Is the point of reading to retain?

A particular article I read recently in Christianity Today isn’t available on the web yet, but it caught my attention. Two pastors were having coffee and one was talking about his reading passion. The other pastor listened, but then said with a lot of frustration he just couldn’t read. He did very little because he didn’t retain it. He felt reading was a waste of his time.

The pastor passionate about reading gave a reply I was shocked about: “But that’s the point I’m trying to make. Remembering what we’ve read is not the most important thing about reading; instead, just doing the reading is what matters. Take the time is the whole point!”

Just doing the ACT of reading is what matters.


I’m beginning to feel better about trying to tackle Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics now.

What is being proposed is that we need to quit treat reading as something transactional. I read… I retain… mission accomplished. We need to see reading as something more.

The primary purpose of reading (as proposed in this article) is NOT to be able to consciously recall what we have read; it’s to keep refining the lens through which we see reality. Even though we don’t remember 90 percent of what we read, it still gets inside of us — in ways we’re unaware of and at depths we don’t know we have. It still enriches our filter — even if we don’t realize it’s happening.

I think about this and am actually encouraged. I read/listened to 48 books in 2022. I can’t tell you much about quite a few of them. I look back and realize I definitely “have a type” when it coms to fiction, but there are books I read, jot a few thoughts from, put away, and I could easily pick them up a few years from now and think, “Did I read this one?”

Yet, I read on. Some I will read more slowly. I can’t speed read Barth!

But, over the years, I have absorbed ideas and theology and patterns and thoughts more than I realize. I like to tease a couple of guys at our church who preach regularly about their constant use of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien in their messages. The thing is, when I get a rare chance to preach these days, I will bring up Dallas Willard. His writing has soaked deep into my spirit.

So, I will read on. I will fade out on books. (I am also learning to quit on books because I don’t owe it to anyone to finish a book I’m just not liking.) And I will find nuggets to remember, ideas to jot down, and stories to put away in my memory.

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