Yesterday, we examined the second part.
Today, as promised, I’d like to go into a little more detail and explain what I’m changing after reading Lit!
A perennial problem for me since leaving Dallas and graduating has been narrowing my reading down. I think I was in the small minority of students who read more assigned theology books than assigned ones. The library (and Amazon) were my scholastic playground, and I was free to pursue just about any and all rabbit trails I wanted, since after all, that’s what I was there for right?
Some of this relates to my purpose of going to seminary in the first place. I wasn’t there in order to be a pastor. I was there to become a master of theology. I was both intrinsically interested in the subject of theology and in need of a diploma that would open doors for future teaching opportunities. Because of that purpose, I was more free to pursue obscure backwoods roads in the study of theology than some of my fellow classmates were either able to or interested in doing.
Fast forward to the present. I’m no longer a seminary student, and have other life responsibilities that do not allow for just taking any and every book that I can get from a publisher in order to read and review. I have realized over the last couple of months I needed to be more selective in my reading choices, as well as have a better overall organization to what I’m reading.
In his chapter on prioritizing your reading (chapter 7) he lists the domains he uses for personal reading:
- Books for knowing and delighting in Christ
- Books to kindle spiritual reflection
- Books to initiate personal change
- Books for pursuing vocational excellence
- Good stories
For me, books on vocational excellence would fall into two categories: (1) books on teaching/discipleship; (2) books on science. In terms of teaching, I think at this point I need to focus on developing the skill more so than reading more on the subject, but I don’t want to neglect the discipline.
Using a kind of triperspectival approach to further refine my focus, I parsed everything down to three categories:
- Normative reading (Scripture, theology)
- Situational reading (vocational reading: science/education/youth ministry)
- Existential reading (spiritual reflection/personal change, stories)
Normatively, I need to read to orient myself around the supreme norm (Christ) and the norming norm (Scripture), as well as the norms of my ultimate vocation (theology). Situationally, in my life right now I’m a teacher and a youth pastor and need to be reading to support those vocations. Existentially, at a personal level, I need to be growing as a disciple of Christ and nourishing a Christian imagination.
Looking at it from this multiperspectival vantage point has been immensely helpful. It has greatly helped me clarify what my future reading will look like and has helped me start to prioritze and plot out my reading for next year. As this year ends, I’m wrapping up reading for books I need to review. Because of that, look for several reviews to pop up over the next few weeks as I clear out my reading queue.
The benefits of this kind of prioritization are substantial, and Reinke lists several (which I’ve personalized):
- It keeps my focus on the main things (norms)
- It provides a comprehensive scheme for my entire reading diet
- It helps me determine the value of a book (and when a CliffNotes/review will suffice)
- It helps me discern what authors are valuable on a given topic
- It helps me balance proportions when the seasons of life change
- It helps me determine when to shelve and unfinished book (my biggest problem!)
In other words, setting priorities once you’ve gotten the bug to be a reader helps you steward both your time and your budget. I got into the trap of just taking books because they were free, not thinking ahead to when I would find the time to read and review them. From now on then, I plan to be much more strategic.
As part of that, I came upon a brilliant idea after reading chapter 13 of Lit! In that chapter, Reinke talks about reading together and how he and some friends worked their way through Calvin’s Institutes as part of a reading group. This seemed like a great idea, and when Ben, a friend of mine in our small group asked me if I had any reading recommendations, I knew what we should do.
I decided we would start our own reading group. I’ve wrestled with wanting to start an apologetics forum/group and the idea to have a theology reading group dovetailed nicely into that idea. I’m still finalizing the details, but I’ve got 5 guys from our small group who are all in college and wanting to both learn Christian theology and how to defend the faith. We’re planning to meet once a week and talk about our reading, as well as having a monthly meeting where we talk apologetics and dialogue with anyone they might want to bring.
On Friday, I’ll post the rest of the details. I decided to setup a plan that could be start over year after year. Rather than being strictly book focused (we’re going to read this particular book), I’ve set it up to be focused on a particular theological topic which changes month to month. This first year, it is just going to work best to read straight through a systematic theology to cover all the ground, but we will definitely supplement along the way.
Check back on Friday, and I’ll post the plan, both for what I’ll be reading and for what the group will be reading. As well as explain how, the readers of the blog can be involved if you’d like to be. For now, I’d highly recommend checking out Tony Reinke’s Lit! if you’re looking to develop and focus yourself as a reader. He’s got great advice for readers and presents a good, Christ-centered approach to reading that more people should follow.