One of the unintended consequences of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is the shocking aliteracy of many Christians, laity and clergy alike.
The reasoning goes something like this – because of the perspicuity of the Bible, anyone can read it with little or no hermeneutical, much less theological, training. Therefore, the only book a Christian needs to read is the Bible. Any other reading, theological or otherwise, is merely superfluous. I’ve even heard a pastor argue that reading any book other than the Bible is destructive of one’s faith. After all, if God wanted us to read other books, he would have included them in the Bible.
Unfortunately, this kind of logic, especially when coupled with the anti-intellectualism rampant in some spheres of evangelicalism, leads to precisely the kind of aversion to reading that is manifest in many congregations – the exception being those who devour those Amish romance novels which seem to be the only books that fly off the church library shelves. As a youth pastor, this aliteracy, whether among my colleagues or this current generation, is painfully manifest in remarks to the effect that – “theology complicates things; I’ll just stick with what my Bible says”.
Contrary to popular opinion, reading books is neither elitist nor nerdy. Reading books is the stuff that shapes our imaginations. It should be no surprise that in a culture that extols “reality television” as entertainment that aliteracy is the root cause of our loss of imagination (case in point – the autobiography by Jersey Shore star Snooki was a best-seller – even when we do read, we are not reading to shape our imagination; we are reading for our own sense of infotainment).
As Christians, we are called to shape an alternative imagination to the machinations of sin and evil. In other words, our call is to show our sin-sick world that another world is possible. However, how can we do this when our imaginations are held captive by the same forces as those that hold our surrounding culture?
Enter Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and Todd Wilson. In their new book Pastors in the Classics they argue that one of the ways pastors can and should lead in our alliterate culture is by teaching people to read. As people of the Book, good reading habits are essential, especially if we are to read the Bible faithfully and allow its themes to infuse our stories. The authors argue that these habits will only be instilled with much practice and what better way to practice than by reading the classics.
Pastors in the Classics is a great resource to encourage pastors to “take and read” books that will shape their ministry by helping them become not only better readers but also more reflective about their calling and role as ministers. Part 1 of the book is a wonderful guide to help ministers understand their vocation through the literary themes of the books outlined and discussed. The Rykens and Wilson explore the highs and lows of pastoral ministry through some of the most memorable clergymen set upon paper. Even though they are considering pastoral ministry through fiction, the themes explored are certainly true to life – “coping with public criticism” and “the minister as sinner” – which also makes the characters genuine colleagues from whom we can learn. Obviously, it would be a challenge to read through all the books that the authors list, but the plot summaries and biographical notes in part 2 of the book are very helpful for discerning which novels would interest the reader.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one left in the church who reads. I love postmodern fiction, cultural criticism, and contemporary philosophy and theology. Both my spiritual life and my ministry have been blessed by reading outside the Bible. I read because I love to read. I read because I love words and stories. I read because I respect the craft of writing. And, as Pastors in the Classics reminds me, I read because I am a pastor charged with the task of not simply relaying information about the Bible, but teaching people how to read well. In other words, pastors read by example.
“Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group“.