With that in mind, Reading Light presents guidance for Christian readers, featuring recommendations for Christian books that were both educational and enjoyable. It serves not as a scholar offering a lecture but as a friend sharing a good read with others and describing what benefits they can gain from each book. Author William H. Cooper Jr. stresses the need for Christians to read books with spiritual substance. He focuses on ten authors and their most prominent works, exploring their lives and considering the reasons each book might be beneficial.
Intended for individuals, Sunday school groups, or book clubs, this guide provides Christians with essential recommendations for readable books with the promise of great reward.
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The business guru Peter Decker once noted that to be successful, every company needed to answer two fundamental questions: 1. what's our business? And 2. How's business? These two questions come to mind as one peruses the local Christian bookstore and notes what the average Christian is reading. As one scans the shelves, he or she is tempted to ask "what is the business of Christian reading?" What are Christians filling their minds with in order to stand strong in this present age of postmodernism and total moral relevance? Is it biblical based and mentally challenging material that will enable one to fight the good fight or is it romance novels disguised as Christian fiction alongside how-to books built around the latest fad topped off with inspirational tales of events that will never happen to us. Now I am not saying that this kind of reading is wrong; I'm saying it is just not enough. It is fine (and even enjoyable) to eat some junk food every once in a while but man does not live by snacks alone. Reading is the art of perusing written material for information or entertainment. Good reading is supposed to make us better people. It should stimulate the mind and enlarge our vision of the world around us. Christian reading, the reading with the express eyes of a believer in Jesus Christ, is to do all that and more. Meaningful Christian reading is the reading of such books that lead us to reflect on the nature of life and the reality of God. A Christian does not necessarily read only those authors who share his or her religious point of view (in fact some of the most enlightening reading comes from the lost who know they are lost but don't know why). However this kind of meaningful reading should drive a believer to reflect on the important issues of life in this world. Meaningful reading enlightens and expands our vision. But rather than stopping there at ourselves and our material world, Christian reading leads to a spiritual dimension. We should read those books that cause us to think, and to think as believers. Meaningful Christian reading should help us become more and more like Christ in our thoughts and attitudes. Solid Christian reading is edifying. It reinforces biblical truth by showing us the fallen state of the human condition. It shows in real life the graphic need for redemption in Christ Jesus and it asks the hard questions. Solid Christian reading will also teach us the answers we have in our Lord. It reaches out to those around us and allows us to see others as they are. Novels are the image of man writ large. Real writing accepts that and offers biblical solutions both for believers (what to believe) and non-Christians (who to believe). And like all good literature, Christian reading should be readings of all kind- fiction, history, biography, apologetics, philosophy, and polemics. It boldly analyzes all areas of the argument. It reaches into the whole person, body, soul, spirit. And it should leave us afterwards with the sense of drinking deeply, being challenged intellectually, and appreciating more and more our saving Lord. Reading that causes us to love Christ more and appreciate His grace deeply is reading worth doing.
So how is business? Well, at first glance, not too good. The usual Christian bookstore is full of religious bric-a-bracs, musical CDs, two rows of non-selling Bible commentaries, and mostly inane self-help books under the title of "Christian living". No wonder the lay person does not think about the big issues of life. Based on what they are reading, they are just trying to get through tomorrow as easily as they can. They just want to save their marriages and their money (not necessarily in that order). Like our worship, reading has become mostly a self-centered activity rather than something that takes us out of ourselves and forces us to wrestle with great issues in a biblical manner. Great books are not simplistic in answers, not three point sermons that tie everything up neatly in the end. They do not offer simplistic answers. Sometimes they don't even offer answers. But they show us the real world and the Christian authors I note in this book point us to the Word and its answers. But to be honest, based on what is for sale in the local bookstore that is not what we read.
