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How Do You Prioritize What You Read?

There are millions of books on the market. How do you decide which ones to read or which ten thousand books to not read? Tony Reinke, author of Lit!:A Christian Guide to Reading Books, gives six priorities that helps him determine which books to invest his time in. “As with most areas of life, success requires planning,” Reinke explains. “Having a clear purpose for why you read will ensure that the few books you choose will be the books most likely to benefit your life.”

6 Priorities that Decide What Books I Read:

  1. Reading Scripture: If we neglect Scripture in order to read only other books, we not only cut ourselves from the divine umbilical cord that feeds our souls, we also cut ourselves from the truth that makes it possible for us to benefit from the truth, goodness, and beauty in the books that we read.
  2. Reading to know and delight in Christ: The largest topical section in my personal library features books on the person and work of Christ. This is my second highest ranked priority, just after my direct reading of Scripture. If we commit to reading books of solid theology, our knowledge of Christ will grow, because theology (of the right sort) is about knowing God and His Son intimately. Knowledge of Him (not just about Him) feeds, transforms, and vivifies the soul. This is the most delightful pursuit we could ever know.
  3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection: The Christian life is about training the mind, kindling the affections, and learning the vocabulary of the faith (1 Cor. 14:20; Rom. 12:2). This requires deep spiritual reflection on topics like faith, grace, sin, death, and eternal life. The Christian literature that fuels my spiritual reflection comes in a variety of sizes, formats, and genres. (including novels, poetry, and biography).
  4. Reading to initiate personal change: These are the books for battle, the sharp weapons for putting off sin and putting on righteousness. These books help me confront and defeat personal sin and unbelief. They help me to honor God in my role as a husband and as a parent. Our growing knowledge of God must lead to growth in conformity to Christlikeness (2 Pet. 1:5–8). This reading category forces me to think proactively about personal growth and to determine where in my life I need to focus my attention. Carefully selected books will set the pace for focused and long-term change. The church is blessed by a wealth of books on marriage, parenting, sex, depression, discontentment, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, and many others.
  5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence: Christians are to work as though their boss is the Lord himself (Col 3:23), meaning we are called to pursue vocational excellence. And working with skill requires laboring wisely and thoughtfully. I read for vision, to discover and leverage my God-given strengths, to communicate clearly, to organize, to improve my decision making and problem solving,
  6. Reading to enjoy a good story: I read for leisure: non-Christian literature, novels, biographies, humor, and fantasy. Christians should not blush when they read for pleasure, for escape, or “just for fun.” Provided that this is not a form of escapism—and assuming the book does not glorify sin—the practice is enjoyable and honors God.

Learn more about Lit! or read a sample chapter.

Tony Reinke is a former journalist who serves as a theological researcher and blogs at Miscellanies.

2 Comments »

  1. I loved the layout behind his reasoning for which books to read. I’m a little lost on the last one though. He says we shouldn’t be ashamed about reading books for leisure “…assuming the book does not glorify sin…”

    One could easily make the argument that almost any non-Christian fiction is going to glorify sin of some sort.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are non-Christian fiction books that I love, I’m just not sure how I would be able to read any if “glorifying sin” would mark it off the list. For example, I love Harry Potter (and I know, that starts wildfires within all that is Christendom), and some could easily say it glorifies witchcraft, a sin, and that I shouldn’t read it. But I’d say that I know witchcraft is a sin and it’s COMPLETELY fictional, all the way down to the location, so there’s not much chance that someone is going to really want to pursue the occult based on Harry Potter. In contrast to something like The Craft, where it may be fictional, it’s in a very real setting, etc.

    See my confusion?

    Comment by Don Sartain — September 27, 2011 @ 7:23 am

  2. Hi Don – I’d almost love to ask Tony to respond more fully to this. But for now, you may be interested in one of our authors perspectives on the redemptive themes of Harry Potter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxySk24J_bs&feature=player_embedded

    Comment by Angie Cheatham — September 27, 2011 @ 9:51 am

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