The Demise of Reading in the Church




I wanted to offer some commentary and reaction to a recent piece Reformed scholar, Derek Thomas wrote. Please read this article before reading this post.

The Decline of Reading

Note what Thomas says about books. He writes:

Books are essential to Christian growth. And, if there is one disappointment I have as I reflect on over three decades of Christian ministry, it is the declining appetite among Christians for good Christian literature. As a consequence, today's Christianity is less robust.

Thomas has made an astute and accurate observation here. One would have to agree with what he says.

Years ago I used to be able to read books and be able to have in depth discussions about the books I was reading along with a discussion about the authors with other like-minded evangelicals. It was refreshing to be able to share how what I was reading was ministering to me and I was eager to share with other believers what I was learning. Now, it is not uncommon to get blank stares from other believers at any mention of books I am reading or at the mention of evangelical authors. Most Christians I know who are regularly reading are those in ministry but even that is declining.

Not too long ago I preached at a church where during my sermon I quoted both from David Jeremiah and from John Piper. Both of these pastors and authors are two of the most prolific and widely read in the past century of the church. Some had puzzled looks on their faces when I quoted from them. At the end of the service my wife said, "I don't know think those people had ever heard of the authors you were quoting." Before we left town, one of the elders said to me, "I really enjoyed your preaching...but I never heard of those authors." And this was a church here in America that was well within reach of Christian radio and with access to Christian literature.

I have already met believers who have been saved for many years who had no clue as to who John Calvin or Martin Luther were much less could name any of the most well known authors who God has used throughout the history of our faith. The amount of evangelicals who are not reading is staggering--even among those within church leadership.

"Today's Christianity is less robust"

This is of enormous concern to me. In an age of digital media, one with lots of entertainment and media, the appetite and desire among evangelicals to read as Thomas has pointed out is declining.

I think that for some, they do not even know how to read much less see the value of it. Some are more concerned about who their favorite football team is playing on Sunday than they are about any new books that publishers have coming out. Some Christians rely on their pastors to do all the reading and study for them.

What is unfortunate is that now we have more books and Christians resources now than we have had at any point in the history of the church. We have so many evangelical publishers that is hard to keep up with all of them (I am constantly finding out about ones I never heard of before!). Many of these publishers have godly and wise leadership that are out to not to make a profit but to provide the church with godly and biblical books and resources to foster spiritual growth. We have a plethora of tools, blogs, journals and magazines at our disposal. We have so much here in North America and there are so many believers in other countries just begging for a handful of books to read.

Books are essential to Christian growth


I like what Thomas says also in the article, "Books are essential to Christian growth." Simple enough. There are so many godly books that contain biblical wisdom that God can use to help us grow in our faith and in our understanding of the Bible. Wisdom can be gleaned from reading (Prov. 11:14). Numerous men and women of God over the history of the church have poured out their souls and have shared their turmoils and burdens with us through their writings. God has used books in my own life as a source of spiritual growth and encouragement. My books have become my companions and mentors over the years. They have been an indispensable component of my growth.

I agree with Thomas that today's Christianity has become less robust as a result of not being well read. Many Christians are not well rounded. They can hold good conversations about their jobs, their careers and fields but when it comes to being able to articulate their faith, they struggle. The evangelical church has become stagnant and weak in so many areas and I believe that in part this due to the decline in reading good literature. There are an abundance of books out there, a treasure trove of spiritual wealth waiting to be devoured. God has supplied the church with books written by godly Spirit-filled saints that would equip their leadership for ministry, foster spiritual growth, aid in having godly marriages and homes and so forth and yet so many are not availing themselves to these blessings.

Reading good books is a blessing. I can't encourage you enough to grab a good Christian book and discipline yourself to read. It can change your life.

3 comments:

  1. Good insights. I totally agree, especially for American Christians. Being well-read is something I'd venture to say most American Christians should strive to be, just because of where we live - in an increasingly educated society, a skeptical society, and an information society in which LIES spread quickly (e. the popular misunderstanding of what happened at the Council of Nicea is appalling). And I'm very tired of hearing inadequate or misinformed answers to unbelievers' questions, and the lack of a deep view of God and his Word.

    At the same time, I haven't had as many experiences with Christians as oblivious as you mention. Part of this may be that I went to a Christian college and family where the culture is just rigorous like that. Even those who weren't readers at least heard of major authors. In fact, I think that this younger generation of Christians will be very well-read (partly due to the new Reformed movement).

    To be honest though, not all people can read very well, and some simply cannot learn very well by reading. That's why I said "most," not "all." There is still a place for the witness of poorly educated Christians, and in some cases being caught up in books may simply be a distraction for them. For such people, we can recapture the value of oral and visual education, as many illiterate OT believers and Christians of the past learned... I don't know, what do you think? Should excellence in reading be a goal for all people?

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  3. Thanks for stopping in. Excellent comment here! I think you are "spot on" with what you said here and I agree with what you said.

    You said, "Being well-read is something I'd venture to say most American Christians should strive to be, just because of where we live - in an increasingly educated society, a skeptical society, and an information society in which LIES spread quickly (e. the popular misunderstanding of what happened at the Council of Nicea is appalling). And I'm very tired of hearing inadequate or misinformed answers to unbelievers' questions, and the lack of a deep view of God and his Word."

    Excellent point. Reading good books can help us in giving a defense (1 Pet. 3:15). Unbelievers are reading. Reading a wide variety of literature will help us be well rounded, well grounded and subsequently well prepared in engaging unbelievers in an educated postmodern society.

    A few years ago, I was in a Christian bookstore browsing through the books on Jesus. Right next to the evangelical books on Jesus was a book by Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar teaching that "we should not take the Bible literally." I pulled the book and brought it to the attention of the manager who thanked me for bringing it to his attention. He said he had "no idea" who Marcus Borg was but agreed with me that we want to get the right message out to people. I think that reading can help us with discernment and subsequently aid us in identifying issues like this.

    You also said, "In fact, I think that this younger generation of Christians will be very well-read (partly due to the new Reformed movement)." I also agree. I think that if we can identify anything positive with the surge of the "New Calvinist" and Reformed movement spearheaded by the likes of Piper/Carson/Keller and those within the Gospel Coalition it is that they are encouraging believers to read and think theologically about matters.

    You raised a profound question of, "Should excellence in reading be a goal for all people?" I would answer emphatically: yes. As you pointed out some will be better than others, more natural bookworms. But I believe striving for reading excellent literature should be a goal of evangelicals. And for those of us who are teachers, we can use visual aids in helping us recapture the value of oral and visual education--while prompting the need for reading.

    I am a firm believer that readers are leaders and vice versa. The best leaders I have ever met and learned from were heavy readers.

    One hundred years ago, the church was more well read than we are today. And I think as a result they were more robust than the increasingly stagnant modern day evangelical church.

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