Reading More Without Living Less

Addressing Religious-Based Concerns About Reading: Part 1

October 24, 2012

In the past few years, I’ve encountered several concerns from Christians about reading. While it’s a little bit off the topic of “reading more without living less,” I think it’s aligned with this topic, particularly since how one answers these questions could allow a conscience to be bound in a way that allows for very little reading. The concerns have been numerous, but most of the questions can be generalized under two broader questions. (I’ll address the second in a separate post tomorrow).

1. Shouldn’t a Christian be reading his Bible more than reading so many books?

Both my husband and I have been approached to consider that we’re making that sure whatever amount of time we are spending reading books, we are also spending an equal or greater amount of time reading the Bible and/or praying.

I understand the sentiment behind this, and the desire to do what is best. For the record, I’ve heard this applied to dating, too. I.e., whatever amount you spend with your girlfriend/boyfriend, you should also be spending the same amount of time praying. (Though this somehow usually mysteriously drops once the marriage begins.)

First, it’s important to highlight that there is a danger in making rules where the Bible makes no clear statements or even assumable principles about. There were groups of people who did this in the Bible, as well. When the Old Testament taught that their people were to tithe 1 out of 10 of their harvest, they took that rule and thought they could do even better. In a sort of OCD fashion, they found that they could apply to every single item, tithing even of their spices, mint and cumin. They used these and other non-Biblical burdens to bind the consciences of many people, and put them under a heavy spiritual weight that was the opposite of what it was supposed to be. These people were the Pharisees, and Jesus had some words of rebuke for them. In our day, we often refer to this approach as legalism.

Legalism can be a scary word, but having a legalistic approach doesn’t necessarily mean the legalistic person is doing so purposefully or maliciously. It was a paradigm-shift for me to realize that my conscience could be bound beyond what God’s Word addressed. When we elevate opinion to the level of creedal truth, we actually cheapen what is genuinely creedal truth. It is helpful to visit and revisit our “rules” to ensure that we are not doing this.

It is true that it is important for a Christian to devote time to growing his walk with God, and that includes regular intake of God’s Word. But if we take this principle to it’s necessary extension, we would need to be reading our Bible more than we spend time eating our meals, going to classes or work, or doing laundry. While it may be tempting to neglect all laundry forever for excessive Bible reading, exposing this extended principle helps us see it’s legalistic nature.

It should also be observed that reading other books helps to bring greater clarity and insight to Scripture. God created a vast and beautiful world, and by reading the observations and insights of others, we can better appreciate what God has done, the vastness of His wonders, and the amazing diversity in his Creation. As we learn more about the world around us, it may actually help us learn to love and study Scripture more.

Tomorrow’s post will examine, Is it wise or even permissible for a Christian to read secular books or books that differ in theological matters?”

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  • Erika October 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

    “It should also be observed that reading other books helps to bring greater clarity and insight to Scripture.”

    So very true! A reader can get more fuel for meditating on Scripture by reading broadly. And since the Scriptural commands focus on meditation not reading (for obvious historical reasons!), we should be doing all we can to help ourselves meditate day and night! I know I have found continual biblical meditation far harder than reading for a set number of minutes or verses. I greatly appreciate reinforcement from all sides!

    • Keren October 24, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      Good extending thoughts, Erika.

      While I didn’t address it here (or the next post, either), I have also heard the objection that you shouldn’t listen to the Bible via audio as your main source of Scripture intake. While I personally find it helpful to intake the Bible through active reading and listening via audio, I have recently been thinking about Romans 10:17 and “faith comes by hearing.” So in connection with your comment on meditation and not “reading,” it is interesting to think about what Scripture intake and subsequent meditation looked like for many centuries prior to this. (Obviously, readers and writers are necessary, but an interesting aspect to meditate on (double use of the word intended). 🙂

      In regards to what I’ve written about “cross-polination,” I see this happening frequently in regards to giving greater clarity and insight to my Biblical worldview as I continue to read books of all types and think about Scripture.

      • Erika October 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm

        I did realize that my comment was rather tangential on a post about reading! But the whole reading vs. meditation issue has been a huge consideration for me since last winter, so when you mentioned tracking the time a person spends reading the Bible itself, my “meditation” meditations jumped to mind! The command that I found closest to actual reading was “study what was written”–and yes, writing and reading are essential to our studying and meditating on Scripture! We are so greatly blessed in our day to have the Bible in our hands (and on our iPods! Ü), and yet I would guess that the majority of Christians nowadays are greatly distracted and mostly unable to meditate “all the day”–myself included far more often than I would like to admit!

