Books

Reading – Is it Important?


 

© Vladimir Melnikov – Fotolia.com

A survey by The Jenkins Group, an independent publishing services firm, has shown that millions of Americans never read another book after leaving school.

Check out the stats:

  • 33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.

It’s fascinating being a pastor.  I’m fascinated, by and large, by people.  I get to meet so many different types of folk at church.  Being a pastor means that I also get to know people beyond a superficial level.

Are You Hungry to Know More?
There are two young men in their 20s at my church who stand out to me as Christians.  They are very cluey on the Bible and Christian theology.  They are thoughtful, well taught, and interesting.  They are not easily led astray and they do not often misunderstand others.  They are godly Christian men.  What is interesting is that, as far as I can tell, they haven’t been at particularly good churches where they were taught well.  They are self-taught.  They immerse themselves in the Bible; in good Christian books; in listening to good online sermons.  They are hungry to know more and grow as Christians.

What do I think about this as a pastor?  I am MIGHTY impressed and grateful to God!  Would that all my parishioners were like this!  I have met many folk in many churches who have been Christian for decades.  They love Jesus and are clearly converted.  But they have the faith of an infant.  They do not read.  They do not study their Bible.   They do not listen to online sermons and talks.  As a result their thinking as Christians is shallow and immature.  What a great pity!

There is so much for us to learn.  I have so many books I still want to read: on theology, Church History, commentaries on books of the Bible, books of sermons, biographies…  The list could go on and on.  There is so much more to learn.  My hope is that all Christians will have a hunger to grow in knowledge and maturity in their thinking.

 Do we have a University or Sunday School level knowledge of Christianity?
If we want to grow in knowledge and maturity in our thinking, it can only happen by hard work.  We have school and University courses because we recognise that a doctor or engineer can’t just “let go and let God”, but that they need knowledge and training.  And while life itself and experience are great trainers, we also need to be trained in our knowledge and thinking as Christians.  Do we have a University level knowledge of Christianity?  Or do we still have a Sunday school level knowledge?

Some may object that I am being elitist and an egg-head!  No.  I have seen many Christians who are not academically gifted do the hard work and learning that I am talking about here.  I have seen many Christians grow in intellectual rigour and knowledge and understanding, because they are Christians and are motivated to learn.

My hope is that all the Christians I meet will be like those two young men: that they will be studying their Bible; reading commentaries; reading good Christian books; learning theology…  in short, doing everything they can to grow in maturity in their Christian thinking.


13 thoughts on “Reading – Is it Important?

  • Rob

    I cannot get enough of the Word. I don’ understand why every believer isn’t as keen or keener that I. I just don’t get it.

    Great article. Thank you.

      • Rob

        …on reflection, I hope my comments didn’t seem prideful or boastful. It’s just that I love the Word and love to dwell in it.

  • Alex

    Hi Martin,
    I know that you are talking primarily about reading the bible and good Christian material – to which I couldn’t agree more! I read a lot of these.
    Do you think there is value in also reading ‘secular’ books. I’m not talking about bad books which would teach bad things, but books on history, science or biographies of people who are not Christians just because learning is fun? Do you think that would aid our thinking?

    • Martin Pakula

      Hi Alex. Good question! Indeed I do think that it is good to read broadly. History, philosophy, science, even fiction. I read Robinson Crusoe a few years ago and was stunned at how incredibly Christian it was. I think we should read lots and broadly. It will inform us, give us things to talk about with others (“Let your conversation be seasoned with salt”), and keep us thinking. One example: “Sophie’s World” is, I think, not written by a Christian (not a Christian book). It is a summary of philosophers. It’s probably the best book you could get that is simple and clear. So if you wanted to know about different philosophies (crucial knowledge for an informed Christian), this book is a great place to start. There’s all sorts of examples like that!

  • XrayDelta

    …but as a general rule, just read stuff that reinforces your faith and doesn’t make you think too hard about it. Don’t read anything “bad”. eg. something by Bart Erhman.

    What are you building here? Some kind of Farenheit 451 world?

    • Martin Pakula

      Hi there
      I’m not sure I should thank you for this comment. It’s rather impertinent – and not because of your views, but how you have expressed them. Nevertheless, no I haven’t read Bart Ehrman, but I have read Spong, Thiering, James Barr, many others. In fact many Christians are very widely read in theology, and in other fields. At every congregation I have been there have been doctors, solicitors, engineers, PhDs, etc. People have read Dawkins and Hitchens, etc. The fact is, there are endless books out there that deal with all these people’s arguments, and thinking Christians are widely read and have good answers.
      Have you read Tim Keller?
      Arrogant and ignorant assertions are no argument at all, but represent great irony when calling Christians ignorant.

  • XrayDelta

    Hmm. I’m not sure how my post is “impertinent”, “arrogant” and “ignorant”.
    Or is it you don’t like comments that aren’t a congratulatory pat on the back by the rest of your like-minded readers?

    You should be thankful to have someone challenging and thoughtful reading your blog!

    You claim you want people to read broadly – and yet you have to warn someone that its “not a christian book”. Do you need to warn anybody reading something that its not Christian? Whats the fear here? Hence the Farenheit 451 reference. It appears to me you have a very cloistered view of what people *should* read.

    Bart Ehrman is probably the most well known author on biblical textual criticism in the world – for someone whose faith seems (correct me if I’m wrong) close to biblical literalism, I think understand the textual problems with the book in question would be relevant. For example the various problems wherever Jesus makes claim to being god. These are all suspect.

    Your commenter says he doesn’t want to read “bad books that teach bad things”. Like “Four legs good two legs bad”?

    Thinking Christians are widely read and have good answers… to what?

  • Martin Pakula

    Hi again. I suppose you can add “arrogant” to the list. But really, it’s not about being clever. I’m not sure that you understand what has been written here. There’s no point reading in “fear” to the comments. A book that isn’t Christian is simply that. Christians like to know that. The fact that I’m advocating it answers any ridiculous assertions of “fear” or not reading widely.
    To take another tack… I praise God that a child can read and understand the Bible. A child can believe what is written, put their faith in Jesus and be saved. It’s not about being clever. It’s not even about being well read, although I encourage that.
    What a shame to be well read, perhaps even intelligent, and miss the woods for the trees. That Jesus is Lord and has died to pay for our sins is and always will be the key and main truth.

  • XrayDelta

    Why do Christians like to know that a book is not Christian? Why can’t they read it with an open mind, rather than a preformed view about its contents?

    To take another tack, a child doesn’t usually have the knowledge and skills to see through the propaganda being presented to them.

    How do you know
    (i) Jesus is Lord
    (ii) he died
    (iii) to pay for our sins
    (iv) that any of these is the key and the main truth?

    The historical record is very limited, contradictory, and not backed up by non-biased sources. And there abound many alternative more likely explanations than the one you present.

  • Martin Pakula

    One can know that a book is written by someone who is not a Christian and read it with an open mind. Asserting otherwise is hardly logical, but merely shows prejudice. Both are true.
    You should give more credit to children. Of course I would not want to see them exposed to atheistic or anti-Christian propaganda.
    How I know that Jesus is Lord and died to pay for our sins, is by reading the historical records of the Bible. They are not contradictory and are not biased. They are primary sources. Good books have been written to defend their historicity. In Australia authors like Paul Barnett and John Dickson have very ably defended their historicity against the prevailing counter-arguments. The evidence, in short, is overwhelming. But unbelief is not in fact a matter of lack of evidence or credibility. It is a moral, not an intellectual issue. I am starting to wonder how wide your reading is. Have you ever read any of Paul Barnett or John Dickson’s books?

  • XrayDelta

    I’m happy to accept that some children are very cluey, and can spot a dodgy argument from far off. But I’m sure you’d agree in general that greater learning that comes with age and maturity allows to better judge logical arguments, to see what is a sound and solid argument, and what is not?

    I’m concerned about your double standard however. Why is ok for children to read Christian propaganda, but not atheist propaganda? Or any other propaganda at all (eg. Hindu, Buddhist, Isamic, Jainist, Sikh, etc).

    When you say “primary sources” what do you mean? The oldest texts we have are written in Greek, some thirty years after the time of the resurrection. Since neither Christ nor his followers could read or write Greek (nor Aramaic most likely) these books weren’t written by them. We don’t know who wrote them – but we do know that (i) they copied off each other (iii) they copied from the original Hebrew religious texts and (iii) after the fact many bits and pieces were added over time, and that typical modern translations are subtley different to those texts from 30AD.

