gratitude & hoopla: A Doctrine of Reading

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

20.1.06

A Doctrine of Reading

Ah, books. As I read them, I hear the author's voice, and he seems very real to me, very near. If I admire the author, due to previous encounters, I accord him great authority. I listen with eager anticipation. But even if the author is new to me, I desire greatly for him to succeed. I read patiently, hoping to catch a spark, to be "lit up" by the author's words and images. Indeed, the best books engender in me a sense of awe at creation.

If there were time enough, I would always have a bookmark in some history book, another in a great novel, yet another in a work of theological insight, and still another in a little book of poems.

There's an interesting article at By Faith Online, called The Joy of Reading Great Works, by Kathleen Nielson. Nielson says that we should develop a "doctrine of reading."

First, she argues for the acceptance of imaginative literature as something that has the potential to carry life to the reader. She calls it "the artful shaping of human experience in words." Many people have told me over the years that they will not read fiction because they consider it frivolous, being untrue. But great works of fiction have the power to convey the message of redemption with unique effectiveness. Perhaps this is why Jesus so often spoke "fictively" in parables. Nielson goes so far as to say that "on many levels, as we ignore great literature, we are hardening our hearts against the presence of the holy."

Nielson goes on to say that in "great books we encounter the depth of the fall," but also that the best of these "reflect a redemptive worldview." Here is a wonderful paragraph about how even a work of pre-Christian literature reflects these all-pervasive theme:
Centuries before Christ, writing in a pagan culture, a writer as distant as Homer offers an amazing example of a redemptive worldview. The Odyssey is far from a Christian work, but it communicates that universally understood sense of redemption, even restoration, pictured through the epic tale of a man trying to get home. Homer’s story somehow echoes or reflects the one, big, true story of the universe: a story of redeeming (at great price) what was lost. The sense of home and of hope, of course, stretches the doctrine of redemption to its ultimate end, reaching out to the final restoration and glorification of heaven, that home for which every human being longs, knowingly or not. There is a kind of homesickness with which every person instinctively resonates, because of the truths of creation and fall and redemption which are at the heart of the universe God created and over which He reigns.
Nielson advises that we should carry a good book with us at all times. We should read, she says, with the great story of fall and redemption as our background understanding, our context, and we should also read with a historical perspective, seeing the work in hand as a work "in history," with a place and time and context of its own.

We should read with humility, says Nielson, with the assumption that the author has something to teach us. And finally, we should read with delight. Nielson says, "Such delight takes us back to where we started, because any delight in words is delight in our Creator God who made us word-creatures in his image. There is no other starting point or ending point for a Christian reading literature than to thank our Creator and Redeemer God, and to seek to bring Him glory in our use and enjoyment of words."

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