I’ve always been a lover of books. I remember at the earliest age reading The Hardy Boys, travelling with Frank and Joe to solve crimes behind secret panels, find treasure in towers, and discover mysteries on spiral bridges. And then one magical day, a friend of our family gave me a box of illustrated classics, plunging me into a world of, among others, Melville and Dickens, Dumas and Twain.
Reading is how a kid in suburban Chicago travelled the world, joining adventures on the high seas and treks up steep mountain ranges. Reading is how I witnessed intrigue in ancient palaces, eavesdropped on history, met both great and not-so-great leaders, and how I imagined life in different times.
Most importantly, books have also been the vehicle by which I’ve learned most about God. Books have discipled me, rebuked me, and encouraged me. Books have helped me learn how to better love my neighbor. Books have given me a window into the glory of God, by helping explain the one book that has shown me Jesus: the Bible.
My love of reading, words, and books has helped my own career. I’ve been writing professionally for almost two decades, but I’ve been creating words of my own for even longer. Ever since a junior high teacher reviewed a composition I wrote and said to me, almost nonchalantly, “Dan, I think you have writing talent,” I’ve been on this wild and wonderful ride, using my fingers to create prose that, hopefully, helps point others to Jesus.
I realize that not every follower of Christ is called to the same level of love for books as me. But I do think that every Christian should embrace reading as a form of discipleship. I see three reasons why this is necessary.
First, the New Testament is full of imperatives to learn, study, and be curious. Jesus said that his disciples should “love God with all of their mind” (Matthew 22:37). Sometimes Christians act as though serious study and curiosity are optional add-ons to a spiritual life. But God made us both heart and mind, body and soul. Part of the way we love God is by using the minds he created in us to learn and to grow. To read, at some level, is an act of humility, an act of worship, because it is the acknowledgment that we are not omniscient, we don’t know everything, and we must bow before the One who does know all things. This is why Paul, in his last words, urges young Timothy to study (Timothy 2:15) and why, even at the end of his ministry, right before death, he asks someone to bring him his books (2 Timothy 4:13). Paul, a true disciple, stayed curious until the end.
Second, reading books is a way we live out our full humanity. Humans alone possess the ability to reason, think, process, and believe. This trait is part of what makes us distinct from the rest of Creation. This is part of what it means to be an image-bearer of God. When we refuse to study, learn, and grow, we are, in essence, rejecting some of our mission as image-bearers. God has given us minds to cultivate. He’s given us a world to explore. He’s given us an earth to subdue. Even in a fallen state, when a great deal of our human experience is corrupted, we have so much to learn, to experience, and to know about the God who made us. To coast through life, allowing ourselves to be shaped by the tide of the culture reflects an immature spiritual attitude (Ephesians 4:4). Reading, of course, isn’t everything, and books are far from the only way we follow God, but it is part of what makes us fully alive, fully human, and fully obedient to God.
Third, reading helps humanize the world around us. I strongly encourage followers of Christ to meet people who are not like them and to travel to parts of the world so vastly different than our own. But let’s face it, even the most seasoned globe-trotter can’t visit and fully know every people group, . and some are limited in travel and access due to economic conditions or other restraints. But we can access the world via books. We can bring the world to us by reading books that share the stories and the culture of the nations. We can learn about our neighbors, both across the street and around the world, through the medium of books.
I remember, for instance, travelling back in time and reading about the civil rights movement, which humanized an issue that I’d only learned in history as a series of dates and events. Reading books like The Warmth of Other Sons and reading biographies of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., helped me see fully the humanity of those who fought bravely for an end to racial injustice. Books have helped me see the pockets of good and the beautiful, even in a world of despair.
This doesn’t mean that reading a couple of books makes me an issue expert. But reading does help shape the way I think about the world, adding nuance and depth and helping me see the humanity of people I might not know.
I want to tell you, as a Christian, to pursue reading good books. You may not ever have the same love of words as I do, but I do hope it helps draw you closer to the One who made you and to the neighbors Jesus has called you to love.