Category Archives: .Lit!
Once a year I set aside time for a personal reading retreat, a few days blocked off for me to dive into a stack of books I’ve collected (and some I’ve already started). In the last two years, neck deep in the John Newton writing project, these reading retreats have been focused on the topic at hand. And for the first time since we moved back to Minneapolis, this weekend affords me my first retreat to work through a stack of books on random topics of interest.
Whether I focus on one particular topic (like in my 2011 retreat) or whether I read more generally, these reading retreats give me a chance to largely disconnect from the Internet and cut away from the digital entanglements of daily web communication for the purpose of reading printed books for 12 hours each day (the goal). Such a discipline may seem daunting, but I find the practice life giving, and it has increasingly become an essential strategy I need to protect and develop my sustained, linear reading concentration, a skill that seems to otherwise erode every day (a concern I addressed at length in my book Lit!).
The goal of this retreat, like every reading retreat, is not to finish a lot of books, the goal is simply to read a lot. And for the interested, here are the titles I’ll be taking along —
- John Updike, Rabbit, Run (Random House; 1996)
- William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (Little, Brown and Company; 1988)
- Harlow Giles Unger, Lafayette (Wiley; 2003)
- Thomas Hubbard, editor, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (University of California; 2003), reading it alongside this essay.
- Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm (Moody; 2014)
- Arthur Hunt III, Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Man-Made Environments (Pickwick; 2013)
- Hannah Anderson, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody; 2014)
Last night I was honored to speak for two hours on a theology of literature to students and faculty at San Diego Christian College, Rivendell Sanctuary Program. Some of my content was taken directly from Lit!, but much of it included fresh thoughts on how the glory of Christ transforms Christian literacy. The Rivendell folks were probably the most engaged Christian audience I’ve ever spoken to, making for a tremendously fun evening of lecture, laughs, food, and dialogue (my first salon). Here’s a copy of my manuscript, for the interested (PDF): “Christ, the Center of Christian Literacy.”
Yesterday I had the privilege to discuss Lit! on Chris Fabry Live (Chicago). A lot of ground was covered in the 40 minutes of air time I had with Chris and co-host Dr. Rosalie de Rosset, a writer and communications professor at Moody Bible Institute. You can download our conversation or listen here:
Today I received a question from one reader of Lit!
On page 26 you say that Scripture “needs no editing or revision. It is Perfect.” I’m trying to understand what you mean by that. Would you elaborate on or paraphrase this for me, please?
Thanks very much,
Certainly! The reference is to this line in chapter 1:
Scripture is unique. It is eternal. It never contradicts itself. It needs no editing or revision. It is perfect (Ps. 19:7).
That point comes in my attempted summary of the character of scripture. Earlier I made the point about Scripture’s inerrancy, which then builds up to this closing thought in question.
When I say Scripture requires no editing or revision I cite Psalm 19:7, but it is really an attempted summary of Psalm 19:7–11. The whole of God’s written word (i.e. his law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules) require no editing (i.e. it’s perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true).
Another way to look at this is to take a step back to see a much more fundamental point: God himself is perfect and requires no improvement. Therefore, all “God breathed” writings will require no editing, since they are breathed out from an infallible mouth. That applies to the original autographs of what was written by God, beginning with the very first published edition of the Bible carried by Moses down from Mt. Sinai in the form of stone tablets written by the finger of God. I believe this same point now applies to the whole of canonical Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
Infallibility, however, stops with the original autographs and does not extend to the many copies made throughout the centuries by scribes nor, of course, does inerrancy extend to Bible translations. Copies and translations do contain errors which requires the constant attention of keen biblical scholars, for whom I am deeply grateful.
By contrast, I’m a sinful man in need of much grace and personal change. Therefore everything I write contains errors and will require hours of editing and constant improvement, a taxing labor for my poor wife and friends and for my publisher! And I am painfully aware of the mistakes that managed to get into Lit! (for which I take full responsibility). For example, on the top of page 185 that should be “efficiently” not “inefficiently.” In footnote 25 on page 196 the parallelism should be “acute/acute” not “acute/astute.” Duh. And in the acknowledgments on page 188, I’m afraid my thanks to two dear pastor-friends got miffed by the inclusion of one extra word, see if you can find it: “When I speak of the pastor’s ability to encourage Christians to read, these are two faithful examples have deeply impacted my own life.” The spare “are” breaks the sentence and kills the sentiment.
When I find errors like these I palm-slap my forehead. Of course these are all relatively minor mistakes, but they fluster me. I don’t doubt that other errors lurk unnoticed, my point is that I am a redeemed sinner, and that means I am a work in progress. God is, he is not a work in progress. Therefore, I will have errors in my writings. God will not. My book requires hours of editing to weed out mistakes. God’s word, as it was originally given in the original autographs, is infallible and requires no editing or revision, it is breathed out infallibly. God writes no second drafts.
That was the point I was trying to make there. Is that clearer?
Thanks for the question!
I was recently invited to participate in a dialogue about books and reading by John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture (a sister publication of Christianity Today). John asked if I would consider writing out a blog conversation with Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, the Chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University. The invitation struck me as initially intimidating because I’m fairly certain Karen can intellectually roundhouse kick me back and forth across the literary mat without breaking a sweat, if she wanted to. But I was assured it was no debate, and that I would not be injured. So I agreed. It turned out to be a brief but enjoyable dialogue about books and reading (thank you John!). Our four-part conversation is now online:
C.S. Lewis once wrote that in order to learn to swim one must be buoyant in the water, and in order to be buoyant in the water one must swim. Learning to read books is much like this. One must know how to read in order to learn to read. To learn to read well, we need others early on to help us make discoveries in our books (see Adler’s point about aided and unaided discoveries). As the author, this is why I focus so much of Lit! on inspiring capable readers in the church to find and help struggling readers.
My first and primary audience for Lit! is the competent reader. A few readers have suggested the contrary, that I wrote the book to directly reach isolated non-readers who live disconnected from the local church community. That’s not the case, as I seek to explain in chapters 13 (Reading Together) and 14 (Raising Readers). This book is a tool for parents, pastors, and lit professors, and for any Christian who wants to reach out to non-readers they love.
Recommending the book to a friend is a critical step if this book will actually benefit struggling readers. Actually, walking through the book with them is even better, a teamwork that provides the initial buoyancy that frees me to open the book building critical theological pillars that will undergird lifelong reading habits. But it does go back to the spreaders in the church — the competent readers — and the incredible role they have in encouraging non-readers to take up and read.
It appears that a good number of readers see the vision behind Lit! They have become the spreaders. I am grateful for them because they are the ones who bring purpose and value to the entire project.
Today Trevin posted an interview with me on the topic of book reading and my new book Lit!. Trevin is an experienced interviewer and asks questions that get directly at important points. He asked questions like these:
- What are the different ways one should read a book? Why should certain books be read one way and other books read another way? And how can you tell the difference?
- How much time and attention should we give to classic literature?
- How have you found classic literature to be spiritually beneficial?
- You recommend marking up books. Why?
- Name a few novels that you’d recommend Christians consider reading.
- How can we read discerningly from Christians in other theological streams?
You can read the full interview here.
To experience long-term benefit from my book reading I have discovered that I need a keen eye for what’s important on a given page and a good storage system to retain and to later find what I’ve read over the years. These are important practices for any book reader, and it’s a point that A.G. Sertillanges captures well in his book The Intellectual Life (1934). [Note: I rarely quote from the book because it makes me (a blue-collar grunt from Nebraska) appear pretentious, or more so than normal.]
If we had to trust memory to keep intact and ready for use all that we have come upon or found out in the course of our life of study, it would be perfectly disastrous. Memory is an unreliable servant; it loses things, it buries them, it does not answer at call. We refuse to overload it, to cumber the mind; we prefer liberty of soul to a wealth of unusable ideas. The notebook gets us out of the difficulty. …
To remember the right thing at the right moment would take a degree of self-mastery that no mortal possesses. Here again notebooks and pigeonholes will help us. We must organize our reserves, lodge our savings in the bank where, it is true, they will yield no interest, but where they will at any rate be safe and ready at call. We ourselves shall be the cashiers. (186–187)
Now of course there’s a place for Scripture memorization. We must not forget it! But for all other books his point is a very important one. So in Lit! I devote some ink to briefly explaining the importance of locating golden nuggets of truth on the pages of our books (pages 115–116), the importance of marking the gold (148–149), and then I explain how I use a computer database to store the gold for future use (117–118). I commend these three practices to every reader, whether you prefer printed books or ebooks, and whether you’re an intellectual or just a dufus like me.