Let me preface this post by saying that I love reading. At the moment I have four books on the go ranging from Chris Wright's 'The Mission of God' (an excellent read), through J I Packer's 'Knowing God', and Dever and Dunlop's 'The Compelling Community' to David Baldacci's 'Split Second'. That's pretty normal, the heavy book I tend to take slowly, the others I skip through at a fair pace. And I always have at least one fiction book on the go. But here's what I want to challenge, the idea that there is a connection between godliness and reading and godliness and literacy.
Now books are tremendously helpful, they stimulate ideas, confront issues, spur us on to change but that doesn't mean that books are the only way to do that. I can't help wondering sometimes if we pass someone a book, or recommend one to them to buy if we're stingy with our books, rather than challenge or encourage someone face to face. I wonder sometimes if they are a cheap replacement for vulnerability, openness, and real relationship. But I'll leave you with that thought because that's not what I have in my cross hairs in this post.
Here's my problem with conflating reading with godliness or a stimulus to godliness. What about those who cannot read? Or who have been put off reading by scarring school experience, or who have dyslexia or other reading barriers? Are we saying they cannot be godly, or that it will be harder for them to be godly? What about those who live in parts of the world where books are not readily available?
The advent of the printing press is an historically recent phenomenon, what of the early church and the church between then and the advent of the printing press? Oral tradition mattered, teaching was passed on by word of mouth and remembered and relayed to others. Who learnt that teaching so that they could pass it on to others. I can't help thinking about the enormous benefit that would be to us, because sometimes the welter of new ideas that comes from reading book after book after book means we skip the benefit of properly chewing on and meditating on what we have read. Anyway that's another
Books are a tremendous gift to the church but they are not the barometer of someones godliness. We need to think long and hard about how we teach truth to those with a non-literary lifestyle, to those for who a book is not an opportunity but a barrier. Yes we need to address that barrier over time. But how do we flex and become all things to all men, how do we become as a non-reader to reach the non-reader with the gospel. How do we adapt our church services to be less reading required but still remain word centred? How do we change home groups so that we grapple with the word whilst not making those who struggle with words feel awkward and incapable?