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?”