Well Jim Elliff certainly stirred things up a little bit with some of his comments on reading good books.
Let me first of all affirm something that Jim said, which I think was his main point: We should be above all else Bible readers! I agree wholeheartedly. Our Bible reading should be our priority. Our Bible is the authority by which all other books are tested. So I give a hearty “Amen” that we should be above all else people of the Book, real Bible people.
However, I think Jim “protesteth too much.” Good books, solid Christian literature, have been used by God throughout the centuries to help God’s people, resolve theological controversy, understand God’s Word, bring Reformation and even revival.
Books have played a major role in my life and growth as a Christian. (See Chapter 21 in Feelings and Faith). God has used biographies in my life. God has used theology, books on Greek grammar and exegesis, commentaries and books on the Christian life. I ask myself, “Where would my Christian life be without JC Ryle’s Holiness? Or Owen’s Sin and Temptation? Or Packer’s Knowing God? Or Piper’s Desiring God, The Pleasures of God?” My Christian life would be poorer if it were not for Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon and John Murray, and many more. These godly men and their insight into Scripture have enriched my life in a way that I do not have the inherent ability to do. They have gifts that I do not have. In fact, they are not only Christ’s gifts to the church, but to me. They have helped me be a better pastor, a better husband, father, and Christian.
So should we read our Bibles more? Absolutely! Should we give up good books? Not all! We need to be careful that we do not inadverently dismiss the gifts of Christ to His people in an effort to do something good.
Below is a helpful piece from John Piper on how to decide which books to read.
Thanks for listening!
How do you decide which books to read?
1) Largely from other people’s recommendations that are within the scope of the kinds of things I want to or have time to read.
If other people I trust tell me that something is astonishing and worth my while, I go for it. They usually read faster than I do, so they read more books than me and know which ones to recommend.
2) Sometimes I just feel very burdened about an issue and very interested in a certain aspect of it.
Take the issue of racial harmony. I’m always thinking about what I should be reading so that I can go deeper and become wiser about ethnic diversity and racial harmony in our country. A woman came up to me after church and said she had just read the autobiography of Clarence Thomas called My Grandfather’s Son. She said it was so good, so helpful and that I should consider it. Bang! I bought it. I put it by my bedside and I read it—I devoured it.
So that was for two reasons: a life commitment to grow on that issue and a recommendation from a woman in my church.
3) Another factor is proven time.
I don’t think we ought to be reading new books all the time. I think we should read old books. And then the question is whether time and history has proven them. There are some books that have been around forever, and they are, generation after generation, witnessed to as being very shaping to people’s lives. So I think we should constantly be exposing ourselves to those classics and not always reading the latest thing.
So I recommend reading 1) things that relate to the passions of your life, 2) recommendations from people that are responsible and that you respect, and 3) time-proven, classic, deep works on various issues.
What are two or three classics that you would recommend to just about anyone?
The Bible, the most proven and most useful book, should be in your reading list every day.
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Everybody, I think, who can read English can benefit from working their way through that.
In my own life I put The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards very high up the list. And for those with a really strong theological bent, The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. Two massively influential books in my life.
Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.