So what's the answer? How do we Christians regain the act of good reading? When I talk about good reading with my fellow high school teachers, they always ask what can I recommend for them to read. Well, have I got a book for you, actually ten in fact. In this book, I am going to suggest ten authors that I believe are well worth reading. These are authors every Christian ought to be familiar with. Some are names you already known (though you might not have read all their books or the one I recommend). Others were famous in their day but not so much today. Some are easy to understand. Others are not so easy. Some write precise and to the point. Others have never found an adjective they did not like. I chose ten because that is large enough to get you going for a while and is a large enough number that you can skip those you don't like and move on to someone more in your range. Because my interest in fiction is limited for the most part to mysteries and classics (I'm working on it), I have tended to favor the non-fiction genre. Here are books on apologetics, Christian living, and the very nature of Christianity. Most of all, they focus on the nature of God and how we are to respond to Him in our daily life. I will begin with a brief overview of the author's life to put his writing in context, talk about the book of his I recommend to be read, and recommend additional works by him if you find you enjoy his style.
Please realize that even though I have placed theses readings in a certain order, you are free to read them in any order you wish. You do not have to read number 1 before you read number 2 but you might find it easier to do so. We are all different people at different stages of our Christian walk. We have different tastes that reflect what we enjoy to read. I love philosophy and history. A romance novel would leave me cold. If you are philosophically minded, you will love Schaeffer and maybe not care as much for Bonhoeffer. If you are devotionally oriented, Tozer will sing to you while Packer might not. The only thing I ask here is that you try each one, dip your reading toe into their waters, and then decide how far you wish to journey. If one is difficult, don't worry or despair. It is when we read those works that challenge us that we work out those intellectual muscles that help us to grow. And if you find you are not ready to lift one of these works, that's alright. Set it aside and work out on other. Then come back to the heavy lifting. And remember, each author have something to teach us about ourselves. The authors are arranged thusly:
I. Basic Christianity:
1. C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.
2. 3. G. K. Chesterton and Orthodoxy
3. John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress.
II. Christian Living
4. J. I. Packer and Knowing God.
5. A. W. Tozer and The Pursuit of God.
6. J.C. Ryle and Holiness
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and The Cost of Discipleship
8. Frances Schaeffer and True Spirituality.
III. Devotional Reading.
9. Various Puritans and The Valley of Vision.
10. Lettie Bard Cowman and Streams in the Desert.
Each author was chosen for his writing ability and what he had to say. Each has had a remarkable impact on his readers and a remarkable impact in my life. However these are not people whose books you skim and forget. They will challenge you and hopefully better understand and appreciate the Lord. And note the common thread running throughout their writings. All of them were amazed with and greatly in love with Christ. Hopefully we will be as well.
One last word before we start. How do we read a work with weight? Teaching in a classic high school (Gloria Deo Academy, Springfield, MO), I did a one class lecture on how to read a book. Gathering material for that class, I was stunned that some call for the reading of the material three times-once to skim, once to read, and once to take notes). Yeah, right! There is no way we are going to do that. I was teaching on Augustine's City of God and there was no way those teens were going to read it three times. I wouldn't have read it three times and I was teaching it. Let's be realistic. No one has the time to read a book multiple times in a row. If the book speaks to you, it is far better to finish it, keep it, and pick it up later to see how much the book has changed in its message (or in actuality, how much different you are now from then). So instead I suggest that you use your usual routine. As you do so, remember this is not a race. There are no prizes for finishing first. If you don't think you fully understood something, go back and read it again. Keep a note pad near you and write down things you want to remember. Note parts that mean something to you. Buy a reading diary and at the end of the book, sum up what this book said to you and key pages or quotes in it. Don't mark in it with highlighters. All that means is that the next time you read it, all you will read is the highlighted parts. Read to enjoy and let learning happen. Enjoy the way the writer works his words and arguments. Don't force each passage to be profound. Not all are. Pray before you start and let the Holy Spirit be involved in your reading. Also read your Bible daily so that your mind is growing in thinking biblically. This will help you see the good and bad of these writers. And if you do not like the book or just cannot get through it, put it aside and try it again later. I have tried to read War and Peace by Tolstoy three times now. I will try again later. After reading one of these books, take a break. I read mysteries in between challenging books. I call it cleansing my palate. But however you read these books, read, read, and read. And feel good that you are making the most of your reading time by reading books that mean something and just might add dimension to your spiritual life.CHAPTER 2
C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.
