As a church, we are convinced that one God-ordained means of shaping Christian character is reading. But while we encourage reading, we do not believe that Christians should read indiscriminately. They should read material that is edifying, challenging and affirming. It is not necessary to agree with everything that you read, but the reading material should at least encourage intellectual, spiritual and emotional interaction with the author.
Reading the Bible
Of course, the primary text with which all Christians should engage is the Bible itself. Here, a read-through-the-Bible plan is of great value. There are a great many such plans available and any one of them will do, so long as both Old and New Testaments are read and daily Bible reading is encouraged. It may also prove helpful as you read repeatedly through Scripture to use different translations to aid your understanding of the sacred text.
Reading Outside the Bible
But, as Downing has said, Christianity is “a religion—not only of one Book, the Bible—but of books.”1 In addition to the reading of the sacred text, we encourage the reading of other intellectually-stimulating material. Reading material need not always be specifically Christian, but for the most part the Christian will grow in grace by engaging with what other Christians have learned about the Word of God.
Reading with Discernment
In our day of muddied theology and mass merchandising, we must be discerning when it comes to material that is promoted as “Christian.” Often, “Christian” books offer little more than pop psychology or positive thinking beneath a theological veneer. We must be on guard.
As Christians, we should be concerned about reading that which will help us to better understand the truths of God’s Word. Such reading material will vary in genre and style: technical Bible study tools, history, biography, fiction, etc.
The Goal of Reading
The goal of reading is to bathe our hearts and minds in truth. This will help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18).
Reading good Christian literature enables us to sit under the ministry of godly men and women from across the globe and from various periods in history. Commenting on Ephesians 4:11-16, Sinclair Ferguson writes,
We are accustomed to associating those ministries with the ministries of the local congregation. But, Paul has a larger vision than that. He is speaking about God’s gift in Christ to the whole church: all pastors, all teachers, are gifts of the ascended Christ to the whole church. When teaching and exhorting gifts are exercised in writing, they can edify and encourage us even although we may be separated by great distance or by time (or, in the case of translations, even by language) from the author.
Think of that when you next take up a book into your hands! You can sit under the ministry of Augustine, or Calvin, or John Owen, or Baxter, or Bunyan, or Edwards, or Boston or Spurgeon.
Even those who are dead may yet speak to you and by their expositions of God’s truth help forge you into the kind of man or woman that was produced in early days by their living testimony and ministry.
In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy from prison and asked him to bring a cloak (winter was fast arriving) “and the books, especially the parchments.” The “parchments” to which Paul was referring was most likely portions of Scripture, but evidently Paul also wanted access to other “books.” If Paul read outside of Scripture, we would do well to emulate him.
Even an apostle must read. . . . Paul is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching for at least 30 years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.”2
As we engage with written texts, we want to achieve the maximum benefit from those we read. Rob Ventura and Jack Buckley, pastors of Grace Community Baptist Church in Cumberland, Rhode Island, offer three helpful suggestions to those who wish to benefit from the material they read.
First, have a plan. Often we purchase books and get all excited about them but then do not read them because we never set aside the time to do so. We would encourage you to find a time that is best for you, when you can have ten, fifteen or thirty minutes each day for serious reading. For some this will be in the morning. For others it will be in the afternoon or before bedtime. It matters not, as long as you are blocking out time for this. Consistency is key. You will be amazed how much you will cover over the course of a year if you simply schedule specific times each day to read.
Second, aim to master the content of the book. It is one thing to read a book but quite another thing to really grasp and be able to use what we have read. Our suggestion here is that when you read a book, if needed, go through it repeatedly, until it gets in your heart and mind. Also, take good notes. Resist the urge to breeze through the pages thoughtlessly and, instead, earnestly seek to apprehend and apply the truth.
Thirdly, read according to present need. We have often found when reading books addressing particular issues in our lives that they become the most memorable ones to us. For example, if we need motivation to evangelize, we would do well to read a book on a great evangelist or missionary, or perhaps a book on evangelism. If we need to be challenged theologically, we do well to read a doctrinal work addressing the concern. If we are going through a trial, it would be wise to read a book on God’s love and care. If we need to see afresh the glories of Christ we ought to read a book that focuses on His Person and work. Whatever our particular need might be, seeking counsel from proven guides in that area is a valuable aid to our progress.
The Church Library
The library located by the main entrances into the church auditorium, is open before and after all church services. It is also available during the week, so long as you arrange access into the church building. For the most part, the library is “unmanned”—that is, the reader is responsible to mark in the provided register what books have been taken, and to note when they have been returned.