"Give Attendance to Reading"

NickOfTime

The apostle Paul instructed the young preacher Timothy to give himself to reading. In the ancient world, reading was normally done aloud, and it was often a public activity. Books were scarce, and if you were going to read aloud anyway, why shouldn’t others benefit from hearing?

Paul thought that a young preacher needed to develop the habit of reading. This sensibility has been echoed through much of the history of the church. For example, the Anabaptists who drafted the Schleitheim Confession made reading the first duty of a pastor. Periods when pastors did not read have invariably been times of spiritual darkness for those who name the name of Christ.

Reading continues to be one of the most important duties of a pastor. Pastors are responsible to do the work of the mind, and their minds must have something with which to work. Reading is the door, and texts are the workmen through which the furniture of ideas enters the mind and organizes a pastor’s ministry.

How much should a pastor read? The answer to this question is determined by the nature of the ministry. A pastor needs to read enough, and enough of the right stuff, to be growing intellectually and to meet the demands of ministry in the world in which he lives.

Most of us minister to people who are familiar with sophisticated ideas in the fields of politics, jurisprudence, ethics, philosophy, and religion. For the most part, these ideas are mediated to our people through channels that are hostile to Christian orthodoxy and morality. Reading widely and thinking well is the only way for a pastor to help his people out of their bad thinking. I do not see how a pastor can expect to meet the challenges of contemporary ministry if his goal is to read less than approximately one book every week.

What should a pastor read? The short answer is, “All sorts of things.” Besides reading his Bible and reading for sermon preparation, a pastor should have a reading plan that he tries to implement consistently. Of course, his planned reading will be interrupted by necessary reading, but the plan gives some shape to his reading agenda.

Since graduating from seminary, I have found it useful to try to read by topic. I have a list of half-a-dozen general categories of reading. I try to rotate books from these categories.

The first category consists of books devoted to biblical studies. These may be introductions or surveys. They may be books on biblical backgrounds. They may be commentaries (reading through commentaries is a discipline that pastors should develop). They may be books that deal with specific interpretive problems. In this category I also include books on biblical interpretation or hermeneutics. Reading about critical problems also comes here—for example, I read books dealing with the synoptic problem or the historical Jesus.

The second category is theology, under which I include biblical, systematic, and practical theology. Under this section are Old and New Testament theology as well as the theologies of various biblical authors. Naturally I place full-length systematic theologies under this category, but this is also where I put books dealing with particular doctrines or even aspects of doctrines. Apologetics and comparative religions fit into this classification. This is also the category under which I read books on practical theology, including evangelism, church growth, missions, and counseling.

My third category of reading is philosophy. In my reading rotation, this section is broader than traditional metaphysics and epistemology, though both have their place. This is where I put materials related to intellectual history. It is also where I place reading on ethical and aesthetic issues. Books on politics and culture fit here as well.

History is the fourth category, and it is an important one. History is not so much the study of the past as it is the interpretation of the past. When we share history, we are telling the story that defines who we are. I want to know that story in detail. I also want to know the story as it is told by people who define themselves differently. A pastor should take time to read broad, general histories, but he should also read histories that are more narrowly focused. He should particularly know the history of his ideas. Incidentally, biography forms an important sub-category under history. A well-written history or biography is more interesting than even the best fiction.

Speaking of fiction or literature, that is my fifth category. Under this classification I attempt to read classic works of literature. I also attempt to read critical works about literature as well as literary surveys. And (I confess) this is the category under which I sneak the occasional murder mystery or fantasy. To do so is not necessarily playing hooky: a pastor should be conversant with any literary works that are likely to be exerting an influence within his congregation. For example, every pastor should have read the Harry Potter series or The Da Vinci Code. Every pastor needs to read The Shack. People are going to ask questions; pastors need to have first-hand answers ready.

My final category could be labeled miscellaneous. About every sixth book I try to read something that is entirely outside my ken. Here is where I do occasional reading in the sciences, including the social sciences. I may work through a book on mathematics or gardening or home improvement. I may read about fly fishing or Mauser rifles or astronomy. The truth is that I want to know all about the world, and this is the category under which I try to explore as much of it as I can. Incidentally, these books often provide some of the richest illustrative material that makes its way into my preaching.

Fifty books a year will not make you a scholar. It will, however, help you to be a better pastor. While reading is not the only thing you need to do, it is one of the more important things. Unfortunately, it is also one of the easier things to neglect. Reading takes skill and discipline, but you will be rewarded for doing it.

