Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review - Lit! - Part 1

Here is a review for Part 1 of Tony Reinke's book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books:

One Book to rule them all, One Book to gauge them,
One Book to bring them all and in the brightness engage them.

Having finished the first part of Lit! A Christian Guide To Reading Books, written by Tony Reinke, I thought I would write a review. Part 1, entitled A Theology of Writing Books, can be summed up with the Tolkien-inspired couplet above. Reinke makes it very clear throughout the early chapters that the Bible is the primary and paramount book that is unequalled and incomparable. We must “be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent.” (28) That is to say, “Somewhere around 1450 BC, on a remote Egyptian mountaintop called Mount Sinai, an author wrote something so earth-shaking that the publishing industry has never recovered. It never will.” The Scriptures, as God's inspired words, trumps and triumphs over all other books and Reinke returns to this regularly.

The second essential idea proposed in this book is that gospel, and its Subject, are necessary for accurate and authentic reading; “Once God enlightens our spiritual eyes [in beholding Christ], we can read books for the benefit of our souls-whether it's the Ten Commandments, a thick systematic theology, the poems of John Donne, C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, or a microbiology textbook” (36). This spiritual eye-enlightenment is crucial to Reinke's approach to reading as, according to the author, “there is an eternal dimension to everything we read ... we read all of our books illuminated by God and in communion with Him.” (37)

These two concepts, foundational to appreciating and apprehending literature, are presented in an fresh and refreshing manner. Approaching books and reading with our Book in mind and our Savior in our heart seems like an obvious strategy having read the first part of the book. But as I was reading it came at me almost unexpectedly and resulted in me being encouraged in my reading and looking forward to more. These ideas permeate the rest of the chapters in Part 1.

The Bible in general, and the glorious gospel in particular, are the ultimate examples of why Reinke argues that we, as “Christian living in an image-saturated world ... must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning.” (50). For the Christian, the Book and many other books are important.

It is Scripture as our gauge, and spiritually reborn eyes, that allow us to read Christian and non-Christian books with discernment. These are what helps us, states Reinke, evaluate what we read and perceive truth where it appears. Simply, a “firm grasp of biblical worldview, learned directly from the study of Scripture, is essential ...” (63).

It is with such sentiments that Reinke boldly states that “[His] conviction is that non-Christian literature-at least the best of it-is a gift from God to be read by Christians” (65). We now see how his theology of books and reading, built upon the preeminence of the Canon and a regenerated heart, is the basis for reading other literature. Truth, beauty, and goodness are all from God and praiseworthy where they are found. And we can hear the “Giver's Voice” in non-Christian writing if we have a strong biblical worldview and and revivified heart.

Finally, Reinke proposes that our imaginations are essential for our pursuit of godliness and we can train and cultivate our imaginations with, among other things, imaginative literature. The author expresses the importance of this genre of literature by giving several examples from the Book of Revelation. A rejection of fantasy, sci-fi, our other fantastical literature may leave us less prepared for comprehending similar biblical passages.

Part 1 of Lit! is a convincing approach to a cardinal theology for books and reading. Reinke has taken great care to make his writing readable and the truths he puts forward on a much written about topic are unexpectedly ingenious and inventive. His stalwart faithfulness to God's inerrant, inspired Word and the necessity of a regenerated life are educating, endearing, and essential to this book's value. I have only read approximately half of this book, yet I do not hesitate to recommend it.

Reinke, Tony. Lit!: a Christian Guide to Reading Books. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.

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