Today, I came across an article from Lifeway Pastors, discussing how pastors and people in the church should be reading more.
This seems like a “duh” for a group of people who base their entire belief system on a book. Sadly, though, it needs to be said. Many Christians rarely pick up the Bible, let alone other reading materials.
But that isn’t what stopped me.
Because I write fiction for the CBA (the Christian book market), I have the occasional opportunity to speak to church groups about fiction. In doing so, I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say that they “aren’t really a reader,” or that “they don’t have time for fiction.” Of course, they are sure to qualify the statement with a suggestion for a book of the Christian-y, self-help variety that they think I should read.
Somehow, it seems that many Christians have decided that if the book doesn’t speak the name of Jesus a certain number of times, then it can’t be of value to them.
So when I read this from Lifeway, I was encouraged to see a call for readers among the church. Unfortunately, however, this article barely brushes against what needs to be said.
Here is the reading list from Lifeway:
1. The Bible
2. “Good Christian books,” including Christian Biography, Church history, Theology, Culture and cultural issues, Christian devotional literature, and Christian living.
3. “Good non-Christian books,” including History, Government, Politics, and Classic Literature.
And that was it.
Ignoring the problem of defining what constitutes “good,” does anyone notice the glaring omission?
How about fiction outside of the classics? What about poetry? Do these hold no value for the believer?
The sad truth is, most fiction is not “Christian” enough to make the list.
As a college instructor, a writer of fiction, a student of literature, and a student of theology, I can’t help but see the fallout from this limited list.
First, when we only read books about how we wish the world was, rather than how the world is, we develop an isolated, unrealistic perspective. Things that are different become threats and things that challenge our understanding are immediately shut out. How can Christians who read nothing more than the Bible, Biography, and Classics be prepared in any way to connect to the culture filled with people they are required to love?
Taking this even deeper is current research (here’s a link to one of the zillion articles on the subject) that reveals that reading literary fiction is positively correlated with the development of empathy.
Shouldn’t the people in the church be the most empathetic individuals on the planet? Shouldn’t we be taking steps to increase our empathy…or is our faith so weak that we have to constantly affirm it with books that do not challenge us? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand other cultures and other ideas? Or are we paralyzed by the fear that it might not be “good” enough? By choosing to read things that only agree with our perspective, aren’t we really choosing to nurture our own comfort rather than our ability to love others?
If that doesn’t give you pause, then maybe this will:
Much of the Bible is in narrative form. It is meant to be wrestled with. It is meant to be questioned. It is meant to be engaged with because the truths inherent in the stories are beyond what can be simply stated.
If we do not learn (through practice) how to read narrative, we will skip over the parts that create cognitive dissonance and that require reflection in favor of the easy bits that give us instruction. In doing so, we take a beautiful piece of literature with truths about our shared experiences and shared history, and diminish it to an instruction manual with a lot of fluff that we ignore. Our unwillingness to engage with the story means that we are unable to see the truth.
So, thank you, Lifeway, for saying that we should read. Got it.
Now, how about we encourage Christians to read something that will help them engage with their world?