In an earlier post, I gave you reasons why you should read theology books. But even if you have the desire to become a committed reader, it’s sometimes difficult to follow through on that commitment. Maybe a friend has allowed you to borrow the latest book they’ve been raving about, and you ferociously devour the first few chapters. But then the pace slows. Slower. Sllooowwweeerrr. Halt. Before you know it, weeks have passed by without you cracking a book, and you can’t even find the book when your friend wants it back. Sound familiar?
I’m going to be honest. Reading can be difficult, and I don’t mean reading comprehension. Rather, regularly feeding your mind through the consumption of books is arduous. I am passionate about reading, but there are still times when I don’t feel like poring over a work of theology, even when I know I should. It takes discipline.
So if this is you, I have some suggestions to get you started. Maybe you finally see the importance of reading and want to dive in, but you don’t know how or where to start. Well, here are five tips for that person:
1. Start small. When you first start working out you don’t start lifting the same weight as the veterans, do you? Unless you’re a freak of nature, the answer is no. Reading is a discipline, one where your “muscles” need to be developed before lifting the heavyweights of Owen, Calvin, etc. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend starting with Calvin’s Institutes because of its length. Rather, you should consider beginning with a shorter work. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God would be a good starter, or maybe Vaughan Roberts’s God’s Big Picture if you want a simple book to help you understand how the big story of the Bible fits together. For good suggestions, talk to your pastor about where to start. Don’t randomly grab one from the theology section in the nearest bookstore, even if it’s Lifeway. Bookstores are full of books with really bad theology, so start with a recommendation from a trusted source. After a while, you’ll have a good idea of the authors who are good and those who are bad.
2. Start with a group. To continue on with the exercise motif, it’s always easier to persevere in working out when you have a partner or a group. This is basically true in all areas of life. Things are easier when you’re not alone. Reading is no different. Ask a few of your friends to read through a book with you, and meet once a week to discuss what you’re reading. This will help in a couple different ways. First, it brings accountability. Nobody wants to be the guy that shows up and has to say, “Sorry guys, I didn’t get my reading done this week.” Secondly, you’ll grow as a reader when you see the truths that others are gleaning from the same book that you’re reading. Maybe you’re not asking the right questions as you read, and that will become apparent when others begin discussing. Start with a group. Maybe it will help you keep going when you seem to be bogged down in the middle chapters.
3. Set a schedule. I’m not saying be legalistic about a schedule, but it’s always helpful to have time built into your daily routine solely for the purpose of reading. For example, instead of watching that fourth episode of The Office, say you’re going to devote thirty minutes a night to reading. If thirty is too long, cut it down to fifteen. The key is that you’re disciplining yourself and making progress into the book. Find whatever time works best for you. But as a side note, I wouldn’t recommend reading theology as you’re laying in bed. Often, that is meant for works of fiction, books which don’t require much mental work. You need to be somewhat fresh to receive the maximum benefit from theological books.
4. Remember the goal. Page count is not your goal in reading. Knowing and loving God more is always the goal of theological reading. Don’t lose sight of that. If you’re devouring pages simply for the pursuit of mental knowledge, you’re wrong. I’m not saying the acquisition of theological truths is wrong; rather, if those truths are not changing our hearts, we’re missing the whole point. Reading theology should change who we are, not just how well we handle theological discussions. Remember, read to the glory of God, not to your own glory.
5. Just do it. I know, I know, that’s not very original, but it is true. You can talk about or study reading, but eventually you just have to do it. That’s the only way you’ll grow as a reader. So, find a good book, and dive headlong into it.
What tips would you offer to wannabe readers, or what has helped you improve your skill?