Self-Discipleship in Christ through Reading*

R. C. Sproul recounts in his book, The Consequences of Ideas, the story of attending a parent conference in a public school when his eldest child entered first grade back in the 1960s.** Sproul listened to the principal explain the school’s philosophy and program, describing specific activities that promote particular aspects of child development. Every activity had purpose.

Finally, Sproul asked the principal, “What kind of child are you trying to produce and why?” The principal answered, “I don’t know. Nobody has ever asked me that question.”

Sproul replied, “I deeply appreciate your candor. . . but frankly, your answer terrifies me.”

The school’s methods stemmed from a purely pragmatic philosophy — what works; what succeeds. But succeeds at what?  Pragmatism can foster a child who can do: read, write, compute, relate and respond. But what of the soul of the child? The composition of the heart? The character? The life? For what purposes is the doing?

This applies to our doing, and in this post, to our reading. “What kind of person am I aiming to become through my reading and why?” Hmm. We take our reading so much for granted.

As Christ-followers, we are “People of the Book”. So, we should think carefully about this life-changing activity of reading (and listening).

I have crafted some reading guidelines, as I told you I would do, which I will call guideposts.  In this post I’ll give you the first guidepost. First, I’d like to begin by considering purpose. Everything we do is purpose-driven (self-aware or not), but are our purposes worthy: wise, good, and God-pleasing? Dr. Sproul’s question to his child’s principal encourages us to ask a similar question regarding our purpose(s) for reading.  “Through our reading, what kinds of persons are we becoming?”

We can answer this several ways. You may have a direct answer, a statement of aim or purpose. Or, you can start from your activities and let them lead you back to discover who you are becoming by them. The answers discovered through the backwards route can be compared to the direct statement of intended purpose. Let’s start with the activity, the activity of reading to discover the aim.

Some people do not like to read and avoid it; others like it but find vey little time for it; then there are  those who value it so much that they carve out time for it.

  1. Functional Reading

    At The Chapel on the Hill in Sedona, Arizona. (We understand the functional message, even though this is a run-on sentence!)

The most basic purposes for reading are strictly functional. We read to follow directions: maps, roadsigns, recipes, prescription instructions, assembly instructions, gardening guidelines, test questions, bank statements, voting ballots, and the list goes on. Are you not thankful to be able to read functionally? Thus, you can participate in your community and society.

We may ask ourselves, “What kind of person am I becoming through functional reading?” The term, functional reading, answers the question. I am becoming a person who can function in my society. The better my functional reading, the more successful I am at being a functional person in my society.

2. Relational Reading

Reading is a form of communication that connects people to people. Language is a gift from the Logos — God, the Word. Both oral and written language are gifts from God. He instructed numerous prophets and people to write things down to pass on to future generations. Thus, we have the amazing Bible.

Functional reading is basic communication, but relational reading connects people with people whether physically distant or near. It is interaction via letters, emails, texts, twitters. We note that the New Testament contains many epistles which were letters written when personal contact was impossible. Thus, records were made that inform us over two thousand years later!

We can ask ourselves, “What kind of person am I becoming through my relational reading? And what influence am I having on others through my relational writing?”

3. Recreational or Pleasure Reading

Grandson, Aiden, reading in his bed!

We also read for enjoyment.  Here, learning is secondary as relaxation and often the need for variety take priority.  When we read with young children, most of the books we choose are first fun and beautiful and second, informative. The fun and beauty transport the message. Children’s attentions are engaged by beautiful pictures, fun or silly thoughts, repetition of key ideas, and a story line that moves to a satisfying conclusion. Thus, we have The Velveteen Rabbit and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Enjoyment is first.  The lesson follows — yes, it is there, and especially for those a bit older, the humor, the tenderness, the contrasts, the beauty accentuate the message.

Most works of fiction fill the recreational/pleasure role as well as an educational role. We can ask ourselves, “What kind of person am I becoming by my recreational reading? In what ways does this piece of writing influence me? For what ends?”

4. Educational and Transformational Reading

Usually, we read to learn something. We explore a issue for a project for work. We take classes, continued education classes, skills classes, classes to develop hobbies — all of which require some reading.  We read newspapers and magazines (largely online) to discover and keep up with what is going on in our country and the world. Works of nonfiction inform us on themes of interest to us.

We can ask ourselves, “What kind of person am I becoming through my educational reading? How is it changing me (transforming or deforming me)?”

I’m writing mostly what you already know, but I’m pulling it together for a reason. Reading serves at least four main purposes: functional, relational, recreational, and educational/tranformational.  We can compare our answers to our questions regarding the kinds of persons we are becoming to God’s designed plan for us. Does our reading lead us towards God’s transformative goals for us?

All reading should serve to feed my Christian growth. All reading. Even secular reading, recreational reading, and functional reading.  All reading fits under the umbrella of Christ’s Lordship of my life. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

Do you remember the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)? It contains the call to make disciples who observe Christ’s commands. Maybe if we decided to begin by discipling ourselves to follow Christ, we might discover greater progress personally and evangelistically. Remember the flight attendant who always tells the passengers that in an emergency, they should always put on their own oxygen mask before helping little ones around them? Sounds selfish, but it’s not. You have to be alive to help someone.

