If I had to define a primary influence for the growth – personal, spiritual, relational, etc. – throughout my life, it would be “reading broadly.” A food metaphor hits the heart of “why” this influence has made such a difference:
Growth is not a steak, it’s a stew.
The idea that growth in physical health can come from exercise only, or that growth in relationships comes from conversation only misses the point of what growth is. Growth comes when multiple sources and viewpoints come together to enhance and broaden our own.
Spiritual growth is often equated with “Bible study.” While Bible study has a place in the growth process, it is not the only source of growth. Even within the Bible, reading only the Psalms or only the Gospels to the exclusion of other more difficult texts (I see you, Leviticus) leads to spiritual anemia and failure to thrive.
Growth is not a piece of meat, it is a stew filled with distinctly different ingredients. Salt is not a carrot is not beef stock, etc.
In turn, my approach to reading over the years has been to read broadly. Perhaps I went this direction because I love several different forms of writing. Or, it could be because after undergrad and grad school I was happy to be able to choose something from the wide world of words. Either way, reading broadly has catalyzed growth in my relationships, work, and interior world.
In this light, I wanted to offer my last three “reads” as a way to show how diversity of reading impacts our growth. I offer these books in no particular order, and please note there are some caveats to each book.
Ever since my uncle loaned me The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, Vol. I), I have devoured this series. King’s reputation is for horror stories, of which there are elements in The Dark Tower. In this series, the story of Roland the Gunslinger and his ka-tet (team or family in fate) as they chase “the man in black” towards the Dark Tower is bleeds with humanity.
The Waste Lands deals with the way humans react to fear, progress, and their own destiny. Through a brilliant narration, King lets us see what people can do when pressed into the most horrible situations. We see what people can do for the love of others.
The key takeaway from novels like The Waste Lands is that seeing the human condition in a neutral but engaging way helps us understand where God may be moving us to love others more deeply.
2. Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.How’s that for a subtitle? This book came as a recommendation from some Christian friends in the UK, a country where Christianity is in a different position than in the United States. Spufford’s book is an argument for Christianity, but not a Christianity that many Americans would identify as their own.
The genius of this book is that Spufford first begins by clearing the typical table of Christian belief, and begins to reassemble it based on the way Christian teachings impact us emotionally. While many would argue that emotions can get in the way of faith, once you read Spufford’s account a different perspective is needed.
My caveat here is as follows: this is a book for someone who is curious about articulating their faith in a way that’s distinct from their former conceptions.
Another caveat is this: Spufford is not afraid to add significant profanity to the discussion as well as BBC-esque humor & cultural references. Keep that in mind before reading and/or recommending.
The takeaway is that there isn’t one monolithic way of articulating a solid, growth-oriented perspective towards the Christian faith.
3. Linda Kay Klein, Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation and How I Broke Free
As the father of a daughter, once I heard Linda interviewed on The Deconstructionists podcast I knew I had to read this book. Klein details her upbringing in the “purity culture” of her evangelical church, and the perspective that history gave her towards sex & sexuality.
This book is not for the faint of heart, but it is important to note where teaching about sexuality has gone off the rails in the evangelical church. In other words, the call to be “pure” is often levied more at women than at men. Women are chided for their dress because “they make men lust after them.” Yet teenage boys run shirtless through many of those same evangelical youth camps. (I know this from my own experience).
Klein’s book details women who have walked away from the faith because “married sex” wasn’t “perfect.” They were taught that saving themselves for marriage would lead to an easy, natural sexual relationship with their husband. But were never taught the practical matters that marital intimacy requires. The “pure,” in other words, applied to healthy conversations preparing women and men for their sexual encounters in marriage.
The takeaway here is that pastors (like myself) and parents need to be wise and careful regarding sexuality. A heavy emphasis on women’s submission in church & the home can lead to sexual abuse and entitlement, but teaching on the mutuality of sex can start honest dialogue that is sorely needed.