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Tim Challies

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reading

August 05, 2010

I’m a wee bit under the weather today and am calling this a sick day. Everyone in the family has had some sort of flu and/or some sort of strep in the past couple of weeks and to this point I’ve managed to avoid it. It may now have caught up with me. The timing is terribly inconvenient with that book deadline looming. Nevertheless, I trust this won’t last long. Because of all of that, there is no A La Carte today and this Reading Classics Together post is going to be somewhat abbreviated. You understand, I’m sure.

This week we read three chapters of Arnold Dallimore’s life of Charles Spurgeon, each of dealt with a single aspect of Spurgeon’s ministry. In the first chapter Dallimore discussed the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. This represented a huge building project and one that came at considerable cost (and a cost that grew substantially over time, which always seems to be the way of it). Spurgeon was opposed to borrowing money for the Lord’s work so insisted that the project be carried out debt-free. He did more than his fair share of the work in fundraising and the church opened in March of 1861. Dallimore points out that there was some significance in the building as it established Spurgeon as a permanent presence in London. The building told the whole world that Spurgeon was here to stay.

The second chapter dealt with Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College. Not surprisingly, Spurgeon found himself much in demand as a teacher and mentor and he decided to formalize his role in the lives of young men by establishing this Pastors’ College. Though it added a significant measure of work to his life, it is clear that he loved the college and loved the opportunity it afforded him to train up a whole new generation of pastors. One of the outgrowths of the college was his Lectures To My Students, a book that is still treasured today.

August 04, 2010

This morning I’ve got episode 14 of the Connected Kingdom Podcast for you. This week David and I spend our time discussing a question posed by one of our listeners, a dad who asked how he can get his kids reading and how he can get them to read good books. So we discuss that and also talk about strategies for getting our kids to begin the habit of daily personal devotions. The program is a little bit niche, of course, but we trust parents will benefit from the discussion. Oh, and you’ll learn which one of us wears a tie while doing the podcast.

In the podcast we mention Journibles so here, as promised, is the link. Journibles are quite a unique resource. “Each book is organized so that you can write out your very own copy of Scripture. You will be writing the Bible text only on the right hand page of the book. This should make for easier writing and also allows ample space on the left page to write your own notes and comments. From time to time a question or word will be lightly printed on the left page; these questions are to aid in further study, but should not interfere with your own notes and comments.”

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

July 29, 2010

When reading about Charles Spurgeon you will be drawn to the unavoidable conclusion that he was a unique individual. He was uniquely gifted by God and then raised up to a unique ministry. There can never be another Charles Spurgeon.

I spent some time this morning pondering what is unique in Spurgeon’s background that would keep another Spurgeon from arising in our day. And I started to think about our media-saturated world. And i started to think about the character qualities exemplified by the Prince of Preachers. And I started to think about a lot of other things. And then I started writing and rambling.

From his earliest days Spurgeon was drawn to great writing by great authors. Even when he was just barely old enough to read, he was reading some of the greatest theological tomes ever written. Even in the youngest days of his ministry, when most pastors today are finishing up high school, he was able to quote widely and quote deeply from these great writers of days gone by, relying on a photographic memory (or a near-photographic memory) to recall what they had said. But he did not rely on mere recall; he had not just read these authors, but he had applied their words to his own life. From the day of his conversion he was exceptionally godly and almost unbelievably mature.

By the time Spurgeon was in his mid-teens he was already successfully pastoring a church. Already he was becoming known as the boy preacher and his fame was beginning to spread. Yet God had gifted him with an extraordinary humility and a profound sense of his utter dependence upon God. He would pray earnestly before he preached, throwing himself on God’s mercy and begging for God to be present with him and to give power to his words—power to change the hearts of his hearers. Though he was the Prince of Preachers, easily one of the greatest preachers the world has ever known, still he relied entirely upon God rather than upon his own skill. More rightly, his utter reliance was the root and the cause of the power in his words.

June 10, 2010

And just like that we’ve come to the end of another classic. Looking back on The Bruised Reed I feel like I got the most benefit from the beginning and the end, which likely means that I allowed my attention to drift somewhere around the middle of the book. There is value in reading a book in this kind of weekly format, and yet it is also a little artificial. Those week-long gaps draw out the reading experience in such a way that it is easy to lose some of the flow of the book.

Nevertheless, The Bruised Reed has proven in my mind that its status as a classic is well-earned. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Summary

Sibbes wraps up the book which a chapter titled “Through Conflict to Victory” and in his parting words he wants the Christian to know that all of God’s work and all of his progress in the world will necessarily be opposed. And yet he wants the Christian to know and trust that in the end Christ will have the victory. Here is how he describes the battles necessary to bring Christ into the heart:

June 05, 2010

Earlier this week I read the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr—the guy who wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s a fantastic book and addresses many of the kinds of questions I’ve been asked and (hopefully) answering in my own book. Seriously, you should consider reading it.

Carr looks primarily to what the internet is doing to our brains, to the way we think and even to the way we perceive ourselves. And inevitably he spends quite a bit of time looking to the history of communication, including the book. And here are a few of his thoughts about what makes the book such an amazing invention, especially when compared to digital readers. In them he captures just a bit of my passion for books.

