Many times over the last ten years of Christian ministry I have interacted with this generation over the topic everyone loves today. Reading. In 2000, one young man who went with me to Eastern Europe said:
I don't like reading, becasue that would involve...well, reading.
With a generation coming up that is saturated with media, ingnorant of their own history (both the evil and the good chapters), oblivious to our intellectual heritage, and generally resistance to turning a page, I have made it a prayer and calling to encourage others to read. I wanted to take just a moment and share why I feel reading is so important. Important today, in the 21st century.
Reading Slows and Quiets the Soul
The pace our our generation is one on the move. We hop from website (or in my case blog to blog), we surf channels, we function with background music in just about everything we do, we have our own headphones, little kids have little DVD players for the back seat of the car. See this article on the MediaWise Web Site for good reasons to slow down the torrent of media.
And then, we try to read a book. We try to read the Bible. Oh, how we need to turn off, slow down, pause, remove the noise and train ourselves to read. I know the pace of my soul greatly changes when I linger in the Scriptures or a good book. Our brains function differently when reading, and the soul may pause before God. I believe the quietness of reading the Scriptures to be one of the reasons God gave us a book. To speak to us - to have us be still and know he is God.
Reading Keeps a Mind Sharp and Helps us to Learn how to Think Critically
The ability to construct an argument, to connect thoughts in an order, to persuade, to filter all we hear is a skill which is being lost upon a generation. Reading and following a train of thought can be difficult to do with information flying around us in short sound bites. Reading allows us to follow along with someone who is attempting to make a point; it helps us see when someone makes mistakes or fails to make her case. Reading just makes better thinkers. Some basic understanding of logic (I know there are logic haters abounding today as well) doesn't hurt either.
A Fight for Language and Its Artful Use
Language is a gift from a speaking God. We use language because God has given it to us. God himself speaks, so of all people, we ought value language highly. Language has taken a beating over the years, be it from Wittgenstein or Derrida. Yet, it is still the only tool we have. Many are keen to quote the research that 90% of communication is non-verbal. I always find this statistic strange. I believe it accurate - with body language, posture, facial expression, and tone being indespensible for good communication. But that 10% seems to be the most important in the process. I can get by with gestures, facial contortions, but combine all thes with words I think the communication is much more complete. Clear and artful writing needs CPR, no it needs a kiss from God. May we ever take seriously the words we write and read - yes, even in e-mail.
As a Protest in a Distracted Age
John Piper recently remarked that our age is one which is running to alternative forms of communication (video, etc) and telling a generation that it needs to be spoken to in pictures rather than words. He encouraged all the young people, when they hear this sort of thing, to stand up in protest and say "I'm going to the Library." I agree. Young people, reject the patronizing nonsense that you are idiots who cannot tackle a book. Challenge that in yourself, grab a dictionary, grab a friend who wants to change. Have reading hour in protest of those who would belittle your intellect.
Making friends with others from a different age
The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ("mere Christianity" as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
One of the great blessing is to walk with the great minds of the past. I have been so encouraged and blessed by reading Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. I have been brought up into heavenly visions reading Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, and the letters of Spurgeon. Breathing air from different ages is a pleasant undertaking; don't miss the fresh breezes of history by always chewing on the spirit of the age.
Not being led and held captive by "They"
In the 1997 space alien comedy Men in Black (Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith) Agent Kay (Jones' character) makes the following statement:
You will dress only in attire specially sanctioned by M.I.B. special services. You'll conform to the identity we give you. Eat where we tell you. Live where we tell you. From now on, you'll have no identifying marks of any kind. You will not stand out in any way. Your entire image is crafted to leave no lasting memory with anyone you encounter. You are a rumor, recognizable only as deja vu, and dismissed just as quickly. You don't exist. You were never even born. Anonymity is your name, silence is your native tongue. You are no longer part of the system. You are above the system, over it, beyond it. We're "them." We're "they." We are the Men in Black.
Too funny! But there is a truth we must get to as well. Our culture is so addicted to "they say this, they say that." If "they" say something why does this make it true? We need to ask who "they" are - then read what they say. We are all too believing at times of the experts, we must learn to understand what they say and whether it is so. The Bereans could teach us much in our day
Communion with God
Finally, and most importantly, we read to have communion with God. His words must guide us, his truth most be upon us. God has given testimony to himself in many ways; the Scriptures, the Bible, the Good Book, being primary. The Scriptures testify to us as to the nature and will of God, the nature and mission of Jesus, how to walk these roads with him on our way to the celestial city. If reading continues to fall out of repute among the people of God, all manner of error, confusion, false teaching, and hell will be unleashed in our midst.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
O Father, have your children drawn to the Scriptures for their lives and communion with you. And do Lord call us continually to wonderful, God exalting, soul stirring, passion inflaming, service inspiring, suffering sustaining, Christ worshipping books.