“What should I read?” is a good question any Christian can ask, and every Christian should ask. Having been asked recently to recommend some books to read I’ve been giving the question some serious thought. I do a lot of reading, but I haven’t really sat down and collected my thoughts on the subject before. Now seemed a good time to do it. I’m passionate about reading, and I’m saddened by the fact that fewer Christians than ever seem to be reading.
What should I read? It’s not always easy to answer the question, but it is possible to give an answer in two directions—some specific recommendations and some general guidelines. In my experience, the recommendations are usually what the questioner wants, and it’s certainly good to get a book recommendation from someone who’s read and profited from a book. But it’s all too easy to assume the latest good book you’ve read is a must read for everyone. Not it isn’t, though sometimes it is.
But guidelines are even more important for they help develop good reading habits, even when you don’t have specific recommendations. It’s a bit like the difference between the kind of aid that gives a starving person a fish and the kind that teaches that person to fish. Of the two, the latter is more important in the longer term, but the former isn’t wrong, it’s just not the best thing to do all the time.
So, what should a Christian read? The obvious place to start is the Bible. And yes, it is top of my list of must read books. Every Christian should read their Bible regularly and comprehensively. On Desert Island Discs (a British radio programme where famous people share their musical tastes) the Bible and Shakespeare are taken as given, so they are never discussed. And often Christians tackle the question of what to read in the same way. Well, of course, we must read the Bible. But just how much do we read it?
Let me make a bold suggestion. If you don’t read your Bible much then don’t even try to make time to read other books. Yes, I am serious. Make more time to read the Bible first.
Of course, the Bible is unlike any other book you will ever read. For one thing, it’s author is still alive (despite the greatly exaggerated claims to the contrary that still manage to be reported from time to time). And unlike other books whose authors are still alive, the Bible’s author will never die. But it’s not that fact by itself that make the book so unique, it’s the tremendous consequence of that—God is always available for clarification on everything he has written. I don’t sit down to read, say, Tom Sawyer and if I get stuck on some page ring up Mark Twain to ask him what he meant. But I can pray to God for help in understanding his Word, at any time.
Now, I’m not suggesting that God will answer audibly or immediately. But such a prayer is not a vain request. It is a very biblical request, and the psalmist prays, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Ps 119:18) And it is good practice to come to Scripture reading always with those words, if not on our lips, certainly in the back of our minds.
The Bible is not always an easy book to understand, but neither is it impenetrable. What will make it totally incomprehensible is to read it as one would any other human book. For it is unlike every other book in the world that ever has been, or ever will be written—it is the Word of God (cf 2Tm 3:16). Read it in humble dependence on God, and in his presence. It is an open book, and a powerful book, penetrating deep into the recesses of our minds (cf Heb 4:12).
It is, if you like, the ultimate interactive book. Read with care, for it will change your life. And if your life’s not changing then either you aren’t reading it, or you aren’t listening to what God is saying in it.