Give Thyself To Reading: A Conversation
The above quote by Spurgeon is one of Brett's and my all-time favorites. We have always loved reading. Our parents raised us with the belief that the best way to learn great writing is to read great writing. In fact, it was out of a summer of focused reading that The Rebelution was born. We cannot over-stress the importance of reading great books for clear and informed thinking, godly living, and quality writing.
"When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments." — 2 Timothy 4:13
"He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has had wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
"The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every Christian, 'Give thyself to reading.' The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains proves he has no brains of his own."
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon —
Because of this, we have been absolutely thrilled to follow a recent conversation across the blogosphere, on this very topic, led by several men for whom we have the utmost respect: Mark Dever of 9Marks Ministries, Tim Challies of Challies [Dot] Com, Bob Kauflin of Covenant Life Church and Worship Matters, CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and AlbertMohler.com.
It is an incredible privilege to "listen in," as it were, on this conversation. Therefore, in order to ensure that our readers get the most from the wisdom of these men, we have assembled a chronologically-ordered series of excerpts, links, and commentary of the conversation thus far. We urge you to take the time to read and consider the godly counsel of these great men. It is lengthy, but it is rich.
Mark Dever: (Link: The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs) One reason that I've been reluctant to enter the blogosphere is that I am concerned that blog-writing and reading only adds to a bad tendency that we today already have--a fascination with the newest, latest, and most recent. And the newest and latest also often means that which is of only immediate value, that which is passing. That is opposed to that which is enduring, and which has in fact endured and lasted. We write words here which crawl along electronically and leap out through your fingers and eyes to take precious minutes and hours that the Lord has entrusted to us. Could these small things we write really be that important? ....
I am concerned that we not neglect reading more important things. Even beyond the Bible, there are 2,000 years of Christian reflections in print before we get to blogs...
[B]e sure and set aside some time to read more substantial things. Commune with the saints that have gone before. Give some time to reading Anselm and Turretin, Samuel Rutherford's Letters or John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. And if you still have some time, you can have some other food for your soul--side dishes--snacks--by reading this blog.
Comment: Mr. Dever's post includes several incredibly important observations. Particularly as teens, we must not rob ourselves by focusing solely, or even just substantially, on the blogosphere and the magazines and the TV shows, while neglecting the centuries of enduring wisdom that has gone before us. Teens have a (unfortunately) well-deserved reputation of thinking they know everything. We don't. That is why we are given parents... And that is why, I believe, God has allowed the wisdom of the ages to endure through the writing of books and manuscripts.Tim Challies: (Link: The Blessings of Blogging) Of course I agree that we must take care that we prioritize our activities. A Christian who is not walking in close fellowship with the Lord has no business reflecting on spirituality in a public setting. Most Christian bloggers would much rather that their readers study the Scriptures rather than their blog - that the reading of a blog be only a supplement to a vibrant personal faith. ....
On a second note, teens are also not expected to study, discuss, or care about theology (i.e. the study of God). This is a tragedy. If it is in your heart to do that which is eternally valuable and enduring, let me tell you: There are few things more important than the study of theology. You cannot live for Christ without knowing who He is, what He has done, and how it effects your life.
The times I spend blogging are almost always connected to times of spiritual edification. I read the Bible and pray in the morning and then turn to my keyboard to reflect on what God has been teaching me. I read a good book and then write about what I have learned through the pages of that book. I read the news and allow world events to interact in my mind (and on my site) with what I know of God's Word. I have often said that if I stopped reading and stopped spending time with God I would have to stop blogging. I am convinced that if I stall in my spiritual growth I would very soon run out of things to say.
Comment: Brett and I can attest to the truth of what Mr. Challies says, both in regards to our preference of how our readers spend their time, and in regards to the effect reading has on writing. Our blog was birthed out of a period of heavy reading. We have found that when we get too caught up in blogging and cease to read, our inspiration dries up, and the quality of our writing drops substantially. This also happens when we satisfy our desire to read by reading less-than-great literature. There are far too many great books for us to waste our time on "okay" ones.Bob Kauflin: (Link: More Thoughts on Blogging) In recent years God has allowed C.J. Mahaney, my dear friend and former senior pastor, to develop some unexpected but meaningful friendships with Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Ligon Duncan. Unexpected because CJ barely graduated from high school and these guys have lots of letters after their names. They also come from Baptist and Presbyterian roots, while CJ heads up the reformed charismatic family of churches known as Sovereign Grace Ministries. Unexpected as they are, the friendship he shares with these men is meaningful because they share a common passion for (among other things) the Gospel, Reformed soteriology, the local church, and a complementarian understanding of men and women (equal worth before God with differing roles). Their common commitment to the Savior and doctrines of primary importance has given them a deep love and respect for each other. As evidence of what God has been doing in their relationships, they are sponsoring a pastors' conference in Louisville, Kentucky, April 26-28, called Together for the Gospel. I'll have the privilege of leading in corporate praise from piano throughout the conference.
To stimulate discussion on the topics that will be addressed at the conference, these guys have started a blog. Since I did a series on blogging a few weeks ago, I thought this post by Mark Dever, The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs, is great counsel for anyone who reads or writes blogs...
