My pastor today made a point about how Christians should surround themselves with good books. I couldn’t agree more. Since my early twenties back in my college days, I have developed somewhat the good habit of reading. I say somewhat because one, I could read much more than I do. Two, I’ve fallen on the bad habit at times of reading works that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time pursuing.
This is the fourth of a series of articles in which I explore working as a counselor who holds a Christian worldview. In the first two articles I explored what a Christian worldview entails. In the third article, I discussed my preference for working with Christian clients although I work with clients who hold a variety of worldviews.
I end this series addressing a life of reading, and why I think it is important for Christians to be avid and good readers. With that in mind, I also offer a list of books I’ve read, mostly written by Christians that I think other believers might find useful in developing their thoughts about how we engage this world and what it throws at us everyday. Anytime we discuss reading various authors, it is important to note that our first attention must aim at reading God’s Word, the Scriptures, everyday. The Bible becomes our standard to which we measure and compare anything else we read and study.
Christians as Avid Readers and Thinkers
Why? Why should Christians become energetic readers and thinkers? Do not the Scriptures warn us not to succumb to the philosophies of the world? Did not the Apostle Paul claim that knowledge puffs up? Does not the Word of God challenge us that although we are in the world, we are not to be part of the world? The short answer to all these questions is yes. It is for this reason, however, that I believe it is important that believers become avid students and critical thinkers regarding the worldviews that surround them and can so easily capture them if they are not careful.
The Technological Age
As Christians we live in a world inundated by social media. We are all engaged on a daily basis not only with television, but also the Internet, alternative podcasts, and various websites that proffer readers and listeners to consider. We are surrounded by what is touted as Information Age. How are Christians to navigate the flowing rivers of information with which they face everyday?
I believe it is important that we engage this age of excess information with a well-honed critical eye. We take in information nearly every hour of everyday, whether or not we realize it. We surf the Web. We listen to various podcast lectures. We view a plethora of YouTube channels that flood us with a variety of worldviews, opinions, and sales pitches, touching on anything from for whom we should vote, what we should value, how we should spend our time, or what we should purchase. Our minds are constantly assaulted by the tons of airwave information bytes that flood over us like ocean waves.
Jesus Christ answered a young man’s question regarding what is the greatest commandment claiming we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul. Note in that statement, all our mind. God created our mind. We are supposed to use to his glory. That means we are supposed to use it in the best way we possibly can, not wasting it on things that are unimportant. A well-honed mind is a critical mind, meaning we should develop the ability to weigh things and discern rightly about them.
I would not make this a legalistic rule, but I personally believe that the less time we spend on social media and television, the better. Turn off the television, shut down the computer, and open a good book. Good books are ones that are going to make us think about how we should live in this fallen world, as Christians believe it to be. Well written essays, treatises, and other forms of non-fiction should lead us to reflect upon our worldviews, beliefs, and values. Simultaneously, we bring to those works our thoughts and beliefs that we have already worked out as Christians to see how an author’s thought aligns or misaligns with what we believe spiritually. This is not to say that the only works we should read are ones with which we are fairly certain that we already agree. For sure, take on challenging works, never forgetting who is our foundation. We should engage the thought of the day, while making sure of our principles so that we can face the ideas that might counter what we believe.
Sharpening our minds begins, I believe, by drastically reducing the time we spend on social media.
Centuries of Works at Our Fingertips
One of the things the Information Age has going for it is the cataloguing of works that have been written over several centuries. As believers in Christ, we have the early Church Fathers who wrote theological treatises, early Church histories, and Christian devotionals, all of which we can engage for our personal edification. We can read about how early Christian churches developed their ideas around the great creeds. We can plumb the histories regarding how early Christians dealt with heresies, theological error, and outright false teachings. We can learn about saints from early Church history and how they dealt with persecution and attacks due to their faith. We can study the philosophical battles that Church practitioners had to face across the centuries. We have a plethora of works we can read and study, beginning right after the time of Christ, moving on into the Middle Ages, and into our modern era regarding the history of the Church, doctrine, and specific individuals that have impacted our faith in various ways.
We have no excuses when it comes to what is available for us to ready and study. The issue becomes is what and how we prioritize our time.
