This is the text of the speech Rev. Huizinga gave at the annual meeting of the RFPA on September 19, 2013. Previous article in this series: December 15, 2013, p. 129.
What Can We Do? The Ten “P’s”
Now what can we do to encourage and promote the reading of sound, spiritually-edifying literature, particularly among the next generation?
1. Support the Preaching
Deliberately we begin here. Were I not a preacher but a cobbler, I would still begin with preaching, as every Reformed man should.
Pray for the seminary, support the seminary, pray for the minister, see to it that the young people attend the preaching, see to it that young people have a regard for preaching in their own congregations and elsewhere.
What does preaching have to do with reading? Romans 1:16 authoritatively states that the preaching of the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation.” The power of God unto salvation! The salvation of which Paul speaks is to be understood in the broadest sense. It includes the work of the Holy Spirit, who takes that word of Christ and plunges it deep into the hearts of young people to transform them, renew their minds, and give them a hunger and thirst for the living God and therefore for growth in doctrine. God-glorifying, cross-magnifying, soul-edifying, life-giving, biblically-faithful, Spirit-energized preaching is not a power, but the power of God unto salvation. It kindles in hearts love for God that wants to know more of Him, and that through reading. The best thing you can do to support and encourage reading among the new generation is to support and encourage preaching, because it is God’s power unto salvation.
When that preaching sets forth the wonder of God’s covenant and His faithfulness to it in Christ, God is pleased to use that word to make an eighteen-year-old man go home and pull from his shelf The Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant to behold what God has done through controversy. When the preaching sets forth the wonder of grace in Jesus Christ crucified, as that comes to expression in so many ways in so many different kinds of texts, God uses that preaching to strike a chord in the heart of a sixteen-year-old girl, so that she goes home and she wants to read that book of meditations by her bedside, which she has left untouched for two months. When one in the preaching cries unto the cities of Judah, “Behold your God,” God uses that to work in the heart of a young person to say, “Show me more of my God! Show me Christ!” He goes home, picks up a book, and reads, and reads. Poor or no preaching is reading’s enemy. Support God’s power unto salvation: Preaching.
2. Plant Seeds
Planting seeds refers to the activity of all those parents, family members, unmarried persons, teachers, and officebearers who have an impact upon the life of young people. Let the whole environment in which we live include attitudes, behaviors, and words that are as so many seeds. The heart of the young person is the field. The plant that sprouts up is the reading of a book. The seeds that go into the heart and produce reading are our attitudes, behaviors, and words.
If we who have an influence in the lives of the young people do not read, do not read good books, do not even get the Standard Bearer or other RFPA publications as a bare minimum, or if we dismiss them; if we do not love the truth and have an appreciation for the heritage God has given to us as churches and convey that in attitude and behavior and words; if we do not go to Bible study, or if we do go to Bible study but talk about how bad it is; if we spend more time fidgeting with our gadgets and socializing online than we do openly communicating with our young people in any serious way; if we never talk to our children about spiritual things and are not open to their concerns; if we do not have time for family devotions that include reading, discussion, singing, and prayer, then we are walking around the young people with a big tank of toxic, plant-killing spray hosing down the fields of their hearts, and it would take something just short of a miracle to get them to read solid literature for their spiritual growth.
However, when we who have an influence upon young people plant seeds through attitudes, behaviors, and words that are God-glorifying and covenantally-directed, God will bring plants. We do! He does! When we love and openly speak of our love for God, the church, and our precious heritage as churches; when we read, and the children get used to seeing us reading, or at least having open books and magazines on the table; when we bring books into the home, and reflect on books; when we read to our children, even as they get older; when we are in the van on a long trip and start talking about what we read in a biography of some godly mid-west farm girl in the world-war years, or when the teacher takes a few minutes before class and talks about an article he was reading on a father of the Afscheiding and all of the sacrifices made for the truth at that time, we are planting seeds. Plant seeds! May God bring plants—young people reading.
3. Encourage Preparation for Future Service
I have never heard a man in the church say, “I regret my behavior of youth, for I wasted too much of my time reading solid Reformed works, when I could have been doing other things.” But so often you hear men in the church (particularly elders) say, what I myself say, “I regret not reading more in my youth, it would have helped me so much in being a more serviceable workman in God’s kingdom.” Let us lay this upon the hearts of young women who have a role in God’s church, but especially young men who will have leadership roles and hold office. “Young man, the day is coming when you might be a minister, an elder, a deacon, a school-board member, a member of this committee or that committee, and you need preparation for that. Read. Why don’t you read? You might not understand this now, son, but listen to me, you would do yourself such a favor if you would only read.”
We will never have the knowledge we wish we had, but let us not unnecessarily hurt ourselves and our future by failing to read, and hurt the young people by failing to encourage them to prepare for future service. When tomorrow comes, today is forever lost. What will you do today? Prepare.
4. Encourage Partnering
Many do not have the self-discipline to run for exercise three times a week. They need a partner to hold them accountable, to encourage them, to spur them on, and to whom they can speak. Finding a running partner, many run, run, run. How do we get people (young people) to read, read, read? Encourage partnering. The partner could be a parent or a sibling, a spouse for the married, a friend, a group of friends, a group of couples, a coworker with whom you share a 45-minute lunch break that includes little meaningful conversation. Find a good book, read it or a chapter on your own time, and discuss it together. The dynamics can be set and changed. The young people golf together, and shop together. Could they not read and then discuss together a timely book for the nourishment of their souls?
