Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: Reading Between the Lines by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Gene Edward Veith Jr.
Publisher: Crossway
Buy Reading Between the Lines
Reading Level: Easy

I love that Crossway offers a variety of books that deal with reading, writing, and literature. This is a new edition of an older book published in 1990. Veith isn’t offering a robust biblical theology of reading like say Tony Reinke’s Lit! rather he offers a book founded in the Christian worldview which examines reading and writing within that larger worldview. Veith describes his purpose,
This book is written to help people be better readers. . . . My purpose is to promote critical reading, the habits of reading with discernment and an awareness of larger contexts and deeper implications. . . . Interpretation is important but appreciation and enjoyment must come first (p. xiii)
Veith is attempting to grow a particular kind of reader--one that is discerning and critical.

He beings with foundational thoughts on the importance of the written word especially for Christians who believe God spoke through Word. He then discusses objectionable elements in literature and reading with discernment. In my experience, this second section must be read carefully. Many Christians don’t possess the skill to adequately understand objectionable elements in literature including our own Bible.

In the second section Veith covers the forms of literature--fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He unfolds the common traits and tools of these forms to help us understand how we can interpret them better as Christians. In the chapter on poetry Veith, for instances, provides a basic framework for understanding Hebrew poetry and has some brief but poignant words about the creation narrative (pp. 87-89). In the third section Veith discusses the modes of literature--tragedy, comedy, realism, and fantasy. Here he’s examining the content of the forms in section two. He then overviews the history of literature from the Middle ages until today examining the movement from enlightenment to romanticism to modernism to postmodernism.

He ends by dissecting the relationship between writers, publishers, and readers. On passage hit me squarely,
When [contemporary Christian writers] turn to Christian publishers, they face another problem. If they have expressed their faith in an honest, artistically complex way, the Christian market might not be receptive. Christian readers are often not interested in reading about honest and complicated treatments of faith. Christians today typically prefer to be reassured and uplifted, not challenged. (p. 217)
Blunt force truth. This goes back to the purpose of the book to encourage readers who are discerning and critical, who have a working understanding of the craft, and are knowledgable about good literature. Too many Christians are easily offended and don’t engage. Their faith is surface level and they refuse to wrestle with the Lord. So in some veins of the church bad Christian movies and books is applauded tactically--which is a shame.

Reading is fundamental to Christian living. You cannot experience God without reading his Word and I would argue that you cannot experience God thoroughly without some kind of understanding for how to read well. Therefore, knowing how to read critically, honestly, and knowledgeably is important. Because of the breadth and clarity of Reading Between the Lines, it would be an excellent resource for churches to use in a classroom setting teaching its members how to read and understand good literature from a Christian worldview. Or for any Christian who wants to read better with a fuller understanding of what’s going happening on the pages they read. 

A free copy of this book was provided by Crossway. If you plan on purchasing Reading Between the Lines, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.

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