The Benefit of Big Books

No book has ever left me unchanged. Even bad books and good books that I find uninteresting enough to finish still manage to contribute something to who I am. I cannot interact with fresh combinations of words and the ideas that they represent without having my own mind shifted, at least slightly.

I believe that my love for books could be largely explained by the thrill and excitement for the change that reading a book will bring. As I open a novel for the first time, I wonder what sort of adventures and emotions await. What characters will I meet? Which ones will I empathize with, dislike, or pity? Will I resonate with the prose at all, or after a couple dozen pages, will I find better uses of my time?

For a work of theology, I wonder which of my beliefs will be reinforced and which will be challenged. Will I be introduced to entirely new concepts, or will I dive deeper into the depths of ones already familiar? What new facet of God’s character and nature will I discover? What encouragement will I find? What sin will be brought to light?

Through a masterful novel, I am able to stand somewhat in another’s shoes.

Through a great work of theology, I receive instruction from those whose godliness and intellect have stood the test of time.

Every book is an opportunity to grow, to press further into maturity and holiness in Christ. The Bible (as the Book), of course, remains the supreme example of this, yet the multitude of non-inspired books perform this function to their own degrees.

This remains true for books of all sizes, yet I would like to particularly encourage the reading of big books. By no means do I believe that a book’s length determines its merit. E. M. Bounds’ Power Through Prayer continues to be among the most impactful reads of my life, and it could fairly easily be read through in one sitting (not that I would at all recommend rushing through it in that manner!). However, in our present age of amusement and distraction, it seems that a book’s size is only becoming a greater intimidation factor. Many people seem to readily buy the notion that meatier books are simply not for them or of being inadequately prepared for thick piece of literature or theological tome.

The reality is, however, that many classic works are far easier to read than what we may expect. I’ve found this to be especially true of Calvin and his Institutes. Yes, the size is daunting, but the actual writing is straightforward and to the point. The greatest learning curve to reading such books is the discipline required to methodically press onward little by little.

And it is precisely this discipline that makes larger books so valuable. With the instant gratification of video-munching always available, the attention and intention required to finish a lengthy book are perhaps never more needed.

I believe we could all benefit from reading a book larger than what we ordinarily read. This may not mean starting with War and Peace or City of God but reaching beyond our comfort zones nonetheless. Practice the discipline of reading something that requires significant amounts of both time and attention. Read, and be changed.

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