Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reading is a Means to an End

Reading is quite a gift from God. For one thing, we get to read His word. I can't imagine going through life without a bible close by. We also get to read great works of theology and literature. We are particularly blessed as English speakers since so much has been written in the English language within the past 400 years.

Although reading is a blessing, we can fall into a trap. The trap is the assumption that reading is an end to itself. It should not be. Rather, reading ought to be a means to an end.

Those who spend quite a bit of time in theology texts can fall prey to reading as an end. I really don't care how many times someone has read Augustine's The City of God, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, or Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. When people begin to talk repeatedly about which great theologian they are reading, they may be walking down a dangerous pathway toward pride.

Works like the above three are great if they lead to something. We must read the bible in the same way. Reading should lead to lives of greater holiness, greater desire for Christ, greater care for the poor and needy, and ultimately greater glory given to God.

We have an embarrassment of riches in this country when it comes to books. We can purchase just about any bible in any combination we desire. We can easily order almost any book on theology, ecclesiology, the original languages, etc. that we want. We can read, and read, and read.

Interestingly, when we read the bible and we see what Jesus desires of us, we don't see much about reading. The difficulty of course is that we know God's will through reading the scriptures. But when we read what He commands, we don't see reading. Instead we see that God wants us to desire Him above all things, to care for those in need, to keep from the stains of the world, to share the gospel with the lost, and to edify and be edified by His church.

When God looks at our lives, He doesn't care how many systematic theologies we've read. He cares that we love Him and love others. He cares that we bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He cares about how we care for "the least of these."

Let us read as a means to the end of the glorification of God through our lives. Let us put an end to reading as an end in itself.


Anonymous said...

For me lately it seems like reading is a means with NO end. (I just bought all my textbooks for Spring semester) Nevertheless, I know it is good for me because my professors assign us some really great books and many of them I know I will continue to refer to through the years.

Eric said...


You are certainly in a unique situation right now. I suppose the key is perspective. If we read, for example, Jonathan Edwards as an end unto itself, this is a problem. If we read him in the hopes that it brings about greater glory to the Lord through a changed life, then this is great. At a place like SBTS I'm sure you will see some of both in the students. I know I did at SEBTS.

Anonymous said...

I have been catching myself in that trap lately. Since I started reading books at night a few months ago, I enjoy it so much, that I ignore more important matters. Just the other night my wife wanted to talk, but I wanted to read, so my mind was kind of halfway in between. Not a good application of my bible reading... I feel more focused lately, though, on what is actually important. Thanks for the post.

Eric said...


Thanks for your example. Reading certainly can be enjoyable. I guess balance is a key in all this.

Jeffrey said...

I must have A.D.D. I read about one book per decade, whether I need it or not, but if I don't have four projects going at all times, I get into trouble. Isn't it awesome how God "wires" us differently.

Eric said...


Life would be very dull if we were all the same.