Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Read Nonfiction

While I've read fiction for most of my reading life, I haven't always been a big fan of nonfiction. That includes Christian nonfiction--whether you mean "Christian living" or "theology." (Some devotional material counts as nonfiction as well. Especially if it's expository in nature--examining short passages of Scripture.) I first started reading Christian nonfiction as an adult--around the same time that I started college--give or take a semester or two! One of the first books I read was Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life. It was just what I needed at the time. It was such an amazing find for me. I read it. And read it. And read it. I underlined this and that passage. Smith got me thinking, really thinking, about life, about faith. And that was just the start.

There were other titles, other authors, that influenced me then, that were stopping points on my faith journey. I wouldn't say each book stayed influential. As I grew in my faith, I came to different conclusions than some of the authors whose works I'd read. (I don't know that I *believe* exactly the same way as Hannah Whitall Smith did. Or C.S. Lewis.) But. Each was important--in one way or another--in shaping me. Now, I am NOT saying that you can read a book and have your beliefs shaped, twisted, transformed. I don't think what you read has the power exclusively to mold you one way or the other. If it did, then perhaps reading would be too dangerous to allow. Think about that.

Some books that did help me along the way were Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Putting the Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton, Ten Lies About God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception by Erwin Lutzer, How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God by Erwin Lutzer, Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer, Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture by Duane Edward Spencer, Why One Way by John MacArthur, Found: God's Will by John MacArthur, The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink, Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, and that's just what comes easily to mind.

It is important to read carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully. It is important to keep Scripture in mind with each and every book that you read. The more a book relies on Scripture for its argument, for its focus, then the more I trust it. Not that certain authors can't twist Scripture to make it say what they want it to say. Many authors (at least the ones I've read lately) do put Scripture in context. They will discuss a passage of Scripture in its context. Not half a verse here and there. Not making a patchwork of God's promises.

I think reading books--like listening to sermons (whether in person, on the radio, on TV, on the internet)--does require discernment. But to read with discernment isn't a terrible task, it isn't a heavy burden. All it requires is time in the Word and a prayerful relationship. (I think it is a good idea to pray before you read the Bible, and equally important to pray before you read Christian nonfiction.)

Now, I'm not saying that EVERY book is EQUAL. Some are more beneficial than others. Some are filled with incredible truth, incredible hope. Some are definitely worth our time and attention and study.

Why do I love Christian nonfiction? It engages me, challenges me. It makes me think. Sometimes so much so that I just *have* to talk about it with someone else. It is discussion-worthy. It makes me question. It has me asking questions of myself that I'd never think of on my own. Like this little gem from Purity.

"Do you find that you cannot live without a relationship with God? To the degree that you do, you will serve him. We all serve whatever it is we think we cannot live without." (41)
It can convict. It can enlighten. It can educate. It can bless. It can inspire. It can lead you to discover other authors. (If you read a book that uses a lot of quotes from others--believers, preachers through the generations, through the centuries--it can open up a whole new world of books to explore.) It can help you have a closer walk, a deeper relationship with Jesus. Reading some books really can change your life. For example, just read this little excerpt from Bookends of the The Christian Life.

There's an old play on the word justified: "just-as-if-I'd never sinned." But here's another way of saying it: "just-as-if-I'd always obeyed." Both are true. The first refers to the transfer of our moral debt to Christ so we're left with a "clean" ledger, just as if we'd never sinned. The second tells us our ledger is now filled with the perfect righteousness of Christ, so it's just as if we'd always obeyed. That's why we can come confidently into the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19) even though we're still sinners--saved sinners to be sure, but still practicing sinners, every day in thought, word, deed, and motive.
The perfect righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us, is the first bookend of the Christian life. The news of this righteousness is the gospel. Christ's righteousness is given to us by God when we genuinely trust in Christ as our Savior. From that moment on, from God's point of view, the first bookend is permanently in place. We're justified; we're credited with his righteousness. Or to say it differently, we're clothed with his righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) so that as God looks at us in union with Christ, he always sees us to be as righteous as Christ himself. And that changes everything. (26-27)
Do I believe for one minute that it is the book itself doing the changing? No! What I mean to say, what I hope to convey, is that God uses books (through the Spirit) to change us, to touch us, to grow us. Just like God uses the spoken words of a preacher, HE is able to use the words we read on the page to accomplish his will, his purpose.

And there is only ONE book that is the inspired Word of God. One book that is infallible. And that book reveals God to us. It is incredible to think about how much we can learn about God just by reading and meditating on his Word. We come to know God by reading about Him, by talking to Him. But how would we know who God is, how to come to God, if we didn't take the time to read the Bible? So I will always, always, always be passionate about how the Bible is the MOST important book you can read.

I would never say that reading Christian nonfiction should take the place of reading the Bible. A well-written Christian nonfiction book relies upon Scripture, relies upon explaining Scripture--discovering, understanding, exploring Scripture truths. Of course, there are examples where a book relies more upon stories and situations, parables and metaphors. And some people, perhaps, learn this way. So I wouldn't say those types of books don't have eager readers who do gain from them. I think they do have an audience in the market. Or why would so many be published each year?

I value Christian nonfiction. I value the time spent reading Christian nonfiction. Yes, it is sometimes easier to just cozy up with a nice fiction book. And I do include Christian fiction in my reading. My particular weakness is Christian historical romance. And I do love these! But I try to make a balanced effort to include Christian nonfiction in my reading life.

I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it if you'd leave a comment. I'd love to start a discussion. I would LOVE to know what you think about Christian nonfiction.

It would not be fair to write this post without at least mentioning that there is currently a Christian Non-Fiction Reading Challenge.


Annette from A Well-Watered Garden wrote a post called Fiction Versus Non-Fiction.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


Annette said...

Awesome post. I love Christian non-fiction. My favorite so far is by J. I. Packer Knowing God--such meaty book, one that I savored over for a long time.
The best non-fiction from 2009 that I read was If God is Good by Randy Alcorn. He dived in to subjects that are painful to ask much less try and answer, and he did so with gentleness and inspiration. It is such a thinking book and I love that.
I have a great desire to learn and that means also I want to be teachable and pliable to Jesus. Reading the non-fiction Christian books I feel do this.
I agree the Bible is the immutable
very Word of God and that is what we should most of all read.
In my Sunday morning Bible class yesterday we discussed this, why do people not read the Bible; various reasons were given. The main reason is priorities.
A little discussion has been about this on my blog. I will direct everybody over to your post.
Excellent Becky!

Garnetrose said...

I read fiction and love it but I still find time to read the bible and many other devotionals. I enjoy doing that. I read fiction to escape some of the trials of living in todays world. I rely on the bible for guidance in daily living though. It is the greatest book ever written.

Annette said...

I agree Garnet it is the greatest book ever written.

twiga92 said...

I read quite a bit of Christian non-fiction as well as fiction. I will get on non-fiction kicks. Some of my favorite books in the Christian nonfiction genre are A Woman's Journey to the Heart of God by Cynthia Heald and books by Henry Cloud and Townsend (such as How People Grow). I read Knowing God in college and really enjoyed it. It is on my re-read list. Christian non-fiction helps me to grow as a believer and helps me to focus more on God and deal with my petty problems.