5 Jul 2007

Why Do We Read?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Culture, Ministry, Personal, Preaching, Reading, Spiritual Disciplines

Why Do We Read?

Perhaps, one of the saddest things that I have ever heard in my life, came from a minister who had been preaching for nearly forty years. That this minister was being held up as a model for young ministers to follow made it doubly tragic. What was the sad statement? He said, “I have not changed my mind on a religious topic in nearly forty years.” I suppose if Jesus had made that statement it would not have troubled me.

In a Q & A session, with a small group of students, this question was put to this brother by a person to remain unnamed: “Can you recommend three or four books or authors that you think are superior?” The minister’s reply was “I don’t really like to read.”

Suddenly it dawned on the unnamed student why he had not changed his mind in forty years!

I cannot imagine what it would be like to try to go through life without the blessing of books. Books in reality are nothing but the story of humanity, and by reading I am simply learning more about myself and those who share the third rock from the Sun with me.

Books delight the soul and help lift the mind from baser themes.

For example one of my favorites from childhood has been A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. My soft spot for Pooh was discovered by some folks recently as they found me reading John Tyerman Williams, Pooh and the Philosophers. What delightful book in which we learn that Pooh indeed is the greatest philosopher of them all! In fact all philosophy is simply a preamble to Winnie-the-Pooh. The bear that can help us with purity of heart and humility, I thrilled to learn, was also outdoing Plato, Locke, and Camus.

Through that book we are taken back to that place of safety, that place of innocence, that place we so often forget: the hundred acre wood where we can find friendship, we find joy, we find that life really is about just a few basic things.

As an adult when I read Pooh I scratch my head and ask, “who is Milne talking too? children or adult readers?”

I am not even forty years old (much less have preached that long), but I cannot imagine living those forty years without the help and insight of my favorite philosopher: Winnie-the-Pooh.

I have changed my mind on religious topics and “secular” topics on a whole host of things. Books have opened up new horizons for me, books that have forced me to think from a different perspective, books that have exposed my nearsightedness have been responsible for much my rethinking.

Books have helped deliver me from what Mortimer J. Adler called a “foolish and wasteful form of snobbishness and provincialism.” Was this growth? or was it decline? I think it was growth.

Over the next few days we will be exploring several reasons that we should be readers … good readers.

Bobby Valentine

23 Responses to “Why Do We Read?”

  1. Steve Puckett Says:

    Let’s just get down to it . . . Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig pretty much says it all!

    I remember an interview that my wife and I had at a Christian college in the 70’s where were asked if our beliefs had changed any since we attended college there. I don’t think the expected answer was, “Yes they have.” That question was a foreshadowing of our experience with the theology of the place.


  2. Bill Denton Says:

    Though I was not present, I have heard about that supposedly model preacher’s comment about not having changed his mind on religious subjects for 40 years. How sad. I’m not sure I’ve gone 40 minutes without at least a minor modification.

    I remember discovering reading. I was 9 or 10 years old, and up to that point, I had not thought more than 10 seconds about reading. One hot summer day, I wandered up the stairs of the courthouse in downtown Oxford, MS. Lo and behold, there was a library up there. The kindly little old lady behind the desk, having discovered I wasn’t really a reader, pointed me to the Hardy Boys series of mystery books. I read every one of them that summer.

    I know everyone doesn’t like to read, and to be honest, I don’t like to read everything. I struggle with some books. But I can’t imagine what it’s like not to read, not to be better informed. I think a few times I not only changed my mind about things, but after reading more, changed right back to my original thinking. Did I make progress? Maybe.

    Thanks for a tip-of-the-hat to reading, and for encouraging us to spend a bit of time in other people’s heads.


  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Steve, that is a good one isn’t it. Not quite Winnie-the-Pooh though, 🙂

    Bill you make a good point and I agree with it. Not everyone will like reading “everything.” And I hope I did not come off say such a thing. There are books that I do not really care for. For example I have little to no use for Stephen King novels. Not only are they trivial in the best sense of the word (in MY opinion) but also I have no taste for the blood and gore that often is there. There are other works in that genre that I find compelling though (Frankinstein for example).

