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The summer months are once again upon us. 

That’s good news for people who love to read, since June, July, and August often provide opportunities to relax on a porch, deck, or beach with a great book.

The bad news is that when it comes to the experience of reading, Americans seem intent on kicking the habit. 

According to Pew Research surveys, reading has been in decline in our country for the past three decades. The average American reads about four books a year. That includes everything from John Grisham thrillers to Joel Osteen’s self-help books to Harry Potter to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time to the latest White House tell-all. 

Older generations are taking the lead in devouring books, especially since the pandemic, while younger generations appear to think reading is so last century. In both 2021 and 2022, two out of five high school seniors reported they had not read a single book for pleasure during the previous year. Isn’t Google sufficient to provide news, information, and entertainment at the touch of a few keys? 

Our culture’s rapid transition from reliance on books to devotion to flat screen technology has been received in Christian circles with a measure of alarm.

After all, we’re supposed to be “people of the Book.” Scripture should be our life. How will the next generation of Christ-followers grow and mature if they haven’t cultivated a love of reading?

Brad East, a professor at Abilene Christian University, addresses that concern in “Biblical Literacy in a Postliterate Age,” an article that appeared in Christianity Today earlier this spring. He points out something that is all too easy to forget: Private reading is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

Most Christians who lived prior to 1500, if they could read at all, did not own a book. East writes, “An injunction to read one’s Bible daily would have been as meaningful as advice about how to refuel one’s private jet.” In a typical medieval European village, there would be only one copy of the Bible. It would be securely chained to the altar of the local church. Only the priest could read it, since it was written in Latin. 

Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and Martin Luther’s willingness to translate the Bible into his native German, ignited a reading revolution. That led to the expectation that every follower of Jesus should become a faithful reader.

East admits that very few of the students in his 21st century college classrooms enjoy reading. But that doesn’t mean the end of discipleship. Because we live in a postliterate world, we must learn how to minister to postliterate people – perhaps returning to an emphasis on the oral recitation of Scripture that was so vital for most Christians over the past two millennia, and figuring out how digital technology can help “renew our minds” in Christ, to which Paul calls us in Romans 12:2.

Those challenges and opportunities will continue to lie before the church for years to come.

But what about you? 

Make no mistake: If you are hungry to grow deeper in the love and knowledge of the Lord, the shortest distance between that goal and where you sit today is to read…to keep reading…and to read some more.

About 1830, when Frederick Douglass was a young slave in Maryland, his master was furious when he found out the 12-year-old was starting to read. “Learning will spoil the best [black man] in the world,” he fumed. “If he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave!”

He was right.  

After Douglass became America’s foremost champion of abolition, he frequently said that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” 

“You shall know the truth,” said Jesus, “and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It’s unlikely any of us have experienced the kind of bondage known by Frederick Douglass. But until we discover the transforming power of seeking God’s truth through the discipline of reading, we may well become the suckers who fall for urban legends, superstitions, conspiracy theories, social media rants, that impassioned video someone posted last week, and charismatic preachers who know how to build an audience but never consult their own Bibles.

Google is miraculous. It’s one of the blessings of contemporary life.

But internet searches are no substitute for personally engaging the minds and hearts of the Bible’s authors, not to mention writers who have walked life’s path before us, who are willing to show us, slowly and patiently, where the handholds and footholds can be found on the really steep parts of the upward trail of following Jesus.

Do you have a reading goal for this summer? 

Try this one: Read 12 good books, one each week between now and Labor Day.

Six of them might be fiction or non-fiction (whether printed books, e-books, or audio books). The other half dozen can be books of the Bible, preferably ones you haven’t read recently. Yes, many of the Bible’s “books” are incredibly short. They’re more like chapters of a large volume. But they’re all worth reading – and you definitely don’t have to limit yourself to six.  

So, what’s a “good book”? It’s any volume that makes you think – that opens your heart more dynamically to God and to the way the world really is.

The number of books on the market is mind-boggling. If today is an average day, almost 1,000 new titles will be published. Something like 350,000 new books will be crying for your attention this year. And that’s not to mention the 350,000 books that arrived last year, and that will be coming your way in 2025.

It’s safe to say that only a few of those many titles will ever be widely regarded as “great reads.” How do we even know where to start?

We often find great books the way we find great restaurants: We listen to first-person testimonies from friends, neighbors, and family members who have recently given them a try.

Mason Cooley was surely right when he said, “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

And by God’s grace, a book can even take us to places of wonder, joy, and insight that will stay with us forever. 

By the way: Thanks to everyone who noted that I wrote “September 11, 2011” yesterday instead of “2001.”  Now, that’s what it means to be a diligent reader.