Reading, Discussing, Writing

Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. — Francis Bacon

Bacon adds that if a man writes little, he needs to be really smart, and if he reads little, he will need to “have much cunning to seem to know (that) which he does not.”

Does “knowledge puffs up” mean that we should not increase in knowledge?

Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). As a result, some Christians think that we should focus on love rather than on knowledge. But in context, this verse does not mean, suggest, or imply that a Christian should not increase in knowledge. This verse should definitely not become an excuse for not increasing in knowledge. Knowledge is needed if we are to be good stewards of God’s world. On the contrary, increasing in knowledge should deeply humble us to realize at least these three things:

1. how little we know,
2. how limited we are, and
3. how much we need to dependon God.

Does increasing in knowledge help us to be better Bible teachers?

I thought I knew certain parts of the Bible quite well. Especially Genesis, because I have taught Genesis to hundreds of times since 1981. But as I began to read books by godly Christian scholars and pastors over the last few years, I have become “trembling and scared” to teach Genesis, realizing how limited and perhaps rudimentary or inadequate my limited knowledge is. If you care to be confused and confounded, see part 1 and part 2 of Henoch’s series “The Difficulty of Genesis 1.”

Recently I wrote about the account of Abraham offering Isaac to God (Gen 22:1-19). When I had taught this, I had always emphasized the need for a Christian to offer his Isaac (his heart’s desire) to God, just as Abraham did. But is this passage really about us and what we are supposed to do? Or does it point to Jesus, as Jesus himself said it should? (John 5:39; Luke 24:27,44) Who is the primary subject of this passage, us or God? Does our way of understanding and teaching this passage make it seem that salvation is our work (I should offer my Isaac) rather than to God’s saving grace to me? Aren’t there other ways to teach Genesis 22 that perhaps point to Jesus rather than to Abraham? See if you might consider teaching it this way.

Reading, Discussing, Writing

Now let’s get back to the quote by Francis Bacon:

1. Reading makes a full man.
2. Conference makes a ready man.
3. Writing makes an exact man.


Sadly, many today, including Christians, spend countless and excessive hours reading comics, gossip magazines, sports, entertainment and celebrity news, romance novels, fiction, etc. Also, common daily activities are watching TV and movies, playing video games, cruising the internet, using social media, etc. What then happens to our minds? Paul said, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8:6). Here “the flesh” is our fallen sinful human nature, or our natural selves. When our mind is set on ourselves, we easily become angry, upset, worried, fearful, anxious, bitter, resentful, jealous, envious, etc.

When we read and watch things that do not edify our minds, we likely will think and feel and talk no differently than non-Christians. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We are what we think about all day long.”

The psalmist knew the crucial importance of what occupies our thoughts. He spoke of the righteous person “whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Ps 1:2). We need to read the Bible daily, and think about it through out the day. We also need to read books. The apostle Paul wrote a quarter of the New Testament. But when he was imprisoned and about to be executed, he asked Timothy to bring “my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13), which were his books.

My final quote is from a former seminary professor at Trinity: “You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.”

The more we read useful material, the more we are able to think upon God, which enables us to be full, not empty.


To refine what we read and think about, we need to conference. This is to discuss freely with others in order to be challenged, so that our own thoughts and ideas may be clarified and solidified. The more we discuss and sharpen one another, the more God enables us to be ready to seize opportunities when they arise. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The sheer brilliance of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien came not just from their extensive reading, but also from their frequent weekly discussions to push each other to a degree of excellence that was out of this world.

If we want to preach the gospel well, we must always be ready. We should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

But if we do not make reading and frequent challenging discussions a part of our lives, our “readiness” would likely be inadequate or suboptimal, reductionistic or just too pushy.


No one can write anything meaningful or beautiful if their thoughts are not clear and precise. Writing makes a man exact.

As a practical application, I suggest that you read, read, read (not comics) and love the Lord your God “with all your mind” (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

Is reading a regular part of your Christian life? Are your thoughts and ideas being challenged regularly? Are you precise and exact in what you write?


