Choosing What to Read
Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles
Keeping Going When the Going Gets Tough — Part 6
by Craig and Barbara Smith
Choosing What to Read
In part 5 we looked at Parental Reading, how it is one of the most important aspects of Home Educating our children. It follows after: developing an attitude of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever; working on our marriages so that they reflect the relationship of Christ and His Church; and the need for us to be consistent in the way we discipline our children.
Realising that the reading habits of us parents are so important, we now need to look at what we parents read. It should be obvious that some books are better than others. What isn’t so obvious are the guidelines one should use to decide what’s worth reading and what’s not and whether we should use the same guidelines for ourselves as we use for the children’s reading.
I had difficulty with this at first. Once I started reading in earnest, I ended up buying way too many Historical Fiction novels. These are OK in small doses, but we need to learn to be more discerning. We need to ask questions like:
1. Are all Christian books good?
2. Are all Classical books good?
3. Are all Non-Christian books bad?
The answer to all three questions is, “Definitely, no!”
Two books that helped me understand the issues here are The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn1 and Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.2
Why did the Bluedorn brothers, sons of Harvey and Laurie, write The Fallacy Detective? “We see a need for Christians to strive for a higher standard of reasoning. We believe God wants His people to become aware of their lack of discernment, and logic is an important part of the science of discernment. For instance, many Christians adopt beliefs and practices without properly evaluating the arguments which are used to support them. We need to rediscover the way of the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the apostles’ teachings were true (Acts 17:10-11)… We will never be as logical as the Lord Jesus Christ was, but we must work at it… Logic is the science of thinking the way God thinks – the way Jesus taught us to think. Remember, most people never study good thinking skills. So people who take on this quest of learning logic are breaking out of the mould, and this takes courage. It also takes humility. But most of all it takes self-discipline.”
Nathaniel and Hans wrote this book so we parents could improve our thinking and reasoning skills and could then teach these essential skills to our children. They’ve put together 36 lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning. Once through the lessons we should be able to:
1. Put a high value on good reasoning;
2. Know how to spot many forms of bad reasoning;
3. Know how to avoid using many fallacies in our own reasoning.
In Teaching the Trivium Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn draw a distinction between “humanist classics” on the one hand and a broader definition of “classics” on the other. The former are generally understood to be “noted works and authors of ancient Greek and Roman literature.” The broader definition includes anything that “is of good form and lasting value – regardless of the time period.” Consequently you will find for yourself good, edifying reading material – “classics” – among the Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation as well as Modern time periods. The Bluedorns point out that because the two criteria for a classic piece of literature, “good form and lasting value”, are so subjective, no one can be said to have the final word on what should be counted “in” and what is “out”. Ultimately, as good stewards of all Christ has given us to use for His glory – our time, our own and our children’s hearts and minds – each of us needs to take responsibility for what works of literature we determine constitute “good form” and which ones we determine constitute “lasting value”.
The Bluedorns give further liberating advice regarding what other people recommend:
“You will find numerous lists of classics, great books, recommended reading, desired reading for college, required reading for cultural literacy and so forth. We would collapse in financial and emotional bankruptcy if we read all of the books on these lists. Some suggest that we should at least be familiar with the substance – the plots and characters, the themes and contents – of all the books on these lists. It is not possible for the ordinary person to do that and also have a life.” As the Bluedorns suggest, perhaps we need to come up with our own lists. What criteria do we use to place a book on the list or leave it off? “In the end we must bring all classics into obedience to serve Christ, or they are useless. If we cannot use them to promote the Biblical standard with the Biblical worldview, then we cannot use them.”
Harvey and Laurie tell how they got themselves weaned off of depending on lists provided by others. “We were using a curriculum which required the reading of Greek mythology. Our children observed that it was full of immorality, and they did not think they should be reading it. We had never read it, but we trusted the curriculum and suspected that they wanted to escape the assignment – until we read it! We repented. It did not agree with our principles on how to evaluate literature. Require your child to read those classical works which agree with your family’s principles and forget the rest. There are a large number of classical works which are good reading, and there is only so much time in the day.
