A Lament and a Poignant Longing

For many of the image bearers of God in our day being literate is neither a goal nor a possibility. They have been rendered functionally autistic through the diversions of digital media, hyper hedonism, and pseudo-education that is more concerned with indoctrination than with the invocation of the muse, whose presence can transport us to unexplored lands of truth, even to eternity.

The National Endowment for the Arts laments (again) that reading is in steep decline. How can I provoke in my students the love of learning, the thrill of discovery, the discipline of finding, testing, and applying ideas? How can I commend reading over watching or playing? I can attempt to be a model of a literate man–a very imperfect one, who got a late start, and who chronically feels his ignorance. I can pray for them to awaken, to begin to disdain the cave they call a home.

— Douglas Groothuis

Reading List 2008

Last year I offered a suggested reading list of six Christian classics (see it HERE) in order to introduce readers to our great Christian literary heritage and asked simply that you commit before the Lord to read those books. A number of folks did just that, with wonderful results for their lives — having their faith strengthened, their hope renewed, their endurance encouraged, their thinking challenged, and their love of God and his Church deepened.

So, still with some trepidation, I offer for your reading pleasure and further spiritual growth the reading list for 2008:

(JANUARY-FEBRUARY) Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality — What does true, biblical, Christian spirituality, grounded in Christ’s finished work, look like in real, everyday life? How do we live our Christian lives both more effectively and freely, every moment, by the grace of God? These are the sorts of issues Schaeffer characteristically helps us think more clearly and biblically about. Read this book carefully and thoughtfully and it will have a profound effect on your life.

(MARCH-APRIL) Jonathan Edwards’s The Life and Diary of David Brainerd — David Brainerd was a passionate, self-denying, praying man of God, who said on his 24th birthday, “I hardly ever so longed to live to God and to be altogether devoted to Him; I wanted to wear out my life in his service and for his glory ….” That would have been in 1742. In 1743, he gave himself wholeheartedly as a missionary to Native Americans in the northeast. In the fall of 1747, he died of tuberculosis. He was 29 years old. This is a book that will convict our lack of prayer and ignite in us a spirit of prayer.

(MAY-JUNE) J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism — The title says it all: theological liberalism is not the same thing as Christianity! That’s the case Machen argues, and this is a classic book in the great battle for Truth and the true Faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

(JULY-AUGUST) Harry Blamires’s The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? — Blamires was a student of C. S. Lewis and offers to us in this book the basics of a Christian worldview and an understanding of how being a Christian affects the way we think about all kinds of things. Foundational reading!

(SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER) Os Guinness’s When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image — An exploration on how to change the ways we live for good. Chapters include “The Importance of Character,” “Character in the Crucible,” “Cultural Erosions of Character,” “Spiritual Foundations for Strong Character,” and “Heroes of Character.”

(NOVEMBER-DECEMBER) Paul Little’s Know What You Believe — This book is a wonderful summary of the basics of the Christian faith. You might also want to follow this reading with his next, entitled Know Why You Believe.

Once again, this offers a very “do-able” schedule of one book every two months. I encourage you to take the plunge into our greater Christian literary heritage, this aspect of “the communion of the saints,” to hear the instruction of those who’ve gone before us, and then faithfully to pass it on to those who follow.

The Results of Good Reading…

A friend of ours, Bethany Mendenhall, has posted some thoughts about her recent reading of one of the modern American classics, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on her blog. In addition to being moved by the story, she made the connection to the importance of the author’s work in its contemporary setting as well as its applicability to today. As a result, she has started a conversation, through comments on the piece, about truth with a couple of readers.

This is what we hope will happen as we read and think and then express these thoughts to others.

Make sure you read Bethany’s post.

It’s Better in Egypt …

 …But what more oft, in nations grown corrupt,                   

    And by their vices brought to servitude,

    Than to love bondage more than liberty,

    Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty…

-John Milton, Samson Agonistes


Americans can still be smart and creative, but the pressure of the times is oriented toward quickness–we want instant messaging, live news breaks, fast food, mobile phoning, and snap judgements.  As a result, we are growing into a shallow people, happy enough with the easy gratifications of mere speed and spectacle in all aspects of life.  Real books are simply too serious for us.  Too slow.  Too hard.  Too long.  Now and again, we may feel that just maybe we’ve short-changed our better selves, that we might have listened to great music, contemplated profoundly moving works of art, read books that mattered, but instead we turned away from them because it was time to tune in to Law and Order reruns, or jack into a Warcraft game on our home computer, or get back to the latest made-for-TV best seller. 

…In short, we turn toward the bright and shiny, the meretricious tinsel, the strings of brightly colored beads for which we exchange our intellectual birthright as for a mess of pottage.  For all too many twenty-first century Americans, only the unexamined life is worth living.

-Michael Dirda, Reading Beyond the Best-Seller List: A Polemic and a Plea

Our books …

Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:

Christianity has been closely connected with the book and the written word from its inception. Books remain important to Christians — scholars and laypersons alike. We should be thankful that at this historical juncture the book is more accessible than ever. Serious Christians can and should start personal libraries of important and worthy Christian books. Some will be large and some will be small, but each can serve us the way Jerome’s library served him — and blessed the church.

Read this encouraging and thoughtful reflection, entitled “Books, Libraries, and the Ideal of Christian Scholarship,” on his weblog HERE!


