How Do You Decide What to Read?


BookStacksThere are a lot of incredible books available to read on the market today. When I travel to Nigeria each year I am reminded how embarrassingly fortunate we are in the West to have access to books upon books that much of the rest of the world simply cannot access with the ease we enjoy. I simply download it, or have it delivered to my doorstep, in most cases within 2 days. I still love having print books, but am an avid user of Logos Bible Software and the Amazon Kindle App on my iPad. So with so many options, how in the world can we decide what to read? Old books, new books, non-fiction, fiction, theology, sociology…

Over the years I’ve developed a method of reading that has worked well for me. I admit, it probably wouldn’t work well for most, but I also realize that as a pastor I have a responsibility to read a lot more than most, along with the freedom to do it a bit more regularly (although, not as often as some might assume – pastors really are busy most of the time!). So, while my way may not be the best for you, if you don’t have a plan and get frustrated with half read books laying around the house, this may encourage you to come up with a better plan for yourself.

I read books in 7 categories that I have going simultaneously. Some of the books I may read once per week, and others I may read through in a single sitting, depending on my particular need for the specific topic. However, I don’t start a new book in a specific category until the previous book in that category is complete, or at least as complete as I want it to be. So here they are:

Christian Living – These are, by far, the most popular books in Christian publishing and I enjoy a lot of them. However, most of them follow a very similar pattern and are easy for me to read through quickly. These are books that I most frequently recommend to Christians and have available on our book table at church, mainly because they are written with specific needs or ideas in mind. And I’ll tell you a secret: It’s rare for me to read every page, or even every chapter of a book before I consider it complete, and that is most prevalent in this genre. It’s also quite rare that I’ll read a preface, forward or introduction… and who in the world reads acknowledgements?

Systematic Theology – This may not always be an entire systematic theology work, but may be a systematic theology topic. So, for example, a book on the Atonement or Eschatology. However, sometimes it does include entire systematic theologies which can be quite edifying, even though it’s usually a big undertaking.

Biblical Theology – I may blog about it sometime, but I believe Christianity has largely lost its biblical theology which has come at the cost of losing the big story. Biblical theology is incredibly important but rarely taught, and even more rarely understood. I’m thankful for what seems to be somewhat of a recovery of biblical theology in some Christian circles. Nevertheless, there are some great biblical theology works out there, and in order to stay sharp, I read as much as I can. Biblical theology has increased my communion with God and my ability to see the forest through the trees when I work through the Scriptures.

Future Sermon/teaching Series – I try to plan ahead at least 3 months when it comes to what I’m preaching and teaching at Ephesus Church. Additionally, I am sometimes invited to preach in other contexts and I want to be prepared. With a busy life and the constant necessity to be ready for this Sunday, my goal is to at least be reading for what’s up next. I’m not writing or outlining, but I’m at least thinking, and I’ve found it helpful when I finally get there.

Sociology – Some of the most insightful reading I do is in this category. I’m fascinated by the way people think and the things they come up with. Some sociological writing is very helpful and, although most of the time it’s not from a Christian worldview, the best of it compliments biblical Christianity quite nicely and provides some excellent sermon illustrations.

Classical – I am constantly working to become a better classicist. The conversation between the philosophers and poets has been going on since the beginning, and most modern education has silenced it altogether. The writers of the Bible undoubtedly wrote with much of the conversation in mind, and I don’t want to miss it. Reading the great books has significantly affected how I read the Scriptures and how I think about history and worldview.

Hobbies – I’m a guy, so I have a lot of hobbies! I like to read books that help me in those hobbies, and to give my mind a peaceful retreat into things less taxing on the brain than the rest of the categories. The book rack at Lowe’s can be a dangerous place for me… even though I know I will never accomplish most of the DIY projects I’d love to do. I mean, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 – why not?! And of course, all avid golfers need tips and tweeks, gardeners need to know the latest techniques, and beekeepers are a strange breed of incessant innovators.

My only addition to this is that there are always books I’m reading for my current teaching series’, however I generally read/use those as I’m preparing sermons and/or classes. I suppose they’re a category, but by the time I get to that part of my study I am usually using them as reference.

So, that’s what I do. What about you? What have you found useful in organizing your reading?

(By: Nick Kennicott)

3 thoughts on “How Do You Decide What to Read?

  1. Good stuff, Nick. I try to be regularly reading something related to the Christian ministry – something on preaching, counseling, etc. (Actually haven’t done this for awhile and need to get back to it…)

  2. This is an encouraging post. I’ve been making an effort recently to organize my reading habits for the long haul, and I’ve chosen to go much the same route as you described, with multiple categories running simultaneously (my broad categories right now are Soteriology/The Gospel, Sanctification/Christian Living/Spiritual Maturity, Systematic Theology/Confession/Creed/Catechism, Apologetics/Philosophy, Church History/Historical Theology/Christian Biography, and General Theology/Other). It’s still a work in progress, but it’s definitely encouraging to see others taking a similar approach. God Bless!

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