Of all the writers I recommend in this book, perhaps none are better known in Christian circles than Clive Staples Lewis. And while Jonathan Edwards might be better known in America to Christian and non-Christian readers alike (thanks to Edwards' sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"), anyone growing up in Christendom in the 1960s or 1970s knew and read Lewis. Whether it was his science fiction writings or more famously, his Narnia tales for children of all ages, Lewis was widely read and loved. Though he died over forty-seven years ago, his books continue to sell in the millions and continue to greatly influence their readers. Louis Markos in his book Apologetics for the 21st Century spends six chapters on Lewis alone. People as diverse as prison reformer Chuck Colson and one-time Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver have cited Lewis as influential in their conversions. In 1980, Time Magazine cited Lewis as "this century's most-read apologist for God." In 2005, Christianity Today reaffirmed that Lewis was still at the top. When I offered an advance seminar on Lewis at Birmingham Theological Seminary, the class was completely booked on the first day it was offered. What accounts for Lewis' extraordinary success? Some might say that it was the truth of the lessons he had to teach. Yet others have taught the same lessons with far less success. I suspect that Lewis's success had more to do with Lewis the man and the writer, with his imaginative and moral qualities working well with his intellectual capabilities. Lewis seemed to give the image of an older uncle who sits you down and explains things with a twinkle in his eye and joy in his heart. He was brilliant but he was also reachable in his writings. Who else would have thought to warn young Christians of the devil's wiles by writing from a devil's point of view? Who else would hide the doctrine of the cross in a children's book? Lewis never discouraged the reader but he always made them think. So why then include him? Well, things change and yesterday's fad is today's forgotten. There are entire sections of believers who do not know Lewis. Whether it's a fear of apologetics or because their circle of evangelicals does not include English dons, they are missing out on a great treat. When I did an informal survey of my fellow teachers at the Christian school where I teach, all recognized the name. But except for his children tales, which had been read to their children, few really knew the man. This is an oversight that the Church needs to rectify.
1. C.S. Lewis.
Clive Staples Lewis was born November 29, 1898 in Northern Ireland. His father Albert was described as overly emotional, fretful, both sentimental and passionate and easily brought to anger and laughter. Lewis found a lot of fault in his father and his critical view of Albert grew worse as he grew older. Perhaps the nicest thing he says about his father in his autobiography Surprised by Joy was "my father never came close to fulfilling his potential." On the other hand, Lewis cherished his mother as calm, cheerful, and tranquil. As she died of cancer when Lewis was ten, his memory of her was romantic and selective.
Influenced by the tales of Beatrix Potter, Lewis decided to become a writer when he was around the age of eleven. He wrote a series of dreadful fantasies set in a place called "Animal Land" or Boxen. Lewis recalled that they were terribly dull-- all about geography, language, culture, and history with no sense of drama or plot. They were all analysis and background. Here he learned a great lesson about the writing of fiction- an observation that later as a member of the Inklings, he and J.R.R. Tolkien would argue over. When Tolkien complained about Lewis's Narnia tales being complete fluff and foolishness when compared to the great structure of his work Lord of the Rings, Lewis replied, "Fantasy must be made up of romance and poetry, rather than geography and language" (maybe that is why Lewis's Narnia tales have out-sold Tolkien's Ring saga world- wide). What was unique is that Lewis applied that same interest in romance and poetry to his theological writings as well. That love for romance and poetry led to a writing style that is the key to Lewis's success. Lewis tends to be simple without being simplistic, heart-felt without being sentimental, and above all else Lewis sought to be intellectually true.
