One of my apologetic strategies for my children has been to annoy them, and if you ask them they will tell you I’m really good at it. Of course since the annoying has a purpose, they are willing to endure the annoyance of it all, most of the time. One thing I’m really annoying at is hounding my kids to read, and read some more. I still do it even though two of them are in their 20s, and one a teenager moving quickly toward college. I do this because I think there are few things more important in life than reading, than exercising our brains and imaginations with the written word (above all in books), and especially so in the Age of the Screen.
When I came across the article that is the title of this post, all I could do was shake my head, and commit myself to being even more annoying to my children! Before I get to why I think reading is so important for Christians, a little history is in order. As I explain in the book, because of the nature of America’s discovery and founding, Americans are a pragmatic people. Because of this, there has always been a strain of anti-intellectualism in American culture, and thus in the character of the American people. While Americans read more in the past, prior to the options of radio, TV, and now the Internet, ideas have never been the most important thing to Americans; getting things done, or made, has been.
In American Protestant Christianity, “getting things done” after the Second Great Awakening (first half of the 19th century) became conversion. Theology, or thinking seriously about the content of the Christian faith, became secondary to preaching “the gospel.” Theology came to be seen as divisive, and what goes on in the head as much less important than emotional experience. This led eventually to what came to be known in the 20th century as fundamentalism, and an orientation to the faith that was insular and antagonistic to the wider culture. The irony is that much of conservative Protestant Christianity shared an anti-intellectual and primarily subjective perspective on life with the rest of the culture it was rejecting.
A further irony is that our God and Savior in the Bible is called by the Apostle John, the Word (logos in Greek), and words are a very important part of books. I say this kind of sarcastically, but it’s also profound. The concept in Greek is much bigger than just some letters coming together to form a word, which should tell us that words are much bigger than words themselves. Bound up in these little things on pages is something divine, something that takes us into a realm of meaning and significance far beyond our mundane existence. It is not a coincidence that our Creator God chose to communicate his plans, purposes, and will to us in a book, in words on pages, in stories, propositions, and poetry. If that’s not enough to convince you, my brother or sister, of the importance of reading, I’m not sure what else will.
As I was contemplating this post, a verse from the Apostle Paul came to mind from Philippians that Christianity isn’t primarily about experience, or the subjective, emotional side of human experience. I would never say that is not important because these things are an integral part of what it means to be human and made in God’s image, but they are not of primary or first importance. I know such an assertion might be “controversial” to some, but it’s just biblical. The verse (4:8) goes like this:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
One thing this verse teaches us is that nothing can be experienced in life without first thinking about it. Anti-intellectualism should have nothing to do with Christianity, or us as disciples of Jesus Christ. And we first think about anything because of those little elements called words. So I would contend that not being “readers” as Christians is a dereliction of duty. So at the risk of annoying you, I would strongly suggest you read, and read some more!