Monday, July 14, 2014

3 Reasons Why You Need To Read More Fiction and/or Poetry

Becoming a thinking Christian requires a lot of things, but it certainly takes reading books on at least some level. In the quest for knowledge, it can be tempting to read primarily non-fiction. As a seminary student I can remember thinking at one point that all of those years that I spent reading fiction growing up where a complete waste of time. All I once thought gain, I counted as a loss! However, after several more years of studying, I discovered that reading good fiction is very important for the intellect. Here are some reasons that I have found to make more room in your reading list for good fiction and poetry:

1. Fiction and poetry engages the imagination.
    Many non-fiction books can been dry. They are usually written to communicate information rather than stimulate the imagination. Dr. Ellsworth Kalas once told me that seminaries and other academic institutions did not put out many skilled writers. Good writing, imaginative writing is not the goal of most professors. Content, no matter how dryly conveyed, is king. All it takes to become a success is a good peer review. However, a perusal of great Christian intellects will reveal imaginations that were alive and kicking. Just read G.K Chesterton or C.S. Lewis and you can see why they are still so popular today--they loved stories and poems and it showed through in their creative thinking.

  Adults lose their sense of wonder. The older we get the more it takes to impress us. To a three year old, a rock can be quite magical. A thirty-three year old can look at the same rock see something a lot more pedestrian. Chesterton asked the question of who was right in their thinking--the adult or the child? Reading fairy-tales and fantastic tales of adventure can give us some of our long-lost wonder back. Poetic language can inspire us to see common-placed items or scenarios in a new light. Imaginative thinking can be just as important as informational thinking.

2. Provides memorable illustrations and metaphors for writing and speaking.
  Some of my favorite authors and speakers are people who know the power of a good illustration. Literature, or even popular fiction, can be a great source to draw from when trying to connect with an audience. I can still remember a speaker using an illustration for Stephen King's Christine in a talk he gave in 1993! If he had never made the connection, the subject he was illustrating may have been forgotten long ago.

  My preaching professor had all his students read good literature and look for possible sermon illustrations. I chose Crime and Punishment and was pleasantly surprised by all the insights into human nature that it offered. He didn't just assign a novel, however, he would also read us a poem at the beginning of every class. By the end of the semester I rediscovered my love of literature and poetry and realized that my English degree could be a real asset to ministry and had't been a mistake after all.

  In addition to providing a treasure trove of illustrations, stories and poems give readers more linguistic tools in their tool box. One of my mentors, Dr. Steve Elliott (loving known as Pastor Steve), has shown me the value that good literature can bring to the table in crafting a great sermon. He doesn't mine books simply for illustrations; he allows his explorations into poetry and literature flavor the very language, metaphors, and cadence of his sermons.

3. Creates possible connections with secular intellectuals.
  Actually, this point could be made in relation to anything outside of a narrow field of study--art, music, even television. If you are a Christian thinker, artist, philosopher, apologist, or student, you need to find intelligent ways of connecting with non-Christian thinkers. If you are reading a steady diet of books on atonement theology or textual criticism, you may be able to debate your topic with others, but, chances are, you will have a difficult time connecting with them. However, a line or a thought from Chuck Palahnuik's Fight Club or George Orwell's 1984 may help you bridge the gap.

  A couple of years ago I watched the documentary Collision in which Pastor Douglas Wilson went on tour debating notable atheist Christopher Hitchens. Both men were voracious readers and both shared a love for P.G. Wodehouse. In the midst of all their debating, the documentary cut to one scene where both men where trading favorite Wodehouse quotes back and forth and genuinely having a good time. Even though Hitchens strongly disagreed with Wilson on many major issues, he said that he respected him as a thinker and person. I have found that secular thinkers tend to respect well-read Christians--especially Christians who are not afraid to engage the culture through the humanities.

  In a nutshell--thoughtfully engaging poetry and fiction will keep you from being dry and crusty as a person, speaker, author, or intellectual. A steady diet of reading dissertations, journal articles, or how-to books will suck the creative life right out of you if you are not balancing it with some good writing and stories.

What are some other reasons to read more fiction?

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