The Dancing Puritan

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Simple Plan for Reading Non-Christian Literature

This is part two on reading non-Christian literature. Part one is here.

                        How can you incorporate non-Christian literature into your reading? That question is built upon the assumption that Scripture permits the reading of non-Christian literature.

                        First, it is essential to make Bible reading a top priority. God washes and sanctifies his people by means of the Bible.[1] If you are not receiving a substantive intake of God’s Word, then you should first be concerned about reading Scripture, and not non-Christian books.

                        Secondly, you should read good Christian books. Some books, such as Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, have stood the test of time and should be digested for your good. Charles Spurgeon is reported to have read Bunyan's classic over 100 times. Counsel from a godly Christian on what Christian books are excellent books, should be sought.

                        Thirdly, you need to be discerning with your non-Christian reading. There is so little time and so many important books to be read. Reading is certainly a valuable use of time, but wisdom is required. Thousands of new books hit the market every year. Not all can be or should be read. What are  the standard works from every time period that should be considered? Seek counsel and check reading lists offered by others. Dr. R. Albert Mohler often evaluates books. He is well known for being a trustworthy source for book recommendations.[2]

                        Fourthly, after completing steps one through three, make a list of books that interest you. Consider books of history, poetry, classics, business, and more. Evaluate authors like C.S. Lewis (a Christian but not all of his books would be classified as “Christian books") and J.R.R. Tolkien (again, a professing Christian, but The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is not distinctively Christian).  Once a list is made, have it evaluated by someone that you trust.

                        Fifthly, classify the reading of non-Christian literature as a secondary priority and then consider when, in your schedule, is a good time is to read such works. Use your best time to read Scripture and godly books. Read non-Christian books at other times. If you find that non-Christian books are dominating your schedule, then scale back and seek accountability from a godly friend.

Benefits of Reading Non-Christian Books

                        First, reading non-Christian books can help expose you to various other worldviews. It is generally wiser and safer (when possible) to evaluate worldviews via the written word rather than direct engagement by a non-Christian. The written word is special in this way. You can read a paragraph and stop to ponder what has been read. You can evaluate it, look up what others think about the arguments being presented, and come to conclusion. Though God will help when non-Christians confront you directly, reading in advance can help prepare you for such encounters.

                        Secondly, remember that a non-Christian book may not necessarily be an anti-Christian book. You need to be careful about reading books that attack the Christian faith. False teaching is dangerous. That being said, you can read, to great benefit, stories not written from a distinctly Christian perspective. Look for books that engage the mind, stir the emotions, and help you to think more creatively. As a Christian you should be able to read the book from a God-centered perspective.

                        Thirdly, reading non-Christian books can give you great insight into human behavior and depravity as a window to the soul.[3] Though Scripture is sufficient to inform about the depravity of man and his behavior, reading non-Christian literature can furnish you with vivid illustrations from post-biblical times to the present.

                        Fourthly, reading non-Christian literature can cultivate character and creativity. A friend shared with me this opinion, “Reading builds character and vocabulary. God has given some people the talent of a great imagination and they are able to bring a story to life. I think as long as the story is not blasphemous or vulgar; give thanks to God and enjoy it.”[4]  I think that he is right. Just as God has given taste buds that help us to enjoy a variety of flavors of food and drink, he has built creativity into the heart of man. There is much to learn and enjoy from reading good books, Christian or non-Christian. However, it is essential to remember that we are never free to dishonor God. Jerram Barrs writes in Echoes of Eden, “ . . .literature deepens and broadens our experience. What is true of literature is true of all the arts. In the enjoyment of others’ creativity, I enter into a vision and richness beyond my own”[5]

[1]John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26.

[2]Visit and type in “books” or “reading” in the search field.

[3]Response (adapted) was given by a friend, Jon Hoover.

[4]Response given by friend, Roy Monkus.

[5]Barrs, Echoes of Eden, 31.

Scripture references from the English Standard Version