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The inestimable value of reading

When you come… bring the scrolls, especially the parchments.

In his book The Reformation, historian Owen Chadwick says that Thomas Cranmer, when he was running the Church of England, spent three-quarters of his time studying.  How he managed this defies imagination, even in a world before email threatened to become our main literary input.  But readers of The Book of Common Prayer and Cranmer’s other output know we are so much the richer for Cranmer’s depth of reading.

Reading will help us, too.  May I commend to you the inestimable value of reading good Christian books?

Expositions of Bible books preach passages to us and help us enjoy the treasures of Scripture.  Many have been the holidays when I’ve been reinvigorated by taking one of Dale Ralph Davis’ volumes on books of the Old Testament, or a classic like Don Carson on the Sermon on the Mount. 

Explanations of Christian belief deepen our understanding of God’s Word, and show us who he is and the wonder of what He’s done.  Delve into great books such as Packer’s Knowing God or Stott’s The Cross of Christ and you will come out profoundly taught and encouraged.  Such books will build convictions in us, and help develop what might be called a ‘theological sense of smell’.  They will give us reasons to rejoice and motivation to serve.  Recently I read Peter Jensen’s The Life of Faith, again strongly recommended.

Biographies of useful Christians are simultaneously challenging (read about Fraser of Lisuland and his lonely praying!) and encouraging (learn how the Lord has used weak, sometimes unlikely, people in His service).  Here we see in others how Biblical principles can be lived out, and how mighty and faithful our God proves Himself to be.  One tip though: if you read biographies, read plenty, for you will more likely be yourself if you see our Redeemer’s genius in using a great variety of people than if you make heroes of a few.

Then there are books of Christian history.  Do you understand the Reformation?  Or the 18th century revival?  Or how liberalism infected the churches in 19th and 20th centuries?  Or the mighty work of God in China over the past 150 years?  Some mistakes we make in our churches would perhaps have been avoided had we known our history better.

Books on particular topics will also greatly help us.  We have to navigate a world of many faiths: how much do we understand about how radically different Christianity is from those?  Do we have a good grasp of the reasons Christianity is true?  Can we explain the gospel clearly to our colleagues and friends?  How do we navigate the complexities of living in a world of changing medical technology?  How do we deal with the world’s hostility to Christianity over sex?  How can we pray better?  Or deal with the complexities of relationships?

Reading is a mark of hunger (a desire to know and grow) and humility (for the reader admits they need help).  But to do it in a world in which we are bombarded with attention-fracturing media can only be achieved if we have a deep sense of its value.

We’ll need to take practical steps: here, maybe, is a way to use our commute, or maybe some time on our Sundays, and our holidays.  Or to listen to books while we walk.   And perhaps we can encourage one another, for instance by posting our reviews on GoodReads.