Book Review

How to become a better reader and thinker

A look at "Reading Between the Lines" by Gene Veith

March 23, 2021

In Louis L’Amour’s memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, he recounts the books he read over many years. These lists are significant for L’Amour. He read over 100 books most years. What is a man to gain from spending that much time devoted to reading? And if he decided reading is a worthwhile activity, how should one go about it?

Gene Veith, a literature professor and writer, would argue that reading is an important way to spend one’s time, especially for Christians. In his book, Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature, Veith helps readers understand how to read across different genres and time periods. But Veith’s apologetic for reading is so much more than just a guide to literature. Veith not only tells readers how to read but why we should even care to be readers. There’s a good chance that many haven’t thought about the terms Veith defines and explains since the last time they wrote a literary analysis was for an English class. With clear prose and astute assessments of history and culture, this isn’t a book just for the English major. Reading Between the Lines is a potent book for anyone who wants to be a better reader and thinker.

Reading and criticism 

Veith begins by discussing the importance of reading and criticism. Since God has used a Book to reveal himself, “reading can never die out among Christians” (17). The habits of the mind––attention, reasoning, exploration of ideas, and language expression, among others––that reading requires are habits that “support the Christian faith and lead to a healthy and free society” (25). Reading also helps form the Christian imagination by exercising our minds, helping us understand other people and their circumstances, satisfying our need for adventure, and allowing us to process and contemplate vicarious experiences. 

But Veith warns readers frankly about the indulgence of vicarious sin. And that’s where our criticism of books (and art in general) is essential. Does a work point us to the good and depict sin as evil? Reading good books should lead the reader to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates.

The forms of literature

The second section of the book considers the forms of literature: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. When we think of nonfiction, we might think of a how-to manual or an encyclopedia, which we wouldn’t classify as good literature. However, Veith argues that good nonfiction reveals its meaning with beautiful language. Using Walter Wangerin Jr. and Annie Dillard as examples of great writers, Veith shows how good nonfiction will be concrete and tell the truth as it paints pictures with words. 

Fiction also tells the truth, though in a different way. While some claim fiction is nothing more than entertainment, Veith argues that “stories teach not by being preachy or tacking on a moral at the end, but by being good gripping stories” (61). He helps readers understand the elements of fiction while also circling back to some of his ideas of criticism and discernment. 

The final form of literature he examines is poetry. It is a shame that few people enjoy reading poetry in their leisure time. Poetry transcends time and place and is an important part of human expression. He argues, “Because poetry tends to address the whole person––the mind, the imagination, and the emotion––there may be no better way to cultivate a Christian sensibility and worldview (apart from reading Scripture) itself than to saturate oneself in Christian poetry” (80). 

What literature does

Veith shifts from considering what literature is to exploring what literature does. The modes of literature––tragedy, comedy, realism, and fantasy––help us understand this broken world we live in and the life yet to come. Although they seem like opposites, tragedy and comedy have much to say about damnation and salvation and the relationship between suffering and joy. Realism (taking ideas from the world around us) and fantasy (taking ideas from the world within us) can increase our perception of the people around us and the events transpiring. For example, Oliver Twist, a realist novel, moved people to act as their eyes were opened to the poor children that had been around them all along. Similarly, fantasy “elevates and disciplines the imagination, awakening it readers to the beauty of goodness as well as to the reclusiveness of evil” (132).

A window into worldviews

In the final section of book, Veith offers insight on how to read and understand authors from the Middle Ages through Postmodernism. Unlike any other medium, literature gives us a window to the worldview and culture of the times. Veith’s examination of the philosophy and worldview of different ages sheds light on how the Christian worldview will allow us to uphold the insights of the books of these eras “while avoiding their errors” (190). Reading literature from outside our context can also present ideas in a fresh and clear way, even though the text may be hundreds of years old. As we read literature of times long ago, we will better understand the time in which we live.

We should care to be good readers. Reading good literature will help sharpen our minds and stir our hearts’ affections for the things we ought to love. Reading Between the Lines is a valuable book for those who want to grow as readers and thinkers and offers enough book recommendations to last a long time. As we seek to influence the world with the good news of the gospel, we should remember that “the wielders of influence will always be those who read and write” (25).

Jessica Burke

Jessica Burke is married to her high school sweetheart, and they have four children. The Burkes lived in Skopje, Macedonia, as missionaries for three years before moving to North Carolina where Jessica’s husband is a chaplain at a local jail and a pastor. A former public school teacher, Jessica home educates her … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24