As followers of Christ, we have to begin by feeding and exercising ourselves in order to have both the ability and credibility to help someone else.

My point: Our best purpose for reading is that our reading promotes the forming of Christ’s identity and pattern within us for “the glory of God” — the true reflection of our Creator-Savior through our lives, so that we become mature (Hebrews 5:14) and are equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). This helps us to answer our version of Sproul’s question. “What kind of person am I becoming through my reading and why?”

Through the witness of the Holy Spirit within us, we become our own first disciple of Christ.  Reading can help us move toward God’s aim and ultimate outcome.

I will conclude with the first category of my reading guideposts.

Guidepost 1: Biblical Literacy

Biblical Literacy, understanding the Bible, contains two levels: the narrative and the declarative. The narrative is the plot level understanding of the Bible and the declarative is the concept level understanding of the Bible.

A.The Narrative: A Plot Level Grasp of the Word

Disciples of Christ become proficient in the biblical stories: the who, what, when, and where. This begins by becoming at home with the divine library of sixty-six books, knowing the Old Testament from the New Testament, and learning the order, genre, and contents of the books. Disciples study the basic structures, plots, conflicts, and themes found in each book as well as the historical backgrounds (contexts). The biblical stories provide models: narratives from which we gain understanding in who God is, who we are, and how life works; examples of what is worth imitating and bad examples that offer warnings (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews chapter 11).

B. The Declarative: A Conceptual Grasp of the Word

Disciples of Christ grow in understanding of biblical concepts: vocabulary and theology. What do Bible words mean? What are the biblical doctrines that are formed from these biblical concepts? This level of biblical understanding enables disciples to obey Christ, to discern truth from error and wisdom from foolishness, to evaluate worldviews, to become equipped to share the gospel, to defend the faith, and to encourage others while accepting the encouragement of the Word.  Biblical concepts also help us interpret biblical narratives and thus to better interpret our own circumstances and life stories.

Disciples hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on Scripture in order to discover personal applications. Note that you have five activities listed here, one per finger, so that you can grip the Word (properly handling it) and thus it becomes profitable — personally useful and life changing.

In general, our purposes in reading are functional, relational, recreational, and educational – transformational. Biblical literacy feeds us, confronts us, anchors us, and changes us. Biblical Literacy prepares us to read other literature.

No one else can read (or listen) for us. Biblical literacy becomes the spectacles, the lenses we wear, that show us how to see,  interpret, and interact with ourselves, others, and our world. In the next post, I’ll introduce the next reading guidepost — for the disciple of Christ, a Christ-follower. It is our responsibility to disciple ourselves in following Christ. Reading is a self-discipleship discipline that both nourishes and exercises us.

What kind of person am I becoming through my reading?

Try on II Corinthians 3:18 for size. (We don’t fit the new clothes yet, but we’re growing into them.)

 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Doesn’t this take your breath away? So, what is our primary purpose and aim for reading?

We make it our aim to please Him. (II Corinthians 5:9b, ESV).


*At first, my title was “Discipling Myself through Reading”. I smiled at this as I thought of the possible confusion. A disciple is a follower of a teacher. Turning this noun into a verb, discipling, does my title mean “Following Myself through Reading”? Ha!  Of course, that’s not what I mean! We speak of discipling new believers, and we don’t mean following them, but teaching them to follow Christ. So, I must be confusing myself. What do you think? Does it make sense to say I’m discipling myself? Think of II Timothy 2:15. Anyway, I changed the title, but I like the first one better, if it properly communicates!

**R.C. Sproul,  The Consequences of Ideas (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000), 201.



Categories: Being Like Jesus, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Post navigation

2 thoughts on “Self-Discipleship in Christ through Reading*

  1. Marty and Brenda Zuidervaart

    Karen, your original title works equally well for me because “disciple or discipling” denotes “discipline” and “learning” just as much as “following a teacher.” Parents in the home and teachers of the classroom discipline children/students with the goal of self-discipline in mind–that the child will sooner or later, depending on each child’s development, no longer need external boundaries (rules/guidelines) imposed by other authorities in their lives. Similarly, the goal of each local church is to move the congregants towards self-feeding (including reading) and the feeding of others–in the words of your first title, “Discipling Myself Through Reading.” I prefer this progressive form of the verb “to disciple” in your title because it has more fluidity and cadence than a title with “self-discipleship,” a more rigid, fibrous proposition. In addition, the “ing” suffix connotes an on-going, life-long process.

    I am appreciative, Karen. of your gifted way of packing thoughts about the purpose of reading into a single blog. It’s like using a “cheat sheet” summary of main ideas when preparing for an exam covering an over-whelming quantity of material. You are serving your readers very well; you are contributing to each of our “self-discipleships.” (: >)

    • kltolsen

      Thank you, Marty! Your response affirms my earlier thoughts. So, I don’t need to worry about being misunderstood by employing the expression, “discipling myself”. I think I over thought this. I was once in a class where a teacher did not like to separate the concept of learning and being a pupil from the concept of following a leader (Jesus Christ in Christianity) in the concept of discipling/making disciples.

      I agree that “discipling myself” is fluid and “connotes an on-going, life-long process” while “self-discipleship” makes the point but in a rigid way that does not resonate as well. The latter does not “stick”, but the former does for me. I always appreciate your insight!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: