For College Students – On Reading Books

When we read books we need to interact with them.  We need to be cognizant of how the book has challenged our own thinking and begun to change our thoughts.  Certainly we need to be critical thinkers and readers.  But we don’t simply want to critique the book.  Rather, we must be prepared to learn from the author whether we entirely agree with the content of the book or not.

John Calvin was passionately committed to education.  So much so, he started a school system in Geneva, Switzerland in the early part of the 1500s.  And he wrote the rules for the schoolteachers himself.  Here is one of the rules (paraphrase):

The teachers were to have their students read the Greek and Roman pagan writers.  And Calvin put in his directions for the teachers that the teachers were not to criticize these pagan writers to the students.  But rather, they were to help their students see what they could learn from them even though they were not believers.

Calvin himself said, “It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to deny that pagan writers like Plato had many helpful things to say which can teach us as believers.”

Calvin stated this so strongly because he believed in what we call the “common grace of God.” That God is gracious to the whole human race, not just to Christians.  Just as God sends sun and rain to shine and to fall on the just and the unjust, on believer and unbeliever, so God gives His gifts to all people.  Whether it is gifts of the seasons, or of food, or the joy they experience in their hearts everyday of their lives (Acts 14), or whether it is wisdom (Proverbs 8).  In Proverbs 8 we are told that God’s wisdom speaks to the whole human race. Proverbs 8:15; By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just . . .

Therefore, we need to be prepared to learn from everything we read.  We need to ask, “Where first does this reflect the image of God?  Where do we see things that teach us, as believers, about God.” We must learn not to have a knee-jerk negative response to the culture in which we live.  Humans always manifest the image of God.  And consequently, there will always be aspects of wisdom from which we can learn.  So we must learn to read for what we can learn, where we can be challenged, not simply to critique.

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