  1. For me, these three activities — reading, conferencing and writing — have invigorated my spititual life and enabled me to have more meaningful  friendships with  many of people. Doing this online not a substitute for being physically present and having face-to-face contact with people, but it is a wonderful supplement to it.

    I believe that there may be seasons of life where we must heed the words of Solomon: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). But those seasons are temporary.  Wanting to have  vigorous spiritual discussions with other people outside of the bounds of formal church meetings is normal,  a sign of health and vitality. One pastor’s son confided in me that his dad never wants to discuss spiritual matters with him except in the context of formal Bible study. That saddened me. But it is an accurate description of  how I was  when I was depressed.  Having fellowship with godly people through reading their books  helped to bring me out of it.

    Reading  is especially important for a pastor. When Mark Driscoll found himself in the role of a pastor with little formal training, he began to read voraciously and for a long time averaged about one book a day. The key to doing this well is to be openminded, generous and skeptical. Not accepting everything you read at face value, but reading a variety of perspectives, including some that you do not agree with. There is something to  be learned from everyone.

  2. david bychkov

    Thanks for a nice post, Dr. Ben. Yes, when I, last year came to reading books it really changed my Christian life. My desire to read the Bible itself was also greatly renewed when I became read. Interested to live for God, to find God’s truth are returning to as well. And first time I have felt that this Bible advices and commands which you mentioned (meditate on God’s law day and night, love God with all heart and mind, serve just God alone) could be fulfilled in real life and it is not just some impossible fantastic and inadequate requirements which could never come true.
    I have one question though. Why did many of us escape reading for a long time? I loved reading in my childhood and youth. And once I just came to UBF I also read something. Our pastor also encouraged us to read time to time. And I read some books sometimes. But really few and without the strong desire. I thought it was just my problem, but know I think it is pretty common to UBF. Why it is so? How it could be fixed?

    • Yongha Lee

      David, always thoughtful comments. Thank you. This time, I would wonder, what made you think  that  it (not reading)  is pretty common to UBF?  I can’t speak for others, but at least  folks around me are very good and avid readers. I would appreciate it if you could be more specific as to our problems or narrow it down to your personal experience? Thank you, Yongha

    • david bychkov

      May be I’m wrong, Yongha! And thanks for correcting me. This was my limited experience. Some guys around me also are pretty active readers, but I think I rarely met someone who was really fun of serios Christian books reading. Sure many of us read few   classic books – for ex. Bunyan, Lewis, but not much. And some comments which I read at this site made me think that it could be more common. For ex. in the article we are discussind, Dr. Ben wrote:
      “But as I began to read books by godly Christian scholars and pastors over the last few years, “
      So I wondered: why just now? why not 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?
      Dr. Ben, please forgive me for using you as example.

    • Hi David, I am highly honored and not offended at all to be used by you as an example.
      Let me try to answer your question as to why I only began reading broadly more recently, and not 30 years ago when I first became a Christian in Chicago UBF. I have to confess that the fundamental reason was my laziness, lack of discipline, and my life long interest in watching movies and sports. (Now that the Chicago Bulls are playing well again, I am following them more closely again, since the days of Michael Jordan in the 1990s.)
      But also, Dr. Lee often publicly discouraged us from reading Bible commentaries, and he strongly encouraged us to study the Bible from his manuscripts. He also discouraged us from going to the seminary, as I shared earlier:
      As a result, there was an unspoken elevation of work: fishing, feeding sheep, raising disciples, serving, leading fellowship, etc. There was also an unspoken anti-intellectualism, in that if you read Bible commentaries, or read other books besides the Bible, you are doing something less useful than the practical work.
      This is why I didn’t read. But of the 2 reasons I gave, the main reason is my laziness.

