Who Reads? Why Read?

“I should read. But I don’t have time.” I heard this while browsing a bookstore (as I often do on Sunday afternoons). His expression was sad and resigned—wistful. Here he was, bobbing in an ocean of books—perhaps to buy a gift—and wondered if he would read. Notice he did not say, “I need to read more.” I can say that.  A young person confessed to me that he doesn’t read at all. Sadly, I wasted a gift of one of my books to him before I knew this. This soul expressed no regret or longing in his declaration of ongoing illiteracy. In fact, this individual has a college degree. I guess that reading thing was now out of the way.

At the end of final’s week in the spring of 1977, I saw a student who lived in my apartment building walking down the hall carrying about two feet of books which he held in both of his cupped hands. I said, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I’m throwing them out. The term is over.” I countered, “No you are not. Please give them to me.” He did, thus sparing a walk to the dumpster one floor down. I’ll never forget the stupefied expression on his face.

In recent years, many bookstores are not primarily book-stores. The Barnes and Noble chain stores now have knickknacks, puzzles, games, and more. This is not true for The Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver. Their non-book items fit the feel of books—cards, pens, journals, and so on.

People do read. . . what is on their phones. Yesterday, I saw a man crossing a busy intersection while both walking his dog and looking down at his phone. I felt sorry for the dog. But reading a text message or a Facebook post is not the same as settling into a book, that ancient and low-tech object. Screens change words and images endlessly. They are restless. Books have one set of messages per page. They stay put so you can stay focused.

Books have an embodied history as objects in space and time. I treasure my first copy of The God Who is There by Francis A. Schaeffer, which I bought at the University of Oregon bookstore in the fall of 1976, shortly after becoming a Christian. Schaeffer’s intellectual courage and range of interests captivated me and helped chart my own calling. I own another edition and have heard the book on audio, but that is not the same. Books like this are part of the furniture of our homes and of our souls. My home decoration theme is books.

Christians, of all people, should be readers. If we are going to outthink the world for Christ, we need to be knowledgeable about what matters most.

Christians, of all people, should be readers. If we are going to outthink the world for Christ, we need to be knowledgeable about what matters most. As Vernon Grounds said, “We should be masters of one book (the Bible) and readers of many books.” Time alone with a significant book can transform you for the better by opening your mind to truths about history, theology, philosophy, culture, geography, painting, and architecture that you will not simply pick up on Facebook or Instagram.

Can you sit still long enough to make headway through a book? A teenager confessed to me that he could not do so. He had just heard me give a lecture at Summit Ministries. I said, “Get J. P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God With All Your Mind.Then sit in a quiet room by yourself for one hour and read the book. Just one hour. If you do this, you can develop a discipline of reading.” The young man warmed to this and said, “You are good at talking to people.” I relished that comment and hoped that he would become a reader.

God has given me more discretionary time to read and study than most humans. I do what I love. I have time to read. I have time to write. It is easy for me to say, “Read more!” Still, with only a few changes to your life, you can read more and read more deeply. Try an hour by yourself with no distractions. This time, take Philosophy in Seven Sentences in with you, and let me know what you think.

 

 

Author: Douglas Groothuis

Author of Christian Apologetics, Truth Decay, On Jesus, On Pascal, and others. Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary since 1993. Head of The Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree Program and Co-Director of The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. Senior Fellow for Apologetics.com.

6 thoughts

  1. I honestly believe a lot of people still read, even young people. The Young Adult genre is packed with book readers and authors, and can be a lucrative genre for authors if they can hit the right nerves. A gazillion kids and teens read the Harry Potter series, for example. These books certainly aren’t the caliber of nineteenth century Russian or English literature, or heavy philosophy, but at least they’re somewhat decently written books, with strong plots and often even contain messages about good and evil.

  2. I may have to re-read Philosophy in Seven Sentences. It is fantastic.

    While some do read, in context of the church, in my experience people read mainly for entertainment value over truth. From time to time I may see contemporaries pick up business books, but the whole topic of philosophy or theology seems lost on a generation of people. Even books chosen for a small group at church are generally much more entry level due to attendees not prioritizing reading, thus continually saying in the shallow end of the pool. Not all is despair though, I was turned onto Schaeffer years ago myself and have enjoyed many of his works. However, the question I am left with is how does the church culivate reading (that specifically edifies)?

  3. It’s amazing how we can get lose the ability to read if we don’t keep reading. I don’t mean completely, but in order understand and digest material beyond a TV guide level of intellect. It’s like working out our bodies. It gets harder to get back into the gym the longer we are away.

  4. The experience and feel of a real life book is aesthetically pleasing in a way that looking at a smartphone or computer and reading simply doesn’t have. The good thing about Kindle is that the books are cheaper and instantly available and you can get refunded quite easily. But it’s no match for a real book. In terms of reading itself, it is a book that captures your interest that makes you want to read. If the want or desire is there, it is pleasurable. People at the cinema watching a film that isn’t interesting to them usually can’t wait to get out of their seat but if the film captivates them they are happy to sit in the same chair for even 3 hours.

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