    Your experience is also one I can relate to. I have read, changed my mind, read some more, and changed back on SOME things. But my change back I feel that I have “better” reasons for said position than I did before.

    Thanks for the great comments brothers.

    Bobby Valentine

  4. CL Says:

    Great post! It is sad commentary to think that one would deny themselve the pleasure of education through reading the thoughts of others. I love to read, but I used to hate it. When I found my calling I finally realized that if I was to be who God wanted me to be it would not happen without the guidance of those around me, hence reading made sense to me. Now I probably read two books a week on average. My life and ministry have been blessed by reading – I know this was part of a bigger plan for me.

  5. laymond Says:

    Bobby we do have a lot in common, if you have read my blog in recent months you know what I am talking about.

  6. cwinwc Says:

    Sadly at a previous church I was a part of, the preacher used Jude 1:3 (….that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints) as to the reason why he didn’t see a reason to read or to think that our current understanding of Scripture was anything but infallable.

  7. preacherman Says:

    I love to read, I just read “Green Eggs & Ham.” “Where the Wild Things Are.” And Of Course My Kids Favorites at bed time, “The Giving Tree.” Tonight. 🙂 My kids love those books.

    Really, I do believe minister should read, study other book besides the Bible. We should study other religious books (“Kingdom Come” for example) the classics, poetry, pop-culture, and other popular books that our members are reading so we might relate to our congregations and the world but also keep in touch with the world around us. I really think this is a great post. I have read many books over the years and have changed my opinions on my issues. I think as Christians if we are unchange, unmoved, unchallenged in our faith and relationship with God then we need to re-examine our Christian life, relationship and faith.

    Bobby, thanks for this excellent post.

  8. Bob Bliss Says:

    I guess I now know why I’ve never been chosen as a model preacher for younger preachers.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I truly believe great harm has befallen the church because we as a whole don’t “study to show ourselves approved”, but rather we study to approve “what we already know (or think we know). By default, that causes us to overlook many things that disagree with our pre-conceived ideas. That also causes false teaching to be carried on from generation to generation. Had the “church” not changed its thinking on some issues; card playing, dice games and billiards would still be forbidden… women would not have the vote, and slavery would still be acceptable. Yes, even reading the right thing for the wrong reason can be of great danger. 63 degrees and sunny this morning in Manitowoc.

  10. James Says:

    I don’t know what that preacher was, but I’ve known several with the same point of view. A friend once told me he’d never read a book not written by a “Church of Christ” author, and not even one of those since the late sixties. On the other hand, I’ve known so many men and women who never stop learning and are students of faith and life to the very end, and are far better for it.

    It’s true that another Preacher warns us in Ecclesiastes that we can wear ourselves down by going to the extreme of reading, and it’s a warranted admonition. However, he was not advocating a reckless run to its opposite as it would seem some in our brotherhood would advocate.

  11. James Says:

    Ok, I should have given it one more quick read. I didn’t mean to type “I don’t know what that preacher was…” I meant “I don’t know what preacher that was…”

    Yikes. Word order does make a difference, huh?

  12. Falantedios Says:

    Try reading The Stand, or The Gunslinger, Bobby. I promise, it is not all Cujo and Christine and Pet Sematary. For that matter, read “The Body” (which became Stand By Me) or “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (which became, well, you know…).

    I believe we have several clear examples that reading is vastly important to the Christian, and especially the Christian minister. Jesus and his apostles clearly read non-canonical literature of the 1st century. Paul quotes Greek poetry. Paul writes letters about the Jewish Messiah to mostly Gentile assemblies using Gentile rhetorical construction. How often in the Hebrew Scriptures are we told of books that we just don’t have anymore, but that were clearly expected by the author to be known by the audience?

    A minister of God only reading the Bible displays a vastly erroneous understanding of the nature of Scripture, the nature of revelation, and the nature of reality. There is something about a ‘stricter judgment’ that makes me uneasy in that area.

    in HIS love,

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Well said, Nick.

    Bobby Valentine

  14. Matthew Says:

    I love Pooh too

  15. Keith Brenton Says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s views since he published it (he has certainly changed over time!), I still enjoy The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert Short.

