21 January 2016

To Book or Not to Book, That is the Question

Last night, one of the young men I know was admirably describing how a friend of his only reads the Bible. In fact, it sounds as if he wears this as a badge of honor. Apparently in their discussion, his friend commented that although his dad likes to read books, he only reads the Bible.

On several occasions, I have heard people (almost exclusively young men) say that they only read the Bible and that it is the only book for which they have any use. But that led me to wonder, is it wise to pride oneself on only reading Scripture?

On the positive side, it is only the Bible which is infallible. Through the history of the church, Christians have shaped their lives by the Bible. And we should. The Bible contains the words of God, what He deemed important for us to know. So perhaps these young men who read only the Bible are right, we have no need for other books. Or are they?

Let me suggest a few reasons why such a view may be shortsighted. First, through common grace, God has given many men and women the ability to write about God's creation. He has endowed scientists, and mathematicians, and poets, and historians to observe the world and write about the world around us. In many cases, these books address issues that the Bible never specifically does. I've heard people respond by saying, "well the Bible gives me everything I need for life and godliness", but in actuality, the passage says "His divine power [not the Bible specifically] has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). Perhaps Peter was referring to Holy Scriptures, but I do not think he was referring to only Scriptures.

Second, we have the privilege of access to 2000 years of church history. Over the millenia, godly men and women have wrestled with many of the same issues that today's Christians wrestle with. The wealth of knowledge available to us is abundant. There is much we can learn from others who have gone before. In a similar way that one might ask a wise elder questions about the Bible, we can ask those questions of generations of men and women, both dead and alive.

Third, reading extra-biblical sources allows us to sharpen our thinking. Too many people today lack the capacity for critical thinking. One of the reasons is that they don't read and so are not required to deal with a sustained argument.  One of the most important ways one develops logic and critical thinking skills is through exposure to the written word.

Finally, such an approach often suggests pride. It implies that a young man, often without having lived much real life, possesses the wisdom and knowledge to interpret Scripture correctly. To be sure, I believe that everyone should swim in the pages of Scripture, but the assumption that I can figure it all out on my own can be dangerous. In many cases, we benefit substantially from the guidance of others.

In sum, I agree with Spurgeon who said, "visit many good books, but live in the Bible." Make the Bible your home. Eat the Word. Drink it deeply. Read it over and over and over again until it becomes a part of your DNA. I would even say that if you aren't really a reader and only have 15 minutes a day, spend them in the Bible. On the other hand, if you get the chance, go visit other books. It just may enrich your understanding of the world and the Bible itself.

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