Why (More Than Ever Before) You Need to Read Deeply

"Birkerts puts his point succinctly near the end of the book: 'My core fear is that we are, as a culture, as a species . . . giving up on wisdom, the struggle for which has for millennia been central to the very idea of culture.'" - TGC

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T Howard's picture

I have found tremendous truth in the C.S. Lewis quote mentioned in this article:

C.S.Lewis wrote:
Literature . . . admits us to experiences other than our own. . . . Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.

Reading regularly (not only my English Bible and Greek NT, but also the classics of Western literature) has been a source of great joy and fulfillment. This year, I started reading through the Western Canon generally following Harold Bloom's recommendations. As of last week, I have read my way down the list through Plato's Republic and am now reading several more of Plato's Dialogues before I transition to Aristotle.

This journey through Western literature has exposed me to the "time-tested" books that Bailey describes, and I have benefited greatly from reading these books and thinking and writing about what they contain. The benefits have included, in the words of Bloom, an increase in my cognitive power, rhetorical power, and the capacity to understand otherness. On the other hand, I have excised all social media from my life except Sharper Iron. This has been a tremendous blessing by allowing me to eliminate the distraction and the "restless, grazing behavior of clicking and scrolling."

I believe one of the reasons our culture "has given up on wisdom" is that we have shunned much of the wisdom and beauty of the Western Canon and replaced it with sound bites and more modern books that are unworthy of our time and attention. I've been amazed to see which books our public school considers required reading. They're mostly modern authors along with Romeo & Juliet. This has surely had a not-so-good impact on the younger generations.

josh p's picture

Couldn't agree more T. Howard although I haven't read many of the books on that list. Early in my Christian life I read only theology. After about 15 years or so I added other literature and I am positive that it has helped me understand the development of ideas and culture as well as making a better reader generally. 

T Howard's picture

Josh, I, too, spent a period of my life only reading theological books (or textbooks). The oldest Christian texts I've read (other than Scripture itself) have been the Apostolic Fathers, in both Koine Greek and English translation. I've also read Calvin's Institutes in English translation. Besides those, I've read Milton, Bunyan, some Edwards, and several Puritans. Other than that, most of my theological reading has been confined to modern authors. I think this is a necessary evil, especially for seminary students.

That being said, I do plan to read Augustine sometime next year. He's on Bloom's list after the Roman writers. Much of our modern theological thinking has its roots in Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine. These writers had a huge impact on the Reformation, and their ideas continue to shape our modern theological thinking.

You don't recognize their connection to modern thought until you spend time with each of these authors on their own terms. You hear their ideas directly (assuming you're reading a good English translation) and not filtered through others. This has been a great source of discovery for me and allows me to participate in "the great conversation" of ideas.

Bert Perry's picture

When my family started homeschooling, one of the biggest benefits was that I then had the excuse to actually read all those great works I'd only read about in my public school experience.  Some of them are just splendid, and some of them are just plain confusing (I couldn't quite figure out Paradise Lost ), but all of them are worthwhile.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


Best thing on Christology I've yet read is Anselm's Why God Became Man. Written early 11th century by a Roman Catholic. Brilliant work.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?