  3. Hi Yongha, Sorry that I don’t know what chapter or country you are in. I have been in the Chicago world mission headquarters for 27 years from 1980 to 2007, and then we branched off to start a small new chapter in Jan 2008, also in   Chicago.
    Regarding reading, I have had UBF members flat out say, “I don’t like to read.” For years I have diligently and predominantly read and studied all of Dr. Samuel Lee’s manuscripts every week for 22 years, as did most members of Chicago UBF. After Dr. Lee died in 2002, I began to read other books and sermons by others.
    Interestingly, when some heard that I began to read non-ubf materials, I’ve heard comments (unfortunately not to me but to others), such as “Dr. Ben is only studying Rick Warren, and he is not studying the Bible.” (For the record, today I think that there are a lot of better Christian authors than Rick Warren.) Another said, “Why is Dr. Ben reading other books; he has the Bible and Dr. Lee’s manuscripts.” For sure not everyone in UBF thinks or feels this way.
    Conversely, I’ve also had people say that I am mainly reading and studying and not doing any significant Christian work. I understand that my experience does not reflect everyone in UBF, and likely affects least the people who read this blog. Probably, if people are honest, open and transparent (sorry for repeating my HOT phrase), some think that those who read this blog and comment on it are wasting their time, and should be “feeding sheep” instead. Of course, I can’t prove it. It’s just my gut feeling.

  4. Yongha Lee

    Hi David, please no sorry here. We’re just exchanging thoughts and ideas. Please know that I value your comments.
    And Ben, thank you for the article and comments. Always enjoying yours. I am a member of Boston UBF. I came to the States in 1995, known to my folks as “Missionary Peter” but please call me “Yongha”. (It is part of my on-going identity struggles.) I understand that there might have been some discouraging pieces of advice on reading commentaries and related Christian books, classical or contemporary, maybe for good reasons. I kind of get what you’re trying to say though I wouldn’t relate lack of reading to the general church atmosphere. Perhaps there would be some contributing factors to a degree, I don’t know… I just think that reading is more about personal efforts. A senior person from Chicago whom I know has a virtual library in his home, a vast collection of books. My bible teacher always advised on reading books including non-Christian books, and I personally like to grab a book to feed my intellectual hunger. Nonetheless, your article is right on target. Keep it going! Thanks a million. BTW, I like your H.O.T. very much. I try to be hot! Happy reading (as well as dissussing and writing) to everyone!!

  5. Thanks, Youngha, for your encouragement. You are absolutely right in that it is not right to generalize a lack of reading, if that exists, to the church at large. Again, when I hardly read anything other than the Bible and Dr. Samuel Lee’s manuscripts for 3 decades, the main predominant over-riding reason is my laziness, and watching too much sports and movies! This happened most when the Chicago Bulls won 6 NBA championships in the 1990s!
    I’m wondering if you know Mark Yoon in Boston, or if you are in contact with him?

  6. Ben, too bad you opted to choose H.O.T. instead of T.O.H. I would rather be a T.O.H than H.O.T.

    • Ha ha. Now that you mentioned it, John, I think that I probably really liked HOT so much, which is why I am repeating HOT at every opportunity, because I was subliminally and subconsciously being totally enamored and fascinated with TOH, without any conscious awareness (I think or I insist), since that is how sinners are in their self-centeredness and self-engrossment!
      Thanks for the revelation, John. Next time I am itching to use HOT again, I have to seriously, seriously examine my own heart!

  7. Hannah Love

    This is an awesome article.  
    I’ve heard some people also state that they won’t read any other books other than the Bible. I believe that this really limits one in connecting with others and even with God himself.  
    I learn so much from reading Christian and non-Christian books. This also really develops a discerning heart and spirit within me. I learn to ‘eat the meat and throw out the bones’ as i should with any sermon i listen to or any book/article I read.
    We have so much to learn from things outside of the Bible. Though the Bible is God’s word, I don’t htink the God we worship is limited to this book.

    I actually really wanted to read Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great” book just to see what his arguments are and know what others are thinking as well.

    • Thanks, Hannah. I regularly dialogue with an atheist friend who has read and endorses the unholy trinity of Dawkins, Hitchins, and Harris.  If you do read Hitchen’s “God is not great” do submit an article with your thoughts and comments. Incidentally, when your dad is in Chicago this weekend, I may meet up with him to chat.