    I’ve never read The Tao of Pooh nor The Te of Piglet.

  16. ben overby Says:

    Books are powerful because of their content–WORDS. The world was created by the power of a word. We’re all shaped by these dynamic little symbols. One of my favorite subjects is Neuro Linguistic Programming, or Neuro Semantics. It gets to the heart of how we think and how we are shaped by words, and how we can, to a great extent, be healed by words. The man who hasn’t changed his thinking on any religious subjects in 40 years is an arrogant fool; arrogant because he thinks he learned it all four decades ago, and a fool because he believes that deception.

    I still remember receiving a couple of boxes of books from you many years ago. You knew that I was stuck in a loop, a way of looking at the world that was similar to the arrogant fool described above. You also had the good sense to know that the way out was through words. I knew it too, which is why I refused to read those books for a long time.

    In the beginning was the Logos. Interesting.


  17. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    I’ve always been an avid reader from the time I was a very young child. And I would read books over and over and over again.

    I guess I learned that from my parents who were also avid readers and always had a big library full of books at home.

    My mom is now 85, but very sharp and still reads a vast amount. She has a huge library built up and is a very wise Christian woman. A real student of the Bible and of lots of other books that have shaped her and molded her into the wonderful open-minded Christian she is.

    My thoughts are always to emulate her as much as possible.

    Thanks for this great post on reading, Bobby. I look forward to more to come.


    at Finding Direction

  18. Royce Ogle Says:

    Great books have been a huge part of my life and have helped to shape me into the man I am. I appreciate the wealth of good book available to almost all of us in 2007.

    I just wonder though whose books Peter, Paul, Timothy, ect read? Get the point?

    Used properly, the study of others can have great worth. I fear though that some of our preachers have never had an original thought. They simply, week after week, regurgitate what someone else said about the Bible.

    Seems that I remember some old preachers saying “…we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word”.

    Wonder what a different atmosphere there would be next Sunday if the preacher prayed only half as much as he read?

    Grace to you,
    Royce Ogle

  19. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Royce we know some of the books that Paul, Moses, the Chronicler and likely Jesus himself read.

    Moses read The Book of the Wars of the Lord

    The Chronicler read The Annals of Iddo, the Histories of the Kings, etc

    Paul read Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach, Greek Poets (even quoted them)

    Jude read the Assumption of Moses and 1 Enoch.

    Jesus read Sirach, Tobit, and probably most of the Apocrypha.

    Bobby Valentine

  20. Niki Says:

    This is one of my favorite subjects! I’ve been a ferocious reader since I was 3. Books are tools, vacations, history lessons, companions, prized possessions, and blessings. As a child they took me to places my feet could never travel and challenged me to find out who I am and how I fit into this thing called life. As a teen they were a wonderful escape from the rotten things “life” was dealing me. As an adult they have helped me grow and mature in my faith, friendships, and eventually my marriage. They continue to be a source of joy, a stretching mechanism, and a friend on a lazy afternoon when my little guys are napping.
    I can’t imagine a life without books. It reminds me of the 1966 movie “Farenheit 451”. (It’s nothing like that piece of junk Michael Moore put out a few years ago.) The plot of the film is set in the future, in a society that banned all books as a source of disharmony. Instead of putting down fires, firemen are entrusted with tracking, confiscating and burning books. It was originally a fiction book written by Ray Bradbury. Scary concept – a life where books are banned and those caught with them are imprisoned or worse.

    Anyway, great post Bobby. Pooh rocks. May our minds and vocabularies continue to expand! 😉

  21. Adam Gonnerman Says:

    GREAT SCOTT! I had a professor at Harding who said that. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard a preacher/Bible professor say.

    C.S. Lewis’ work pulled me back from a spiral into pessimistic agnosticism after a disasterous (spiritually, emotionally and financially) ministry. N.T. Wright’s works and recorded lectures gave me new insights that are still revolutionizing my thinking. George MacDonald’s writing, however archaic in style, nurtures my spirit. Without these three from different centuries, I don’t know how I would have made it.

  22. Alan Says:

    I am a fan of the Dr. ……

    Seuss that is a fan I am

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Reading what one says lets us know when one has read to much.


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