I often meet Christians who don’t read books. They don’t even read Christian books. Some are rather ashamed of this, but others seem quite proud of it. Their reasons vary, but there are a few fairly predictable categories.
They don’t have time.
They are too lazy.
They don’t like to think (or don’t think they can).
They don’t read well, so they don’t try.
They think the Bible is the only book they need.
I could address all of these points, and probably should. But I am going to focus on the last point. (I think if there is enough desire we know the other points are all just excuses that could be overcome.) The final objection, however, is far more intriguing to me.
It is also an excuse, of course, but this one is rooted in a very pious thesis. Their view is that the Bible is the only book we need for our Christian life, so why spend time reading other Christian books that are not the very breath of God?
“I Only Read the Bible”
I’ve even heard people quote this passage to defend their view:
“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2:27, ESV).
Non-readers often use this as an argument that all they need is the Bible, and the Holy Spirit, to guarantee their spiritual growth and sanctification. The problem with this logic, is that it ignores a host of other verses in the Bible. One of the primary principles of Biblical Hermeneutics (the discipline of how to understand the Bible in its proper context) is that you interpret Scripture by comparing it to other Scriptures. For example:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5, ESV).
The Apostles never anticipated that discipleship would end with them. Their goal was always to train others to continue the process of real-life teaching and instructing younger believers, in a relational context.
“(W)hat you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2, ESV).
Christianity is a self-replicating process, where each successive generation learns from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before. Our final authority, is of course, the Bible. However, the Bible itself tells us that we should be learning from humans.
I would agree that if all we had was a Bible, it would be adequate for us to be saved and go to Heaven when we die. There is no additional insight or revelation that is necessary for the salvation process.
But to say that we don’t need to learn from other Christians is, in my view, extremely arrogant. Do you ask professionals for advice in their field (doctors, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, etc.)? Most likely, you do. You know that there are people who know more about certain categories of life than you do. So why would someone assume that no one knows more about spiritual matters than he does? I understand the desire people have to be cautious regarding who they allow to teach them. That makes sense. Not everyone is godly, or is qualified to speak on theological or spiritual issues. A categorical skepticism, however, of all Bible teachers, or authors, is seriously misplaced.
I recently heard a man say that he would listen to his pastor, but he wouldn’t read a Christian book. I asked him if he would read a book written by his pastor (especially if the book were a compilation of his pastor’s sermons). The question gave him pause. For some reason, he has deemed listening to preaching as a good thing, but reading a book as a bad thing. The words are the same, whether someone speaks them or writes them. In fact, some pastors write out their entire sermons, word-for-word, before delivering them.
My contention is that a born-again Christian should have a teachable spirit, and be willing to learn from those who are older in the faith, have studied more, and have a gift of teaching. God has placed us in a body, and we all need each other.
“As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Cor. 12:20-21, ESV).
We should never reach a place in time where we feel that we don’t need to learn from other people. I believe embracing that mindset is actually sinful.
Of course, if in some strange world you HAD to choose between reading the Bible and Christian books, we should always read the Bible. It is the only breath of God. And it’s through knowing the Bible we can discern the truth of other books that we read. But it doesn’t have to be either / or. It should be both.
Life is Too Short to Read Good Books…Read Only Great Books!
If you don’t like to read, have a short attention span, prefer Netflix, read blogs or listen to podcasts instead…or whatever…so be it. I think you are short-changing yourself in a major way by not reading full books. The ideas are far more comprehesive and fleshed out in a longer thesis. But if you must neglect books, please do so for an honest reason that admits neglegence or a personal preference to avoid higher methods of learning. I would encourage you to reject the mentality that you and Jesus have your own little club, and no one else is adequately qualified to speak into your life. That’s really scary.
For those who would like to find some quality Christian books to read (perhaps to take a breather from mindless books and other multimedia, since we all need a change of pace now and again), here is a list of 30 Books that Have Changed My Life. Some people are open to reading great Christian books, but they are afraid because they don’t want to be led astray. The authors mentioned in that blog are a great place to get you on the right path of life-changing wisdom from people who really know/knew God.