On Those that Deserve It

Francis Quarles (1592-1644)

O, when our clergy at the dreadful Day,
Shall make their audit, when the Judge shall say
‘Give your accounts. What, have my lambs been fed?
Say, do they all stand sound? Is there none dead
By your defaults? Come shepherds, bring them forth
That I may crown your labours in their worth,’
O, what an answer will be given by some!
‘We have been silenced; Canons struck us dumb;
The great ones would not let us feed thy flock,
Unless we played the fools, and wore a frock;
We were forbid unless we’d yield to sign
And cross their brows—they say, a mark of thine.
To say the truth, great Judge, they were not fed.
Lord, here they be; but Lord, they be all dead.’
Ah cruel shepherds! Could your conscience serve
Not to be fools, and yet to let them starve?
What if your fiery spirits had been bound
To antic habits; or your heads been crowned
With peacock’s plumes; had ye been forced to feed
Your Saviour’s dear-brought flock in a fool’s weed;
He that was scorned, reviled, endured the curse
Of a base death in your behalf—nay worse,
Swallowed the cup of wrath charged up to the brim—
Durst ye not stoop to play the fools for him?

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the reminder on this... an area of some neglect in my own life of late. Have some catching up to do!

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

T Howard's picture

I would be interested to know what Dr. Bauder recommends as his top 5 books for each of his half-dozen general categories. What are some books that every pastor should definitely read and why?

Rev Karl's picture

I am in total agreement with the OP. However, for a man who is a bi-vocational pastor (and there are some of us out here on the blogosphere...) this would be more than merely an insurmountable challenge. Combine the responsibilities of family, a full time ministry, and a full time second vocation, and sometimes there are 4 hours left over in the night to sleep! Biggrin

Still, I would be interested in a suggested list of what should be included on the reading list. If you, as an experienced pastor, teacher, theologian, were asked to suggest the two or three most essential books for a pastor's reading library, what would they be?

Matthew Olmstead's picture

Kevin Bauder wrote:
Reading takes skill and discipline . . .

I would be interested in an elaboration on this vein. I've heard the axioms of "there's reading, then there's reading. . ." But how does one develop the skill of reading?

Father of three, husband of one, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I blog at mattolmstead.com.

Jay's picture

JohnBrian wrote:
Rev Karl wrote:
Still, I would be interested in a suggested list of what should be included on the reading list
At the top of my list is Martyn Lloyd-Jones http://www.amazon.com/Preaching-Preachers-D-Martyn-Lloyd-Jones/dp/031027... ]Preaching and Preachers .

Working through that slowly now for the first time ever...it's a GREAT book.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joseph's picture

Matthew Olmstead wrote:
Kevin Bauder wrote:
Reading takes skill and discipline . . .

I would be interested in an elaboration on this vein. I've heard the axioms of "there's reading, then there's reading. . ." But how does one develop the skill of reading?


A classic work on this is "How to Read a Book," by Mortimer J. Adler and Van Doran. Everyone ought to read that book. Also, in the superb his "The Intellectual Life," Sertillanges discusses four different kinds of reading, and his discussion is quite helpful.

I don't often think about it, but I recognize, off the top of my head, at least five very different ways of reading, which normally correspond 1) what I'm reading and 2) the reason(s) because of which I'm reading it.

Just as a quick example, here are five categories that implicitly guide the way I read:

1. Kind of reading: primary source in philosophy. Purpose for reading: careful study of the text such that I can make rigorous and specific arguments about it.

This kind of reading takes a long time, especially if you're reading someone like Kant or Heidegger (usually no more than 15 pages get read in an hour with these guys). Philosophy is the most demanding thing I read, but I would put in this category some of the most demanding theology, like Schleiermacher, Barth, a lot of twentieth century guys (e.g. Tillich, Rahner) who read like philosophers, Augustine, the scholastics, etc.

2. Kind: Secondary literature: Purpose: for research on a specific topic with the intent of writing on it

Here, as I above, I take detailed notes in a notebook as well as in the margins, underlining, etc.

3. Kind. Secondary literature: Purpose: general increase in knowledge about the topic.

Here I go faster because I don't need to take detailed notes, and I'm just reading for knowledge. As an example, in one of my areas, Frederick Beiser is one of the best scholars, and I read everything he writes, no matter what particular topic its on. Normally, I'll just make marginal notes (or none at all) on this kind of reading, which is not specifically research oriented although it often indirectly contributes to my knowledge of one of my research areas.