“There is a vitiated literary taste, arising not so much from reading what is bad, as from exclusive study of one class of books, and these perhaps the more exciting.  There is also a vitiated spiritual taste, not necessarily growing out of error or the study of unsound books, but arising from favoritism in the reading of Scripture, which shows itself both in the preference of certain parts to others, and in the propensity to search these others only for their references to certain favorite truths.  Let the whole soul be fed by the whole Bible … ”

-Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness

This is a quote I came across that relates to Ken’s post on Dr. Mohler’s refreshingly unpretentious suggestions for reading.  He mentions that he is reading in six different subjects at any given time.  The point is that he reads widely.  Just as we cannot (or should not) read only particular portions of Scripture ( … two chapters in Leviticus is enough, right?) and leave the rest out, so also we should not limit our selections of other books to one or two subjects.  We won’t take to every subject, and some we shouldn’t take to, but we should make an effort with unfamiliar subjects.  We might be surprised by what we find. 

I came across another quote in my reading that fits in here on another level.  Not only should we read widely, we should live widely.  What I mean is that we should interact outside of our comfort zone.  We should not limit our selections of people to one or two “types.”  We won’t take to every type, and some we shouldn’t take to, but we should make an effort with unfamiliar types.  We might be surprised by who we find.

 “The truly wide taste in humanity will … find something to appreciate in the cross-section of humanity whom one has to meet everyday. … Made for us?  Thank God, no.  They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Some Suggested Reading

For those of you looking to expand your library of apologetics and theological books, Spencer Haygood has prepared a list over on his blog site at BibleDriven.com. This is in addition to the recommended list for 2007 posted on this site earlier this year. See the links to both in the Links list on the right hand side of this page.

Suggestions From A Legendary Reader

Among the things for which Dr. Albert Mohler is known is his library and his voracious reading habit. I saw a video clip of him in his library once…his collection of books is measured in thousands. His blog today (a republishing of an earlier post) offers some tips on reading that are worth noting. Read his suggestions here.

Happy reading!


    I am posting one of my favorite poems, written by Matthew Arnold, entitled Desire.  I know it’s a bit long, but it is necessary to keep the proper format.  I was hesitant at first to put this poem out there because I feared some readers may not grasp it’s power and scope. This fear was not from any literary arrogance but welled up from that protective instinct we often develop toward favorite things. It differs very little from a mother’s protectiveness of her child.

My reluctance also stemmed from the awareness that people aren’t much interested in poetry these days. I don’t want to over-generalize here, but I doubt the previous sentence is much of a reach. Poetry can be the most demanding kind of reading. We’d rather tag it with our overused ‘Not Worth the Effort’ label and spend our ever-dwindling stash of Time on worthier things like television and video games. Again, don’t think I write out of arrogance, as if I am not a great ‘labeler’ myself. Strong and sincere criticism is best when the critic knows his place at the forefront of the criticized.

As you read this poem think of the story God is weaving throughout all time, the ‘already, not yet’ aspect of the Christian life, our minute-by-minute need of grace, David’s cries for deliverance in the Psalms, and the great hope of the prophets amid their God-given decrees of judgment.

THOU, who dost dwell alone—
        Thou, who dost know thine own—
        Thou, to whom all are known
        From the cradle to the grave—
                Save, oh, save.
        From the world’s temptations,
            From tribulations;
        From that fierce anguish
        Wherein we languish;
        From that torpor deep
        Wherein we lie asleep,
Heavy as death, cold as the grave;
                Save, oh, save.

        When the Soul, growing clearer,
            Sees God no nearer:
        When the Soul, mounting higher,
            To God comes no nigher:
        But the arch-fiend Pride
        Mounts at her side,
        Foiling her high emprize,
        Sealing her eagle eyes,
        And, when she fain would soar,
        Makes idols to adore;
        Changing the pure emotion
        Of her high devotion,
        To a skin-deep sense
        Of her own eloquence:
Strong to deceive, strong to enslave—
                Save, oh, save.

        From the ingrain’d fashion
        Of this earthly nature
        That mars thy creature.
        From grief, that is but passion
        From mirth, that is but feigning;
        From tears, that bring no healing;
        From wild and weak complaining;
            Thine old strength revealing,
                Save, oh, save.
        From doubt, where all is double:
        Where wise men are not strong:
        Where comfort turns to trouble:
        Where just men suffer wrong:
        Where sorrow treads on joy:
        Where sweet things soonest cloy:
        Where faiths are built on dust:
        Where Love is half mistrust.
Hungry, and barren, and sharp as the sea;
                Oh, set us free.
        O let the false dream fly
        Where our sick souls do lie
            Tossing continually.
        O where thy voice doth come
            Let all doubts be dumb:
            Let all words be mild:
                    All strifes be reconcil’d:
            All pains beguil’d.
        Light bring no blindness;
        Love no unkindness;
        Knowledge no ruin;
        Fear no undoing.
        From the cradle to the grave,
                Save, oh, save.

Advice on Reading

While doing some research in preparation for a sermon next week, I ran across some advice on reading from Richard Baxter, one of the great Puritan pastors. One of the questions I often get asked is “How do I decide what to read?” You can’t do better than Baxter’s suggestions.

While reading ask oneself:

1. Could I spend this time no better?

2. Are there better books that would edify me more?

3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

There is a bit more to this good advice here.