Some time ago, I wrote for TheReb about whether fiction is less important for Christians.
As Christians we seem to have a problem with thinking fiction—fantasy, realistic fiction, ancient epic—is somehow subpar; that really spiritual Christians don’t bother with it. In fact the opposite is true. Fiction is food for our souls. It broadens the scope of our imagination, lets us see good and evil in embodied form, and teaches us to love the true and the beautiful.
But sometimes we have the opposite problem. There are many reasons we might avoid reading non-fiction—it takes too long to read, it’s difficult to understand, fiction is easier to pick up—but they all come down to this: it’s hard.
But as Christian teens, we should be ready and willing to do the harder thing when it’s worth it—and this is definitely worth it. Here are four reasons why reading non-fiction is important to Christian teens.
1. To Grow In A Skill
Do you want to learn how to fix a car? Play an instrument? Garden? Get a better SAT score?
Yes, we have YouTube and Google for these things. But books represent years, sometimes centuries, of accumulated knowledge. They tend to be more structured and comprehensive than a website or a video. In many cases, they’re also more reliable—anyone can put a video on YouTube; and we all know what happens when you try and diagnose your allergy symptoms via Google!
Scripture calls us to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Among other things, that means doing them to the best of our ability. The knowledge and experience found in books can be invaluable as we seek to grow in a skill or other area of life.
2. To Grow In Knowledge
Yeah, it sounds like school. In fact, this is pretty much exactly what we do in school–read books to gain knowledge. But our education doesn’t have to stop when we get out of class.
We need to have a purpose, though. We don’t pursue knowledge for its own sake, or so we can prove to our friends and siblings just how smart we are (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
Maybe there’s a subject that interests you and you want to know more about it. Maybe you want to understand some aspect of history or politics better, so you can vote and converse in a more informed way. Maybe it’s a subject that will benefit you in college or a potential career. All of these are excellent reasons to pursue knowledge and understanding.
And then, of course, there are those books that will help us grow in the most important kind of knowledge—the “knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). This might be the most important reason to read nonfiction books…
3. To Grow In Faith
It’s no stretch to say that much of my growth in Christ has been through reading. I learned about the importance of delighting in God through John Piper’s Desiring God. From Milton Vincent’s A Gospel Primer I learned how essential it is to preach the gospel to yourself. Elyse Fitzpatrick helped me understand the beauty of union with Christ through Found In Him, and Francis Schaeffer’s writings taught me the reasonableness of the Christian faith.
Human authors aren’t directly inspired by the Holy Spirit; their words about God aren’t Scripture. But in books like these we have the accumulated wisdom of Christians from across nations and centuries. Men and women gifted by God with great wisdom and spiritual power have written at length about God, Scripture, mankind, and the Church.
When we avoid books like this, we neglect a great resource for our own spiritual growth. Good books by strong Christians can help us understand God’s word better, lead us to a deeper knowledge of Him, encourage and rebuke us, and strengthen our faith.
4. To See the Other Side
But what if an author is wrong? What if they’re opposed to the truth of God’s word? What if you just don’t agree with them?
We can choose to just stay away from books that challenge our viewpoint. That may sometimes be a wise option (especially since most of us have limited time for reading and a lot of books to choose from). But sometimes it’s good to engage with authors who have a different point of view.
I’m not saying we should be skeptics, always looking for challenges to what we believe. And if you’re a new or young Christian, your reading time might be better spent in books that build up your faith.
But it’s important to realize that asking questions or encountering opposing viewpoints won’t destroy your faith. Christianity isn’t a religious system that collapses if you think about it too hard. The truth can stand up to the toughest questions.
That’s why it’s worth taking time and energy to read books by people who disagree with you. It’s all too easy (especially for those who are or were homeschooled like I was) to get stuck in a Christian “bubble.” We just assume that what we’ve always known is right—we’ve never really had to wrestle with why we believe it. Books can help us do that—and in the process, our faith will be strengthened.
Read nonfiction. Read books that are hard, that challenge you, that teach you, that build you up, even books that make you uncomfortable. You might find you’ll grow more than you ever expected.