25 thoughts on “Hello. I’m a 45-year-old Christian man, a lifelong steel plant worker, I did not go to college and I’ve never read a book from cover-to-cover. Where should I begin?

  1. A great place to begin would be online, in the world of blogs. You could recommend a few great blogs to your friend, ones that engage readers in conversation. It would be like having someone to hold your hand as you begin to read in earnest for the first time. Once he’s reading a few great blogs on a regular basis – and interacting with the writer and readers – then he may feel comfortable enough to pick up a physical book. Having someone to hold your hand when you begin something new and difficult can help establish a new pattern in a caring way.

    Over time, your friend may strengthen his reading to a point where he feels that going back to school becomes not only possible but fun. Then again, one doesn’t need a college degree to have a meaningful and intellectual life. One just needs to have the attitude of a student, I guess a servant to knowledge.

    Many prayers to your friend. I, too, am 45, and I know how hard it is to cultivate new habits.

  2. “From the beginning, of course! Let’s meet up as regularly as you like (preferably at least once a week) and we can both read the Bible together.”
    Not to mention that I would be bowled over by the courage he has been given to push this subject forward and ask in the first place.

  3. Three thoughts:

    1. He needs to get to know and read his Bible. I’d encourage him to start in a book like the gospel of John. A pace of a chapter or two a day is reasonable. Also, I’d provide an easy entry level book like Max Ander’s ’30 days to Understanding the Bible’. That simple, repetitive book has helped many I have worked with to understand the layout and storyline of the scriptures in an elementary way.

    2. Personal interaction/discipleship – He needs others either 1 on 1 or slightly larger that will walk alongside him. They need to be people that will invite all questions and answer them without overwhelming him. Every week would be preferable.

    3. Church – He needs to be regularly in a church community where the bible is opened, read, and taught. This community will hopefully feed both understanding and questions.

  4. I would be inclined to encourage him to read through the Bible as well. I am doing it for the first time and find that it encourages discipline as well as a deeper thirst to continue to read the bible as well as other works

  5. As others have said various books of the Bible like John would be great for starting out. I would also suggest The Chronicles of Narnia, easy to read and enjoyable at most reading levels.

  6. Reading through the Bible, supplemented by a good reading group and Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books” list (some of the shorter titles are good). Starting in John is great, or in Genesis. Crossway has a ton of different reading lists for getting through the ESV in a year… start with one that has several different genre readings, and don’t worry about getting through it in a year. Just keep reading.

    For older Christian reading, “Pilgrim’s Progress” is a must by pride of place. A reading group might be recommended for it. Other older books that are accessible to a new reader escape me.

    For supplementary reading of a contemporary Christian nature, the personal story of Jim Elliot found in his Journals is super-accessible; Jared Wilson’s “Your Jesus is Too Safe”; Piper’s “Battling Unbelief”; a good biography would be recommended, but nothing comes readily to my mind that’s very accessible. Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love” might be recommended.

  7. I would encourage him to begin in the Gospels. But more importantly, I’d invite him to read and study with me… carving out time on a weekly basis (at least) to meet, to pray, to study, to talk … and simply to get to know this man. It is in the midst of studying together and journeying with him early-on that I feel he may become more comfortable with reading on his own and having some grasp on certain truths.

    The solution can’t be impersonal… but definitely needs to have an element of personal commitment… and connection. For the man to have even approached and to confess his inability to read a book cover to cover … definitely shows much courage, and makes me feel as though he’s seeking help and encouragement in his reading.

  8. I would encourage starting with Scripture of course. The Gospel of mark in particular. I would also recommend J.I. Packer’s CONCISE THEOLOGY. It is loaded with Scripture and each chapter is only 2 to 3 pages long so it can be read and re-read in small segments and he could then look up the Scriptures in each chapter as support for his reading.

  9. As a Christian librarian, I would ask: what is it that you have an interest in reading and why?

  10. Hi Tony,
    I might begin by asking him a few more questions.

    1.) “What topics interest you?”
    It would be a good idea to realize what he wants to learn more about. His topical interests may also suggest what type of styles and other topics to avoid. If someone enjoys reading straightforward and brief books on business management then I probably won’t recommend anything by Kierkegaard (both for reasons of content and style). The easiest way to finish a book is to read a book on a topic that interests you, not necessarily a book that you should read (though this has an obvious importance as well). Also, a person’s personality may suggest what type of books to read as well. A light-hearted jester may find someone like Augustine to be a pious bore. In some cases, summaries of great books may have to suffice for suffering through said book (ex. Heidegger).

    2.) “Why has he never read a book cover-to-cover?”
    Is this due to boredom with books in general? Does he struggle with his attention span? Perhaps the books he has chosen are too large or ambitious? Maybe he is reading the wrong book at the wrong time? (After a 12 hour shift at the plant, Barth’s Church Dogmatics might not be the best choice.) Try and pinpoint what has led to him not finishing a book.

    3.) “How do you read? Why do you read?”
    Does he read to gain information or for entertainment? Does he read slouched back in a recliner or at a table with a cup of coffee? Gather some insight into what drives him, or doesn’t, to read. Perhaps he ought to read in bursts of 20 minutes at a time versus striving for a grinding 2 hour session.

