I recently attended a young believers’ meeting where my pastor discussed the benefits of reading Christian books. Most of what is written here is taken from his talk.
I am not an avid reader. Despite having a bookshelf filled with spiritually helpful books given to me over the years, I usually only read my Bible, perhaps with the help of a commentary. I tend to think of reading Christian books as something extra spiritual people make time to do. I mean, after all, I have God’s Word, why should I read anything else?
I do believe the Bible is a sufficient source for the Christian’s literary needs, but God has also given us the gift of Christian books. The Lord has given us teachers (Romans 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10) not only in the pulpits today but also in the books in which their words and lives have been recorded. These teachers can now walk alongside us through their writings, pointing us to Lord and aiding us in our walk with Him. Because God has entrusted us with helpful spiritual books, I believe we should take advantage of them.
What to Read?
According to Google Books, in 2010, the world contained about 130 million books. (That’s more books than there are people in Japan.) Millions of those books are in English, and thousands are written for a Christian audience. There is no possible way for any of us to read every “Christian” book, so how do we choose which volumes deserve our time? Our first step should be to compare the truths presented in the book with Scripture. We need to be careful to check that the book does not just quote Bible verses, but reflects the teaching of the whole Bible. If the author puts forth a biased opinion on a few misconstrued verses, we can set that book aside.
But even if we eliminate the religious books that do not line up with the Bible, we are still left with hundreds of books. My pastor’s method when choosing books for his library is to look for books that give the clearest views of God and the most accurate understanding of the Christian life. He also advised reading books that give both “light and heat.” In other words, read books that not only enlighten the mind with new information but also warm the heart and encourage action. He narrowed his booklist down to three different types of writings: study helps, biographies, and devotional books.
This category includes books that help us understand the Bible, such as commentaries, dictionaries, and concordances. While these books have been largely been supplemented by a quick search on the internet, they can be a useful tool during Bible study. I personally enjoy using a commentary when reading through a book of the Bible, especially if it is a book with which I am unfamiliar. These books can provide historical context, explain difficult passages, and give insight from other similar portions of Scripture. The one downfall that I have found when using commentaries is that I can tend to be lazy when studying Scripture and skip to the commentary rather than praying over the Word and trying to understand what the Lord is saying there. My favorite commentaries are J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.
These books record the lives of men and women who have walked the path of the Christian life. Biographies allow us to befriend Christians who might have lived hundreds of years ago, Christians who encountered the same struggles we face and who trusted in the same God we serve. We can see their downfalls and their triumphs and know that we are not alone in our experiences; if the unchanging God brought them through their trials, He can bring us through ours as well. The most recent biography I read was Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes by Ian Murray. The book is short and easy to read, and Amy Carmichael’s story is challenging and inspiring.
This genre includes daily devotionals such as C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, books meant to spur the reader on, such as The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, or more informational reads like Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Devotional books have a very specific purpose: to drive us to God. They are not a substitute for the Bible; rather they are meant to lead us to the God of the Scriptures. So when reading a devotional book, we shouldn’t worry too much about finishing the chapter; if we feel stirred, the book has done its job, and we should stop, mark our spot, and turn to the Lord.
Our household is divided pretty evenly — half of my family find reading and retention easy; the other half do not. My father, sister, and older brother have an excellent memory, can read quickly, and enjoy flying through books. My mother, younger brother, and I would rather not sit and read a book. Since hearing my pastor discuss this issue, I have started reading Communion with God by John Owen. I am only reading a few pages at night, and I am already struggling. My mother gave some advice that I am trying to remember as I work through the first part of this book. “Don’t give up after the first few pages,” she said, “And don’t switch to an easier book just because the first one is a little confusing. Use a dictionary. Also, don’t worry if you can’t remember everything you read. Just get what you can from each chapter.” It is common-sense advice, but it has been helpful to me.
I hope you are encouraged to dust off some of the books on your shelf and learn more about the Lord through reading. May we use the gifts God has given us for His glory.