Reading for the Common Good is a unique and necessary book for our time. There are some decent books available on reading from a pastoral perspective, such as Plantinga’s “Reading for Preaching,” and several books on reading that address the general public. This book, however, is not geared towards the individual but the church at large. How do you develop a reading congregation is the question this book addresses. It’s important, though, to quickly qualify this statement. While the author is interested in developing the congregation as a “learning organization,” it’s a specific type of learning he is after. The pursuit is not to build intellectual communities, per se. This is clear throughout, but chapter 9 begins with these words of Gregory the Great’s: “Love itself is knowledge: the more one loves, the more one knows.” The point of our reading should lead us to love. This is clear in the first chapter where the author writes that our faithfulness as neighbors comes about through “learning and action.” “Without learning,” he writes, “our action tends to be reaction and often is superficial…Without action, our faith is irrelevant, and most likely–to borrow a thought from the apostle James–dead.” Another assumption that should be avoided is that the book is an attempt to develop theological readers. This is true, of course, but not exclusively. Our reading should be as broad as our mission. The book deals with reading everything from food labels to serious works of theology.
The author writes about common and important practices, such Lectio Divina, but offers unique thoughts on these practices as well. I loved the idea of the sermon as Lectio, for example. The author also writes not only about the importance of reading, but the importance of how to read – slowly. This is a dying art in our age and it’s recovery is for our health and good.
A large underlying idea of this book, as expressed in the 2nd chapter specifically, is how the “Social Imaginary” (Charles Taylor) can be shaped through our communal reading and conversation. This takes place through various types of reading. Steven Pinker would argued that violence has decreased with in part through novels, for example. Finding ourselves in the stories allows us to see the
world through the eyes of the “other.” Many types of reading, then, become important as we purse learning and action. I greatly appreciated the way the last chapter dealt with how to sustain reading cultures. Nurture it at a young age. Have reading clubs for youth and “If teens are not inclined to read a book prior to gathering, they can read it aloud together as part of discussion.” He recommends not giving college students things to read since they are already overwhelmed with reading. “A more fruitful approach might be to spend time with them, one on one or in small groups…”. Really great stuff here.
Finally, the book finishes with two fantastic reading lists on the various topics the book addressed. This alone is worth the price of the book. I walked away from reading this wonderful work thinking of ways to begin to better cultivate a reading institution for the sake of the community and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Five stars.
[Image credit: THOMAS-BETHGE VIA GETTY IMAGES]