Book Review: Lit!

Enter Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. If you’ve heard of it, good. If not, you’re about to.

This is a book for people who love to read, and for people who don’t. For people who read every waking minute, and for people who can’t seem to find the time. For people who read widely, and for people who read not-so-widely. For people who know what to read, when to read, and why to read, and for people who haven’t a clue.

Having said that, I’ve rendered your excuses for not reading this book futile. The target audience is, well, everybody – including you and your dog. Okay, maybe not your dog. But you get the idea.

Lit! is quite easily one of the best things I’ve read all year. Why? Because it’s clear from page one that Reinke writes about reading because he loves it. Better yet, he knows why he loves it. His excitement is catching, so don’t even bother trying to vaccinate yourself against it. This is a bug you should want to catch.

The best thing about Lit! is the very thing that sets it apart from other books on reading: it begins at the beginning, with the Book of Books.

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 purpose of this book is to study reading from a Christian perspective. So how does Sinai change the way I scan rows of literature at the bookstore? What does a combustible mountaintop have to do with a classic novel by Dostoevsky, a contemporary novel by Cormac McCarthy, the latest social insights by Malcom Gladwell, the latest marketing book by Seth Godin, or the latest biography by David McCullough?


Scripture is the ultimate grid by which we read every book. Scripture is perfect, sufficient, and eternal. All other books, to some degree, are imperfect, deficient, and temporary. That means that when we pick books from the bookstore shelves, we read those imperfect books in light of the perfect Book, and the temporary books in light of the eternal book. (pp. 23, 26)

The driving vision behind Reinke’s book could be summed up in Spurgeon’s famous maxim: “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”

It’s hard to cover everything I loved about Lit!, because I loved everything. There were, however, several things which particularly stood out to me…

First, I loved Reinke’s exuberant yet carefully reasoned defense of fiction. In fact, the next time someone tells me that reading fiction is harmful, silly, or a waste of time, I’ll just hand them a copy of this book – and flash them a big, toothy smile while I’m at it.

Second, Reinke makes an excellent case for “grace-filled” literature. Take note: “grace-filled” does not automatically equal “clean.” The two are often confused, but honestly, they shouldn’t be.

Christian novelist Larry Woiwode said in an interview, “If sin isn’t mentioned or depicted, there’s no need for redemption. How can the majesty of God’s mighty arm be defined in a saccharin romance?”

Ryken, O’Conner, and Woiwode have a point, and it’s a very sticky point. God’s “amazing grace” is especially displayed when it “saves a wretch.” To some degree, the author must paint a picture of the wretchedness of sin in order for grace to emerge in its brilliance. Thus, grace-filled literature is often not “clean” literature. In fact, God’s redemptive grace is hard to capture in “clean” fiction. This is especially true of conversion stories, because conversion is about contrast. (p. 124)

So much for the white-washed, insubstantial drivel littering the shelves of so many Christian bookstores. We need to get our act together, as artists and as theologians; because frankly, most of what passes for “Christian fiction” these days flat-out sucks.

Third, I loved the way Reinke laid waste to one of the most common (and unconvincing) excuses for not reading: I just don’t have time. Please. Who are we kidding? Of course we have time – we just choose to spend it on other things, like chatting on Facebook or vegging out in front of our favorite sitcom. Time isn’t the issue; misusing it is.

Fourth and last, I think Lit! may have convinced me that marginalia – i.e. “the fine art of defacing books with pencils, pens, and highlighters” – isn’t such a horrific thing after all. Which is a big step. I used to think jotting down notes in a book was an offense worthy of death (and an excruciatingly painful one at that). After reading Lit!, my views have undergone something of a change.

[M]arkings in a book’s margins are the evidence of a thinking reader. We don’t read to read; we read to think. “My own conviction is that fruitful study is primarily thinking, not reading,” John Piper says. “My guess is that reading, which was meant to become a stimulus and guide to independent thinking, usually becomes a crutch for it. The evidence for this is how many books we read and how little we write down.” (p. 148)

Read this book. Read it for its own sake. Read it that you may read other books well. And make sure you scribble in the margins while you’re at it.

The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment and Why We Need It

“When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus. I said, That’s where I got my information about hell.” – Vance Havner

One of my favorite chapters in Why We’re Not Emergent is the one where Kevin DeYoung examines the modern tendency to soft-peddle the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is not, he says, merely a “liberal” problem – many evangelicals do it, too, “opting instead for a therapeutic God who encourages our self-esteem.”

As a result, God’s wrath and the reality of hell are downplayed, avoided, reinterpreted to suit our sensitive palates, and even outright denied. We’ve all heard people complain about hellfire-and-brimstone preaching; but considering the state of the modern church, one has to wonder how many of those complainers have actually heard a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon. My guess? Not many. If any.

“We need the doctrine of eternal punishment,” observes DeYoung. “Time and time again in the New Testament we find that understanding divine justice is essential to our santification. Believing in God’s judgment actually helps us look more like Jesus. In short, we need the doctrine of the wrath of God.”

And here’s why (pp. 198-200):

“First, we need God’s wrath to keep us honest about evangelism. Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25). We need to do the same. Without the doctrine of hell, we are prone to get involved in all sorts of important God-honoring things, but neglect the one thing that matters for all eternity, urging sinners to be reconciled to God.

Second, we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forego repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19 NIV). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross or will be punished in hell. We don’t need to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

Third, we need God’s wrath in order to risk our lives for Jesus’ sake. The radical devotion necessary to suffer for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus comes, in part, from the assurance we have that God will vindicate us in the end. That’s why the martyrs under the throne cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6:10 NIV). They paid the ultimate price for their faith, but their blood-stained cries will be answered one day. Their innocence will be established when God finally judges their persecutors.

Continue reading The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment and Why We Need It

Flotsam & Jetsam (8/21)

Fun At Wal-Mart – This is hysterical. Really. It should give you something to laugh about for the rest of the day (or the rest of the week).

Ravenous Sheep – I confess I got choked up while reading this. R.C. Sproul, Jr. writes, “Most of us have a rather distorted, city-fied understanding of sheep. We remember from Sunday School that picture of Jesus, smiling as He carried that smiling lamb, the one, over His broad shoulders back to the 99. We never stopped to ask how that one managed to get so far away.”

Reel Quick – If you’re a fan of westerns, this one should definitely be on your list.

On Reading Yourself in the Story – “Scripture is authoritative. Scriptural stories are therefore authoritative. That means we have to obey them. But to obey them, we have to understand them, and then reapply them in a new setting, in our own stories. But in our own stories, in our own conflicts, we will be sorely tempted to make ourselves the honorary protagonists, no matter what. But as I said earlier, it is not the Scriptures that create this kind of self-centered narrative. Scripture actually creates the only possibility of escaping it.” (HT Becky)

Encore – This is so awesome.

“Cheer up, Crips, and keep smiling. That’s the thing to do. If you go through life with a smile on your face, you’ll be amazed how many people will come up to you and say ‘What the hell are you grinning about? What’s so funny?’ Make you a lot of new friends.” ~ P.G. Wodehouse