These are the opening words to Tony Reinke’s Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, a volume about the importance, dangers, and methodology of reading as a Christian. The book itself is a short read, which you may be able to knock out in a day or two, and I say it is well worth your time to do so.
Scripture, words, and images
Reinke rethinks everything we’ve assumed about books and literacy.
Beginning with a boiled-down doctrine of Scripture, Reinke deftly takes us from God’s written law at the thunderous mountainside of Sinai to the selection of which novel to read on your Christmas vacation. His view of reading is grounded in Scripture and the gospel. He stresses emphatically that we must, as Christians, read temporal and imperfect books in light of the eternal and perfect book. From this perspective, with discernment from the Holy Spirit, we ought to strive in all we do (and read) to test everything, hold fast what is good, and abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22).
Reinke moves from this foundation of Scripture-centered discernment into a helpful discussion of the second commandment, regarding images. Moses exhorted the Israelites not to make images representing God, on the basis that when God descended on that mountain he took no form. We ought not give him a form he has not prescribed. But how does that translate to today’s culture, where few (if any) are sculpting statues of God to worship?
Our culture is saturated in images of all kinds, from video games to Instagram to television and movies, yet Reinke rightly points out that images can only communicate so much without the use of a caption. God chose to communicate his truth in the written word; it is a far better vessel of communication than any picture. Reinke warns the reader, as do the pages of Scripture, not to elevate images to a place in our lives where they engender our worship or adoration. After all, centuries after Moses instructed the people of God, they were carried into exile, chiefly for trading God’s word for images.