    As for bias – it was a time of upheaval when many were trying to understand what had happened – their promised King had died and not provided them with the Kingdom he assured on many occasions would occur in their lifetimes, and there was bias in interpreting what had occurred among the many groups trying to understand. They wrote the stories to fit their groups prevailing understanding of what occurred.

    Contradictions, surely you’d agree the description of a distressed Christ crying out “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” from Mark/Matthew is somewhat different to a calm Christ, knowing his certain future, saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” in Luke. Since both were supposedly said by Christ at the most important time in history, its seems odd that the writers each mentioned one or the other, but not both.

    You said first “I know…by reading the historical records of the bible” then you say “its not a matter of lack of evidence”…. it must be one or the other. Could you believe without any knowledge at all? Could you believe in Christ without ever hearing his name or his story?

    “But unbelief is not in fact a matter of lack of evidence or credibility. It is a moral, not an intellectual issue.” What does this mean? Do you mean everyone who does not believe what you believe lacks morality?

    If the evidence is “overwhelming” why am I not overwhelmed? Nor more than 50% of planet earth? Its pretty underwhelming actually. What do you think is the most convincing piece of evidence?

    Yes, as it happens I’ve read “The Christ Files” by John Dickson. Its a very small book without much in it. I’ve also read “Is the New Testament History?” – I think that’s Paul Barnett? It was really quite simplistic. I yearn for some quality Christian apologia!

  • Martin Pakula

    Thanks for that reply. I found that I do indeed agree with you to some extent on this one and that you are being much more reasonable (in your tone). But even though that could promise to lead to more fruitful engagement I will make this reply my last. Of course you may reply if you will. (I couldn’t reply yesterday – I was out spreading “propaganda” ;) )
    I do indeed agree with you that greater learning comes with age and maturity, etc.
    I grew up reading about Judaism (I’m Jewish) as well as other religions and philosophies. Children too should read widely. But they should certainly read the Bible, as I did.
    I don’t of course agree with your interpretation of what might have happened after Jesus’ resurrection. What you say is of course theoretically possible, but so too are many other scenarios.
    I certainly don’t think that Mark/ Matthew contradict Luke. Jesus in all the gospels, including Luke, is in agony before his death at the prospect of taking on himself the sins of the world and facing the wrath of the Father. In

    44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

    it says: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Jesus is of course quoting

    22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
    O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

    Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
    In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
    To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

    But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
    All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
    “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

    Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
    10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
    11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

    12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
    13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

    14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
    my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
    15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

    16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
    they have pierced my hands and feet—
    17 I can count all my bones—
    they stare and gloat over me;
    18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

    19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
    20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
    21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
    You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

    22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
    23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
    24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
    and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

    25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
    26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

    27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
    and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
    28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

    29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
    30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
    31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

    in Mark/ Matthew, which finishes triumphantly. He knew that his death would work and that he would rise from the dead, as he told his disciples on numerous occasions, recorded in the Gospels. In bearing our sin he is forsaken by God. But he goes willingingly to his death, and can “calmly” (?) ask his Father to forgive his enemies.
    I’m impressed that you have read “The Christ Files” and “Is the New Testament History”. I believe they are quite adequate and am sorry to hear that they did not help you.
    As for Bart Ehrmann he is critiqued in the book: “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Text and Canon of the New Testament)” (see http://www.csntm.org/ re his debate with Daniel Wallace).
    However such arguments may show that belief in the Bible is reasonable. They won’t, I think, give you the evidence you cry out for. That evidence is always the Bible itself. You might read Daniel Wallace’s book, but it would be far better to read one of the Gospel’s with an open and thoughtful mind. In

    16:1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

    10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

    14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

    16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

    18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

    19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

    Jesus himself speaks about the evidence in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man has died and is in Hades in torment and agony. Realising that he was wrong, and it is now too late, he wants Abraham (in the parable) to warn his brothers so that they will not go to Hell. Abraham says: ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (

    29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

    ). The rich man replies that, No, if there is evidence – someone rising from the dead to go and warn them, then they will believe. Proof of the sort you or Ehrman demand would be of this sort I guess. The punchline Jesus gives is: ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ If they don’t believe what they read in the Bible, which is the words of the living God, then nothing will convince them.
    I’m sure that one day we will both stand before God and answer to him. If the Bible is true, as I am sure it is, then it will be too late. I can only hope that you will believe what it says.

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