Wednesday, December 05, 2012

People of the Book Who Don't Read

Christians have been called ‘People of the Book’ for centuries, which is ironic now because so few Christians read.  You might object that more and more books are sold through Christian book stores and online than ever before, but I would counter that most of what is sold is largely shallow and often even less useful than that, and how much of that is actually read?  I often run across Christians who want prayer and input on difficult situations in their lives and it is common for me and people in my position (pastors, etc.) to suggest books to help with the process.  More often than I would like to count, I receive the response, “I’m not a reader.”

It is an oxymoron for a Christian, someone whose faith is explained in the pages of a book, not to be a reader.  There are a myriad of reasons for why people read less and less, but I’m interested here with what happens to you when you don’t read – the Bible or good books.  You can’t not read and get away with it.

So, what happens to the Christian when they do not read?

Over time they can no longer understand their Bibles.

There is a lot of information in a Bible.  There are a lot of themes that trace themselves over hundreds of pages, through dozens of stories, several different forms of literature, and in plenty of doctrines and exhortations.  If a Christian’s primary source of analysis of the world comes in 6-minute increments with commercial breaks severed into even smaller segments then biblical comprehension will be difficult to say the least.

Over time they will misunderstand their Bibles and their faith.

Years ago I was teaching a college/young adult Sunday school class of about 60 people.  We did an exercise in which we traced a quotation from the Old Testament in the New Testament.  The plan, which I thought was highly useful, was to read the context of the OT passage and use that to help us understand the quotation in the New.  The first reaction I received was from a young school teacher who asked, “What do you mean by the context?” The exercise went downhill from there.

Modern media is almost utterly without context, or is at least designed to be consumed without context.  Sitcoms need laugh lines every few seconds.  Linear thought is unnecessary to consume most pop culture.  Popular songs are 3 ½ minutes long as opposed to the popular orchestral pieces played to the masses 250 years ago.  A Christian must fight against the soul malformation that happens in pop culture, tune out of it, and learn to read and think.

Over time they will be mislead about what their faith teaches.

Your Bible requires attentive reading.  Without it individual passages become bludgeons in the hands of all kinds of nefarious and heretical schemes.  Many aggressive atheists do not understand Scripture because they believe they have a handful of knock-down passages which show the Bible to be awful and irrational.  Every one of those I have encountered have been squeaky toys in the hands of children – a lot of annoying noise, no real damage done.  Cults twist passages in ways that make sense to Christians who don’t read.  Pop culture mocks Christianity in ways that frighten Christians who don’t read.

Over time they will stop reading their Bibles altogether.

Why continue to read something so large and difficult to understand when I can get a minute-long devotional from my favorite teacher addressing a practical need in my life which does not even need to reference Scripture or theology?  Isn't it all the same if I come out OK, act like a nice person, and learn how to be a better husband and manage my money a little better? A proof text without context is practically useless.

So what is a Christian to do?  Does it need to be said?  Read.  Read your Bible on a regular basis and read good books which help you understand what is going on in your Bible.  Read an entire New Testament Epistle in one sitting.  Learn to read everything through the lens of orthodox Christian doctrine.  Get used to finishing larger and larger books.  Find a few authors who are good at what they do and can challenge you to reach a little further.

You might be surprised how much better you will be for it.

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