Christians are readers. We love books because we love truth, and truth is conveyed through propositional statements. We love to think because our minds are in service to God, who invented thought. We love to reason, because the author of reason is the one who gave us logic. We love emotions, because they are often a reflection of the passions that God designed us to express.
Christians read devotionals to increase our devotion to God. We read systematic theologies to challenge our thinking, and to teach us about God. We read novels because we understand the human experience through opened eyes and a sympathetic heart. We appreciate beauty in story because we are participants in the most profound story ever told.
But reading can be overwhelming. Where to start, how to find time, and what to do with a bad book are all questions that Christian readers continually face.
And Christian readers read differently than non-Christians. We like different books (do non-Christians read MacArthur and Piper?), and we respond to the same books differently (I’m sorry, but non-Christians—no matter how hard they try—just don’t get Atlas Shrugged).
Tony Reinke has written a book that not only answers questions about who to read and how to read them, but also explains why Christians approach books differently than the world. Lit: A Christian’s Guide to Reading Books, is the first book I have ever read on how to read. And it is excellent. Reinke answers the obvious questions, and he seeks to be practical. He explains how to choose a book, how and why to write in your book, and when to quit a bad book.
Reinke—who blogs at spurgeon.wordpress.com—is an exceptional writer. He creates vivid word pictures that the reader can relate with, and he keeps his chapters moving. The book flows quickly, and it never feels old or redundant. The chapters are all well placed, and (with the exception of his chapter on Revelation, which I’m not sure I tracked with) they all add to the main point of the book, which is that Christians should not only read, but read well.
The strength of Lit is that Reinke approaches reading through the lens of Scripture. He divides all books into two catagories: the Bible, and everything else. Or, to put it differently, 66 perfect books, and an almost infinite number of flawed books (“paper pulp and etched granite”). However, his most insightful point was that the area where all other books are flawed is precisely the point at which they deviate from the story of the Bible. It is not just that the Bible is perfect, but it is also the measure and guide by which we read every other book. Novels falter when they deviate from the virtues of the Bible. Business books fail when they leave biblical ethics. Ditto with theology books:
Scripture is the ultimate grid by which we read every book. Scripture is perfect, sufficient and eternal. All other books, to some degree, are imperfect, deficient, and temporary. That means that when we pick books from the bookstore shelves, we read those imperfect books in light of the perfect Book, the deficient books in light of the sufficient Book, and the temporary books in light of the eternal Book.
But Reinke is not a book-burning fundamentalist. He goes to great lengths to show how Christians can and should read novels, historical fiction, poetry, etc. He explains why non-Christian authors can sometimes portray beauty in a profound way, and he gives some good guidance for how and why Christians should appreciate their work.
My favorite part of Lit was where he gave principles Christians should use to judge the worth of fiction and non-Christian authors. I may give them in a future post, but they have more to do with world-view than they do with simply literature. They are as apt for critiquing art, movies, and music as they are for books.
Lit is one of those books that pays dividends. Reading it will cause you to read other books more frequently. View it as an investment. If you want to read more, read this, and it will help you not only read more, but read better.