I like to read. A lot. Always have. I try to read widely and broadly, though I tend to come back again and again to my favorite authors of fiction (Dostoevsky) and re-read certain works almost yearly (Paradise Lost). But I tend to do all of this rather quickly, which is why I want to offer a brief suggestion that comes from my recent effort to do something different.
Let me explain. Yesterday, I completed a personal goal of reading though the entirety of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a four-volume set comprising some three-thousand pages that most would call one of the real benchmarks and achievements in the history of Reformed theology. It’s recent full translation into English was a major milestone (it was mostly written at the end of the 19th century), and I received the set as a gift a couple of years ago. As soon as I got it, I started reading it, and I finished yesterday.
Now, I’m not sharing this to boast or in some weird attempt to impress you. Instead, I’m hoping to use this personal example to make a brief plea for deep reading.
By “deep”, I don’t mean difficult. While technical in some areas, Bavinck is very readable. In fact, that is one of the real triumphs of this work.
I also don’t mean long. This particular set is quite long, but that’s not what made this deep reading for me.
Rather, by “deep”, I mean deliberate, intentional, and disciplined reading. Had I read Bavinck the way I read most other things, I could have churned through it fairly quickly. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make a conscious attempt to get the most out of this that I could. So I read deeply.
But that I also don’t mean slowly. Rather, my strategy was to read small sections, chew them over, reflect on them, fill the margins with notes, and re-read most parts to wring them dry. I read lots of other things at the same time, but I would try to spend a few minutes each day (on average) with this material.
Now that I’m done, I don’t consider myself an expect in all things Bavinck, but I do feel as though I have a solid grasp on his thought. I have been incredibly blessed and challenged by his penetrating thinking, in ways that I doubt would have happened had a skimmed through more quickly.
There are lots of reasons why reading Bavinck in particular is a good idea, and I’ll get in to some of those myself at another time. But I’ll make a more general suggestion for now:
Pick something that you know will stretch you and challenge you, and read it deeply.
It doesn’t have to be theology, but it probably shouldn’t be the Twilight series. If you pick a work of fiction, pick a classic and learn why it’s a classic. If you pick something technical, pick something that will benefit you for having learned it. Whatever you pick, ask yourself this: “Will I be better for having read this and will this be a use of my time that honors God?”
Then set a goal and make a commitment. I made a little chart with page totals to read each month, and worked hard to stick to it. There were periods where I was less interested, and periods where I couldn’t put it down–but I made sure to stick to the goals I set. The discipline will become routine, but you’ll value it in the end.