John Knox: The Founder of the Presbyterian Church

When we consider the Reformers, we may picture strong men and women with booming voices that echoed around the gathered crowd. We picture them as fearless, rebuking whoever contradicted the true teachings of Scripture, calling out heresy for what it was. But this...

Christ-Centered Teaching: How His Kingdom Comes

Introduction What is the message we have to preach, but this? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Recently I preached this core Christian message. It was recorded, and subsequently broadcast on several sites that ended up on the Internet. I often receive replies to...

Husband of One Wife and Fighting Sexual Sin

On today’s Warriors of Grace episode, Dave talks about what it means to be a husband of one wife, along with providing strategies to learn to fight sexual sin with Scripture, joy in the Lord, and other practical guidance. What you’ll hear in this episode What it means...

Tim Chester- Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives

On today’s Equipping You in Grace show, Dave and Tim Chester talk about the purpose and nature of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, how Christian’s shared stories give them identity and shape the way they live, along with his new book, Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and...

Monitor Your Motives

Philippians 1:15-18a, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict...

Pastor, Don’t Quit—Learn to Lament

When Ministry Wears You Out Years ago, I remember hearing a seasoned pastor say, “Ministry would be a cake-walk if it wasn’t for people.” His tongue-in-cheek statement revealed what people know: pastoral ministry is hard. It isn’t long until the passionate calling...
Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace
Reading for Breadth

Posted On November 18, 2013

I love books and read quite a bit. I’d rather read than eat, but if I didn’t eat I’d starve to death and then wouldn’t be able to read. Not everyone loves reading as much as I do, but I think most people value reading and wish they read more – or, if they already read a lot, wish they read better.

So, how can you improve your reading habits? I’ve found it helpful to read for both breadth and depth, and would like to suggest several tips for each. This post is on breadth; with a post on depth forthcoming.

1. Develop curiosity. If you aren’t curious, you won’t read widely. Why bother? But if you have a childlike wonder at the world – art, music, literature, history, biography, politics, theology, philosophy – the varied thoughts, accomplishments, and experiences of fellow human beings from other places and other times – then the possibilities for learning are endless. And as long as you have a library nearby or money for books, you’ll never lack for reading material.

Granted, curiosity can become a vice. There is an unhealthy kind of curiosity against which authors as old as Augustine have warned. But as Augustine recognized, curiosity has “greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion.” I want to is always more powerful than I ought to. So, use this to your advantage. Expand your interests. But be sure that your curiosity is “channeled by discipline under [God’s] law”[1]

2. Read more than one book at a time. I know. This breaks a law engraved in granite for those who insist on reading only one book at a time. There are advantages to this, no doubt. My problem is that I simply can’t help myself. Even if I’m enthralled in the book I now hold in my hands, I’m still curious about what’s between the covers of thousands more. (Sometimes I’ll read the first chapter of a novel, just to see if I want to read more, even though I know it will be weeks before I can really dive in.)

But even if you are one of those people who prefer to read only one book at a time (more power to you), may I suggest that there are some advantages to reading multiple books at once?

For one, you get variety. And that means different books are available to you for different reading times and moods. I’m currently working on Book Four of Calvin’s Institutes and love it. But I don’t want to read it late at night, when I’m more likely to bury myself in a biography, gobble down a graphic novel, or plunge into an epic novel.

3. Read parts of books. If you’re anything like me, there is something in you that wants to read every book you start all the way through. Every line. Every page.

You should ruthlessly kill that impulse. Stomp on it till it’s dead. If you don’t, you’ll drag around your list of unfinished books like Jacob Marley’s chain.

You must reckon with the fact that there are vast oceans of literature that you will never swim across. There are depths in books that you will never plummet. There are rivers of literature, poetry, history, biography, philosophy, and theology that you will never forge. There are whole shelves, nay, entire libraries, of great books that you will never read through. And that’s okay. Just because you can’t swim across the Pacific, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy splashing on its shores. I may never get all the way through the Summa Theologica but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it when I dip in.

