A book is not good merely because the author is a Christian or bad merely because the author is not--but how does it line up with God's standards? And when we're coming to our reading with a spirit of leadership, we are able to take captive whatever we find to the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. -James 1:5
Because we're on different journeys with different convictions, you may choose to endorse and enjoy different titles than I do. That's a good thing. The goal is not that we all read the same books, but that we all read with the same mindset--a mindset of seeking to know our Lord and know His truth. 
Our time is not our own; and we must make sure that we are using it in a way that honors Christ. There have been several times where I've pitched a book simply because it's not good enough--and I would encourage you fellow book lovers to do so too. Read what you love, and what you enjoy--and spend your time on that. Most of us now are getting less and less time to read, since we're growing into adulthood and taking on more responsibilities--so it is essential that we read that which is most beneficial to our minds and most precious to our hearts. 

Lady Bibliophile

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed seeing you do this at the INCH convention! You did great, and I'm glad you put the visual up on your blog! It was great to review it again. ;)


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