In this last segment of the Christian Disciplines series we are talking reading. While reading might – at first glance – NOT seem like a spiritual discipline, it truly is! Reading quality literature (not just Christian lit, but we will get to that in a moment) draws the mind and heart beyond ourselves, teaching us to honor what is true, good and beautiful.
Let's start by breaking down these three elements of excellent literature (and excellent education). The pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty is fundamental to the classical model of education. C.S. Lewis was one of the modern proponents of this pursuit. Classical Academic Press says this of Lewis' view:
“In his masterful work The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis observed how modern education was changing our conception of what it means to be human. By cutting off students from the transcendent values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, modern schools ceased cultivating virtue in students and instead communicated a mechanistic vision of the world that viewed students as products to be engineered… Any appeal to Truth, Goodness, or Beauty had been rejected. Lewis argued that we must recover these transcendent values in order to prevent the dehumanizing tendency in modern education and renew the cultivation of virtue in our students.”
The original goal of education, prior to the establishment of the “mechanized” model, was the pursuit of virtue. Now: This pursuit was and is empty when divorced from the Christian ethic of grace and salvation, but the idea of objective beauty, truth, and goodness was still taught in the secular world. The Enlightenment and the consequential view of Self (and Self's desires) as the identifier of what is “true, good and beautiful” (rather than an objective standard of these three things) changed art, architecture, philosophy, and of course – literature. I would argue it changed them for the worse, but that is a discussion for another day.
I was privileged to be raised in a home where truth, goodness and beauty were pursued in the classical manner. My parents were not classically educated (they both attended public schools, and some of my siblings attended public or Christian schools part-time), but they elevated the original objective values, the transcendent values, through good literature. We had thousands of books and reading aloud was a regular occurrence.
Fast forward to today: I have a love for good literature and an even greater love for sharing it with others (starting with my kids!). The reading habits formed in me as a young person taught me to look for literature that was more than entertainment. Certainly, I was and am entertained by Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Rats of NIMH. But the thread in all these works is creativity, intentionality, beauty, truth and goodness.
When reading nonfiction works, we can look for the same transcendent values. Does this book align with the objective truths of Scripture, if it claims to be a Christian work? Does this work align with the historical teachings of the Christian faith? If this book is secular, what truth and goodness can I find in it by God's common grace – and what do I need to discern?
When it comes to Christian books, I encourage reading WIDELY of the theological spectrum. Reading within only one tradition (e.g. Reformed or Charismatic: the former would be Piper, Grudem, Ortlunds, Sturgeon, Pink and the like; charismatics would be Bevere, Johnson, Palmer, Finney) limits our view of Christianity and confines us to an echo chamber. Worse, it makes us skeptical and fearful of anything that doesn't align with our favored viewpoint. People who read in only one tradition are quick to create a “straw man”, or misrepresentation, of other viewpoints because they never took the time to understand them. Reading widely opens our eyes to the diversity of the Church and, when combined with a strong foundation in Scripture and an understanding of church history, we come away knowing what is essential to Christianity and what is just a difference of practice. (more here)
That's enough transcendence. Let's bring this down to earth: How do we pursue truth, goodness and beauty through books when we're all so limited on time?
I understand the time limitation; as you know, I'm a homeschooling mama and CEO of a company, under contract for books and writing more for our own company, Verity Press. Time is difficult to come by! The answer is uncomfortable: you will never become a reader, or have time to read, unless you make a trade.
Trade social media scrolling… for 15 minutes of reading. Trade bored sitting in the school pick up line… for 30 minutes of reading.
Trade voice messages while walking… for audiobook listening.
Trade a few minutes washing dishes… for a book in a cookbook stand.
Trade TV time… for reading time!
Personally I schedule 30 minutes of nonfiction reading time a day plus 15-20 minutes at night. I also utilize audiobooks, but usually for fiction since I like to underline and mark up nonfiction for reference later. I don't like ebooks so I don't use them (but I provide them: Our shop has over 20). I also read more than one book at once, usually 4-5 that I rotate through based on my mood!
That's what works for me in this season of busy littles! When I was at home with Adeline – one baby, home all day – I think I read 5 books a week. I was voracious! My days don't look like that anymore, but I am still grateful for the opportunity to cultivate reading in the season I am in.
If you're trying to grow the spiritual habit of reading – to understand Christianity, to enjoy beauty, to pursue truth and goodness – the best place to start is by making a trade. What are you currently spending time on that you can trade for reading? How can you remind yourself of this (set a timer, bring a book in your purse or leave it in the car)? And how can you choose books that elevate what is truly beautiful – including WRITING that is beautiful?
