Diane L. Olinger
Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, 202 pages, $15.99, paper.
Much of Tony Reinke’s book Lit! is autobiographical, reflecting his journey in literature (89). He doesn’t consider himself a natural born reader or scholar, but one who developed these characteristics, in spite of himself, as a result of his desire to learn more and more about Christ. Speaking of his conversion experience, he writes: “The sight of Christ’s glory permanently changed my life. And it forever changed how I read books.” Reinke is a theological researcher, writer, and blogger who has worked for C. J. Mahaney (who provides a foreword for Lit!) and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The title of the book refers to “the motto of the reading Christian”: “In your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:9).
The book is separated into two parts: a theology of reading (chapters 1–6), and a collection of practical suggestions for readers (chapters 7–15). With respect to his theology of reading, Reinke begins with the idea that there are essentially two categories of literature: Scripture, which is inspired, inerrant, and supreme; and everything else, which is not. Reinke encourages us to “read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal” (28). Christians can read a broad array of books to their benefit, but only if they read with the discernment that comes from a biblical worldview (59). Fallen creation “continues to emit the Creator’s glory, a glow that can be found in the pages of great books” (16).
Reinke presents a theological justification for reading non-Christian books (which he defines as books not written by Christians or not written from “an explicitly Christian motive,” (65). In doing so, Reinke acknowledges that Christianity is positioned antithetically to the world. We must read with an awareness of the gulf fixed between ourselves and the greater part of contemporary literature (60). However, Reinke insists that non-Christian literature has value as a bridge over this gulf. A biblical example is provided by Paul’s address to a pagan audience in Acts 17. Paul proclaimed that what the pagan poets sought in Zeus and other deities could be found only in the living God. In other words, non-Christian literature, whether it be Greek poetry, business or scientific texts, or modern fiction, begs questions that can only be resolved in Christ (73). Realizing this “will protect us from posturing ourselves only antithetically to the religious impulses of our culture” and will allow us to “discover that non-Christian authors occasionally articulate genuine spiritual desires that we know can be satisfied nowhere else but in the living original, in the essence, in Christ himself” (75).
So, while Reinke cautiously embraces non-Christian literature, he warns us against an uncritical stance toward “Christian literature.” He writes, “The most treacherous spiritual dangers arise from theologically twisted books written by wolves in sheepskin” (60). Heresies necessarily spring from the church. Reinke sees one of the greatest pitfalls, not in theological tracts, but in poorly chosen Christian “how-to” books which may “feed a person’s doubt, entrench a soul in legalism, and ignite a heart with self-righteousness” (100).
In the practical part of Lit!, Reinke gives us many tips and tricks he has found useful as a reader, including reading with a pen in hand, how to find more time in the day for reading, and doing “background checks” on authors. Reinke advises readers to adopt any of these tips that prove useful and ignore those that don’t. (Much of this section sounds like something my fourth and fifth graders would go over in a study skills unit for reading class—will anyone who needs this advice make it this far into Reinke’s book? I’m not sure.)
In this second part of the book Reinke also gives advice on what to read: begin with Scripture and theological books which kindle spiritual reflection and increase knowledge of and delight in Christ; follow that with reading to accomplish certain ends, like initiating personal change and pursuing vocational excellence; and finally read to enjoy a good story (95). Of particular interest among Reinke’s comments on what to read are those concerning fiction that depicts sin. According to Reinke, the authors (Christian and non-Christian) who are most aware of man’s sinfulness are those who are most in tune with the reality of this world (126). He quotes Christian novelist Larry Woiwode: “If sin isn’t mentioned or depicted, there’s no need for redemption. How can the majesty of God’s might arm be defined in a saccharin romance?” (124). So, how much sin is too much in our books? This is a difficult question, says Reinke, and readers must listen carefully to their consciences.
Mahaney’s foreword tells us that “Lit! is a book for nonreaders” (14). As such, much of the book is likely to be “preaching to the choir” for OS readers, at least as far as theological reading goes. However, even avid readers will enjoy Reinke’s musings on a multitude of reading-related subjects, from the benefits of exercising our imaginations with fiction (including fringe benefits to our reading of image-filled biblical passages, like those in Revelation, 88–89); to the need for Christian stewardship with respect to technology (e-readers, blogs). In fact, one of the best features of Lit! is that Reinke has managed to cover such a wide range of topics in a relatively short book. It is sure to prompt fruitful discussion at a Christian book club or in a young adult Sunday school class.
 Citing Chris Stamper and Gene Edward Veith, “Get Real: Master of Reality Fiction, Acclaimed Author Larry Woiwode Has Found Christ, But Can He Find an Audience?” World Magazine, July 4, 1998.
Diane L. Olinger is a member of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, May 2012.