There are so many books out there. We’ll never have time to read even the great books. We’ve got to prioritize.
Here are four kinds of books I love.
The first kind of books I love to read are the deep ones. These are the ones that are work to read: joyful work but work nonetheless. These books are best read slowly, with a pencil, and with lots of time. Some are the kinds of books that should also be re-read.
In his excellent book The Art of Pastoring, David Hansen writes:
I stopped reading how-to books. Instead I read theology, biblical studies and church history. I alternated between the disciplines. These books from the classical disciplines of theology didn’t teach me how to do pastoral ministry, but they helped me immensely in my regular duties. I discovered that spending a day reading thirty pages of Karl Barth’s Dogmatics helped me more in my pastoral work than a hundred of pages of how-to literature.
These are the kinds of books that can fuel one’s life and ministry. You don’t need many of these books. You just need to pick the right ones. They can go a very long way.
The second kind of book I like translates rich theology in a way that’s accessible to the average Christian.
“The applause-seeking theologian will often attempt to make something sound quite technical without really having a mastery of the technical,” writes Ronni Kurtz. “The servant-hearted theologian will often have a mastery of the technicalities of theology and communicate in non-technical ways for others.”
I love books that take rich theological truth and communicate it clearly, showing its beauty and applicability to life. They’re no less theological, but they’re written for a different audience. We need to communicate truth for the academy; we also need to communicate truth to the average Christian sitting in the pew.
Other books are sneaky. They educate indirectly through story. For instance, some works of fiction shape the way we think about the world. C.S. Lewis smuggled theology into fiction. Some books and series help us reimagine the world and communicate theology better than prose.
Fiction isn’t the only form of learning from story. Biographies can also shape one’s thinking in profound ways. The right biography can change one’s life.
The final category of books that I love are fun books. This is the kind of book I read at night for no other reason than that they’re fun. For instance, I just picked up a novel that I read as a child and loved, and I’m in the middle of reading it again to try to remember what I loved about it. Some reading is worth doing for pleasure alone.
Master the deep books. Learn from and share the accessible books. Allow yourself to be shaped by the storied books. And just enjoy the fun books, and don’t feel guilty reading them.
I’m sure there are other kinds of books that other people love, but these are the four kinds that I love.