Lit by Tony Reinke
I was so excited to read this book: a book about books! I’m a voracious reader – frequently so caught up in a novel that I sob my way loudly through the sad parts. I have to rein in my enthusiasm at book club gatherings so that others have a chance to speak!
Yet after the introduction I found myself strangely reluctant to keep reading. I felt like the author was trying to persuade me to read books. But I don’t need any persuasion! Perhaps this was not the book I thought it would be? What I hoped for was a clear theological justification for why reading was better than watching the football! (Can you tell we’re at the end of the footy season, and I’m married to a fanatical AFL fan? Needless to say, I did a LOT of reading over the winter…)
OK, so self-righteousness aside, I really have always had a hunch that reading books of all sorts was, well, good. Not just from an academic perspective, but from a Christian perspective. But I wasn’t exactly sure why. Thankfully, I did persevere with ‘Lit’, and am discovering it to be everything I hoped for and more.
The central premise of the book (and the idea behind the clever title) emerges in Chapter 2: that through an act of God’s powerful Spirit, we come to see the glory of Christ, as revealed in God’s Word. When the veil of spiritual blindness is removed, Christians are ‘lit’, and this transforms how we read not just the Bible (which obviously remains our number one reading priority) but every book. One of the points Reinke makes is around discernment – the idea that having the glory of Christ as a lens through which we interpret everything leads to the attribute of discernment, thus protecting our hearts from being led astray.
One further thought that occurred to me as I reflected on this point was to do with the invaluable part played by the body of Christ here. Discernment is a characteristic that develops slowly over time, and young Christians are still vulnerable to being ‘blown here and there by every wind of teaching’ (Eph 4:14). I remember having just committed my life to Christ at the age of 15, then reading a novel which espoused a pan-theistic worldview and being quite attracted to that. Thankfully, I shared these ideas with my Bible study leader and a more mature Christian friend, and both set me straight and highlighted the importance of having a right understanding of God’s relationship to His creation. Even though the Spirit of God was at work in my heart and mind, I still had very little discernment, and I really needed the community of believers to keep me on the straight path.
I love Reinke’s argument that the ultimate end of all our reading is communion with God. I don’t think I’ve ever followed this idea through: that the real reason I’m reading this novel should be, not my pleasure, but to worship and enjoy God. I’m captivated by the concept that all of this material – these words and language that I’ve always been compelled to devour – can all contribute to deepening my relationship with God.
As Christians, we are clearly already ‘People of the Book’. But Reinke takes this further than the literal meaning of people who follow the Bible. Having God’s Word as this foundational revelation means something for our whole attitude to words and language. A dedication to language is necessary for our commitment to truth. If we hold that there is a truth out there, bigger than ourselves, then we need language to properly express it.
I’ve been blessed recently by listening to some fantastic podcasts by Timothy Keller, one of which kept on coming up for me as I was reading Reinke’s chapter on ‘Savouring books in an eye-candy culture’. In discussing Ephesians 4, Keller poses the question, how can we be people who have been transformed by truth, rather than just morally correct? He talks about how the gospel story has become personal for us. We’ve heard the voice of Jesus, we’ve understood that the things He has done, He’s done for me. His story has become my story. My story is now a tiny part of God’s story. Connections are firing off in my mind: truth, stories, language. What does it mean to live by faith and not by sight? It means that what is unseen, communicated in God’s Word but illuminated by the work of His Spirit, has become more real to me than the ordinary visible things going on around me. And I completely agree with Reinke that “this can mean nothing less than committing our lives to the pursuit of language, revelation and great books.”
Meet Kristen Butchatsky
I am a wife to Pete, a mum of three girls, and a music teacher. I am a long-time member of the wonderful church family St Aidan’s Anglican in Hurstville Grove, having come to Christ through a youth group ministry at age 14. I love singing, reading (obviously!!), walking my dog, Ned and going to see plays, movies and musical theatre.