On Disciplined Reading

Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecc 12:12)

There are three types of people in our country. There are, first of all, those who do not read. An AP-Ipsos poll recently revealed that 25% of Americans do not read books, while other polls have put the number higher, at around 50%. It is not that these Americans cannot read or that they do not accumulate knowledge. (No country’s citizens-and I mean none-bring more depth and import to subjects such as celebrity clothes, hair and makeup, and the intricacies of the Pitt-Jolie marriage than the citizens of the USA.) It is just that their knowledge is not gained from books. Second, there are those who read but do so aimlessly, choosing on a whim what to read and when to do so. Third, there are those who plan to read and who read with a plan.

This series of posts is meant to encourage college and seminary students to discover the joys and benefits of disciplined reading. Upon entering seminary fourteen years ago, I was a “serial reader” but not a particularly judicious or disciplined reader. By “serial reader,” I mean that I read lots of books. But I gave no serious thought to which books I ought to read, and I read plenty of books that were not worth the time spent. That first year of seminary, our president challenged us to acquire a 1,500 book library before having graduated from seminary. Uh huh. If my income had tripled during those two years I would not have been able to afford 1,500 books. But the challenge stuck with me. I wanted a 1,500 book library! Another professor, Dr. L. Russ Bush, challenged us to read the right books. If a book is deficient in content, analysis, and style, it just possibly is not worth the read, he argued.

Yet another professor pointed out the importance of words for the Christian faith. The Triune God is himself a model of accomplished communication. God created the universe through his Word (Heb 11:3). Jesus Christ is the living Word (Jn 1:1). The Spirit inspired the written Word and brings enlightens us as we read and meditate upon it. God has given us, his image-bearers, the unique ability to communicate through the written word, and has chosen to speak to us through it. To read is to image forth the Creator. In fact, as Danny Akin’s booklet, Building a Theological Library, points out, “as the apostle Paul faced his impending death, he still remained a student, requesting of Timothy that he bring the books when he came to visit him in prison (2 Tim 4:13).

In the following posts, I will seek to give brief answers to three questions: (1) What should I read? (2) How should I read? (3) What benefits are accrued from disciplined reading? Just for fun, I might include a few lists of “favorite books” in various categories.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Sterling Griggs   •  

    My love for reading has been growing in conjunction with the size of my family. Maybe you can post on how to make the best time for reading with 4 kids ages 8 and under. I’ve always wished for a 28-hour day or a pill that requires that I don’t have to sleep, but those will probably come out about the same time as the “get there” magical car teleportation travel button.

  2. Matthew   •  

    I love this idea for a blog series! I just started seminary as an older student who has been in the workforce for a bit. At 33, I already have well-established reading habits fostered by a degree in the biological sciences (where regular, voluminous digestion of the primary literature was paramount). I’ve been encouraged to realize how well this habit will serve me in seminary. One small nagging thought though is wither and how one can cull the theological offerings out there, and how much to balance reading between theological books and journals. Also, how to “capture” those articles, book chapters, PDFs from the theology library, with bibliographic software tools, etc. so they can be profitably retrieved in the future to serve preaching and academic needs.

  3. Jeff Fisher   •  

    Bruce, I love the scripture reference! I love the concept of “serial reader”.

    I believe that we have to read to grow. We need to fill our minds with books, CDs, tapes, podcasts that challenge us.

    I also believe we need to get some good mentors. Some of my best mentors died long ago and left books for me read (Spurgeon, Ravenhill, … Charles Schultz) Others are still writing, and though I’ve never met them, they are mentors in my life.

    A couple of questions:
    1. With so much good material on the Internet now, is it so important to have a good physical library?

    2. What about the pastor that moves, or goes on the mission field? Maintaining a large library is a challenge.

    3. What do you think about audiobooks & podcasts? Is something lost by not being a “book reader”?

    I look forward to this series and to your comments.

  4. Lee Wilson   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    Especially if you are writing primarily to seminary students, I think it would really serve us if you would include some advice on how to become a “disciplined reader” without becoming a “dutiful reader” or a “joyless reader”.

    As a seminary student, I certainly know that I need a lot of help in that area.

    Thank you

  5. Greg Welty   •  

    The fact that this post is tagged “Brad Pitt” is deeply disturbing to me.


  6. Nathan Finn   •  

    Dr. Ashford is a pretty disturbing guy, Dr. Welty.


  7. Brian Rolfe   •  

    Hey Dr. Ashford,

    I second Lee’s request. On an intellectual level, I accept the value of being a “serial reader”, but frankly, my time in seminary drove away the great love of reading I had prior to enrollment. In the last several years, I have picked through a book here and there, but I still struggle to find any desire to return to regular, disciplined reading. I look forward to your future posts.


  8. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Sterling, I wish I could help you with that one, man! Have you tried to give them a little Benadryl and put them down for a two hour nap? Grin.

    Matthew, great questions. I’ll try to conver some of them, and maybe all, in the next three installments. Especially the journals and books.

    Jeff, I like to hold a book in my hands, mark it up (w/ a pencil and ruler), and put it on a shelf. The only legit exception to that, for me, would be if I move overseas. But that nothing more than my personal preference.

    Lee, as for joyless reading: I’ll have to ponder that one. Maybe if I can come up with a helpful thought or two, I can add an installment dealing with your questions…

    Greg and Nathan, the two of you are scoundrels and I have no witty reply to match your comments.

    Brian, thank you for the encouragement. Maybe I can speak to your (and Lee’s) comments in a future post.

  9. Dean   •  

    Dr. Bruce, (Sorry, not sure what to call you here!)
    In one of his sermons on the new atheism, Dr. Mohler talked about how Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” was bought by thousands of thousands of people who never read it. They just bought it because it was the book to own, not necessarily the book to read. It does look impressive sitting on the bookshelf! Maybe that’s Category #4: People Who Buy Books and Want to Read But Never Really Do. I confess my stack is rather large.

  10. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Dean, that is a great point! Maybe I should come up with a Category #4! And I don’t blame most people for not working through Hawking’s Brief History.

  11. Pingback: Disciplined Reading «

  12. 'Guerite ~ BoldLion   •  

    Thank you for posting this online for others to read! I learned about this post from Between Two Worlds. See my comments there.

    As for me, I wish that I can afford to go to college for my BS or BA. I long for that in Biblical Study Major with English/Journalism Major.

    So, therefore, I can afford to buy some books be able to read them and eating His Word.

    Right now, I am currently reading The Confessions of St. Augustine, Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem and ESV for me to eat His Word.

    I don’t read trashy stuffs that is going on out in the world. I don’t even watch TV and do have an 1978 TV without closed caption (I don’t know if the TV is still working or not). The only time I watch TV is when I am at my friend’s house to watch UNC-Carolina ballgame :).

    I am looking forward to read the next posts about Disciplined Reading!

    Hungry to eat His Word,
    ‘Guerite ~ BoldLion

  13. Pingback: Read This Post on How to Read. « BRYANLOPEZ.COM

  14. Pingback: On Disciplined Reading « One Resolve

  15. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Guerite ~ Bold Lion, thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

  16. Pingback: Reading « The Wanderer

  17. Pingback: On Reading… « Simply Sparks…

  18. Pingback: Disciplined Reading « Radical Discipleship

  19. Pingback: Story Strategy « 24.14

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *