From the Habit of Reading to Why I Write “Book Reviews”

Read this before heading to any of my “book reviews” 

As Phillip Yancey says, “the internet and social media have trained our brains to read a paragraph or two, then start looking around.” Commitment to reading has become a battle. Christians, as well, struggle to build spiritual disciplines on quiet times.

The “insta-culture” sometimes makes us breathless. “Thirty years ago, I got a lot of letters from readers, and they did not expect an answer for a week or more. Now I get emails, and if they don’t hear back in two days they write again, ‘Did you get my email’? The tyranny of the urgent crowds in around me”, writes Yancey.

Yancey is right. As a Christian and a musician at her 20s, I feel like everyday I need saving from the chaos out there. I wish I had the courage to exchange my iPhone for a flip-phone like he did. But I have had enough pressure already sometimes from peer for not using Instagram or checking Facebook. All the worries and distractions sometimes make the habit of consistent reading very difficult.

Even if we do read a lot, however, the reading itself can still end up in vain if we don’t digest the material properly. Francis Chan once said that believers of our generation are addicted to consuming sermons, yet the living-out of spiritual reality remains little. Similarly, we may be reading many books without experiencing transformation. We want things fast, easy, and convenient. (Isn’t skimming a plague today?).

Perhaps this explains why statistics have shown that many Christians prefer reading books about the Bible only instead of the Bible itself. Meanwhile, many also rely solely on books reviews to make judgment on books and authors.

But in my experience, some book reviewers seem to mostly  do one or more of the followings: to tirelessly spot “heresies” as theological police; to assign motives to the authors; to draw tribal lines; to disregarding the author’s voice just because of a doctrinal difference. In the hand of some, evaluating a teaching has become evaluating the author.

Forgive me as I say, sometimes, I don’t even know if such reviews have a place in our spiritual growth.

The thing that comes closest to book reviews in the Scripture, in my mind, is how Paul has asked us to evaluate, to test, and to weigh on a certain teaching or prophesying, and to “hold fast to what is good”. It is the speaking/writing itself, not the speaker/writer, being judged. Also, I believe a book review is no different from any other things that we do, that it should always be marked with the trait of love and respect.

The first step to enjoy the whole Christ is to recognise each one has a portion. Together, we grow into maturity. As a result, I want to write “reviews” that highlight the “good” from the books that I read so that the body can built up. Meanwhile, I hope to do the best I can to honour the author, even if I have any disagreement with him or her.

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