Reading the Heavy Books

Parliament_124_2013-08-23_IMG_7458_©EdLeBlancChristianity is a book-based faith, a faith centred around the Bible, a library of books containing diverse literary styles and possessing its own history.  Despite its ancient Near East background, the Bible commands universal appeal that transcends history and culture.  The Bible is a paradox in that it is both difficult and straightforward to understand.  Learned scholars grapple with its complexities while children in Sunday School grasp its simple concepts.

The church, as a creation of God with Christ as her head, is to be a source of teaching, training and learning to the saints.  As part of this ministry, the church is to be grounded in the Word of God, teaching it to all her members and preserving the integrity of the scriptures for the next generation of disciples of Christ.  Prior to the invention of the printing press, the church established an extensive manuscript tradition that preserved the ancient writings of key books and documents, including the Bible.

As part of her mission, the church has written many volumes to help Christians understand the scriptures, to develop and understand the doctrines she holds and to guide Christians on how to live out the principles of the Bible.  As a consequence, thousands of books have been written for Christians on a variety of topics.  

Why Read the Heavy Books?

Given its rich literary history, the church is no stranger to the writing and reading of books.  Because of this heritage and the great value in books, Christians should be great readers.  The sheer number and kinds of books is beyond comprehension.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”  

Today, people can read books from pulp fiction novels to complex text books.  The advent of the Internet and the ubiquity of mobile computing devices has made access to books greater than ever before.  With so many books now available, what books should Christians be investing their precious hours in?  

It is important for Christians to be wise in selecting the books they read.   This doesn’t mean that Christians should not be reading books for entertainment or magazines to keep up with the news.  But in the long run, what books of value are being read?  This essay makes the case that Christians should be including, what I call, the heavy books into their reading list.  These are books that go beyond fiction and Christian living and delve into into the deeper truths of the faith.  They can be long, complicated and difficult to understand but they convey ideas, concepts and truths that go far beyond the simple milk of the faith and bring solid food to develop those longing to mature.  The solid deeper truths these books convey is why I call them the heavy books.  

So why should Christians read the heavy books?  

Transformational

The heavy books transform the Christian from being ignorant about the Bible and the rich faith of the gospel into one who is maturing in their faith.  I won’t go into all the benefits of a maturing Christian receives but I will say that life long immature Christians will live shallow spiritual lives.  Long term immaturity will also endanger the well being of the church into the next generation.  Heavy reading is not the only means of developing maturity but it plays a significant role.

Battle Ready

A Christian who is well grounded in the Word of God, who is confident in its reliability and trustworthiness and who is well acquainted with its deep doctrines, is a Christian who is well equipped to defend the gospel and the honour of the Lord in the mist of spiritual opposition.    The modern Christian lives in the marketplace of ideas where cultural diversity, secularism and postmodernism are the hallmarks of contemporary orthodoxy.  Many of these ideas run counter to the truths of the Bible yet can be quite rational and persuasive.  Without a deep understanding of the Bible and its doctrines of the faith, it is easy for a Christian to be tossed here and there by every wind of errant teaching (Ephesians 4:14).

Love the Lord with all Your Mind

Perhaps the biggest benefit of reading the heavy Christian books is learning to love God with all your mind.  Love is often seen as an activity of the heart where the heart becomes the only seat of love.  The mind is seen as something aloof to love yet Jesus teaches us to love God not only with our hearts but also our minds (Mark 12:30).

The intellect is where we build knowledge, wisdom and understanding and it often serves as a necessary counterbalance to our emotions which can often get us into trouble.  But our minds are not places of emotional coldness.  As chambers of knowledge and wisdom, the mind feeds the heart with greater understanding about Christ so that the heart can rejoice in what it knows of Him and thus love Him even more.  

To love God with our minds is to apprehend His wonder, majesty and awe so that our hearts and minds are lead to worship Him with greater reverence.  Loving God with our minds is the process that creates a greater vision of His magnificent glory.  

The Heavy Reading Plan

So what should the Christian be doing to become engaged in deep and heavy reading?  Here are three things for consideration to get one started:  

Read the Whole Bible

It may seem ridiculous to put this on a heavy reading plan but, believe it or not, many people who have been Christians for several years or even most of their lives have not read the entire Bible.  Typically it is some of the Old Testament books, like Ezekiel or Zechariah, that they have never read.   Many observers on the health of the church have warned for years that there is a growing trend of biblical illiteracy amongst Christians today.  A few generations ago, most Christians were heavy readers of the Bible but today many Christians have not only not read the Bible completely but know very little about its major themes, content, structure or background.  It is not that such Christians cannot read the Bible but that many of them don’t bother.  They read just enough to get by.   They are content to read the odd book about Christianity and Christian living and have other Christians tell them what the Bible says.  

Living the Christian life without reading the Scriptures for themselves, while relying on others to do the heavy lifting for them, breeds a class of illiterate Christians who become spiritually lazy.  They turn into life-long dependent babies looking to others to feed them spiritually.  

If you have not done so already, or if you haven’t done so in a very long time, put reading the entire Bible from cover to cover on the top of your heavy reading list.  Read it daily with the long term goal of making it through the entire Bible over the next year.  There are several reading plans out there that can provide you with a method to read the Bible in a year.  Make this a priority over any other type of reading you are engaged in and learn how to feed yourself spiritually. 