Making the exchange from the cultural way to a rich reading life is a discipline… which means it won't be easy. You will be training yourself at first. Press through, press on, and find literature that lights a fire under you! I love to provide what I'm reading so you can find some options. A few of my favorites:
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
Fidelity by Wendell Berry
Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery
Emma by Jane Austen
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Rejoice and Tremble by Michael Reeves
On the Incarnation by Athanasius
Fundamentals of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology by Mildred Wynkoop
If Ye Shall Ask by Oswald Chambers
What I'm Reading
Finishing Circe: I'm starting to get bored with this. Maybe because I've already read 5-6 books on Greek mythology (thank you, classical homeschooling) I know how the story ends and it's taking a long time to get there. I don't feel particularly connected to Circe the character, which is odd for this far into the novel. So far I give this book a 2.5/5 stars.
Reading The Benedict Option: I am still in the stage of this book where he's outlining how western culture arrived at where it is today. I must say he did a good job of condensing MASSIVE movements of history into understandable (if simplistic) terms. I was especially fascinated by how much the Enlightenment changed our view of God and Self, and how those implications are clear today; many people assume that how culture thinks of the individual is “fact” rather than the product of myriad cultural changes. Fascinating. Really liking it.
Books You Should Check Out
Hard is Not the Same Thing as Bad by Abbie Halberstadt
My friend Abbie, who you may know as @m.is.for.mama on Instagram, has written a sequel to her book M is for Mama: A Rebellion Against Mediocre Motherhood (LOVE).Her new book builds on her previous one but is also entirely its own. You could enjoy each book separately. This one challenges cultural ideas of “hard” and encourages us to reliance on Christ for a truly resilient motherhood. I think every young mom should read both her books. Preorder here to receive Sept. 5.
Pilgrim: 25 Ways God's Character Leads Us Onward by Ruth Chou Simons
Everything Ruth creates is beautiful. Her artwork always leaves me in awe! Her words are just as good. This book is lovely and Scripturally grounded. It would be a great gift, but I also thought: this could easily be read aloud at meals with older kids or part of a homeschool routine! It is both experiential and theological. Preorder here for Sept 12
What are Mouths For? by Abbey Wedgeworth
This set of two lift-the-flap board books are GREAT for discipling toddlers in how to use hands and mouths for kindness - and what to do when we fail. I love that it is both positive and corrective, and ultimately points to Christ's example and what to do when we mess up. You can preorder here (preorders really help authors a LOT)
For my favorites this week I'm going to share my personal favorite things from our shop, my podcast, Verity, and my recent interviews.
A Conversation About Salvation I preached with my friend and Pastor Johnny Whitcomb at my home church yesterday. You can watch on YouTube here.
The Prayer Mini-Series on Verity Podcast: This week is the fifth mini-episode (7-15 minutes long) on prayer. We are walking through the ACTS model of prayer, why we pray if God is sovereign (hint: He has not pre-determined every single action) and why prayer is essential to a thriving Christian life. Most recent episode is Ep. 120: Thanking God in Prayer
How the New Legalism is Wrecking the Church: I wrote this blog post a long time ago but the message is still relevant today. The rise in progressive legalism requires we be aware of when we imitate the Pharisee while we condemn legalism. (I also talked about this on IG under the Legalism highlight)
Your introduction to the basics of Christianity: My bookEvery Woman a Theologiancame out in February (and was #1 in Christian Theology and #2 in Apologetics on Amazon!) Most of the questions I am asked on Mondays and via email are answered in this book. If you haven't read it yet, please start there! Audio, Kindle and Print versions all available, anywhere books are sold.
Our sky-colored Every Woman a Theologian tote in the shop: I love this tote and love that it's organic and ethically made. The whole accessories line is sweet! (And we can't wait to launch the fall products SEPTEMBER 1st!)
This chat with Steph Thurling at Christian Parenting Podcast on why theology matters to EVERYONE, especially those discipling children and spiritual children.
Kefir popsicles: If you've never had kefir, it's a kind of fermented milk much like yogurt but without the cooking time. I love it! It can be used in place of yogurt in many instances (dressings, baking) but I love to use it in smoothies and popsicles! Just blend 1 c. kefir with your choice of berries + 2 TB raw honey and freeze.
Zucchini muffins: I don't have a recipe to share for this today but I love using up zucchini with muffins. They are such an easy snack or breakfast on a busy day.
Blueberry kombucha: The blueberries we picked a few weeks ago have become a batch of jam, topping for yogurt, kefir flavor and also kombucha! It turned out super well.
Beef pasties: In Northern Michigan we call meat hand pies “pasties” (short A sound). They're basically meat, potatoes and/or rutabaga, carrots and onions baked in a flaky crust and served with brown gravy. SO GOOD. Josh is trying his hand at them this week!