        “I understand the sentiment behind this, and the desire to do what is best.” I too appreciated this point and Kristen’s comment below. Reading is an important discipline that we must make time for–and that requires self-control as we try to establish/strengthen habits and priorities–with all our reading content! So at times maybe an individual will need to track minutes (much like the disciplines of counting steps or calories)–as part of endeavoring for the “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” goal! But I know personally my minute total in a day doesn’t compare with various times in the past (both of the Bible and other books)–and yet that doesn’t have to mean my spiritual and intellectual growth is stunted. Praise God for His abundant and sustaining grace–and the beauty of Christ that we can revel in as we consider the Word!

        • Erika October 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

          Oops, forgot to mention (and praise God for) the Spirit’s illumination as we read/study/meditate–and His enablement to be self-controlled–it’s a fruit of Spirit with good reason, definitely not a natural part of me!

  • Johanna Hanson October 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    “It should also be observed that reading other books helps to bring greater clarity and insight to Scripture.” — YES!

    And common grace…there is so much to learn from others regardless of their worldview.
    That being said, we need more true scholars (in all fields of study) that also have a biblical worldview.

    • Keren October 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Yes, very much about common grace! (Which is also part of tomorrow’s post. :))

  • Links I Found Interesting: October 25, 2012 | CheloBeazley.Com October 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    […] Keren Threlfall – “Addressing Religious-Based Concerns About Reading Part 1.” (Reading More Without Living Less series).  I’ve found Keren’s series on the topic of reading very interesting and helpful.  This particular article addresses questions I’ve asked myself in the past (and people have hinted to me). First, it’s important to highlight that there is a danger in making rules where the Bible makes no clear statements or even assumable principles about. There were groups of people who did this in the Bible, as well. When the Old Testament taught that their people were to tithe 1 out of 10 of their harvest, they took that rule and thought they could do even better. In a sort of OCD fashion, they found that they could apply to every single item, tithing even of their spices, mint and cumin. They used these and other non-Biblical burdens to bind the consciences of many people, and put them under a heavy spiritual weight that was the opposite of what it was supposed to be. These people were the Pharisees, and Jesus had some words of rebuke for them. In our day, we often refer to this approach as legalism… […]

  • Chelo October 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    And may i just go ahead and be the third to add that quote that Johanna and Erika mentioned 🙂

    “It should also be observed that reading other books helps to bring greater clarity and insight to Scripture.”

    I am so glad you addressed this topic in the series because the religious-based concerns have been in my mind (and also have been hinted to me).

    For me personally and more recently, reading books that are not written from a Christian perspective (such as Simplicity Parenting, Spark, and novels such as a Thousand Splendid Suns) has made me hunger to search the Scriptures more.

    • Keren October 24, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      Thank you for encouraging me to think harder on some of these questions, too.

      Yes, I agree to your last statement, as well–even those specific works!

  • Kristen October 24, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Ok, I’ll be the fourth to comment on that quote since it definitely struck a chord with me. 🙂 I don’t know that I ever felt my conscience bound regarding secular books. But somehow growing up I just never considered them as an option, as tools God might use to shape me positively. In high school I saturated myself in Scripture and also read “devotional books” (Packer, Piper, Tozer, etc.) Yet I was not reading extra-biblical books critically enough. Now that I’m reading more broadly, I find myself more intentionally filtering everything I read through a biblical grid. I approach every book, religious and secular, looking for what aligns with and contradicts Scripture/a biblical worldview.

    Case in point, Simplicity Parenting. This is one of the books the Lord has used most significantly to help me as a parent. At first that was uncomfortable to me since my theology and worldview differ significantly from the author’s. However that forced me to meditate on Scripture and to ponder whether the author’s perspective was truly helpful, and if so why. Ultimately I came away with a more nuanced understanding of my children and new ideas of how to apply long-familiar Scriptures such as “do not provoke your children to anger.”

    • Kristen October 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      “I understand the sentiment behind this [exhortation to spend equal or greater time reading Scripture as other books]….”

      Meant to comment that I’m glad you mentioned this. Making more time to read in general has shown me that I really do have more time to read (or at least listen to) Scripture than I long thought. But to be painfully honest, many times I am drawn to the fascinating information or engaging storyline of a current read, and I make a conscious choice to read something instead of listening to the Bible (most of my “reading” is listening). The answer is obviously not for me to instate a rule for myself that would bind a heavy burden on my back but rather to be listening to the Spirit’s voice so that I do give the Word a rich dwelling in me, which may sometimes mean waiting to delve into the next chapter of that book that is competing for my attention.

    • Keren October 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Good perspective to bring to this thought–helpful coming at this from a slightly different angle.

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