Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books
208 pp., 17.99
Lit! The Taste of Honey
How then should we go about encouraging readers of books in a postliterate culture?
My first impulse in responding to this daunting question is that we should make book-reading as appealing as possible. We are often avalanched by assignments that threaten to suffocate any love for books we might naturally have developed. For many, reading has value only in its utility, and simply being told to read something for pleasure can liberate readers haunted by this experience.
But this is a harder sell than you may think, because reading is never less than a discipline. And while it may be an easier sell when it comes to the joy of reading contemporary novels, it becomes less so with other important books. I regularly experience the hazards of a heart that so easily warms to a novel while at the same time is so quick to cool toward Scripture. So I return to the original question, as Karen picked up in her essay, by turning to a few key theological convictions for help.
First, I've found that we can gauge our literary tastes with Scripture. Is Scripture sweet to me like honeycomb dripping directly into the mouth (Psalms 19:10, 119:103)? This taste transition from Scripture-as-broccoli (necessity) to Scripture-as-honey (pleasure) is nothing less than a divine work of grace. To find spiritual delight in the prose, the poetry, the promises, and even the warnings of Scripture is at the pinnacle of God's purpose for literacy.
Second, the Savior's glory transforms literacy. When we see the knowledge of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, we read the Bible differently (2 Cor. 3:14-16). And we read everything differently. God's illuminating grace makes it possible for us to see what reflects our Creator and Savior in the starlight of creation and on the pages of great literature. The gospel provides us with new literary awareness.
Third, in the search for meaning, books trump images. It is no small challenge for a language-centered people to live faithfully in an image-saturated culture. Adam and Eve turned from the command of God when they saw the beautiful fruit. Ancient Israel chucked the earrings of adornment into a fire to craft a golden statue. And when the ear, the organ of language reception in an oral society, is exchanged for eye candy, things always go badly for God's people. The same is true today. This sacred history can help motivate us to develop our literacy.
In a postliterate culture, I find that a few theological priorities like these are strong enough to encourage book-reading.
So on the one hand it pains me to see readers abuse literacy as a mere utilitarian thing. But book-reading is never less than a discipline, and discipline requires self-discipline, and self-discipline is never easy. If we are honest both about the delights of reading and the discomforts of reading, I think we can better help our friends discover that books offer life-altering use and life-giving delight, knowledge and pleasure, truth and joy, light and heat.
Tony Reinke is the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Crossway).
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Karen, I was just responding to his third point that books are better at the search for meaning and that we live in a post-literary culture. I thought that if he was going to assert a point it was worth bringing up. Maybe he is not intending to dismiss other arts, but it he made the assertion that the search for meaning is primarily an act of meaning that is best approached through long form literary arts. So I was trying to figure out why. I was probably a bit to snarky about it. But it is one of the issues I have with the book. I love reading, I want everyone I know to love reading as much as I do. But I think it is wrong factually to call this a post-literary culture.
Why do you suggest this is a post-literary culture? Reading is being done by more people and more people are reading more than ever before. It is not all long form books, but that does not mean people are not reading. Also I believe that while books are good at communicating some truths, I think you are overly dismissive of other arts. Visual arts, musical arts, etc, can all communicate truth well, but in different ways.