So why am I highlighting the "unbearable lightness of blogs" when you're reading my blog? Two reasons. First, I don't think that Mark is saying that blogging is worthless. He's simply pointing out the temptations and limitations of the medium, and encouraging us to prioritize reading that is substantial and enduring. Second, I don't want you to see WorshipMatters for more than it is: an encouragement never to be satisfied with less than what God has created you for - passionate, grateful, humble, all-of-life devotion to the rule, love, and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Comment: We include Mr. Kauflin's comments because of his explanation and backround regarding the friendship and camaraderie between the authors of the Together for the Gospel Blog and for his two reasons for highlighting Mr. Dever's post. We couldn't say it better.CJ Mahaney: (Link: An Appetite for Reading) I’d like to play point guard for a moment and pass the topic of Mark’s blog to my friends. Mark wisely expresses his concern that “we not neglect reading more important things…more substantial things.” I couldn’t agree more about the priority of reading for a pastor and the prioritizing of reading (“the important and substantial”). I have yet to meet a leader who is growing in personal passion for God and godliness, and effectiveness in pastoral ministry and preaching, who doesn’t have a voracious appetite for reading. And you men are all very serious about reading! So it would serve us all if you would provide us with a detailed description of your practice of this most important spiritual discipline. So here are some questions I’d like you to please answer:
- When and how did your love for reading begin?
- Describe your present practice of the spiritual disciplines and provide us with the specifics, if you would (reading of Scripture, supplemental books, how much time you devote to this each day, etc).
- Apart from the daily study of Scripture for the edification of your soul, approximately how much time do you devote to reading each day or week?
- What books are you presently reading? Al, just for fun, how many books did you read last week?
- What have been the five to ten most influential books you have read?
- Mark, please describe your monthly reading plan so everyone can be inspired by your example and provoked by your strategic approach to reading that is different each month of the year.
Comment: Brett and I were thrilled when Mr. Mahaney asked these questions. They are the types of questions that we would ask if we were given the opportunity to speak with such men, whether from the past or present. Well, all except the last one.Mark Dever: (Link: My Canon of Theologians) Now, CJ, as to your question about reading schedule. It is true that I have what I call my "canon of theologians". These are a group of writers from the past, from which I try to do at least a little misc. reading each month, specifically so that I'm not just talking to people from now about what I'm interested in. Instead, I want to make sure that I get some people from "then" about what they're "interested in."
- January: Early Church (Polycarp, Ignatius, Didache, etc.)
- February: Augustine
- March: Martin Luther
- April: John Calvin
- May: The one, the only RICHARD SIBBES
- June: Either John Owen or John Bunyan
- July: Jonathan Edwards
- August: C. H. Spurgeon
- September: B. B. Warfield
- October: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- November: Carl F. H. Henry (also CS Lewis)
- December: John Stott (also Packer, Carson)
Comment: I have little to add except to make sure each of you take note of when Mr. Dever mentioned, "I've never written about this before..." Being able to follow this conversation is a treasure.Al Mohler: (Link: Some Thoughts on Reading Books) I cannot really remember when I did not love to read books. I do know that I was very eager to learn to read, and that I quickly found myself immersed in the world of books and literature. It may have been a seduction of sorts, and the Christian disciple must always be on guard to guide the eyes to books worthy of a disciple's attention -- and there are so many.
As Solomon warned, "Of making many books there is no end" [Ecclesiastes: 12:12]. There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours of devoted to reading. Devotional reading for spiritual profit is an important part of the day, and that begins with the reading of Scripture. In terms of timing, I am somewhat unorthodox. My best time for spending time in the Word is late at night, when all is calm and quiet and I am mentally alert and awake. That is not the case when I first get up in the mornings, when I struggle to find each word on the page (or anything else, for that matter).
In the course of any given week, I will read several books. I know how much I thrive on this learning and the intellectual stimulation I get from reading. As my wife and family would be first to tell you, I can read almost anytime, anywhere, under almost any kind of conditions. I have a book with me virtually all the time, and have been known to snatch a few moments for reading at stop lights. No, I do not read while driving (though I must admit that it has been a temptation at times). C.J., I took books to high school athletic events when I played in the band. [Heap coals of scorn and nerdliness here.] I remember the books -- do you remember the games?
A few initial suggestions:
- Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project, and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and also keeps me working across several disciplines.
- Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead -- not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.
- Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.
- Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set, and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.
- Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, to such reading. It doesn't have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill. [Feel the adrenalin surge, C.J.?]
- Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. [Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.] Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.
Comment: I can say little except to urge all of you, once again, to glean from Dr. Mohler's wisdom. He is a man Brett and I greatly admire. He authors one of the best (if not the best) blogs out there. The fruit of his reading habits is evident — so we encourage all of you to, along with us, follow his example.CJ Mahaney: (Link: A Question... and Your Canon of Theologians) Thanks for the excellent post (“Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books”) Al! And thanks for devoting time to this blog amidst your endless to do list! Sadly, I don’t remember the games and if I could do it all over again, I would gladly read instead of playing sports. I needed a friend like you to inspire me.
Comment: We all need friends who will inspire and exhort us to engage in activities that strengthen us, not only physically, but also spiritually (character) and mentally (competence). Are we seeking out those kinds of friends? Are we being that kind of friend?CJ Mahaney (continued): Mark, thanks for the invitation to pursue you for more ("Church Membership, the Archbishop & My Canon of Theologians"), my friend! .... Here’s what we still need from you. Why did you create this annual rotation of theologians and what has been the fruit and effect of this reading schedule upon your soul and in your ministry? Also, please do a post on the five to ten most influential books you have read. And I’m still waiting for your Super Bowl pick.
All of you make sure to continue tracking this conversation on the Together for the Gospel Blog. Meanwhile, the comments section is open. Feel free to discuss anything related to books and reading. What books have most influenced you?