I just recently went through a very unpleasant experience. A rather arrogant, unteachable and quite theologically uninformed and confused Christian got into an argument with me on some biblical issue on the social media. I suggested he read a piece or two I had written on the topic to get a better understanding. He replied by proudly saying he reads nothing but the Bible.
He seemed to think that this somehow made him more spiritual, a better Christian, and more knowledgeable about theology and everything else. Um, all it did was demonstrate how ignorant he is, how full of pride he is, and just how unwilling he is to learn from anyone else. That is a very sad place to be in.
In stark contrast, countless leaders have said on countless occasions, “Leaders are readers”. That is just as true of Christian leaders as any other. I too have often said this and written about it. Reading is vitally important, and all believers need to develop some sort of good reading habits.
Sure, we are not all fast readers or keen readers or careful readers. But like most things, if we put a bit of effort into it, we can improve to some degree. So here I want to offer another call for the importance of reading. But this time I mainly want another leader to do most of the talking.
In 1991 Chicago pastor R. Kent Hughes wrote an important volume called Disciplines of a Godly Man (Crossway – revised in 2001). All men should grab this book and digest it carefully. In it he has a chapter on the “Discipline of Mind”. It is loaded with plenty of helpful material, so I want to share a few large hunks of it here for you.
He begins by looking at what an incredible thing the human mind is:
The complex capacity of the human brain is the subject of ever-widening scientific wonder. Its twelve to fourteen billion cells are only a shadow of its complexity, for each cell sends out thousands of connecting tendrils so that a single cell may be connected with 10,000 neighboring cells, each of which is constantly exchanging data impulses. These twelve to fourteen billion brain cells times 10,000 connectors make the human mind an unparalleled computer. The mind’s activity has been compared to 1,000 switchboards, each big enough to serve New York City, all running at full speed as they receive and send questions and orders. Put another way, there is more electronic equivalent in one human brain than in all the radio and television stations of the entire world put together!
The human brain does not miss a thing. It is capable of giving and receiving the subtlest input — from imagining a universe in which time bends, to creating the polyphonic texture of a Bach fugue, or transmitting and receiving a message from God Himself — feats no computer will ever accomplish.
How much more so the Christian mind?
The dizzying potential of the human mind reaches its apex in the possibility of possessing the mind of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit — a possibility affirmed by Paul when he said, “But we have the mind of Christ” — a mind which is constantly renewed (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16 and Romans 12:2). No computer will ever be able to think God’s thoughts, nor will any device ever be able to know the heart of God or do His works. But the mystery which resides between our ears has this capacity. Indeed, it was created for this — to have the mind of Christ.
This cosmic potential of the believer’s mind introduces the great scandal of today’s Church: Christians without Christian minds, Christians who do not think Christianly — a tragic fact which is far more true of professing Christian men than women, as we shall see.
Hughes goes on to discuss the importance of the mind, and examines things which are obstacles to developing it, especially television. He has the courage to tell men this about their viewing habits:
I am aware of the wise warnings against using words like ‘all,’ ‘every,’ and ‘always’ in what I say. Absolutizing one’s pronouncements is dangerous. But I’m going to do it anyway. Here it is: It is impossible for any Christian who spends the bulk of his evenings, month after month, week upon week, day in and day out watching the major TV networks or contemporary videos to have a Christian mind. This is always true of all Christians in every situation! A biblical mental program cannot coexist with worldly programming.
If we are to have Christian minds, there are things we must put out of our minds — and this extends beyond TV, to what we read, listen to, and laugh at.
My advice? Stop watching television. I mean that sincerely! Not watching TV will liberate so much time, it will become virtually impossible not to become a deeper person and a better Christian.
He then of course speaks to the importance of reading Scripture:
You must remember this: You can never have a Christian without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know. If you are filled with God’s Word, your life can then be informed and directed by God — your domestic relationships, your child-rearing, your career, your ethical decisions, your interior moral life. The way to a Christian mind is through God’s Word!
Again, we must be careful not to create a Bible-reading legalism – “good Christians read the Bible through once a year.” The Bible nowhere demands this. Some simply cannot read well, or fast, and speed reading is not the answer….
He then discusses the importance of reading good Christian literature. He quotes the Jewish radio talk show host Dennis Prager on this:
One thing I noticed about Evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they’re Presbyterian, they’ve never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that’s confusing to me. The commandment of study is so deep in Judaism that we immerse ourselves in study. God gave us a brain, aren’t we to use it in His service? When I walk into an Evangelical Christian’s home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best-sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I am a Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America? This is bizarre to me.
Hughes goes on to say:
It is bizarre – especially when a commitment to Christ is a commitment to believe in things that go far beyond the surface of life. Sadly, the bulk of the non-reading Christian public are men, who buy only 25 percent of all Christian books. Men, to deny ourselves the wealth of the accumulated saints of the centuries is to consciously embrace spiritual anorexia. Great Christian writing will magnify, dramatize, and illuminate life-giving wonders for us. Others have walked the paths we so want to tread. They have chronicled the pitfalls and posted warnings along the way. They have also given us descriptions of spiritual delights which will draw us onward and upward.
What amazing instruments reside in the three or four pounds between our ears, instruments with greater capacity than a thousand busy New York City switch boards. The mind is greater than all the computers put together, for it can possess the mind of Christ and think God’s thoughts after Him, wear His heart, and do His works. What an eternal tragedy it is, then, to have this mind and have it redeemed, yet not have a Christian mind.
We must protect our minds. We must refuse to allow our culture’s media to write our program. We must say no to the wastelands that invade our homes.
And we must make a conscious effort to submit to the Divine Programmer through reading His Word. There has got to be some holy sweat. “… train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Prayerfully commit yourself to reading and studying God’s Word. Further, read the great works of those who have gone before you. Prayerfully make your commitments now.
This is all very wise advice indeed. Leaders are readers. And it is not just men who should be readers, but women as well. It is never too late to start on a journey of reading. If that has not been true of you up to this point, I encourage all of you to begin today.
As Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:13, “give attendance to reading”. And as stated in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved unto God”. Or as he said in 2 Timothy 4:13 “Please bring with you … the books, especially the manuscripts.”
(In Australia Hughes’ book can be found at Koorong Books.)