Lewis entered Oxford in 1916, served in World War I, was wounded and returned to Oxford to finish his education. At this time Lewis was an atheist but as he writes in Surprised by Joy, here began his search for something greater than himself. As he writes, "Like most atheists I was mad at God for not existing and for creating this world. I wanted better." What he wanted, he called joy. "Joy was a sense, a feeling, a quality difficult to define but which lay at the heart of all great art. It is the center of all the things we cherish, a sense of wonder and beauty." Later Lewis would go on to say "Joy provided the foundation for all I created. Joy was the cornerstone of Narnia, the force of good in That Hideous Strength, the quality represented by Christian belief. It was the sign of God in all things." In 1925 Lewis settled down to become a fellow in English language and literature at Magdalene College, Oxford where he specialized in Norse mythology and Old English literature. As a mentor, Lewis was definitely old-fashioned and seen as locked in his sixteenth Century literature. "1 could read Beowulf many times but struggled with a few chapters of Hemingway and Fitzgerald."
Lewis's conversion to Christianity was a movement from Atheism to Agnosticism to Theism to Christianity. In 1929, he wrote that while traveling on a bus, he had an odd feeling that he was encased in a confining suit -- armor that stifled him. "If I want to, I could break out and accept the fact that there was a God or I could be held back by the structures of my own mind. I chose to break out and believe. There I became a theist." Yet Lewis could not believe that Jesus Christ was God or that Christ had been sent to earth to die on a cross in order to save our souls. At best he saw it as a myth. Then in 1931 while expressing that thought to his Catholic friend Tolkien, Tolkien gave him the answer: "Very well then, call it a myth if you wish. But remember myths are not lies. They are based on a kernel of truth. Christianity is based on real events and inspired by a deep truth--a spiritual truth." Lewis wrestled with this and a few days later while riding in the side-car of his brother's motorcycle on the way to the zoo, it all came together. "When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo, I did." Soon after, Lewis joined the Church of England. Now Lewis had something he really wanted to write about, Christianity. And the books began to flow out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Reading Light"
Copyright © 2018 William H. Cooper, Jr.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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Table of Contents
Acknowledgement s and other Thoughts, xv,
I. Introduction, 1,
II. C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity, 7,
1. C.S. Lewis., 9,
2. Mere Christianity, 12,
3. If You Liked Mere Christianity..., 16,
III. G.K. Chesterton and Orthodoxy, 19,
1. The Life of G.K. Chesterton, 20,
2. Orthodoxy, 25,
3. Reading More Chesterton, 28,
IV. John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress, 31,
1. The Life of John Bunyan, 33,
2. Pilgrim's Progress, 39,
3. Other Works by Bunyan, 44,
V. J. I. Packer and Knowing God., 47,
1. The Life of J. I. Packer, 49,
2. Knowing God., 53,
3. Other Works by Packer, 58,
VI. A. W. Tozer and The Pursuit of God, 63,
1. The Life of A. W. Tozer, 66,
2. The Pursuit of God., 70,
3. Other Works by Tozer, 74,
VII. J.C. Ryle and Holiness, 79,
1. The Life of J.C. Ryle, 80,
2. Holiness, 86,
3. Other Works by Ryle, 92,
VIII. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and The Cost of Discipleship, 99,
1. The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 101,
2. The Cost of Discipleship, 108,
3. Other Works by Bonhoeffer, 114,
IX. Frances Schaeffer and True Spirituality, 121,
1. The life of Frances Schaeffer, 123,
2. True Spirituality, 129,
3. Other Works by Schaeffer, 135,
X. The Puritans and The Valley of Vision, 141,
1. The Life of the Puritans, 143,
2. The Valley of Vision, 148,
3. Other Works by the Puritans, 153,
XI. Lettie Bard Cowman and Streams in the Desert, 159,
1. The Life of Lettie Bard Cowman, 161,
2. Streams in the Desert, 166,
3. Other Works by Lettie Bard Cowman, 170,
XII. Honorable Mentions, 173,
XIII. Conclusion, 177,