Since moving from the context of seminary life to the local church, there have been numerous changes, not the least of which has been my approach to reading books. The seminary reading schedule was largely determined by the classes I was taking or the papers I was writing. Therefore, my reading was driven by text. Over the past six months, I have fallen into a different approach towards reading that could be explained as a move from text to context.
Whereas my reading in seminary was scheduled and structured according to the classroom, now my reading is scheduled and structured according to my relationships. The reference point is people, not a syllabus, and that has made a big difference in viewing this discipline and its application in my life as well as the lives of others. Let me break down for you the various arenas of relational reading:
The first development was the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge. I originally intended for this to be a personal project because I had so many Puritan Paperbacks that I owned but never read. But once I pitched the challenge on my blog almost a year ago, over 20,000 people have stumbled upon the challenge with several hundred reading and keeping up via P&P. The relational aspect of this challenge has been helpful to encourage and challenge me even more to be diligent in studying the writings of the Puritans.
The second development was reading books in relation to the local church. For instance, I am currently reading Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affections with about a dozen men from Grace each week. For Sunday School, I am reading Life in the Body of Christ: Privileges and Responsibilities in the Local Church by Curtis Thomas, again a weekly read. For the core group of our current church plant, I am reading two books: Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney and What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile which I read and write a brief response for each chapter at Sowing Grace.
The third development was reading books in relation to people in my life. I am currently mentoring a college student and working through two books: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen and In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson (we meet weekly on Thursday mornings). With my wife, we have started reading together Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. And finally, for personal growth I am reading Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity in John’s Gospel by Andreas Kostenberger as well as Morning Thoughts by Octavius Winslow devotionally.
As you can see, this is a pretty demanding reading schedule, but because it has been forged in the context of investing in the lives of others (and myself), my approach is different because of the shift from text (books) to context (people) as the end in mind. Reading the variety of books in the different arenas of life (home, church, internet, etc.) spanning from the great Christian classics of Owen, Edwards, and the Puritans to the relatively new releases such as Kostenberger, Anyabwile, and Ferguson has provided a good perspective and fresh interest in reading. Probably the biggest issue has been scheduling the days of reading to not get too far ahead (and forget what I read) or waiting too late only and procrastinate (and not giving time to reflect and engage what I read).
I will confess that there are some aspects of text-driven reading that I do miss. I miss reading and researching to write papers and critically engage the authors. However, where I find myself today is a place where reading does not end when the book or chapter has been read. In fact it is just the beginning. If you are looking for a way to jump-start your reading regiment, I encourage you to consider reading with other people in mind. The investment you make in the book and more importantly in the lives of others will be worth far more than you had ever imagined. The past six months have opened my eyes to this, and I pray it will open others as well.