    After answering these questions you might be able to tailor some reading suggestions based upon his desires, styles and perhaps according to certain “oughts”. I think the above are important questions and ought to precede a list of books. Without realizing how/why he does/doesn’t read a list of books is likely to be seen as one more pile of books that won’t get read.

    For someone who hasn’t finished a book you might want to start small. Maybe he needs to get comfortable with reading in general. Poems, short stories, or essays can be good ways to stir an interest in reading. Assuming he already has an interest in reading, suggest small works on important topics (instead of a handing a massive tome of archaic but important theology, hand him Stott’s Basic Christianity.)

    Seeing that he is a Christian, you can then assess what level of understanding he has of the essentials and make recommendations from there.

    As for specific suggestions of books? Read whatever will allow you to become a “Culturally Literate Christian”. I do not mean to imply that one ought to favor culture above Christ or any such thing. Given that you are in the world (though perhaps not ‘of it’), try and understand it. Read across the disciplines of literature, philosophy, science, history, economics, social studies, and theology. Read books that oppose one another in viewpoint.
    A decent reading list that could take a lifetime can be found here:

    No need to rush. Just pick a couple from each category that appeals and take your time with them.

    A few blind recommendations.

    1. Timothy Dowley – An Introduction to the History of Christianity – Too few Christians have a grasp of the histories, trials, and fads that passed before them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking we are pilgrims just because of the century we live in.
    2. John Stott – Basic Christianity – A good introduction to the fundamentals of Christianity. Do not find the title of the book insulting. Most Christians have not grasped the basics. Basically a neo-classic.
    3. Stephen Nichols – How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World – A brief and entertaining glimpse of the history of the Reformation along with some good excerpts from the key players. History and theology combined.

    1. Christopher Hitchens – Letters to a Young Contrarian – One of the finer essayists of our day explains the importance and often the necessity of being a contrarian. Church history is loaded with such dissenters (the monk with a mallet referenced above). Teaches the importance of how to think as opposed to what to think.
    2. Eric Hoffer – The True Believer – A brief book yet well-written book. The book is parted into small sections and has frequent interludes of aphorisms. A good diagnosis of the nature of mass movements by one who never had any formal schooling and spent his life as a day laborer.

  11. Start with the first book in Frank Peretti’s (sp?) “darkness” series; then read the New Testament to check things out. Peretti has lots of action without gratuitous filth and brings a number of biblical questions to mind.

  12. “The Christian in Complete Armour”

    OK, seriously, I don’t know enough about him. Has he been a Christian for a long time? Just because he’s never read a book from cover to cover doesn’t mean he’s ignorant of Scripture and basic theology.

  13. Obviously the Bible. Then really basic cross books, like Cross-examined and Living the Cross-centred life. I’m also a big fan of Death by Love by Driscoll. I’d also recommend he listen to sermons online. The main thing I’d say is he needs to learn in community. Read a book with another man. You’ll soon pick it up.

  14. *Steel Metallurgy for the Non-Metallurgist* by John D. Verhoeven (ASM International: 2007)

  15. I think I would ask some followup questions like the ones above.
    Find his interests.

    Then I would recommend short books for starting so you can build confidence in finishing books.

    There are good ones like R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross, or Maheney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, Ferguson’s The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction.

    There are also some short Christian biographies that are good introductions like the ‘Heroes of the Faith’ series.

    Pilgrim’s Progress might be good if you find one in more contemporary english.

  16. I would advise him to try reading one book of the Bible alternately, one old testament one new. Secondly, i would encourage him to choose one literature genre that interests him a lot – say classical drama and i would recomend William
    Shekespare’s Julius Caesar et cetera. My interest and eventual love of literature was enkindled by Shekesparean dramas and tells- one of which was lambs tells, its smooth sailing and captivating.They’re simple to read yet thoughtful.
    I would lastly say to the brother : don’t despair. Once you find a reading genre you like, a new hobby or leasure occupation must surely open up to you. And you’ll love it.

  17. Hence home,you idle creatures. Why do you hang around on a labouring day without the sign of your profession, is it a holiday? (this is a mumbled quotation from Shekespare’s Julius Caesar, i read it last in 1985, but the buzz and thrills i got from it is still fresh in my mind. And i’m sure you’ll forgive my mumbling abd hacking the quotation).
    I say read the Bible to feed your soul. Read literatures to feed your brain. You’ll love both. i dare bet.

  18. I would recommend listening to the Bible or other audio books. There must be a reason why he didn’t read through an entire book, ever. And listening to one can be just as effective sometimes.

    Then, I would ask him to try little by little to read the Gospels or an easier book which explains the Bible well.

  19. Start with audio books. Like the Gospels in audio. This might encourage him to go the next step and actually start reading them. If not at least he has learned how wonderful audio books can be and this in itself might open up further interest by seeking other Christian audio books.

    Reading is only a means not an end.

  20. Another great title for beginners is:

    *How to Convince Your Friend to Build you a Fence: Navigating the Concealed Contours of Christian Charity*

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