It’s worth really getting “into” an author

Reading requires at least two things: time and brainpower. Whether you’re reading Harry Potter or The End for Which God Created the World, you’re still investing in yourself through yourself, which happens through exercising your warm imagination or your speculative capacities.

So, thanks for indulging me with your own time and brainpower.

Some people say that the more sources you pull from, the more well-rounded you are. I agree to a point (particularly when it comes to modern news media), but there’s also a serious problem of not giving enough time to let a single author’s message soak into your thinking. When you stop short of that point, you never achieve significant change in your thought processes. Martin Luther had something wise to say about this in John Piper’s Martin Luther: Lessons From His Life and Labor.

A student who does not want his labor wasted must so read and reread some good writer that the author is changed, as it were, into his flesh and blood. For a great variety of reading confuses and does not teach. It makes the student like a man who dwells everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular. Just as we do not daily enjoy the society of every one of our friends but only that of a chosen few, so it should also be in our studying.

Is a person “well-read” when he reads from a variety of authors, or when he reads really good authors with a really high comprehension? Luther argues that we are best served when we take the time to dwell on a person’s work enough so that we absorb that person’s thinking into our own. Reading from multiple sources without spending enough time with that author is more harmful than good because of its tendency to confuse us.

He continues…

The number of theological books should be reduced, and a selection should be made of the best of them; for many books do not make men learned, nor does much reading. But reading something good, and reading it frequently, however little it may be, is the practice that makes men learned in the Scripture and makes them pious besides.

The key is reading something good and reading it frequently, even in small amounts.

For anyone who knows me, my twenties were dominated by my attempt to understand the writings of John Piper. I dabbled in Jonathan Edwards and John Owen, but Piper was the main source I read and re-read. You could rarely find me without one of his books in my backpack.

Interestingly, seminary brought me back to the bad habit of reading from a multiplicity of authors, and I consider my seminary years — honestly — as a general step backwards in my ability to comprehend and grow in my thinking. Not trying to play a blame game, but I know that I don’t do well when taking multiple topics in a semester (especially the amounts we had to at the graduate level); I never really have. Maybe Luther has something to say about the format we use for pastoral education?

In my thirties, there have been two authors that I am spending much of my time trying to understand. The first is Joseph Prince. I have not bought fully into his vision, but I am trying to understand his perspective. He has truly been a surprise out of nowhere in my life, mainly because he taps into a revelation of grace I received back in 2001 that I’ve never felt like I could quite explain.

The other has been inspired by my fascination with Prince, and he is the apostle Paul. I’ve realized that I have never really taken the time to understand Paul and his epistles in the same way that I tried to understand Piper and his books/sermons. Perhaps that’s because I have subconsciously treated any part of the Bible as reading from the same author? Each author had an angle and a perspective, and Paul was given the gospel for the sake of the Gentiles. Since that’s me, I think it’s best for me to saturate myself with his perspective.

This has made me want to understand Paul by reading Romans through Hebrews, repeatedly. Whether Hebrews was written by Paul or not, it sounds an awful lot like him. I’ll write another post about how I’m choosing to do this.

What about you? Is there any author that you’ve unintentionally or intentionally “taken into yourself”?

2 thoughts on “It’s worth really getting “into” an author

  1. great post. being reformed and also reading much piper, owen & such I caught some of prince and was kind of shocked at how much he gets it right, and how he explains better than many of the neo-reformers grace, namely grace is a person not a doctrine. My reformed friends think he’s just another faith-er. Anyway I heard a reformed “charismatic” say he was a (revelatory preacher) or “prophet” Anyway great post

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