Where We Spend Our Time
When it comes to the specific works we read, we will get various opinions from the many solid believers out there as to what should be the focus of our time and study. If I wanted, I could create another series of articles about all the things we could read that would edify us as believers, including works that would challenge us in many ways.
Instead what I will do is simply list some authors that I think any believer will find helpful in the development of his or her faith. In so doing, I am just dipping a toe in water that contains fathoms more that I could discuss.
The Early Church Fathers
The Apostolic Fathers could keep one busy for some time to come. One couldn’t do much better than picking up some works by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, or Origen of Alexandria. All of these authors contribute a Mother Lode to the history of the Church. The one early writer that one does not want to miss, however, is Augustine of Hippo, who authored The City of God, and Confessions. Augustine is foundational to what would eventually take place in the Reformation, and saints of Christ still read his works to this day. There are numerous others besides these that one can explore.
When it comes to the Protestant Reformation, believers for sure want to engage the writings of both Martin Luther and John Calvin. I know of a set that comprises fifty-five volumes of Martin Luther’s works alone. Don’t let this fact overwhelm you. The editors of these Luther’s massive works are Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. Anyone interested in reading some of Luther’s works can access this collection and choose the particular works one would like to read and study. His Freedom of the Christian is an excellent short work to read and a good solid beginning regarding his thought.
When it comes to John Calvin, the work in which to delve is his Institutes of the Christian Religion. One can find this work in a two-volume set, edited by John T. McNeill and published by Westminster Press. The Institutes is basically Calvin’s systematic theology, covering major theological subjects that are important to believers who want to be on sound footing regarding their theology.
The theological treatises of the Early Church Fathers and the Reformation Fathers represent some intense reading indeed. I encourage any believer, however, not to shy away from delving into those works. You can glean from them if you put in the effort and time.
Works that reach back to the more modern era, say from the 17th to the present century are also available for our edification. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield come to mind. Hodge’s Systematic Theology is a wonderful work to study regarding Reformed theology.
When it comes to the 20th century, personally, I would begin with writers such as Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and C. S. Lewis. Both Schaffer’s and Lewis’ works can now be obtained in Collected Works sets. They are worth owning, and readers can survey them in terms of what they want to read. Both Schaffer and Lewis shaped my thinking as a young believer, helping me understand that being a Christian is a thinking individual’s life. We don’t turn off our mind when we become Christians. Lewis’s fictional works too are fun to read.
James Sire is a Christian author who for most of his life has written for Intervarsity Press (IVP). As a Christian thinker he explores philosophical avenues that deal with various worldviews. His work The Universe Next Door was instrumental in shaping my thinking about worldviews and how to think about and critiques various philosophical frameworks to which people might hold and try to live out. Another work by Sire, Habits of the Mind, impacted my thinking heavily, especially as a believer who is interested in the place of scholarship in the Christian life. I have probably read just about everything Sire has written, so I highly recommend him for any believer who is interested in how we fulfill the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind.
Os Guinness is another IVP writer who has branched out over the years who I highly recommend as well. His early work, The Dust of Death, is one I strongly suggest, even though it surveys the decade of the tumultuous 1960’s. I don’t think it’s dated, and it can be critically studied to think about what is happening today in our postmodern era. A work by Guinness that I passionately recommend is his book The Call. In this book, Guinness discusses how we come to understand our calling before God. It is not a work that sets out to answer specific questions, such as what my career should be as a Christian. It provides a framework, however, for us as believers to think and pray about such questions along with a host of other questions we may want to explore regarding our lives.
There are so many others I could list, but this short blog article cannot possibly cover them all. Garry Friesen, Mark A. Noll, John Lennox, Gene Edward Veith all come to mind. Readers can easily build a reading list, drawing from James Sire’s bibliography from his work, Habits of the Mind.
The main issue, believer, is that you should challenge yourself to read deeply, study thoroughly, and use your mind to God’s glory. This will look different for each believer, but the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind, is not a relative one. It is not one to be shirked.
For those believers, like myself, who are therapists, it is important that we engage our clients, particularly Christian clients, on a deep level that helps them build their Biblical knowledge, their theological study, and their personal relationship with God so as to navigate a postmodern world that is anything but friendly to a Christian worldview.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/September 14th, 2020