Christians as Readers: What I Don’t Mean
Thank you for taking the time to read my second post in this series on Christians and reading. It is my conviction that Christians should strive to be readers. In my last post, I reflected on why this topic is so important to me in how God used reading to save my life.
This week I want to give some qualifications to my position. I fear that there may be some who read my testimony (and future posts) with an unhealthy conviction to start reading. While some may need conviction, I want to be careful not to create an unholy, legalistic burden on you to read. In the future, I will spend time discussing the why, what, and how of reading. Today, however, I would like to clarify what I don’t mean when I say Christians should strive to be readers.
- I don’t mean Christians should read to prove they are Christians.
You are not a Christian because you read books. You are a Christian if, and only if, you have repented of your sins and believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was the perfect God-Man who came to earth, died on the cross as the sinless payment for your sins, was raised from the dead three days later, and has ascended to heaven where He awaits His return. You cannot be “more Christian” or “less Christian” because you read or don’t read many books. While God may have used reading to save my life, it was only the tool, not the means, of my salvation. My salvation was accomplished by Jesus on the cross, guaranteed by His resurrection, and made alive in me by His Spirit, not by reading.
There is a weird pride that people take in reading. It is as if we read so that we can tell other people we are reading. Sadly, many (including myself) have used reading to prove superiority over others. I am a better Christian, a holier Christian, a more thoughtful Christian, and a more enlightened Christian because I read books. Do not think your standing with God or other people depends on books. Don’t take pride in reading; take pride in the cross.
- I don’t mean Christians should read to prove they are more faithful.
When we talk about any Christian discipline, like reading, there is a danger in comparing your faithfulness to other Christians who can do more than you. We do this in many ways: we compare the time we spend reading, the type of books, the amount, and many other things. We believe that if we were faithful to God, we would read like (fill in the blank). I know this is something I have struggled with immensely.
Please realize this – God gives different gifts and abilities to every person. Further, most people who are good at reading had to go through a long process to get there. Most people had to go through the struggles you feel now. Faithfulness is not determined by what amount of gifting or intellectual abilities you have but by your persistent striving to use whatever you have for God and His glory.
On another related note, I want to take a moment to address all those who are tempted not to compare themselves to other Christians but to compare themselves to themselves from differing seasons of their life. For instance, I had a lot of time when I was a younger Christian, unmarried with no kids. I could read my Bible a lot more and regularly read books. There were certain times when I was reading for two or more hours a day.
Today God has graced me with a church I help pastor, classes to teach for high school students, three young kids (with one on the way!), and a lovely wife, all of which get my attention. I have been tempted to reflect on my past reading and think, “I am lazy and failing as a Christian who wants to be a reader.” But I need to remember that everything happens in seasons. My reading looks different than it used to. Sometimes my reading is a devoted hour, but most times, it isn’t. Sometimes my “reading” is an audiobook. Sometimes my reading is a few pages right before bed. While reading is still a priority, it would be foolish for me to compare my reading habits now to myself in a different season of life.
The same goes for you. Don’t compare your faithfulness to where you’ve been or where other people are. Take your whole context in mind (time, responsibilities, giftings, intellectual abilities, etc.) and seek to be faithful with what you have right in front of you.
- I don’t mean Christians should read everything recommended.
This point is an outflow of the previous two. Let me give you a scenario: A book is recommended with the person saying something like, “As a Christian, you really have to read this.” Maybe it was recommended by someone you respect and trust. So, you think to yourself, you must read it. If they say I should read it, then I need to!
But then you start to read. And, you’re embarrassed to say, you don’t like it at all. You start but quickly realize it’s boring. You aren’t into it. There is no pleasure in reading the book.
So, let me take a moment to ease your conscience: if someone ever says to you that you need to read a book, no, you don’t. You don’t HAVE to read anything. We don’t read as legalists. Reading things you don’t like doesn’t make you a better person. You won’t be a better Christian because you are reading books you don’t enjoy.
Further, don’t be discouraged because you don’t like a book other people say you should. Again, realize there are times and seasons for everything. Maybe you don’t like it because you’re not mentally or spiritually ready for the book. Perhaps it isn’t a passion the Lord has put on your heart. Not enjoying a book doesn’t mean you will never like it. I had this experience with Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. As a younger Christian who struggled with reading, I tried to pick up both books multiple times and failed to read them. I found them tedious and unenjoyable. I struggled with guilt because I didn’t get the same enjoyment others did. About six years later, after a lot of other reading, I got the urge to try them out again. They were amazing! I loved reading them and was so thankful for these great books. Just because I didn’t enjoy them when I first picked them up didn’t mean I never would.
Now, let me give a quick qualification. Sometimes you must get through a book even if you don’t like it. For instance, if you need to read a book to interact with someone about it. Sometimes I will be asked to read a book so that I can help an individual or the church think through the ideas found in it. Even if I don’t like the book, I will read it. There are many other times when you will just have to buck up and read the book (reading for a class, reading because you need to know a subject, to name a few).
However, I have found that this type of reading is the exception, not the rule. There are just too many books in the world to feel the burden of reading books you don’t like simply because they were recommended. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. There are a lot of books in the world, and not every one of them is worth your time! Be discerning. Plus, you are much more likely to learn and grow when you enjoy the book. My general rule is to give a book about 50 pages before deciding whether to keep reading.
For more on this point, I recommend reading (but a pressure-free recommendation!) Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.
So, as I write these posts moving forward, keep these things in your mind. You aren’t a Christian because you read. You aren’t more faithful because you read. You don’t have to read everything recommended to you.
I hope you were encouraged and found it helpful. Next week, I will be diving into why I think Christians should strive to be readers. If you have any questions or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading.