In the last article, I wrote about the importance of personal Bible reading. In this article I intend to write about reading in general, and the reasons why broader reading is profitable.
Along with Bible reading, one ought to include reading of religious material. There is a flood of it on the market, and very little of it is valuable for a Christian. But one can profitably read what is worthwhile and whatever helps on in his calling to live a Christian life.
Neither does one need to limit himself/herself to reading of books on doctrine. Such reading can be valuable and ought to have a certain priority in the Christian’s reading list. But one can certainly read more widely in this field. For example, I have recently read interesting and important books on how the King James Version of the Bible came into existence; of how the Roman Catholic hierarchy operates in various circumstances; biographies of Christian missionaries; etc.
It is also worth one’s time and effort to read in the field of church history. There are literally thousands of books written in this field: biographies, descriptions of events and time periods, analyses of heresies and movements, thrilling stories of faithful people of God – such as Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and such like books. They are worth our while because they give us insights into that great and miraculous work of God in preserving his church throughout all history. And, they tell us of the struggles of the church against heresies and wicked men who tried to destroy the church.
It is not always necessary to limit oneself to “Reformed” books. One certainly may read books written by authors who are not always in agreement with our Reformed confessions. But one must learn to read discerningly. I am not going to talk about that now, however, for I have a few things to say about that subject, which I am reserving for later.
Reading Secular Writings
A Christian ought to read more widely even than the fields I have mentioned. He ought, for example, to keep up somehow with events that are taking place in his own country and in the world at large. I consider this to be important, because a Christian must live in the expectation of the second coming of Christ. Christ has given us signs of His coming, signs, which we discussed in our classes on Revelation and in our meetings in the Youth Camp. If we are to see these signs and thus be stirred up to live in expectation of Christ’s coming, we have to know what is happening in the world.
One can read the newspapers available to him. One can read a news magazine, such as Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report or something comparable. I would never advocate watching the news programmes on TV. News reporting is biased enough without the horrendously biased news coverage of TV stations. News clips with carefully chosen pictures and craftily formulated messages cannot possibly give one any accurate description of what is going on in the world.
I read a book a while ago written by Malcolm Muggeridge entitled, The Fourth Temptation. Ignoring the reason for the strange but totally appropriate title, I recommend this book for your reading. Mr. Muggeridge served for years as a news reporter for radio, BBC television and The London Times. It is the thesis of his book that it is extremely difficult to get the news straight in newspapers; it is still difficult to report news on the radio; it is impossible to report news on TV. Television in its very nature, is unable to report news in any kind of accurate and worthwhile fashion.
It is a fact that the news media are, generally speaking, biased, slanted in their coverage, and frequently under government direction and control to a greater or lesser extent. Nevertheless, news media are the only access to what is happening that we have. And so one must read, remembering all the time that there is much more to the story that is being reported, and that we can only form a general picture of events. But this is often enough for the Christian to be able to see the signs of the times unfolding.
I recently read a book by John W. Dower with the title, Cultures of War. While I am sure the writer is as biased and unfair as any other historian, he writes, with excellent documentation of events that took place prior to and during World War I, World War II, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that I had never even suspected – and I lived through them all except World War I, and was an eager listener to every news broadcast I could find on the radio every issue of a news magazine, and every news article in the newspaper I regularly read. If half of what Mr. Dower wrote is correct, my perceptions of what was going on were dangerously wrong.
But there is more that a Christian could and should read. I am aware of the fact that each child of God has his or her own preference in subjects. Some like science, others like literature, still others like history, etc. Perhaps it is because I am a “history buff” that I particularly like to read history. There are some fine, interesting and helpful books out in this field that, while written by secular and unbelieving writers, are every informative. To mention but one author: Barbara Tuchman has written some very fine history narratives. She has written on the Middle Ages in A Distant Mirror and on the years preceding World War I in Twin Towers.
But, these are only suggestions. I find books on the Civil War in America (1861– 1865) most fascinating, especially in its questions of slavery and States’ Rights. Well-written books on history can help the Christian understand God’s sovereign workings in history. I recall talking once to an expert on the Revolutionary War (1176-1781) at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where the suffering American soldiers spent a most difficult winter. I mentioned to the gentleman, who was giving information on the war in general and on the winter at Valley Forge in particular, that it seemed to me that there was no earthly or human explanation for the survival of the American forces and ultimate victory over the British. He agreed with me, but looked very taken aback when I suggested to him the fact that God wanted, for His own purpose, America to be an independent nation among the nations of the earth. That is another example of the pleasure of reading history.
But I have written enough for the time being.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 8