So you’re in seminary. Your journey has included countless hours of study, late nights tucked away in seldom-visited corners of the library, and copious amounts of caffeine to keep you going. Ancient Greek draws you closer to insanity, and you feel if you learn one more Hebrew stem, your brain just may explode. But if you’re a brave enough soul, you may want to supplement your class work with additional reading. Perhaps your seminary subscribes to a theological bent different than your own, and you’d like to do some research on the subject. Maybe you just want to be able to keep from saying, ‘Because my seminary taught me so,’ when someone asks why you believe in a particular doctrine. If that is the case, you’ll want to develop a reading plan to hone your beliefs. This has been my experience, and I humbly submit to you several tips concerning developing a reading plan.
1. Create a plan you can handle, and stick to it- There’s no point in creating a reading plan if it’s something you’ll follow for a week and give up on. Chances are, if you’re taking a full load of classes, working forty hours a week, and raising a family, you won’t be able to read a book a week. Also if your goal is to read through Calvin’s Institutes or Grudem’s Systematic Theology, you may want to give yourself ample time to work through those. So figure out how much time you have to devote to additional reading, and create a plan that will stretch you, but at the same time won’t overwhelm you.
2. Take notes- If you’re anything like me, you forget 99% of what you read the moment you flip the page. So it helps to keep a notebook handy to jot down anything you find to be particularly important. Remember, reading is not a race; it’s okay to take your time as you go through a book if it helps you to keep from forgetting what you’ve learned. It may even be helpful to summarize each page or chapter in a few paragraphs if what you’ve read is especially heavy.
3. Vary it up, Part 1- It’s important when studying a particular doctrine to read authors which approach the doctrine from various angles. For example, if you’re a cessationist, don’t read books on the spiritual gifts written only by fellow cessationists. Check out something by a continuationist. It will give you a better understanding of the arguments made by the other side, as well as dispel any misconceptions you may have about the other viewpoint. It’s not the easiest thing to read something you disagree with, but in the end it will strengthen your own view, or even cause you to reconsider your position.
4. Vary it up, Part 2- You should also consider reading other types of books occasionally. If you are reading only deep theological books, you may be refreshed by picking up something lighter from time to time. This doesn’t have to be hard: if you like baseball, read a book on Roberto Clemente. If you are interested in literature, pick up Little Women. This is especially helpful if you are planning to read many books in a short period of time, as the change of pace can keep you from losing a zeal for reading.
5. Don’t forget the Word!- This is the most important tip concerning a reading plan. Remember that your purpose in reading is to serve you as you study the Word, and to prepare you for ministry. It’s not intended to replace Bible reading with something else. Whatever your reading plan, it must not take a bite out of your time in the Word.
Most seminaries offer excellent libraries where students can find books on any subject imaginable. Make use of the extensive collection offered in your library while you have this wonderful opportunity. A reading plan can benefit any seminary student, if well-planned and carried out. By following a reading plan and abiding in God’s Word, there is potential for great growth in seminary apart from and in addition to the rigors of class work. May these tips be helpful; may you grow in grace and truth through your supplemental reading endeavors, and may God always be glorified and honored!