4. Kind: general academic work, primary or secondary: purpose: satiating my interests, expanding knowledge of area, etc.

A ton of my reading is in this category; Right now, for example, I'm reading Rieff's The Triumph of the Therapeutic and the last volume Anthony Kenny's History of Western Philosophy, and I would put both of those books in this category. I do a lot of jotting in the text, but I don't take separate notes and I read this kind of literature at an average speed (for academic writing).

5. Kind: fiction/literature: Purpose: pleasure.

Here I recently have read some novels by Ian McEwan - I don't make any notes, I don't write in the books, I just read, and it goes by really quickly compared to the above four categories. I could add a sixth category for how I read fiction when I know I'll be writing about it in an academic context; then I read it quite differently.

So, these are just quick examples, but depending on what one is reading and why one is reading it one will (or should) one will make significant adjustments in the way one reads, including things like place, setting, time required, etc. For the first category I need quite, a table/desk, and preferably a least a few hours. I can read fiction in the car; there's no way I can profitably read Kant in the car.

And, regarding discipline, it's been my observation that reading well, especially in the first category is a skill, one that takes a signifcant amount of time and work to develop. Not any one can read The Critique of Pure Reason and then write a good paper on its arguments. That's really hard, and one must work at the kind of reading, analytic, and synthetic capacitites needed to do it, not counting the backround one needs to understand the context of books like that. A lot fo the major thinkers are embedded in fairly complicated intellectual frameworks, which one must spend a greater or lesser time mastering before one cann work at a serious level with the thinkers in question. Some thinkers are friendly to a-contextual readings than others; but some demand, literally, hundreds of hours spent reading other things before they can be understood and appreciated.

Matthew Olmstead's picture

Thanks, Joseph!

I have How to Read a Book, but haven't taken the time to read it (I've only skimmed it). I'm planning to digest it before the summer is out. I appreciate your insights.

Father of three, husband of one, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I blog at mattolmstead.com.

Charlie's picture

Since the quantity/quality pressure will never go away, it is exceedingly useful to reduce that tension as much as possible. It's well worth your time to spend 15 minutes a day for a month (or so) on a speed reading program that will likely about double your reading speed.

By "speed reading" I don't mean skimming, but actually learning to increase the rate at which you process written information. The goal is to get as close as possible to the physical limit of your reading speed. Many studies have shown that you actually remember the most when you are fully concentrating on the act of reading and are reading near your peak speed. Most people's "thinking" rate is much faster than their "reading" rate, creating a gap which allows the brain to daydream or wander. By increasing your reading speed to close the gap, your concentration and retention will improve.

Reading speed can be influenced by purely physical factors - lighting, angle of book, size of print, width of columns. Once you understand the physical principles involved, you can create an environment for efficient reading. The program ReadPal can take online or Word documents and put them into a paced reading program with customizable font size, helping you read faster.

Helpful resources are the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Program (it's a book; buy it used) and the computer software RocketReader. http://www.rocketreader.com/

One final idea for increased comprehension and enjoyment - read with other people. You remember and grow a lot more when you're actively articulating your thoughts to others and processing theirs in return.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Joseph's picture

Matthew Olmstead wrote:
Thanks, Joseph!

I have How to Read a Book, but haven't taken the time to read it (I've only skimmed it). I'm planning to digest it before the summer is out. I appreciate your insights.


Great. Glad to be helpful. I would note that, as you will soon see, the way Adler recommends to read, if fully practiced, could only be practically applied to a few books a year (i.e., I would read that way if I was preparing to teach a source text in a seminar), but the principles are still excellent.

Charlie's picture

My seminary has How To Read A Book as a required orientation text. I've found that the principles in there work best in argumentative texts like philosophy or theology. It is definitely the best resource available for those types of literature. For a broader guide to more genres (history, novel, poetry, etc), along with an annotated bibliography, I recommend Susan Bauer's The Well Educated Mind. My wife is going through parts of that right now and is enjoying it.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

A. Carpenter's picture

Joseph wrote:
Matthew Olmstead wrote:
Thanks, Joseph!

I have How to Read a Book, but haven't taken the time to read it (I've only skimmed it). I'm planning to digest it before the summer is out. I appreciate your insights.


Great. Glad to be helpful. I would note that, as you will soon see, the way Adler recommends to read, if fully practiced, could only be practically applied to a few books a year (i.e., I would read that way if I was preparing to teach a source text in a seminar), but the principles are still excellent.

OK, but Adler also allows for different levels of reading, too, though I agree it would be virtually impossible to work through his recommended reading list with the method he prescribes.

So how do we feel about Spurgeon's comment: "A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them, as the classic proverb puts it 'As the dogs drink of Nilus'?" Agree or disagree?

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.