Fashion Report: This morning, I’m wearing a muted green plaid shirt over khakis. Add Rockport shoes and I could pass for a mall walker. At the same time, I’ve had my music playing the “Celtic Punk” playlist. I enjoy the energy of the Dreadnoughts and Flatfoot 56, but I would never fail to stick out at their concerts. People would look at me and ask, “What is that old guy doing here?”
It’s a fair question, I suppose, and one that comes up as I continue thinking through Richard Baxter’s four questions for evaluating reading material. Having considered questions one and two, it’s time to proceed to the third:
Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?
If I’m reading the question properly, then Baxter would accompany me to a Dreadnoughts show, complete in his 17th-century garb, and ask, “What sort of creatures are these who repeatedly shout ‘Oi!’?” As I try to explain the subtleties of this odd genre of music, I imagine him interrupting me. “And, pray tell, do such roustabouts love our Lord and the holy life?”
Here I would pause. How do I answer that question? I enjoy this music and I can answer “yes” to these last inquiries. But then I don’t exactly fit in with the whole Celtic punk scene. Some of the others bouncing around to “Sleep is for the Weak” probably have a high view of the Bible. Most probably don’t. It’s hard to tell.
It’s at this point in my imaginary conversation with Richard Baxter that I’d have to ask myself why I’m hanging out in whatever club is hosting the band. Why do I want to spend time with these people? But I like the music. “Oi!” indeed.
Tim Challies, who wrote about Baxter’s questions some 12 years ago, commented (in a more controlled tone than mine) on the challenge of this question:
This is a difficult question. I sometimes read books that are popular, but favored by those who do not hold high the Word of God. While I do believe there is value in reading books for the purposes of research (for example, to understand what 22 million people are reading in The Purpose Driven Life), I need to prioritize good books that are loved by godly men and women.
Challies is a pastor. I’m a professor of English. That makes it my job to read all manner of things not beloved by the “greatest lovers of the Book of God.” Don’t I need to be current in all the things the kids are reading and hearing and watching? Don’t I need to be up to date on Game of Thrones and Marvel and the latest dystopian YA fiction series?
Richard Baxter, who has been quieting sitting in my office all this time, shakes his head. He never said that reading Twelfth Night puts us on a fast track to hell or that the church should shun those who read Gargantua and Pantagruel. He offered these questions not as a series of “thou shalts” but as a diagnostic tool.
If the answer to question number three is “not exactly,” then number four will help us to know how to properly evaluate the book.