On the other hand, there are lots of books that aren’t worth reading through anyhow. I still don’t regret not finishing a certain bestseller whose author I shall not name, but whose heroin is named Bella in love with a vampire named Edward.

4. Read outside your tribe. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a great mistake to only read authors you are familiar with or books with which you already agree. In my early ministry, I spent the majority of my time reading authors in my tribe – basically Reformed Evangelicals. So, I read lots of Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer and the Puritans. All of this was great – they’re still some of my favorite authors. But it wasn’t broad. Then I made a new friend who was refreshingly different from me, who put me onto a new stream of authors. He was handing me books by Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, John Ortberg, and N. T. Wright. I didn’t agree with everything I read, but over the next few years I devoured many of their books with great profit.

5. Read the most important books. But let’s face it. You don’t have time to read everything. You don’t even have time to read everything worth reading, or everything you will want to read. So, you do have to narrow it down. So, read the most important books.

I don’t mean by this that you should only read books of a certain genre, but that you should prioritize the best books in any genre. Do you like history and biography? Read the Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists. Do you enjoy science fiction and fantasy? Read the Hugo and Nebula award winners. Do you like theology? Read primary texts: Scripture (of course!), but then the great formative theologians in the history of the church: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Barth.

Make it your aim to read the best writers and the most original thinkers. There are lots of mediocre writers who even at their best are just second-handers. Their books don’t break new ground or synthesize information in new ways. They just repeat what was written before (and, usually, better written).

6. Read for enjoyment. As Alan Jacobs has reminded us, reading is one of life’s great pleasures and there is some virtue to “reading at whim,” that is: “Read what gives you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame.”[2] In fact, Jacobs calls this his “one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading.”[3] Don’t read a book, in other words, just because it’s on someone’s list of great books. Frankly, I’ve done that (slugging my way through The Brothers Karamazov, for example) and it’s not very much fun. Just because a book is a so-called great book doesn’t mean it’s going to help every person who reads it.

Now, I put this at the end for a reason. It is good advice for someone who has developed a curious mind and has learned to splash around on the shores of a book to determine if it’s worth the long swim. Maybe not such good advice, if the only books you read are teen paranormal romance novels.


[1] Augustine, Confessions, trans. E. B. Pusey, Book I.14

[2] Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, p. 23

[3] Jacobs, p. 15

Related Posts

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

Christ-Centered Teaching: How His Kingdom Comes

Introduction What is the message we have to preach, but this? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Recently I preached this core Christian message. It was recorded, and subsequently broadcast on several sites that ended up on the Internet. I often receive replies to...

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

Monitor Your Motives

Philippians 1:15-18a, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict...

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

If Jesus Wept, We Can Too

Quickly after becoming a Christian, I developed my theology of suffering. I had all the answers to the hard questions of life (or so I thought) and thought surely those answers would be all I needed to face any kind of suffering headed my way. With Romans 8:28 written...

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Reason You Are Married

Marriage for God’s Glory The ultimate thing to see in the Bible about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. Most ultimately, marriage is the display of God. It is designed by God to display his glory in a way...

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Priesthood of Believers: A Lens for Viewing the World

January 09, 2020 by: Edward T. Welch We Aspire to Be Close As we live in our identity as a priest—which means that we are near to God—there are a couple of things that emerge as we look out into the world. One is that we notice when children are hurt, they want to...

Reading, Reading for Breadth, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

The Substitutionary Death of Christ

Today we’ll continue our study of “Great Doctrines of the Bible” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones by examining chapter 29, “Substitution.” In our last post, we looked at some of the false theories of the atonement. However, while some of these theories had elements of truth in...

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Reading for Depth | Servants of Grace - […] last post suggested six tips on reading for breadth. Here are six tips on reading for […]
  2. Weekly Roundup 11/17/2013-11/23/2013 | Servants of Grace - […] Reading for Breadth by Brian Hedges https://servantsofgrace.org/reading-breadth/ […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share26
Tweet2
Share
Pin
Buffer