Take Up and Read

Uncategorized // November 7, 2021 //

Jesus told his disciples to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). We call this statement the first of two great commandments. The second follows it, as Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

In the first commandment, Jesus notes three sources of our love for him: our heart, soul, and mind. In short, Christian affection for the Lord is to be truly triune, never compartmentalized. However, we do well to consider each source individually that we might learn well how to love
our Lord.

The Mind
Where, then, should one start? Perhaps it would be advantageous to start with the mind. Your mind matters, and it matters to the Lord. Discipleship is surely volitional and emotional, but it is first intellectual. Those who teach will tell you, in order to get to the heart and soul, you must first go through the mind. Christians are to love the Lord with their minds. Scripture is replete with instruction for our thought lives (Philippians 4:8, for example). Thus, Christians are called to think and think well.

Reading to Learn
One of the ways we love the Lord with our mind is that we commit to a lifetime of learning. And in particular, we commit to a lifetime of reading. We could venture to say that Christian growth is contingent upon our ability to learn and apply Christian truth. That is, reading is learning, and learning is growing. Though Solomon gives us due warning against too many books on the brain (Ecc. 12:12), Paul is quick to request his books and parchments from young Timothy (2 Tim. 4:13). That’s one reason we give away books on Sunday night. A growing church is a reading church.

Christians may say, “I don’t like to read.” Understood. Few of us are naturally drawn to reading. One must develop both the taste and skill to read and read well. However, it is still right to always exhort one another to pick up the page—for how does one expect to learn without
reading? We may not all read the same, in pace and practice, but learning assumes some level of reading. In short, it’s hard to understand how someone will grow in Christ without the discipline of reading. Christian living without Christian reading is a hard sell.

And frankly, if I might insert a point of personal, pastoral anecdote — we all read, and we all like to read, but what we are reading is whatever comes across our screens. I digress.

Learning to Read
You are what you read, which means you must read with purpose and intentionality. Start therefore by reading your Bible. A regular intake of Scripture must be a devotional rhythm of our Christian lives.We are not simply reading our Bibles to feed our souls but also fuel to our minds
(cf., Romans 12:2).

Supplement your Bible reading with a steady stream of healthy Christian literature. Keep Christian classics close at hand. I typically read 5-10 pages each morning as a spiritual “choke” for my soul before beginning my Bible reading. We need these works. Keep in mind that we do
theology in community, both in person and in print. We learn from people who have gone before us and who walk beside us. Church history, we remember, affirms the power of print.

Theology matters. Just read the news. Therefore, read strategically around topics that will develop your theology and make application to life. Every Christian needs to be working through at least one theological work a year. Something on the image of God, Christology, or the
doctrine of Scripture, to name a few. We are all theologians. What kind and caliber theologian you will be is largely determined by what you read. Do so with great care.

Last, sprinkle in works on subjects of your own interest. A healthy dose of secular reading reminds us that we are human and live between two worlds. From biographies, to novels, to contemporary works, each is helpful in their own right. I particularly like reading works from Civil
War history to the influence of media on our culture. To each his own.

Wherever you are in your journey with Christ, take baby steps toward a lifetime of learning. Start small, both in content read and time spent. Set daily and weekly goals for yourself, instilling a sense of Christian discipline. Learn, indeed, to live by grace as you pursue the God of grace with all of your mind. Keep thinking. Now let’s get reading.

Sample book recommendations
To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson
The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch
Battle Hymns of the Republic by S. C. Gwynn
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
Lit!: A Christian’s Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle

One last book recommendation, one of my favorite books on my shelf and something that would make a nice Christmas gift —You Must Read published by Banner of Truth. It’s a compilation of short summaries by contemporary authors on timeless Christian classics. It serves as a quick reference guide, but also just the right amount of material to stir my soul in a short sitting. Buy, read, and be blessed.

About Neal Thornton