Read the Books About the Bible

Read books that tell you what the Bible is about.  Books that survey the Bible and describe what books make up the Bible will help you get a better grasp on the background of this library of sacred scripture.  Such books will tell you about the human writers of the books, when there were written, where, to whom and why they were written.  Such books will outline what each book of the Bible contains and describe their major themes.  These books will help you as you read the whole Bible by providing the background and context to make the scriptures come alive.    

Read books about the transmission of the Bible.  Many Christians don’t know that we do not have the original manuscripts of the books of Bible but only copies.  The art and science of examining these copies is called textual criticism and is a fascinating study into how the scriptures were passed down into the Bible of today.  It will also help to address the major question of how can we know we have the real Bible if the original manuscripts are gone?  This is heavy reading but it will help you become grounded in the reliability and veracity of the Bible we have today.  

Read the Theological Books

Christians who read Christian books will probably be reading books on Christian living, Christian novels and maybe the odd book on some hot topic.  Very few Christians pick up a book on a theological subject.  My local Christian book store used to post a list of the top 20 books it was selling.  When I read that list, almost all of the books were on Christian living.  Rarely would I find any books on theology that made the top 20 list.  This tells me that most Christians don’t do theology.  

Unfortunately, theology is given a bad rap in the church today.  It is perceived as being difficult to understand, highly academic and esoteric, totally irrelevant and, worst of, all completely boring.  As a consequence, most Christians run away when the topic of theology is brought up.  Too many pastor-teachers apologize for having to talk about it from the pulpit and usually dumb it down in their sermons, despite the fact that the seminary trained ones spent at least four years of their lives studying the subject!  

Such erroneous perceptions of theology have no place in a Christian’s reading habits.  Books on theology should be prominent on the heavy reading list as such books will take you deep into the wells of the truths of scripture and teach you insights you never knew existed.  Theology will open your eyes to the real meat of the faith, the solid food the writer of Hebrews talks about.  Reading quality books on theology will wean you off the baby milk of the faith and help to develop your spiritual maturity.  

Despite what some may say, theology is not boring or irrelevant.  Good books on theology will expand your heart and your mind to draw yourself closer to God and lead you to a greater knowledge of Christ. 

Heavy Reading is Good for the Christian

To paraphrase a common expression, you are what you read.  God has given us the gift of writing and reading books, a vehicle of communication that He still uses today to reveal Himself and His Son through His Holy Spirit.  Christians should strive to become good life-long readers.  A large part of this reading should include deep books on Christian theology and thought.  But through it all, Christians should return to becoming “people of the book” where all Christians know their Bibles deeply and read them thoroughly so that they conform more into the image of Christ.   

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3 thoughts on “Reading the Heavy Books

  1. Hi Ed, nice article on Christian reading. You gave some good ideas on where to start reading.

    I agree the heavy books are not in the Top 20. Sadly, we really are the “sound byte” society. Reading theology is much like reading politics, foreign policy, or even the latest report on climate change. We need to throw out the North American meme that discourages the discussion of sex, politics, and religion (but encourages discussion of sports, general gossip, and reality TV).

    I believe many of us avoid the topic of theology for two reasons. First, the average Christian is just like the average citizen of the world who has just enough time to make a living and take care of the home front. The deep questions of life require involvement and action, and that extra time is not an option for many people. Second, the heavy reading generally results in personal challenge and conviction. Many people are not willing to challenge long held personal and family beliefs. In some cases, there may be a fear that a belief could be wrong, and that the heavy book would confirm that fear. In extreme cases the deep questions result in conflict and can even split a parish.

    The mature Christian is the same as the mature adult in any society. The ability to socialize, engage, and debate the deep issues of life with diplomacy and integrity is evidence of a mature person. We do not always agree with our peers, and we do not always disagree with those outside of our peer groups. Not everyone sees life that way, and many believe “birds of a feather should flock together” – preferably not in my back yard. Tolerance is not easy to find.

    However, the Christian culture remains a sub-domain of our society. There are generators of ideas, perveyors of ideas, and users of ideas. They could loosely map to the scientist, the industrialist, and the consumer … or the theologian, the priest, and the parishioner. It is not reasonable to expect everyone to be a priest or a theologian, since that is not where their gifts lay.

    Trust and faith are integral parts of our society. Parishioners do expect their priest to teach sound biblical principles by which to live, and the priest does expect the theologian to deliver solid evidence and support for the biblical principles. Most people delve just enough into theology to validate their faith and justify their trust. When that happens, the Christians who love to study theological topics need to be ready to share and discuss their understanding of the topics and how they apply to situations in life.

  2. Hi Rob;

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree that we live in a sound bite society where attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, leaving little time or desire to reflect on the larger issues of life, something that theology addresses. A Christian may be an average citizen of society but our existence is more than trying to make a living, it is about loving and glorifying God in a variety of ways, some of them not easy (…take up his cross daily and follow me…). Theology is but a part of that.

    Yes, looking at theology can be challenging to our beliefs but stretching the mind to learn always involves some challenges. Life is full of challenges. Christians have to realize this is a part of spiritual growth.

    There are Christians out there who are literate enough in theology to discuss it but I’m finding those kind of people are few and far between in the church. Finding someone to talk about current trends in theology in your local church or churches is becoming a rare thing.

    Ed

    • Not gonna lie- I get bored at church because no one is interested in discussing current trends in theology, differences between Johannine and Pauline christology, nor how the evangelical church impacted social justice in the 19th century. Can’t help but wonder if the reason you can’t find the heavy readers at church is because they’re outing next to me in the classroom instead of going to church on Sunday!

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