Outside of the Bible there are many Christian books that we can read. These books can entertain us, encourage us, and help us. Our current culture is full of busy people. People who only have time for a social media update. Words like meditation, conversation, and contemplation are unfamiliar to us. Who has the time? I just want to blast out excerpts about me and read excerpts about you. I will grab a quick inspirational picture on Facebook as my theological coffee for the day. When trials enter our lives, however, we yearn for something more. We hunger for depth and need an example of how to live through excruciating pain. Fluff doesn’t cut it when trials hit home.
I am an avid and biased reader. I strive to read books prior to the 20th Century and advocate Christians doing so as well. Why?
Current books lack substance. I read popular authors and current books as well, but when I want a challenge and to grow my understanding of the Christian faith I need to find an author that will teach me about doctrine, theology, and the historical beliefs of denominations. I need to learn what today pastors and authors know. I want to learn how things started, how beliefs have changed, how church thought has been affected by different movements, and where the root of things come from.
I want to write books like John Bunyan, Wilbur Wilberforce, and Paul Tillich. I want to have that kind of substance and then be able to share it with the world. The meat in the books those author’s wrote will provide your soul food and water on a dry day.
Early Christian authors didn’t avoid doctrinal differences. In depth books teach us about doctrine, theology, and will discuss the differences in denominational beliefs. Authors have inherent bias based off their doctrinal and denominational background, but the good ones will be able to discuss differences in a way that gives the author room to make their own decision about what they believe. Don’t be afraid to read authors who have opposite beliefs as you do. We are still united as Christians and can learn from one another and it doesn’t hurt us to expose ourselves to other ways of believing and practicing Christianity. Believers will share eternity together. So in the end differences won’t matter.
Early Christian authors considered philosophy, science, psychology, and social thought. I recently read Paul Tillich for the first time and fell in love again with Christian authors who can write about a topic and analyze it against the thinking and belief systems of the world. I love authors who can acknowledge benefit and good thought in the world, but demonstrate the superior knowledge and goodness of God. They don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. They consider options and acknowledge personal bias. They push our current way of thinking and give us view into a world we may have not realized existed. They introduce us to concepts that are good for us to understand as we try to put together our faith and the beliefs of the world.
Early Christian authors expect more from readers and push them to learn about hard subjects. They don’t sugar coat things. An author tells you a lot about what he thinks of you by the way he writes. Early Christian authors expected their audience to be educated on certain subjects and felt comfortable writing about those subjects. Authors cater to their audience. If you want to rise to a new level then you need to read authors who write at the next level up. They expect you to know some things about faith, religion, theology, doctrine, and denominations. If you don’t know those things you can learn. We can grow in wisdom as we grow our foundation for what we believe.
Early Christian authors are pre-Internet, pre-social media, pre-modern Christianity and that’s good. Anyone who write prior to the age of Internet and the Internet of things is writing to a generation that is different than we are. They are writing to people who read books and visited libraries. They are writing to people whose connection with their neighbor was through writing and visiting one another. They wrote in a time where there were less conveniences, opportunity, and when the world was more prone to support Christian values. They wrote about the struggles Christians had in their day and if we amplify what we read we can get a glimpse of how those struggles have grown today. We can also pick up a wholesome sense that is good for us that includes no Facebook drama, no email conversations gone wrong, no fake news, and no way to spend the majority of our time reading through a news feed.
Great books should challenge us spiritually and help us grow. As a result of what we have read our understanding of theology and doctrine should grow. We should notice that our language is richer because of the deep substance of what we read and are more grounded in our understanding of Christ.
A great book will have words we don’t understand. It will have themes we have never heard of. It will make us want to get our dictionary out and Bible to better understand what the author is speaking about.
A great book won’t tickle us, it will challenge us.
It won’t always lift us up, but instruct.
It will make us rethink our life and question our priorities.
It will leave us in awe of the way Christians lived hundreds of years ago.
It will encourage us to sit in silence and contemplate the goodness of God.
The Bible should always be our first book. It is the guide for our life. Modern books can provide entertainment, instruction and practical encouragement. If we throw in the mix a book prior to the 20th century we will expose ourselves to Christians who practiced authentic Christianity and spent their time thinking and talking about Scripture. We will see our foundation grow and be better equipped to handle the storms of life.
Social media cannot provide the substance we need to weather the storms of life. Reading a verse that is plastered on a picture is not the same as meditating on the Bible. Telling someone you are going to pray for them on Face book does not equal the experience we have when we sit in silence, contemplate God’s goodness, and get lost in His presence. God’s people are to be a growing people. Let’s surround ourselves with the resources to become what He made us to be.