Are you readers, young people? Do you have your own personal library (collection of books)? Do you take an interest in and use the library that may be in your church? Young Calvinists should be readers and librarians, don’t you think? The Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies recently started a new “test” organization called “Young Calvinists” —a great idea, in my estimation. Were you aware that this name was once used for a Reformed magazine for young people in the Christian Reformed Church (our “mother” church), and that one of the founders of the PRCA (Rev.Herman Hoeksema) was editor-in-chief of this magazine for a time?
I don’t expect you to know all this, since it was a bit before your time—even a generation before myself (1920s). But it is good for you to know this, because in the June 1921 issue (Vol.3, No.6) of The Young Calvinist Rev. H. Hoeksema penned a powerful editorial encouraging his young Calvinist audience to read good literature and to build a library in their churches. In this article and in one to follow I would like to encourage you to do the same. I want you, young Calvinists, to become readers and librarians, because I believe your personal well-being, the well-being of your future marriage and family (if God wills), and the well-being of our churches rest in part on your reading and your library!
At this point you might be saying, Are you serious?! Yes, actually I am, and I hope that what I quote and write from this point on will make that claim plain.
Let’s start with the reading part. For this I am going to go back to the first part of Rev. H. Hoeksema’s June 1921 editorial, which was titled “What Are You Reading?” He addressed this question especially to the young men in the CRC, though the young women were also included. Here are a few of his thoughts on this significant question:
If you ask our young men concerning the literature they read, you will receive different answers.
Many will tell you nowadays that they do not read at all, that they find no interest in reading whatever. …And it seems to me that the number that will answer the question in this way is increasing.
…That this is a deplorable condition need hardly be said. The results are plainly evident.
There is with many little knowledge. Not only little knowledge in regard to things spiritual and our Reformed truth, but often little general knowledge. There is little ability to read critically. A good many novels of our modern times ought to be read with a critical eye. It is in the modern novel that a life-view is often advocated in a subtle manner. And the life-view that is embodied in our modern novel is not so infrequently radically opposed to our own. But naturally, in order to read critically there must be some general knowledge of principles. And this knowledge is rare. There is often little interest in matters pertaining to God’s Kingdom and the Church. And there is a weaning away from and a loss of contact with sound doctrinal preaching. All the instruction many of our young men receive is the one hour catechetical training per week. And this surely cannot be adequate to meet their needs. That there is so little interest in reading and studying the principles of our Reformed faith is surely a fact to be deplored.
That may seem rather negative to you. I can hear you saying, “I thought you said Rev.Hoeksema was encouraging the young people to read in this editorial. This doesn’t sound very encouraging to me!” You have a point. But so did he. And we need to listen to it. Sometimes to be motivated and encouraged to do something positive we need to hear criticism (the negative). And if his evaluation of the reading habits of young people was justified then, I suspect that it might be even more so today. Am I right, young people? Are Rev.Hoeksema’s words convicting you right now? Young men, does the truth of what he says hurt you in the heart and make you put your head down with shame? What are you reading? And even more basic than that: are you taking the time to read?
I know you young Calvinists have time to read certain things—hings you must read, such as your textbooks and assigned readings for school, perhaps some reading for catechism and for your Young People’s Society meeting. And I believe you are reading some things for pleasure—things you want to, such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine, the newspaper, novels, and romances. And, of course, things you find online to read: news, information, sports. But what are you reading to feed your souls, for the good of your spiritual life and your relationship to the Lord? What are you reading to strengthen your faith and walk with Christ? Young men, what are you reading to help you become a godly man to lead in your home and in the church? Young ladies, what are you reading to help you become a godly woman to serve in the home and in the church? That would include your Bible, correct? You do tell yourself that you must read God’s Word, right? But you do also want to, do you not?
I realize very well all the demands on your time. My wife and I guided six teenagers through these years. After your time at school, participating in sports, working a job, hanging out with friends and your family, attending church functions and all the other social events that crowd your calendars, when do you have time to read anyway? Typically your good reading is going to take place at home, and when are you home? Yes, I know: to sleep And that Bible by your bedside…? “I’m too worn out from all the activity, Lord. Maybe tomorrow.”
I am also well aware of the fact, young Calvinists living in the twenty-first century, that we are not exactly living in the reading age. The information age, yes, but not typically through reading books. Images, videos, and social media rule. TV, Internet TV, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, and Google Hangout handle most of your “reading”. And, yes, those texts sent via our smart phones. Why would you sit down with a boring book, or even a good one, for an hour when you have all these fun pictures, images, and videos (with a few words thrown in) to capture your eye and grab your mind’s eye? Reading books seems so out of date and so out of touch with our enlightened age.
I haven’t even touched on what all these modern “techie” tools have done to your attention span and to your ability to sit still for an hour or half that. Do young people today even have the discipline to be still and the ability to focus on words on a page? Can we sit long enough to absorb a biography of John Calvin a chapter at a time, let alone a single Beacon Lights or Standard Bearer article? And now I am supposed to encourage you to read? “Fat chance”, I might be tempted to say at this point.
Yet, young people, we are called to read, and we need to read. I mean, as Christians, for the good of our souls and for the glory of God. I mean, as young (and older) Calvinists for our spiritual growth in knowledge and godliness. I am here to encourage you to read, to read more and to read better. I know all too well the struggle to find the time to read, and to read even when I do have the time. You don’t think I wouldn’t rather sit in front of the TV and watch March Madness than read a good book? You don’t think I can’t waste hours in front of my computer screen watching videos or reading unnecessary news stories and blogs? You don’t think I can’t so fill my schedule with other things that I have no time to read even my Bible? Think again. We are made of the same fallen nature. Your flesh is my flesh. Your temptations are my temptations. Your wasted reading times are my wasted reading times. Your squandered soul-growth is my squandered soul-growth.
But, my fellow covenant friends, God would have us read, because in his deep mercy he gave us his book (Isa.34:16), and because by his amazing grace he made us people of that book. Grace-readers we have become: readers of his story, of his wisdom, of his Christ, so that we would read his words on his pages and learn of him and his Son through his Spirit, by that reading have the knowledge of eternal life (John 20:31), and by continued reading of that book grow in that knowledge until we end our days in the unending bliss of glory (2 Peter 3:14–18).
Is there anything more important than reading this book of holy scripture? Then, my fellow Calvinists, let us find time to read the word preeminently and with utmost priority, and in the light of that word other sound books that will strengthen and increase our faith in and walk with the Lord.
In a future article we will talk about some specific books we should read and how we can start building a library. Until then, will you make sure that you have a good study Bible, that it is by your bedside or at your desk or in your backpack, and that you will read it daily for the good of your soul and for the glory of God as young, but good Calvinists? This older Calvinist has learned—and is still learning—the great good of that practice.