Elliff writes, "I’ve spent my life around pastors and church planters. I can tell you that most of them do not eagerly talk about new findings in the Bible, new insights from Jesus’ teachings, how they find Christ in the Old Testament, how passages are coming alive to them because they are finally understood. No, mostly they talk about what others say in the books they read. They speak like hoarders of books rather than lovers of the Bible. For me, correcting this problem takes true repentance. But, in my experience, and the experience of generations of Bible lovers, substituting saturation in the Bible for inordinate hours in uninspired books will do something for your soul that cannot be done otherwise.
Here was my response to my friend:
Jim Elliff offers a good and important corrective and he expresses something those of us who love books must wrestle with. First let me say that I agree with much of what he says (I actually felt like he was describing me), but I think there are places where this message may be overbalanced in the opposite direction as well. Here were a few thoughts/questions I wrestled with as I read:
1) Is having a large library or a hobby necessarily sinful? I don't believe that it is, thought it certainly can be. I think one needs to ask what is the purpose behind the library. Is it being used for edification and ministry?
2) What is the purpose of reading outside of the Bible? One of the things I believe is true is that we learn in the "community of saints." I believe that extends not only to our local community, but to the church historic. We can gain insight by reading folks like Luther, or Augustine, or Lewis. There is a long history of "spiritual reading" in the church. I sometimes see in people who proudly read only the Bible what appear to be false understandings of Scripture that disagree with 2000 years of church history. I suspect this is how some cultic beliefs begin.
3) Do people who read many books necessarily read less in the Bible than those who do not OR, alternatively, do those who read widely have a more robust devotional life? I can't speak for others, but for me, reading other books has enhanced my time in the Bible. I am more likely to read more Bible when I am reading more books. Elliff says that collecting books eats away at your desire to read the Bible. For me, at least, I disagree.
4) It seems to me that much of modern culture lacks the capacity for critical thought and reflection. I believe this is due, at least in part, to a reduced functional literacy (e.g., most people can read, but many cannot read critically). We see this all the time on social media. I frankly believe it would be advantageous to have a stronger community of readers than we currently have. Specifically, most Christians would do well to become better readers, not just of the Bible, but in general.
5) Do other sources allow us to gain insight into what Scripture teaches? Are books different from sermons?
Thanks for sharing this. It is great food for thought. I fully recognize that my reflections above may just be my well-defended justifications. Earlier this week, I went through my library to see which books I have that I still want to read and haven't previously. There are 177. That's a significant number, but I keep plugging away at them. I also believe that I am a different, and better person not just because of what I have read in the Bible, but also what other books have showed me about what is in the Bible.