Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Here are my highlights, so far, in reading Tony Reinke's book, Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Crossway, 2011)...
On reading, as a Christian:
Once God enlightens our spiritual eyes, we can read books for the spiritual benefit of our souls—whether it’s the Ten Commandments, a thick systematic theology, the poems of John Donne, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, or a microbiology textbook. To read any book for eternal benefit, we must behold the glory of Christ. His glory lies at the bottom of all sound knowledge and learning.
Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God.
On the primacy of language over image:
At one level, this word/image tension is a battle for our hearts. God wants us to listen to him, to love him, to experience his presence, to interpret what we feel and what we see in light of his Word. He wants us to hope for a world unseen. He wants his truth and his Word to govern our hearts. Language is the basis of our relationship with God, and a deeply personal means to experience him. Therefore how God is communicated is a matter of serious concern.
(Quoting Carl F. H. Henry:) “The Bible at the very beginning emphasizes that God is not merely an acting God of deed-revelation, but a speaking deity also who shapes language as a medium of intelligible communication with man made in his image. Words are the means of transmitting ideas from person to person: it is not centrally in symbols and visions, but especially in words, that the Old Testament focuses its account of divine-human relationships.”
But the tension is not simply between the value of words and the value of images. Both language and visual images are valuable. The concern is whether Christians (like us) will be patient enough to find meaning embedded in words, or if we will grow content with the superficial pleasures offered to us in the rapidly shifting images in our culture.
(Quoting Os Guinness:) “The world of sight, the world of the eye, cannot take us beyond what is shown. Because sight can only go so far, it takes words and thought to give the real truth and meaning behind what is seen."
[T]he difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning.
On having discernment through a well-developed worldview:
The biblical worldview will make us keenly aware of the wide gulf of differences between ourselves, as Christian readers, and the majority of authors. Christian poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “So long as we are conscious of the gulf fixed between ourselves and the greater part of contemporary literature, we are more or less protected from being harmed by it, and are in a position to extract from it what good it has to offer us.”
A biblical worldview, informed by the touchstone propositions of Scripture, is what distinguishes Christian readers from non- Christian readers. It equips us to see and treasure the truth, goodness, and beauty in Christian books (the books on our side of the canyon). And the biblical worldview helps us see and treasure the truth, goodness, and beauty in non-Christian books (the books on the other side of the canyon).
On reading non-Christian literature:
Calvin is saying that if we despise truth in non- Christian books, we ultimately “insult the Giver.” At first those words jarred me, but I've come to see Calvin’s point. God is behind all truth, even the truth that is expressed in non- Christian literature. Truth cannot be fabricated, writes Calvin. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose? Calvin understands what we discovered in the last chapter: a cohesive biblical worldview makes it possible for us to perceive and cherish the truth we read in non-Christian books.
(Quoting Herman Bavinck:) "All the elements and forms that are essential to religion (a concept of God, a sense of guilt, a desire for redemption, sacrifice, priesthood, temple, cult, prayer, etc.), though corrupted, nevertheless do also occur in pagan religions. . . . Hence Christianity is not only positioned antithetically toward paganism; it is also paganism’s fulfillment. Christianity is the true religion, therefore also the highest and purest; it is the truth of all religions. What in paganism is the caricature, the living original is here. What is appearance there is essence here. What is sought there can be found here."
The bottom line is that I cannot reject non-Christian literature, nor give wholesale approval to it. This is an unresolved tension for the Christian reader. The Christian reader must simply treasure whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8)—wherever it is found. If a Christian reader is attuned to the whisper of the Giver, he will hear that whisper in some very unexpected places.