  8. Hi Doc, I think that the three things you mention in this article are crucial to a healthy Christian walk! C. S. Lewis said that there are two things in the world that you cannot do alone: 1) Get Married. 2) Be a Christian. While that may be an overstatement (at least on the second one!) I think that in many ways it is true. Lately I have been reading different  J.C. Ryle works. They have made my Christian walk and understanding of God alot deeper. Spurgeon wrote a chapter in his book “Lectures to my Students” titled “To ministers with slender aparatus.” The whole chapter was about ministers who dont have books! I think that it is a good idea to soak in as much as we can from good Christian literature, it can only make us wiser in not repeating the mistakes of the past both theologically and practically.

    • Hi Dave, I am presently reading “Lectures to my Students.” Every page is blowing me away, as Spurgeon expresses the depth and wealth of his Christian life in multiple facets. Yesterday, I just blogged reflecting from a page of the book:

      Spurgeon also repeatedly stresses how crucially important it is for Christians to be ever reading and increasing in knowledge for the sake of reaching others for the gospel.

      The version of “Lectures” that I have does not have the unique title “To ministers with slender aparatus.” That is a sure way to get someone to read to find out what “slender aparatus” is.

    • In both copies of  my “lectures” book it is chapter 13, do you have an abridged version? I love all things Spurgeon, I think that the Lord sends a man like that only once every couple centuries…

    • Yes, Dave, it is chap 13. Don’t know how I could have missed seeing something as cute as “Slender Apparatus.”

  9. Hey Hannah, I read “god is not great” by Hitchens…his main goal is not even to make good arguments against belief in  God, I think it is mainly just to try and make Christians angry! Honestly, that one was a big waste of time, but I  think reading  “The God Delusion” and then response book by Alister McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion” back to back are a good exercise.

    • Hannah Love

      Oh! Thanks for letting me know. I read some of the chapter summaries and I found his reasonings for why God is not great a bit out there and ridiculous. However, he must not be alone right?  
      I’ll try to get a hold of those two books you mentioned. Thanks!

    • Hannah, i think it is an excellent idea to get to know the ideas and arguments of people who do not share our world view and to get involved in respectful conversation and debate with others.

      As for Hitchens, i would recommend either to google his name and to search for his debate against Turek or William Lane-Craig. Both of these debates tell us volumes about his way of arguing. Personally, i felt that rather than providing sound, intellectual reasoning he provides a lot of arguments that carry emotional force and not so much logical force. Both, Turek and Lane-Craig did a fair job when debating him.

      Other than that: check out on youtube the great debate between Shermer and Lennox. (I think one can also listen to Lennox debating Dawkins). Following these two people is a very enjoyable way of spending time… at least, i learned alot. And, this way, i got a very decent first-hand overview of the arguments of the so-called “new atheists” and i didn’t have to spend money on books, which i don’t consider worth possessing anyways. :)


      As for your comment above: there are passages in the bible, which are not understandable if you do not consider extra-biblical sources. I had the joy of speaking on Acts 19 this week in our small housechurch gathering in Boston. Commentaries and the work of historians showed me what kind of city Ephesus was. In my opinion, it is impossible to appreciate and understand what Luke is talking about without that kind of background.

    • Hi Hannah, Adding to what Henoch suggested, there is also a very popular Christian DVD called Collision: It is a debate between Hitchens and Doug Wilson, a pastor. It does not try to show one side defeating the other, but each person presenting his own arguments.
      The interesting thing is that all atheists who saw the debate conclusively said that Hitchens won the debate hands down, while all Christians who saw it said that Wilson clearly and logically refuted every argument that Hitchens presented.

  10. Francis Bacon is the 1st English  essayist  that was inspired to read,discuss and to write.many of those essay is hard to define that`s why, I did not read It.But through Dr.Ben  I learn  not only the  philosophy  of Francis Bacon but also to apply his  philosophy  in my life as a Christian. I agree on the quote of Francis Bacon that Reading make a full man,  conference  makes a ready man and writing make an exact man.that was expanded by Dr. Ben in our  daily bread.
    so in this article I  there  for conclude a  Christian  we need to master not only our  relationship with god but also our  relationship    with others by using the reading,conference and writing in order for us to teach the bible clearly and help them and guide them in way of  righteousnesses  in order for them to realized that only in  Jesus  we  a temp the true salvation.
    From: Mark Jayson Nepaz
    To: Dr. Ben

