Books of the Bible
This morning I was listening to some advice from my pastor about the benefits of reading. He established that the Bible, of course, should be our first priority—both in time and attention. But reading other good books isn’t necessarily competing with your Bible reading. In fact, as he mentioned, developing the habit of reading itself can and should encourage our reading of the Bible.
I have found that advice to be wonderfully true—and especially true regarding what we read in difficult times. A great example was my recent read of Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond. From beginning to end, this book points back to the Bible. It begins by explaining why it’s critical that we interpret suffering in light of the Bible, and not interpret the Bible in light of suffering. Grimmond suggests that “we won’t find God’s true comfort unless we wrestle with ideas that are initially confronting and even painful” but also that “God’s unsettling truth is much better for us than pillow-soft platitudes”. And of course this is true with more than just suffering!
Even as he illustrates with modern stories of how we face suffering, the author turns our focus to learning from the biblical accounts of Job and Habbakuk (among others). When answering the challenge of how to live Christianly in the midst of suffering, Grimmond advises his readers to pause and read all of Hebrews 12 before he goes on. I’m so thankful for the diligent faithfulness of this author to tackle a difficult topic from a Scripture-filled perspective. Theories, techniques and opinions can be helpful, but the foundation of our thoughts and responses to our experiences should be firmly placed in Scripture.
Reading a book like this reminded me how important it is to carefully consider what books we read on tough topics. Whether it’s suffering and trials, marriage and gender roles, or loving our neighbor, we have a responsibility to read books written from a biblical standpoint. And just because something is labeled ‘Christian’ doesn't necessarily make it so. Does it correctly quote Scripture? Does it elevate the author, the issue, or Scripture? Does it encourage engagement with your personal Word study or with the world's view? This discernment is always imperative, but especially when we (or our neighbors, family or friends) are grasping for answers and comfort in trying times. It’s essential we consume books that are pointing us back to the ultimate answer—the Bible.
Because I was raised in a wonderful Christian home, I have valued and prioritized reading the Bible since I was young. But I can say without hesitation that my more recent habit of reading Bible-based literature has boosted my ability and interest in reading and understanding the Bible. When an author points to a passage, I can read or study it myself to better understand. And when I read a chapter from the Bible, it can remind me of how an author explained it in a way I hadn’t understood before, or how it relates to another passage on the same topic.
I’ve also noticed that reading biblically sound books improves my ability to explain or discuss Scripture with others. When we read a book where an author explains something well, it helps us put words to ideas that are difficult to communicate. It may provide a quote or an angle or phrasing that I hadn’t thought of or could never come up with on my own. Quite literally, good books give me words to speak to others. Reading well trains us to think well and that helps us speak well. This results in reading that is beneficial not only to us, but also in our mission to be disciplemakers to those around us.
So whether you read regularly or sparsely, choose wisely. Firstly and primarily, read Scripture. Then turn to books that build on that Bible reading and ultimately steer you right back to God's word. As Grimmond says in his first chapter “I encourage you to read...prayerfully, with your Bible open, asking God to help you see the world through his eyes. In the depths of God’s riches are truths...that are treasures beyond compare, if you are willing to see them.”