Do People Tell You Not to Read ‘Those Books’?

Do People Tell You Not to Read 'Those Books'?

“Take up and read; take up and read.” (from Confessions of Saint Augustine, chapter XII)

Read widely, pastor.

Read novels, how-to books, histories, biographies and theological commentaries.

You don’t necessarily have to read the entire book to benefit. You have only so much time and energy, and you want to put the emphasis on the more important readings.

What are the teens in your church reading? Ask around, then give it a try.

By all means, read the Word of God. Read some every day, and have a plan for your reading. If you’ve never read through the Bible in a year, do it. Do it several times in a row. Thereafter, choose books of the Bible you’re unfamiliar with and fill in that gap of your education.

It used to bother me that my oldest son and my wife loved to read Stephen King novels. Since King loves to get bizarre and even scary—think “Christine” and “Carrie”—in his plots, I felt that this was unhealthy reading for my wife and son.

I still think that. Mostly.

In time, however, I discovered some Stephen King books I enjoyed immensely. The best, for me at least, was the book detailing his writing process. On Writing has a ton of ideas helpful to those of us who try to string individual words into coherent thoughts, the thoughts into paragraphs, the paragraphs into chapters, and chapters into books.

Stephen King does not use adverbs. And when narrating conversations, he never says things like “he replied angrily” or “she responded with a grin,” but only “he said” and “she said.”  Interesting.

Did that change anything for me? Probably not, although it’s helpful seeing how the big guys do their thing.

I am a strong believer in reading widely.

An hour ago I sat in McDonald’s for 30 minutes reading a business book I’d bought on sale at Office Depot. I underlined insights and will probably be using some of what I learned before passing the book on to one of my sons.

The mind needs stimuli from many different directions in order to stay alive and sharp. I subscribe to The New Yorker and sometimes read every word of their really lengthy stories. (OK, but mostly I love their cartoons.) I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology and Progressive Farmer. (How’s that for diversity?) My wife gets Reader’s Digest and Southern Living and Charles Stanley’s In Touch.  

I urge pastors to take an hour occasionally to sit in the periodicals section of their public library and browse all those magazines no one has never heard of. Scan the table of contents, read the occasional article, pursue the subjects that intrigue you, jot down phrases and ideas and stories you want to remember. It won’t hurt and it might pay huge dividends.

OK. A story…

Frederick B. Speakman (1919-1991) pastored Pittsburgh’s Third Presbyterian Church and wrote several books every preacher should have. My favorite is Love is Something You Do. The title comes from the first chapter, a sermon on that subject. Speakman is thought-provoking, Christ-honoring and writes amazingly well. But I wanted to tell you something that happened when he was a kid…

How it would upset (my mother) to catch me in my earliest teens curled up by the hour with a paper-bound volume of science fiction slipped cunningly inside some approved volume of the Rover Boys series or the latest Tom Swift! Perhaps it would have been better for me to have been out on the playground—but the teens are the teens, and as a recipe for getting out of this world I’ll still prefer H.G. Wells to rock ‘n’ roll! (Speakman was writing in 1959, when rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy.)

But mother was determined to take steps to save me from the sorceries of such unsound fantasy, and her trump card was to hail me at last before our minister, our beloved Dr. Todd. 

A massive, acrobatic bear of a man, as well-equipped mentally as he was full-cushioned physically, he held our community in the strong grip of his heart and hands with room to spare. I can remember writhing in an agony of knuckle-cracking embarrassment as she reported her distress at my reading aberrations, but I was quick to notice his reaction seemed to be a scarcely-controllable amusement.

He announced he would let us both in on a secret. He led us into his inner study and showed his collection of—yes, science fiction. Shelf upon shelf of it, titles I had never heard of, he had them all. 

My mother could not have been more shocked if he had showed us a secret wine cellar. I’m not certain she ever completely regained her total trust in clergymen. But I was allowed to bring my science fiction out of hiding from under the bed and to display it unashamed right there in the company of Kipling and London and Mark Twain.

During the Civil War, it was a crime in the South to be caught with publications from the North. As a result, the South missed many an opportunity to know what the “enemy” was doing, where Union troops were gathering, what the politicians were thinking. So short-sighted.

I know conservative Christian people—I’m a card-carrying member of that club!—who urge people not to listen to NPR, MSNBC or CNN but only to FOX News. The same mentality, it seems to me, is what warns people off from reading far afield, from taking in ideas that might be new or different. How boring.

Let’s not have any more boring preachers. Please.

This article originally appeared here.

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.

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