  11. Thanks, Jayson. I think that we Christians tend to love God with our affections (heart, soul), and with our efforts and actions (strength), more easily than with our minds. I think that to love God with all our minds is not easy, and requires God’s help and our own disciplined concerted effort.
    To love God with all our minds, we need to fill our mind with thoughts of God through Scripture and meditation and reflection (Ps 1:2; Phil 4:8). We also need to grow our minds by growing in knowledge, so that God may enable us to understand many things, including and especially people and our world.
    I’ve found that if I am stuck or upset or angry or depressed or fearful, knowledge does help me overcome myself. As I’ve read and studied, I’ve also learned more about myself, especially my own deep rooted idols of self glory seeking, and depravity (Isa 64:6). As I realized how deep is my own idolatry and sins, I realize even more how much deeper is Jesus’ love for me that never ever changes (Eph 3:18; Rom 8:37-39).

  12. It’s good that Dr. Ben made this article. It’s true and essential to the fact that there’s no other way to learn more. I experienced the same thing Dr. Ben had experience long time ago. About 3 years ago, when I came to Bible study (for 3 months) and thought I fully accepted Him as my savior, my shepherd encouraged me to  go fishing. My time experience seems good, it gave me great joy that I am already teaching the word of God (in Genesis). Until I met a  Christian from other ministry. When I was about to start my Bible study with him, he asked me, “what’s the purpose of man?” then I gave him verse 28. But he corrected me. He opened my bible on Ecclesiastes 12:13. My other shepherds wondered what took me so long. What happens really is that that sheep whom am I supposed to be my sheep became a bible teacher and I became a sheep. He know a lot about the bible. He’s so legalistic to it that no one must dare to add something in the word of God like what I used to do. The problem with me is that I’m lazy to read the Bible. I enjoyed reading Harry Potter than the books and chapters on the Bible. With the three elements of learning that Dr. Ben mentioned, it is conference which I can only apply. So all these years I’ve been speaking without enough wisdom as if I’m speaking without sense. Since that time, I stopped fishing and focus on my bible studies, reading passages, and writing testimonies. I believe we cannot just depend on our “by grace” attitude. The basic problem is our heart. There would be no grace without a heart or a desire to be equipped with spiritual wisdom. I realized that instead of being too ditched by fantasy novels  and comics, why not use my gifts or shall we say hobby to read, understand and learn more about Jesus, salvation, and eternal life?

  13. Thanks, Noah. When the apostle Paul was touched by the grace of Jesus, he said, “I worked harder than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10). So, if I am touched by the grace of Jesus, I want to do whatever I can (even if I fail again and again) to fulfill God’s will and purpose for his own glory (Phil 2:12,13).
    When I watched the Academy Awards presentation yesterday, the King’s Speech won the big awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor. The director Tom Hooper credited the phenomenal success of the movie to 3 men. He called it “the triangle of man love which is Colin Firth (best actor), Geoffrey Rush (nominated for best supporting actor though he did not win) and me.” I take this to mean that the 3 of them surely worked very hard by “conferencing and discussing” together intensively.
    How important not only to read and study, but also to challenge each other through meaningful discussions. May God give you the joy of working closely and spiritually with several friends in Christ.

  14. Quotes by Blaise Pascal:
    “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
    Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end. Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing, singing, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or to be a man.
    Despite [his] afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy. But how shall he go about it? The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop thinking about it.

  15. Oops, you caught me! I just cut and pasted from the link. Thanks, Timothy for “revealing my source.” Do you read Justin Taylor’s blog? He is one of the most popular Christian bloggers in the U.S., together with Scot McKnight, John Piper’s Desiring God, and Tim Challis.

    • And my favorite simple quote is the first one: “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

    • Yes, I do — for the last 4 years now, together with other blogs. But I haven’t read Scot McNight yet.
      I also find Reformation21 blog (several authors, esp. Carl Trueman) very good. Also there is a whole set of blogs at The Gospel Coalition.
      My Google Reader is too crowded now, and add Russian bloggers to that.

  16. 3 important tips on Reading: Since I resonate with Tim Keller’s books and preaching, I have began reading some authors that Keller reads, quotes and cites.