Possible Problems With Book Reading Goals

On David Murray’s HeadHeartHand Blog’s site, I found Four Reasons to Slow Down at Desiring God. I had been thinking about writing a blog post on Why Reading Goals Are Bad, which is somewhat of a click-bait title, and mention why that could be bad for personal reasons I can think of. I thought I would add things mentioned in this article to them.

His reasons, without the full explanations, are:

  1. We are pursuing transformation, not information.
    “God’s purpose in our learning is that we become Christlike (Romans 8:29), not that we become information databases.”
  2. Real growth takes a long time.
    “the most important things take a long time to grow and mature. They can’t be rushed.”
  3. Goals matter and develop over time.
    “Goals reveal how godly or ungodly our desires are.”
    I would need more clarification on this.
  4. We cannot love what we do not linger over.
    “Comprehension requires time-consuming concentration and meditation.”

He sets his goals as hours, which is what I’ve started to do–except it’s minutes per day–partly because I’ve had a big slump in the amount of extra-biblical reading I’ve been doing. I aim for a certain amount of time, and however many books that ends up being, Goodreads will tell me at the end of the year. Even though my reading slump started in spring or early summer of last year (2016), I still managed to read about 17 books, which really surprised me.

I should say at this point that I’m not saying that lofty reading goals (or challenges) are bad. I think it’s possible to read 50-100 books in a year and still not violate any of his or my potential problems.

Other reasons I’ve come up with:

  • Like the first and fourth reasons above, it can cause us not to pause and meditate on something because we want to get our book done and make our goal. Especially lamentable would be if we don’t stop to praise or thank God related to something we just read.
  • We don’t take notes or take the time to gather quotes from the book.
  • This could be an area of pride. Read 104 books in a year and don’t tell anyone about it.
  • You don’t want to read one chapter from a systematic theology, NT or OT introduction, or a reference book, etc. because it doesn’t count as a book. Or you could be tempted to cheat and call it a book. And then brag about how many books you read.
  • You might not want to skim parts of books if you feel that’s cheating.
  • You might not want to read large books like Calvin’s Institutes, a systematic theology, or a commentary.
  • Worst of all, you may be tempted to read the Bible less.* Starting last year, I was reading the Bible more than reading books, and the Bible reading was substantial, even though I was in a book reading slump. That was a good thing.

On the other hand, if you have trouble reading books:
Reading books on theology has been extremely important to me. Because of learning about doctrine (teachings), I have a much better understanding of the Bible when I read it, even if it’s just a relatively tiny amount of knowledge. This makes reading the Bible more enjoyable and it becomes more effective spiritually. A whole book could be written on many of the other benefits of reading in general, and I see articles and blog posts on that subject regularly as new research comes along. For those who don’t read, if one just reads ten minutes a day, they’ll be surprised at what they can learn and how many books can be read in a year. That includes the Bible too.

*Extra credit: Quotes on the importance of Scripture over the Bible.

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.

–C.H. Spurgeon, from the sermon “Holy Longings,” as quoted in Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke, pp. 27-28

“In time,” Luther opined, “my books will lie forgotten in the dust.” This was no lament on the Reformer’s part. In fact, Luther found much “consolation” in the possibility — or rather likelihood — that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. “Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books],” he wrote, “not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench.” Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the “countless mass of books” written over time which, “like a crawling swarm of vermin,” had served to supplant the place which should belong to “the Bible” in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.

–Aaron Denlinger, Luther on Book-Showers and Big, Long, Shaggy Donkey Ears

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