I asked a number of friends to answer the following question: If you could wave a magical wand which caused all Christians to read five books, what works would you pick? Here are my suggestions with some recent reflection on reading:
It is fun to read haphazardly. Picking up whatever strikes one’s fancy is quite enjoyable. This is better than not reading at all, but we will not benefit from what a more disciplined approach has to offer.
For the Christian, we should read the kinds of things that increase our love for God and love for others. We know that the Bible is designed to do this, but I am speaking about reading material outside of God’s Word.
It is certainly important to read books written by non-Christians, especially the so-called “great” or “classic” works. These have stood the test of time so we can be confident they will speak to us in ways we need to hear.
Time, however, is limited. If the highest goal of reading is to increase our love of God and love of others, it seems wise to give pride of place to works which intentionally seek to do just that.
I am still formulating my own convictions here, but perhaps Augustine and Pascal should take priority over Voltaire and Emerson. I certainly would encourage Christians to read all four, especially since the latter two have taught me some invaluable things.
Indeed, the old adage that “all truth is God’s truth” still applies. However, books that don’t care to increase our love for God and others require more effort and discernment on our part. More effort and discernment are not bad things per se, but we must clarify what are worthy priorities for our reading.
C.S. Lewis wrote an essay called “On the Reading of Old Books.” If you have not read the essay, I highly recommend it. In short compass, Lewis offers many wise insights. Among other things, Lewis says we ought to strive to read one old book for every new book we read. My somewhat tentative thoughts here might want to tweak Lewis a bit. Perhaps the “old books” should be (heavily?) geared to works within the Christian tradition.
How about first reading two so-called classics from the Christian tradition before tackling one outside the Christian tradition? It seems this would have a couple big advantages. It would encourage us to love better, and I need all the help there I can get. Furthermore, a reading plan like the one I propose here would give us greater ease in extracting “God’s truth” from authors who never intended to write anything of eternal worth. As I mentioned earlier, both Voltaire and Emerson have taught me important things. However, it is my reading of great Christian writers which help me to be more discerning when I am interacting with those who write from outside the Christian tradition. Great Christian writers definitely equip us to know how best to “plunder the Egyptians.”
My five would be: Augustine’s Confessions, Pascal’s Writings, Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, and something/anything by C.S. Lewis