A Few Tips on Reading

If you’ve been around The Crossing for very long, you’ve probably heard someone emphasize the importance of reading good books. You’ve likely even heard one of us say that it’s hard to find mature Christians who don’t regularly invest in reading books that will help them grow in their faith. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer a few tips that might help you get more out of the exercise of reading:

1. Whatever else you read, keep reading the Bible on a consistent basis. At the risk of sounding obvious, I want to make this point clear. The fundamental purpose of the kind of reading I’m suggesting is to allow those who are more experienced and/or who have developed greater insight to help us better understand and apply biblical truth to the various facets of our lives. And that is manifestly more difficult to do if we have little familiarity with it.

2. Be critical; that is, practice discernment as best you can. This flows from the first point. We need to always be considering whether what we’re reading coincides with what the Scriptures actually teach. The presence of vocabulary and concepts that sound biblical doesn’t necessarily mean that the ideas communicated are consistent with the Bible’s perspective. Sadly, this is true of much popular writing on spirituality, religion, etc. (While I’m on this subject: Oprah has any number of admirable qualities and genuine talents. Recommending books to encourage true spiritual growth, however, is definitely not one of them.) Even writers with the healthiest respect for biblical authority can occasionally be wrong. One the other hand, beware of the temptation to dismiss ideas simply because you don’t like them, particularly if you’re young in your faith. If you’re not sure what to think about something you read, ask someone who is further down the path than you are to help you think it through.

3. Be charitable. Practicing discernment is crucial, and it will lead you to uncover real flaws, even significant flaws, in what you read over time. However, it’s a great mistake to dismiss the entirety of what someone writes because you don’t agree with everything. This not only closes you off from much of what is good and profitable, but it also raises a standard that you will repeatedly fall short of yourself. I will be forever thankful for the seminary professor who had us write short reports on books he assigned in his class. His one stipulation was that we tell him only what we thought was good about the book. He said something like, “I’m not interested in your critiques. I know these books have problems, but I want to know what you’ve learned from them that is positive.” For someone like me who’s default mentality is critical (often overly so), this was an important exercise.

4. Stretch yourself on occasion. It seems like I’ve often had conversations with people that have stopped reading or shied away from a given book because they found it tough going. I’m not suggesting that you always tackle things that are above your head. But I do think that it’s an excellent idea at times to read things that you find somewhat challenging. But here’s the key: don’t feel the burden of always understanding everything you read. Keep plugging away. You’ll get some of it. And the next time you read something difficult, you’ll likely pick up a bit more. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are our reading capacities. But if we persist in developing them, the reward can be great, not only for our own faith but for our ability to encourage and develop others.

5. If you don’t have a good sense of what books to read, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trying to figure what to read to help you grow in your faith can be a challenge, particularly if you’re just starting to read books of this nature. Even our own bookstore, which contains books personally recommended by our pastors and staff, can offer a dizzying array of choices. Don’t be afraid to ask one of us for some good options. Those are the kind of questions we’re more than happy to answer. In the meantime, check out the following lists.

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