Think about what you read

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Reading lots (and lots) of books has its advantages, but also comes with some very real challenges. When you read a lot, a great deal of content winds up washing over you, and it’s challenging to engage critically. That’s fine (sometimes) when you’re re-reading a book, or when you’re reading something light (ish). If you’re reading Amish vampire romance books, for example… (Okay, bad example. That definitely requires discussion.)

But if you’re not careful, if you don’t think about what you read, it can be disastrous.

It’s really easy to scan read a book, and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” I have to make the time for application. This is one of the reasons I love discussion questions. They encourage me to dwell on the content and chew on its implications (even if they’re not particularly well written questions). This is what I want when I read.

Some books do a great job of encouraging this kind of reflection, even if they don’t have discussion questions included. Francis Chan’s immediately come to mind as a great example. Every so often, he’ll stop midstream and write something like, “Okay, stop reading this book, read this passage of Scripture (or watch this video) and look at what it says about XYZ.” And even when a book doesn’t include discussion questions, I have a series of them already set:

  1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
  2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
  3. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture?
  4. If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?

Asking even basic questions like these helps me get past a surface level understanding of the content and discern the application for my life. And every book has application for us:

  • A book like The Holiness of God‘s most natural application is grounding our faith in an accurate picture of the God of the Bible because what we think about God shapes how we live for God.
  • Rescuing Ambition (which I reviewed several years ago) challenged me to consider the source of my ambition and how it can be a fuel for godly purposes.
  • Even A Year of Biblical Womanhood, for all its considerable faults, gave me a chance look at how to look at how I approach male/female relationships and ask how I can better serve my wife out of love for her and for the Lord.

Maybe these don’t seem terribly revolutionary, but they’re helpful for me. In the end, though, my point is simple: A good reading experience shouldn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think. Regardless of it’s purpose, if it’s important enough for you to spend time reading a book, it’s important enough for you to think carefully about. Because if we don’t, what’s the point?


An earlier version of this post was first published in August, 2010.

The glamor of God-honoring grammar

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One of my favorite books you’ve never read is The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley Green (which I reviewed a looong time ago). This book didn’t exactly light any fires on the sales charts, but man, did it ever pack a wallop. Why? Because it makes a connection that once seen, you can’t unsee:

The farther we get from the gospel, the more impaired our thinking becomes.

Green demonstrates this by appealing to history, theology and philosophy, showing that the Christian faith encourages a rigorous intellectual life. But when the gospel is set aside and eventually abandoned, our ability to reason inevitably goes with it.

Our culture is certainly proof of this. We routinely see very intelligent people come to incredibly stupid conclusions. We see it at play in our peculiar understanding of tolerance, and in our frequent appeals to our feelings as the final arbiter of truth. And we even see it in-house among professing Christians, as many who call for grace and charity routinely (and intentionally) misrepresent their opponents’ views in order to stir up controversy.

This is hardly the fruit of right thinking. 

But impaired thinking goes beyond these big issues and flows into the little things of everyday life—including our ability to write coherently.

“In an era of skepticism about the possibility of meaning, we should therefore expect to see poor sentences,” Green writes. “We should expect, in a post-Christian culture, to see poor grammar, poor composition. And this is, of course, exactly what we see” (The Gospel and the Mind, 123).

In other words, when meaning is lost, coherent language follows. 

Again, look at the plethora of examples out there. Read a status update from a teenager on Facebook. Read a tweet (almost any will do). Read any number of Christian books… (Yeah, I went there. Sorry guys.)

Christians must—must—be people who communicate clearly and communicate well. This means we should be people who pursue excellence in our use of the written word. We shouldn’t be satisfied with a crass perfunctory approach to writing, treating it purely as a function and not as a skill or an art. We should revel in clever wordplay. We should delight in coherent sentences. We should rejoice in God-honoring grammar.

We should pursue and celebrate excellent writing, with restored hearts and renewed minds, for this pleases the Lord.