God’s most spectacular natural creations are best admired from multiple perspectives. If someone takes the time and expense to see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, he or she ought not to be content to jump out of the vehicle at the first possible sighting, enjoy the view, take a few pictures, and then return home. Instead, the amazed traveler should move around to drink in the picture from different perspectives.
Walking down a trail, driving to the next vista, crossing into New Mexico or Canada, boarding a donkey or a boat all provide opportunities for even more astonishment and appreciation of those two masterpieces of God.
Reading their books or hearing the sermons of godly men can provide wonderful encouragement and instruction for growing Christians. Creating opportunities to multiply the perspectives about those books or sermons can multiply the benefits of the material. A great way to grow as a Christian is to begin a reading group in your church.
Reading good books offers Christians the chance to think carefully about a subject. The best Christian authors have studied the Scriptures, read the best literature on the matter, thought deeply about it, and carefully prepared their findings in books. Taking the time to read these books offers believers the opportunity to benefit from the labor of the author, but also by comparing the contents of the book with what he or she knows about the Bible’s teaching on the subject and his or her own life-experiences of living out the subject.
Reading a book about God’s providential superintending the details of life, for example, might bring to mind a recent Bible Study about the story of Esther, in which although God’s name is not mentioned, his powerful orchestration of the salvation of the Jews and the destruction of their enemies cannot be easily missed.
The same book on divine providence, however, could be considered differently by people who have had distinctive personal experiences, like an adopted woman who had discovered her biological parents in a way that could only be explained by God’s hands, or by a lady like Joni Eareckson Tada, who had a tragic diving accident which left her paralyzed, but found that God worked through her circumstances to create an international ministry to the disabled.
A reading group can multiply the benefits of a good book through the participants’ contributions to the conversation of their various perspectives, insights, knowledge of other Scriptures, and ideas for applications. In the course of such a conversation, layers of insights and applications build upon each other as new contributions spark fresh ideas from the participants.
Even bad books can provide help in growing as Christians. If a reading group intentionally selected a popular book from a different side of the theological spectrum, for example, they could literally practice interacting with the book graciously. Instead of rolling their eyes, discussing only the worst points of the book, generously using biting sarcasm, insulting the author, judging his or her motives throughout the conversation, and stirring up one another’s self-righteousness with hearty agreements and laughter, they could try to be nice while sharing their perspectives.
If the book is popular, others in their local context will likely be talking about it, and Christians often struggle for kind words to say when they find themselves unexpectedly in such conversations. Practicing graciousness with fellow church members can be helpful. While the errors of the book will not be overlooked in the reading group, other positive points could also be made. Where is there common ground between the group and this book? Is there a burden that this author is reacting against? Did the author expose any valid weaknesses in the theological position of the reading group? What are ways to help others who may have been helped by this book to discover the dangers without becoming offended by the ones pointing them out?
To be kind when discussing a book that contains biblical errors does not mean that one affirms the errors. Like taking a practice test before the real exam, practicing kindness in the environment of a discerning reading group can assist in the performance of kindness when an unexpected question about one’s opinion of the book comes up in a coffee shop,.
Books about God and his grace to his children also can aid groups of believers seeking to become more gracious. As the members of the group celebrate God’s greatness as they read books like J. I. Packer’s Knowing God or R. C. Sproul’s Chosen by God the lessons will be reinforced in the hearts of the other participants.
Feelings of amazement and love for the Lord intensify as Christians think deeply about the implications of the grace of God. Discussing D. A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, or Jerry Bridges’s Transforming Grace can add to the knowledge and appreciation of those in the conversation. As the fires in the hearts of those in the group glow warm about God’s grace to them, the people will breathe out more graciousness to those around them.
Become a Christian reader. Read your Bible first, but then mix in good Christian books. Then add in good Christian friends to share the fruit of what you are reading. All of the blessings will be multiplied.