Three Important Tips on Reading

I should look for the people that my favorite preachers read, and read them

“So maybe you’re a Tim Keller fan. Do you like the philosophical point he just scored in The Reason for God? Looks like you should check out Alvin Plantinga. How about his Christ-centered exposition of the Scriptures in Preaching? Guess you should read some Edmund Clowney.”

 

I read…a lot. It often doesn’t feel like I read enough, but compared to normal people, yes, it’s a bit obsessive. (What can I say? I’m Reformed.)

In any case, while there have been a number of pieces of advice on reading that I’ve received over the years, three in particular have shaped my reading habits and formed me for the better as a reader and a thinker.

1. Read Your Favorites’ Favorites – The first bit of explicit reading wisdom I remember getting was from one of my future groomsmen, Scott Buttes. We were both at the gym and I was telling him how I excited I was about listening to podcast sermons by my pastor because I learned so much from them. I was particularly ecstatic because he had brilliantly gone into the 1st Century history to show how the Roman Imperial theology was behind so much of the NT proclamation of Christ as Lord, and so on and so forth, and even more excited that his new book was coming out.

At that point, Scott stopped me and said, “Derek, what you need to be doing is reading the guys that he reads and going to the source.”

Scott pointed out that Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher, but the commentator he read was J.B. Lightfoot. In the same way, I should look for the people that my favorite preachers read, and read them. So that’s what I started doing and it’s been crucial for my intellectual development since.

What does that look like? Mostly, it’s raiding the footnotes of your favorite authors. So maybe you’re a Tim Keller fan. Do you like the philosophical point he just scored in The Reason for God? Looks like you should check out Alvin Plantinga. How about his Christ-centered exposition of the Scriptures in Preaching? Guess you should read some Edmund Clowney. The list goes on. Basically, his books’ footnotes are a treasure-trove.

Of course, this starts to have a snowballing effect. When you start chasing the footnotes in the authors cited by your initial favorite authors, your literary and intellectual world keeps expanding. This is good because it keeps you from becoming too narrow. It’s good to have favorite authors, but as you expand your range, you begin to do your own synthesis, which keeps you from simply being a mini-me of your favorite thinker.

2. Read Stuff That’s Too Hard For You – The second bit of advice that follows is to try and read stuff that’s too hard for you. Sometimes your favorites’ favorites are not easy. They’re not always quick reads. But if you’re always looking for easy reads, even if you consume a lot, you’ll never fully work your intellectual muscles to stretch and grow.

Right after I finished college, I asked one of my professors which good history of theology I should check out. She recommended Jaroslav Pelikan’s 5-volume classic, even though she knew I was clearly not up on the subject. I love that she did that. She knew I was just arrogant enough at the tender age of 21 to tackle them anyways.

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