5. Encourage Peer-Paraphrasing:
The young person has made it through a book or an article. Do not stop there. Now encourage them to take what they have read and paraphrase it, put it in their own words. Paraphrase the chapter, the article, the book. Paraphrase to peers. This is different than partnering. In partnering you read the same book. With peer-paraphrasing, you paraphrase what you read to a peer—a spouse, a friend, a coworker. That might spark an interest in them and get them to read. But it also helps you think more deeply about what you read. This will force us and our young people to read carefully when we do read. And this will be a way to continue benefiting from the book after it has been read.
How about this? Your peers are your family members. All the children are required to read. Now take one night a week, Wednesday night right after supper, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, with the whole family together. Each person gets a couple minutes to paraphrase to their peers what they have read. There will be mutual rewards, enriching the experience of all.
6. Encourage Portioning
Look at that big book sitting there. It was written by a professor of theology, by John Calvin or Abraham Kuyper. It has 300 pages. I cannot read it. It is too daunting. Encourage portioning. You do not have to read the whole book at once, or even a whole chapter at once, but read from heading to heading. You do not have to read the whole Standard Bearer at once, but read one article at a time. The man sitting in seat one at the table does not eat the whole piece of meat in one bite, but he breaks it up into manageable, bite-size pieces and over the course of time devours the whole meal. There it is, sitting on the shelf. It was given to me at my confession of faith: For Thy Truth’s Sake. It is huge! Portions, portions. Encourage the young people to take a book and divide it into manageable, bite-size portions.
7. Encourage Perseverance
A young man or woman is reading a good book or magazine, but over the course of a few weeks wearies and discontinues. How much it would help if one person, just one person, said, “Hey, I see you are reading that book. Good job. That is a great book. Keep going.” Sometimes with half a mile to go in a 5k, all the weary runner needs is one person to shout out some encouraging words, “Keep pushing. You are looking great. You are so close!” Why not with reading also? How easy. How simple. How many times have we missed an opportunity to encourage a young person to persevere? Only a few words could make a significant difference.
8. Promote Literature and the Reading of it
Lately, the RFPA, and, for example, the staff of the Beacon Lights have been doing a terrific job promoting literature: new designs and little cards getting information out to the people, and other techniques. That is not enough. We need to promote it as well. We need to do everything we can. Parents, catechism teachers, elders on family visitation, school teachers, leaders of young people’s societies, the chaperones at the Young People’s Convention—400 young people right there for one week. Promote literature in your cabin. Talk about reading. Promote, promote, promote.
9. Encourage Pen and Pencil
Writing in the book or on something else helps one digest and remember what he read. In many places the tablet is replacing the book, and I do not know if you can highlight things in a tablet. But if you have a book, as long as it is your own, get a pen and pencil and write in it. Underline, put exclamation marks, see page 47, stars, asterisks, notes. Interact with your book, your magazine, young man, young woman. If it is yours—pen and pencil.
10. Emphasize the Parental Mandate
The parental mandate is not: “You ought to read.” Or: “I strongly encourage you to do some reading.” The parental mandate is: “You shall read. I am your father. I have been given authority by God. This is my house. You, son, you, daughter, shall read.”
Why would we not do this? The two-year-old is not so excited about sitting through another hour-and-a-half long worship service on Sunday. But “you shall come to church.” And over the course of time children begin to see the wisdom of their parents and they enjoy going to church. And to the young people, we have said, “You shall be home at (whatever time—11 p.m.),” and though they may object, they grow up and they say, “That was the wisdom of my parents—that curfew.” The young woman wants to go out and even go to church in that little skirt, and father says, “You may not go to church wearing that.” It is an argument now. But, over time, she realizes she was foolish. She sees the wisdom of her father.
“You shall read.”
Now, do not come to the young person with both hands full, a book in one hand, and a whip in the other, like that of one of Pharaoh’s servants: YOU SHALL READ! Not that kind of “shall.” You come with a book for your son in one hand, and a book for yourself in the other. You read, son, and I also shall read. Then discuss the books. The parental mandate must be given in the right attitude and spirit, surrounded by the right conduct and life, and then God will transform the “I must read” in them, into “I want to read,” and even into “I am privileged to read.”
“But dad, you don’t know how busy I am. I can’t even read all of the books I have to read for college. I don’t have time to read.” Well, we know that is not true because we were all there one day. Nor is it true when the patient responds to the dentist’s, “It doesn’t appear that you have been flossing every day,” with, “I don’t have time to floss every day.” The dentist does not even take the time to say, “You don’t have time to run a piece of string through your teeth for sixty seconds a day? You can do that while staring at your television.” You have time to read. It is a matter of the will. “I am your father, and I love you, and now let’s start prioritizing. For starters, you’ve got to turn that thing off, put it away, unplug it, put it way over there. Now, we’re going to read.” Sunday afternoon, what are you going to do this afternoon? Here is this literature. You shall read.
We parents, in love, need to exercise and enforce the parental mandate, “You shall read.”
By the grace of God in Jesus Christ wherein is the “will” and the “to do” of His good pleasure, and for the glory of Jehovah and His covenant, let us press on now lest a generation arise among us not knowing the Lord nor the works that He has done for Israel. Let us lay this upon the hearts of the young people. Read!
Where do you sit at the table? Where do the young people sit at the table? Where will the next generation sit at the table? This is not a parable. Jesus will not chide you for pressing toward the highest seat at the wedding table as He did the Pharisees. Take your seat in position number one. Devour good books. And let it be the joy and rejoicing of your heart. May God bring the children to sit with you.