It’s not hard to see why books have been slow to make the leap into the digital age. There’s not a whole lot of difference between a computer monitor and a television screen, and the sounds coming from speakers hit your ears in pretty much the same way whether they’re being transmitted through a computer or a radio. But as a device for reading, the book retains some compelling advantages over the computer. You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery day.

The experience of reading tends to be better with a book too. Words stamped on a page in black ink are easier to read than words formed of pixels on a backlit screen. You can read a dozen or a hundred printed pages without suffering from the eye fatigue that often results from even a brief stretch of online reading. Navigating a book is simpler and, as software programmers say, more intuitive. You can flip through real pages much more quickly and flexibly than you can through virtual pages. And you can write notes in a book’s margins or highlight passages that move or inspire you. You can even get a book’s author to sign its title page. When you’re finished with a book, you can use it to fill an empty space on your bookshelf—or lend it to a friend.

May 09, 2010

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is a book by Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris. In what is a bit of a provocative book and one that relies on more than a small measure of wit, Bayard argues that not having read a book does not need to serve as an impediment in having an interesting and intelligent discussion about it. He goes so far as to argue that in some cases the worst thing you can do, the thing that would most dishonor a book, is to read it.

“Reading is first and foremost non-reading,” he says. “Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe.” Therefore even the most prolific reader does far more non-reading than he does reading and makes far more decisions not to read than to read. Non-reading is a genuine activity as much as reading is a genuine activity. It is not just the mere absence of reading; it is a choice not to read particular works. And yet, he argues, non-reading should not prohibit us from having intelligent and guilt-free discussion about books we have chosen not to read.

So tell me. What do you think of his book?

May 06, 2010

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about how and why and where we all buy our Christian books. I started with the question, “Why do people shop at one e-commerce store and not another.” And from there I just found more and more questions that were asking for answers.

I started writing out such questions and before I knew it I had put together a survey suitable for Christian readers. And I’d love it if you’d take 2 minutes to complete the survey. It asks for no identifying information and really shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes. After we’ve gotten a good quantity of responses, I’ll let you in on the results.

Click here to take the survey

April 10, 2010

Ten days ago I announced the next classic book we’ll be reading together. To refresh your memory, it will be The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you know the pattern. Through the week anyone who wishes to participate reads a chapter from the book and on Thursdays we come here and discuss it. It’s that simple, really. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. The Bruised Reed is, by all accounts, the kind of book any Christian will benefit from. So please do consider reading it with us.

April 06, 2010

Last week I encouraged you to Read More and Read Better. Then I got both busy and distracted and didn’t give you the second part. So let me do that today. Let me tell you how I read a book.

Overview

Before I do anything else, I want to get an overview of the book. Very rarely will I read a book without really knowing what it is about. Here I learn about the reason it exists, whether it is attempting to make its mark in the world of ideas or the world of entertainment. Here I learn about its significance. And, most importantly, here I learn about its purpose. From the back cover, from the Foreword and Preface, I can learn what the book is trying to do, to teach. I may also turn to a review or two, though generally I prefer not to since I prefer to form my own opinion of it. (The less familiar I am with the topic, the more likely I am to read some reviews.) I also tend to read the Acknowledgements since this tends to help me understand the author a bit more.

March 30, 2010

More than any other question that comes in via email, I’m asked this one: “How do you read so much?” While granting that I do read a lot, I think it bears mention that there are lots of people who read as much as I do or a lot more. The difference is that I write about what I’m reading, so you’re more aware of it than you are with most of these voracious readers.

Every year or so I sit down to write out a few thoughts on reading. I’m doing so again today, offering a few thoughts on how you can read more and read better. This is adapted from a list I created a couple of years ago. Actually, what I’ll do is write today about how to read more and read more widely and then tomorrow we’ll work on reading better.

Read - Start with the obvious: you need to read. If you want to be a good painter, you’ve got to paint; if you want to be a good runner, you’ve got to run. So before anything else, you need to commit to the discipline. Unless reading is a genuine passion, you may need to be very deliberate about setting aside time to do it. You may need to force yourself into it. Set yourself some reasonable targets (“I’m going to read three books this year” or “I’m going to finish this book before the end of the month”) and work towards it. Set aside time every day or every week and make sure you pick up the book during those times. Start out by reading a book that deals with a subject of particular interest to you. You may even find it beneficial to find a book that looks interesting—a nice hardback volume with a beautiful, embossed cover, easy-to-read fonts and excellent typography. Reading is an experience and the experience begins with the look and feel of the book. So find a book that looks like one you’ll enjoy and commit to reading it. And when you’ve done that, find another one and do it again. And again.

Read Widely - I’m convinced that one reason people do not read more is that they do not vary their reading enough. Any subject, no matter how much you are interested in it, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. So be sure to read widely. Read fiction and non-fiction, theology and biography, current affairs and history. You will no doubt want to focus the majority of your reading in one broad area, and that is well and good. But be sure to vary your diet. I think it’s especially important to say to Christians that you are allowed to read mainstream books. Read a bit of Malcolm Gladwell or read Freakonomics or a title plucked from the bestseller’s list. Many of these books will enrich you in unexpected ways.

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