As we’ve been working this week on our roll-out of the 2016 – 2017 Renovaré Book Club, an observation of John Wesley’s has been ringing in our ears: 

It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people.

We wondered when, and in what context, Wesley uttered those oft-quoted words. It turns out he penned them in a letter to an English circuit preacher named George Holder on November 8, 1790. And the good Reverend Holder was not the only man Wesley urged to read. The letter he sent to a preacher named John Trembath thirty years earlier was even more emphatic:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian.

O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant.

Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you in particular.

Whether we are preachers or not, Wesley’s challenge to do justice to our own souls” counters the pressure we feel in a hectic culture to abandon time for reading. Thus, we are adopting John Wesley as the unofficial patron saint of the Renovaré Book Club this year. Although none of our chosen books are by Wesley himself, we do believe that the titles we have on offer — by Trevor Hudson, Henri Nouwen, Tish Harrison Warren, and Saint Athanasius of Alexandria — are texts that will give our souls times and means to grow.” 

Of course, there are other ways to make time for reading than joining a book club, and we urge you to pursue all the options that make sense in your current context. But for those of you for whom the Renovaré Book Club would be helpful (not to mention enjoyable!), we do invite you to check it out. The Club runs October to June, and includes weekly guides, lively community online conversation, and expert facilitation. Trevor Hudson and Tish Harrison Warren will be guiding us through their books themselves, while church historian Deirdre LaNoue will take us through the Nouwen title, and patristic scholar (and Renovaré president!) Chris Hall will help us with the Athanasius.

You can get more details about the Book Club HERE, or by listening to this week’s podcast, in which Nathan Foster (Renovaré’s Director of Community Life) and Carolyn Arends (Renovaré’s Director of Education) enthuse about reading in general and the Book Club in particular. We highly recommend joining the club before September 23rd, so that we can ship the first book of the season to you in time for the season’s official start date.

If you’re still wondering if you can make the time for a little more reading in your life, we’ll let Wesley have the last word:

Read the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly. Steadily spend all morning in this employ, or at least five hours in twenty-four.

Happy reading!