Reading Habits

(This is a post probably most relevant to those who preach and teach in the church, but I think it likely that others will benefit as well.)

I’m often asked by people what I’m reading. It’s a hard question to answer, not because I don’t know what I’m reading (obviously), but because I fear a bit that throwing people into “what I’m reading” might not be completely helpful. Better, I think, to give people some idea of the habits underneath the particulars, and the convictions under those habits.

First, the convictions:

  • I have a conviction that all pastors, especially those who hold the office of teaching in any respect whatsoever (whether kids or adults, whether Sundays or Sunday schools) need to be lifelong learners. Your days of learning don’t begin and end with seminary or Bible college. They (should, anyway) precede and outlast it. Since the calling is to be a steward of what has been handed on to us, it ought to be a quest of yours to understand “what has been handed on” in ever-greater depth and complexity. Not doing so is irresponsible and reckless.
  • I have a conviction that such “lifelong learning” involves sitting at the feet of the “masters” of the faith as much and as often as you can. (More on that anon.)
  • I have a conviction that you should try to read as widely as possible–lots of different kinds of books representing different streams and different genres of literature.
  • I have a conviction that unless your daily habits reflect the above convictions, nothing of substance will happen. This has to be part of your LIFE. Daily.

So, then, the habits:

  • I put in at least an hour a day of good reading. Normally that occurs in the morning, before work. Sometimes in the evening. Often both.
  • I always have a few different “types” of books on my desk (or side table, or nightstand):
    • Always something “devotional.” Something to enrich my practice of the faith.
    • Always something “theological.” Something that challenges my thinking and causes me to stretch in my understanding of the Bible/theology/etc.
    • Always something “historical.” Something that helps me come to a greater appreciation of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
    • Always something “narrative.” Story. Story. Story. You can’t have enough good “story” in your life.
  • I always read “more old than new.” I realize that this can come off haughty, and is maybe a bit counterintuitive for an aspiring writer, BUT… I don’t have a lot of “spare time,” and so I want to use it wisely. Part of using it wisely involves devoting MOST of my reading time to books that have (or will) stand the test of time. Much of what is new is faddish. I don’t want faddishness to have any part of my thinking or ministry. I want deep roots. I want battle-tested ideas. I want knowledge that has stood the scrutiny of many different voices. I usually only read “new” if the book has come recommended or was written by someone I trust OR the book seems likely to make a significant splash. I want to know what’s in it. And I want to see how much and to what degree IT can stand up to the Great Tradition.

Hopefully that gives you some sense of how I think about this, and perhaps challenges and informs your own convictions and habits. What you read will be the “compost” that your written or spoken ministry will grow out of. So read wisely.

So… what am I chewing on right now?

  • Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle. A classic. On the journey “inward” to union with God.
  • Dante: The Divine Comedy. This is my 2nd reading. One of my heroes, CS Lewis, loved Dante and owed much to him. The Comedy is both profound theology and beautiful poetry at once, and it’s cool to see some of the roots of Lewis’ ideas.
  • Barth: Church Dogmatics (IV, 1). I read his Romans commentary years ago and have always wanted to work through the Dogmatics. So I bought a set late last year and at the advice of a friend am beginning with Vol IV, Book 1, which sets out the doctrine of reconciliation
  • Tolkien: Lord of the Rings. I’m a nerd here. These are an annual read for me. I’m on Return of the King now. Next up in the “fiction” category will likely be something by Flannery O’Connor, whom I’ve never read but have heard great things about.

On the “historical” side, I recently finished up Alan Kreider’s marvelous Patient Ferment of the Early Church. Not sure what’s next up for me yet in that category, but I’m on kind of an early church kick and would love to stay there if I can. I’d love any suggestions you might have!

Oh, I should also mention that as my kids are getting older, reading AS A FAMILY is becoming a huge joy. If you don’t do it, you should. I read through Harry Potter with my two oldest boys recently, and now the entire family and me are reading The Chronicles of Narnia together after dinner or right before bed. It’s awesome. We’re having absolutely killer conversations about the life of faith and the nature of reality and all the good stuff…

Anyway. Surround yourself with great thinkers, beautiful words, and sturdy ideas. Your life will be better for it.

Peace,

Andrew

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