Give Attendance to Reading

by Rick Shrader

Paul left that instruction to Timothy at the end of his first letter (1 Tim 4:13).  In the second letter (2 Tim 4:13), the apostle instructs Timothy to bring him three things:  a coat; books; and “especially” the parchments.  It is humbling to think that, on death row, Paul would want his books!  It seems difficult enough for us to read when we have all the time and freedom in the world!  In this issue of Aletheia, I hope to give encouragement for us to take up and sustain this important task.

J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “All of us are fond of reconnoitering among the shelves of evangelical bookstores.”1 Our problem is doing something with what we find!  But regardless of what it takes, believers must not lose this important heritage.  In responding to our postmodern culture, Gene Veith wrote, “When we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life.  Each of these qualities, which have proven themselves essential to free people, is under assault in our TV-dominated culture.  Christians, to maintain their Word-centered perspective in an image-driven world, must become readers.”2 Here are a few suggestions that have helped me.

1. Never sacrifice Bible reading for other reading.  Paul instructed Timothy to bring “especially the parchments.”  If he had to leave everything else, he wasn’t to leave the Scriptures!  No other book is living (1 Peter 1:23).  Only the Bible is illumined by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:14) in order to draw us closer to God.  Oswald Chambers lamented, “How one wishes that people who read books about the Bible would read the Bible itself.”3 We would all be more discerning readers of the world’s literature if we first were devoted readers of  God’s literature!

2. Read what interests you.  The most common excuse for not reading is lack of interest.  Most of us have to be kick-started by things that motivate us.  If we will start there, the exercise of our minds will broaden our horizons.  “Meddle not with strange writings; but read such things as may rather yield compunction to thy heart, than occupation to thy head.”4 Then we might be like Spurgeon, whose brother said of him, “Charles never did anything else but study.  I kept rabbits, chickens, pigs and a horse; he kept to books.”5 Lee Strobel recounted, “I found eighty-four-year-old Bruce Metzger on a Saturday afternoon at his usual hangout, the library at Princeton Theological Seminary, where, he says with a smile, ‘I like to dust off the books.’”6 When C.S. Lewis was injured and hospitalized during WWI, he wrote, “I had a weak chest ever since childhood and had very early learned to make a minor illness one of the pleasures of life, even in peacetime.  Now, as an alternative to the trenches, a bed and a book were ‘very heaven’.”7

3. Read at your own speed.  Modern speed-reading techniques may have done as much to harm reading as to help it.  How can one be interested and engrossed in a book by seeing how fast one can turn pages?  Spurgeon said, “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed.  Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading.”8 The best way to read faster is to read more.  I have found that reading requires a five speed transmission!  Some theology books I read require a slow gear if not a four-wheel drive!  Other kinds of books may allow me to cruise in over-drive.  Some books are like an over-land adventure requiring various speeds for various parts.  My mother taught High School English for 25 years, including a speed-reading course (which she never insisted I take).  She still taught that comprehension and retention are the only worthy goals of reading.

4. Read a good mixture of books.  If our interest is expanding as it should, we will find ourselves reading a variety of book types as well as a mixture of old and new.  School is so good for us because it forces us to read in areas that we probably would not on our own.  A little planning at the beginning of the year might help us lay out a schedule for a variety of topics.  In our day, reading the new books is an impossible task, much less the centuries of old ones.  Samuel Rogers said, “Every time a new book is published, read an old one.”9 Or, as I remember C.S. Lewis writing, for every two new books you read, read one old one.  After all, all the new books are only giving a single modern perspective.  From older ones you may choose from unlimited perspectives.

5. Have a retrieval system that works.  We can’t all be like Thomas Aquinas who said, “I have understood every page I ever read.”10 I mark books unmercifully and have volumes with the front flap covered in notes and page numbers.  But it was not until I devised my own method of retrieving quotations, illustrations and other facts that I could use any of it to some end.  Some men may have photographic memories, but the rest of us need good methodologies.  William James said that we all have equal retentive powers, we only differ in degrees of interest and methods of learning.11 The earlier we develop interest in reading with a good methodology of cataloging information, the more use we will be to the Lord in this life.

And so . . . .  Let us continue to deal with the tension of a busy world and a desire for quiet time to read.  As William Sangster said of the ministry, “I hate the criticism I shall evoke and the painful chatter of some people.  Obscurity, quiet browsing among books, and the service of simple people is my taste — but by the will of God, this is my task.  God help me.”12

And God help us to “give attendance to reading.”

1.  J. Sidlow Baxter, His Deeper Work In Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 81.
2.  Gene Veith, Reading Between The Lines (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990) xiv.
3.  Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1998) 134.
4.  Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1984) 60.
5.  In a book of short biographies by William Petersen, C. S. Lewis had a Wife; Catherine Marshall had a Husband (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985) 124.
6.  Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 57.
7.  C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: HBJ, 1955) 189.
8.  Quoted by J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago:  Moody, 1971) 101.
9.  Quoted by Benjamin Schwarz, ”News & Noteworthy” The Atlantic Monthly, March, 2003, page 95.
10.  G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas (New York: Doubleday, 1956) 21.
11.  Quoted by Richard Clearwaters, On The Upward Road (Maple Grove, MN: Nystrom, nd) 34.
12.  Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 22.