Read Much, Not Many

by Derek Brown

Christianity is a reading religion. Historically, wherever Christianity has flourished, so has literacy and reading. This shouldn’t surprise us: God has revealed himself in a book, and knowledge is easily stored and disseminated through the written word. Men and women who want to grow in their knowledge of God will be drawn toward books.

I can attest this reality. Immediately upon my conversion I found that I had a new desire to read. I wanted to read the Bible, books about the Bible and Christian living, and books on an assortment of non-theological subjects. I had a fresh thirst for knowledge that I had not experienced up to that point in my life.

I avoided reading in the best I could in middle school, and I probably only read two books cover-to-cover during my whole high school career. Cliff Notes were a regular companion, but even those booklets were too long for me! Coming to Christ changed all that. Now I often find myself without enough time to read all that I want to read!  

Today, we are inundated with books. One researcher said in 2010 that there were 129 million books (unique, bound works) in existence. With the recent growth of self-publishing, the annual production of new books is now between 600,000 to 1,000,000 books a year. 

When we are confronted with such an abundance of books, the temptation is to try to read as much as we possibly can. “Surely,” we reason, “the most effective strategy for intellectual and spiritual growth is to read a lot of books.” Seasoned wisdom tells us otherwise. 

Charles Spurgeon, a Christ-centered and powerfully effective preacher in London in the 19th century, was a voracious reader. Nevertheless, he offered what may seem like counter-intuitive counsel in light of all the resources we have at our disposal.

Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them, masticate them, and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed, lapping at them….Little learning and much pride comes from hasty reading. Books may be piled on the brain till it cannot work. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. They gorge themselves with book-matter, and become mentally dyspeptic.  

Lectures to My Students

This counsel is especially relevant in an age of not only massive book production, but of Twitter, Facebook, and ten-thousand blogs. We tend to think that the more information we stuff into our brains, the better. Actually, to overload the mind with knowledge will have the tendency to disable thinking, as Spurgeon observes. 

The answer, of course, is not to stop reading. Rather, the solution is to read better. We need to read slower, more thoughtfully, and to decrease the amount we read in order to meditate more. This approach will have a direct effect on our intellectual and spiritual growth. Consider these words from Maurice Roberts:

It is not the busy skimming over religious books or the careless hastening through religious duties which makes for a strong Christian faith. Rather, it is unhurried meditation on gospel truths and the exposing of our minds to these truths that yields the fruit of sanctified character.

The Thought of God

So, let’s slow down, brothers and sisters. Read as often as you can, but use that time to bore deep into a book and to improve your thinking with more meditation. This practice will not only help you grow in knowledge; it will enable you to grow in wisdom and spiritual depth as well (Psalm 1:1-3).    

Related Articles