*Posted by Joe Wooddell
(Note: After reading this post I hope readers will give their own recommendations for hard things to read.)
In 2008 two teenage authors (Alex and Bret Harris) published a book entitled Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. The authors’ goal is “to raise the cultural bar on teenage potential and to challenge young people to reach for their God-given best” (from the Foreword). In this post I do not aim to talk about the book, only to use the idea as a springboard toward the topic at hand: the need to read hard things.
C. S. Lewis says we ought to read at least one “old” book for every “new” one we read. Mortimer Adler wrote a book called How To Read A Book in which, among other things, he calls readers to challenge themselves with all sorts of books and types of reading. The most complicated level of reading is what he calls “syntopical” reading, where readers read multiple books at once, comparing and contrasting the content.
While these are all interesting topics, none of them is the main point of this post. The main point is simply this: believers ought to read hard things. That is, believers ought to challenge themselves to read above and beyond their comfort level. While there are biblical precedents for such an idea (mentioned later), general revelation tells us the same thing. That is, in the same way that physical strength is built by the “Weider principle” (train muscles to failure and beyond in order to gain strength), intellectual muscle is built by taxing one’s mental muscles beyond what their user finds comfortable.
Or put another way: If I only read things I like and which I find easy and fun to read, then I’ll never learn as much as I could or should. Junk novels, contemporary series, newspapers, pop magazines, hobby books and magazines, etc. won’t do the trick. There’s nothing inherently wrong with some of these, but believers should study (2 Tim. 2:15). How will we ever mimic Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17), where he shared with pagans from their own schools of thought? And how will we be able to give an apologia (a defense) to everyone who asks us to give a reason or account (logos) for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15) if we don’t study?
We tend to think of everything I just mentioned in apologetic terms, but we need not. We may also think in discipleship terms, both for ourselves and for others. The reading we do might equip us to be better evangelists and apologists, or it might equip us to be and to make better disciples. In fact, such reading and study makes us better thinkers in general, helping us become better conversationalists with all people. Moreover, everything we do can be worship, it can be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). Not every believer is or should be an academic scholar, but some should, and many more (including myself) should be much more well-read than we currently are. This, of course, requires deciding what to read, and in what order. It requires knowing what “level” one is on, and deciding what the next level should be. I can’t go from bench pressing 135 to 315 overnight. What would really help is a trainer, someone who’s been there and done that, and who knows the principles. Find a smart believer and ask him or her, what he or she recommends reading next.
Finally, keep in mind that reading hard things might also mean reading things that are difficult to implement into one’s life. That is, the reading material might challenge us morally as much or more as it does intellectually. The book might be easy to read, but hard to apply. We need to read these types of books as well. I hope readers will take a moment after reading this post to give their own recommendations of “hard things” they’ve read. Please briefly tell why/how you found it helpful, and what the work is about. This is just one way a site like For Christ and Culture can be a blessing.
For example, I’m currently re-reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (free audio download from LibriVox). His insights into theology, philosophy, and human nature are astounding. One contemporary favorite is J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God With All Your Mind. Moreland tells not only why we should be better thinkers, but how.