“When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were commanded to wipe out all of the Canaanite literature (Numbers 33:51,52). In the New Testament the repentant Ephesians burned their books of sorcery (Acts 19:19). It does not say that they burned all of the books there were but only that there were some books which, regardless of their worldly worth, were better burnt. Likewise, there may be some things which the world considers of ‘literary value,’ but which, because of their ability to cause little ones to stumble, we are better off leaving alone until a mature age, or, in some cases, leaving alone altogether (Matthew 5:29,30). We must be willing to give up everything of this world before we can redeem any of it back for the Lord’s use (Luke 14:33). The world’s values cannot be our values.”
Teaching the Trivium goes into detail on each of these Ten Principles for choosing what to read:
1. Do what is pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 1:10, Hebrews 11:6).
2. Do not follow the world (Romans 12:2).
3. Do not allow the world to follow you (James 1:27, Proverbs 4:23).
4. There is only so much time in the day (Colossians 4:5).
5. Older does not necessarily mean better (Colossians 2:8).
6. Is this profitable? (1 Corinthians 6:12,13, 1 Timothy 1:8).
7. Does this promote good habits? (1 Corinthians 6:12).
8. Will reading this further my education? (1 Corinthians 10:23; Proverbs 4:14,15; Ephesians 5:11,12).
9. Does this material have lasting value? (1 Corinthians 7:31).
10. When in doubt, leave it out (Romans 14:23).
“We all recognise that it is necessary to draw the line somewhere, but sometimes it can be difficult to see where that line should be drawn. There is no rule book which gives us exhaustive directions. Different situations call for different judgments, and those judgments must be made in a mature way by applying sound principles.” The Bluedorns go on to explain some of the borderline areas where lines will need to be drawn:
1. Between the sacred and the profane.
2. Between the godly and the ungodly.
3. Between the decent and the indecent.
4. Between what is appropriate for children and what adults may be able to tolerate.
5. Between the worthwhile and the worthless.
6. Between the good and the best.
7. Between the best and the best.
We also need to be aware of the worldview of the writer of the book we are reading. Sometimes we can read a biography of a person by two different authors, and it would seem that we are reading about two different people! This demonstrates that the worldviews of the authors, how they perceive, judge and value the elements of their subject’s life, are radically different. Knowing the worldview of the author will let us know first of all whether we should be reading the book at all. It can also help us to be more discerning, to perhaps question some of the writer’s statements rather than just accept them if we know he does not have a Biblical worldview. Three books that have helped me to be more aware of the different worldviews and how it effects my reading are: Understanding The Times or Battle for the Truth both by Dr David A Noebel and Let Us Highly Resolve by David Quine3
So by becoming discerning readers we will be able to keep going when the going gets tough. The reading we will be doing will be encouraging us, building us up, giving us new ideas for Home Educating our children, making us more interesting for our spouse and children, giving us new visions and motivation for Home Education, showing us how to train our children in the way that they should go and drawing us nearer to God where we can be refreshed/built up in our relationship with Him.
1. The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn. Available from: Home Education Foundation; see https://hef.org.nz/2007/fallacy-detective/
or visit http://www.christianlogic.com
2. Teaching The Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn. Available from Home Education Foundation; see https://hef.org.nz/2007/teaching-the-trivium
or visit http://www.triviumpursuit.com
3. Understanding the Times, Battle For The Truth and Let us Highly Resolve are available from Christian Education Services, 55 Richards Ave, Forrest Hill, North Shore City, New Zealand. Ph/Fax (09) 410-3933 email: firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.cesbooks.co.nz
From Keystone Magazine
September 2003, Vol 1X No 5
PO Box 9064
Phone: 06 357-4399