On Reading Widely
“If you’re going to be a leader, you have to be a reader!” I must have heard that phrase a dozen times during my stay in Colorado at Summit Ministries after just graduating high school. Eight years later, I’m even more convinced that the statement is true.
But what kind of reading? And how should a leader sift through the great number of books available?
I’m assuming that the readers of this blog are already convinced of the necessity for reading. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. So, let me preface my thoughts on reading widely by saying that wide reading presumes much reading. You can’t read widely if you don’t read a lot! Set a goal. Make it happen. Turn off the TV and read! 50 books a year. 100 books a year. (If you’re Albert Mohler, 300 books a year.)
So with that out of the way, here are some tips on reading widely.
1. Read Old Books Too
Don’t succumb to the temptation to read only the current bestsellers. They may tell you some important things about our culture, but they rarely help you look at the culture “from the outside” and critique it correctly. C.S. Lewis is famous for encouraging the reading of “old books,” at least 1 out of every 3, so that the reader can see the perspective of other generations. I try to read classic books of Christianity – books that have stood the test of time. I want to learn from the great theologians and pastors and thinkers who have gone before. A wide reader reads the latest works, but he or she balances those books by also listening to the voices of previous generations.
2. Read Book Reviews
Let’s face it. We don’t have enough time to read everything we want. So find good book-review websites or magazines and read the summaries of books. I try to review every book I read, so you’ll find a list of reviews on my site. Other bloggers do the same. Christianity Today is a good resource for reading about many of the important Christian books coming out each year.
3. Don’t Stay in One Stream
The Emerging Church and the Reformed Resurgence have one thing in common – both movements are prone to only read certain authors and publishers. Go to an Emerging Church convention and you’ll find a lot of guys who have read the same three books and want to get together and chat about them over coffee (or beer!). Go to the Together for the Gospel conference and you’ll find guys who have read the same Piper/Dever/MacArthur books and want to debate any Arminian in sight. Both movements emphasize the importance of ancient books (Emerging goes back to the pre-medieval church, while the Reformed movement concentrates on the Reformation). But neither group reads each other well.
Don’t get sucked into one stream of Christianity. Read widely! If you’re a 5-point Calvinist, read some John Wesley, Ben Witherington, and Scot McKnight. If you’re a McLaren fan, read the critiques of the Emerging Church, and more than that, read the “fundamentalists” like Machen and Warfield and Hodge that the Emerging movement has moved away from.
And one more piece of advice: don’t read authors you disagree with just so you can tear apart their arguments. Read graciously. Read in order to learn. Maybe the Revivalist tradition actually has something to teach the Calvinists about passionate evangelism. Or maybe the Calvinists have something to teach the Revivalists about the priority of sound doctrine. Jump into other streams of Christianity and be refreshed by the swim!
4. Read Best-Sellers
This seems at first to contradict point #1, but it doesn’t. I’m talking here about non-Christian bestselling books. It’s good to know what other people are reading. Read the historical biographies, the Oprah’s Book Club choices, yes, even books like The Secret. Clearly, you aren’t going to like a lot of what you read here, so if you don’t want to spend the money, go check it out at the library. But the wide-reader who reads from Calvin’s Institutes will also be able to talk with his neighbor about Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink without “blinking” an eye.
5. Read Fiction.
Force yourself to read books you normally wouldn’t read. For me, a self-confessed theology-lover, that means reading fiction. For novel-fans, it means adding a little Packer to the diet. If you are planning on being a good preacher, you’d better like good stories. The greatest preachers in Christianity have known how to express deep theological concepts through riveting narratives. So, hunker down and start reading classic authors like Hugo, Dickens, and Dostoevsky. Watch these brilliant authors paint masterful pictures of sin and redemption and salvation. Hold on to memorable characters. Enter other worlds through the imaginations of Tolkien and Lewis.
Above all, don’t limit yourself. If you don’t like a book, stop reading it. If you’re intrigued by something, pick it up and give it a scan. Read what you like. Like what you read.
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog