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Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish

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We have been created to live and work in community. But all too often we see ourselves primarily as individuals and run the risk of working at cross-purposes with the organizations we serve. Living faithfully in a neighborhood involves two interwoven threads: learning and action. In this book C. Christopher Smith, coauthor of Slow Church, looks at the local church as an organization in which both learning and action lie at the heart of its identity. He explores the practice of reading and, in his words, "how we can read together in ways that drive us deeper into action." Smith continues, "Church can no longer simply be an experience to be passively consumed; rather, we are called into the participatory life of a community. Reading is a vital practice for helping our churches navigate this shift." Discover how books can help your churches and neighborhoods bring flourishing to the world.

179 pages, Paperback

Published May 12, 2016

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C. Christopher Smith

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Profile Image for Ginger.
429 reviews285 followers
January 15, 2017
Good, but a surprisingly small percentage of this was actually talking about reading, as most of us think of reading (i.e. books as opposed to technical manuals, legislation, etc.). A better title might have been 'Conversation for the Common Good' because books were a small means to an end to start conversations, and while I don't at ALL disagree with him that that would be the goal, I think anyone who picked up this book is likely already on board, so spending 100+ pages convincing of the WHY seemed excessive. I was expecting more specifics, so once he got around to those, they were very good. I numbered 17 or so great ways to integrate reading into church/cultures/communities, but all contained in chapter nine, the last chapter.

I can't wait to read Rod Dreher's upcoming Benedict Option, as I have a feeling it will explore the themes touched on in this book.

His explanation of Lectio Divina was simple and clear, and he points to Eugene Peterson's Eat this Book as another (which I can concur is excellent).

I did have some minor theological/literary quibbles with him throughout. (1. Women in the pulpit. While I disagree with his conclusion, it was his poor ARGUMENT that I found lacking. I've heard dear ones who I disagree with make convincing arguments for why Paul didn't mean what he said in Corinthians, but Smith's logic was flawed and poor here. 2. That we could/should participate in a church without sharing major convictions. Minor convictions I would agree with, but the examples he gave would be more along the lines of Tier 2 level for me (see Al Mohler's Doctrinal Triage model), and would likely be prudent reason for parting doctrinal, though not Christian, fellowship. 3. He states that fiction "excels in depicting particularities" and not abstractions and I will disagree with him there. It excels at telling stories of particular places and people IN ORDER to generalize about the human condition.)

I haven't read his Slow Church but I have a strong feeling that might have been a fuller version of this. Skip this one and only read chapter nine and you'll get what I suspect most picking up this book hoped to gather - the HOW more than the why. Still. If you're interested in your church beginning a reading program of sorts, but the leadership isn't keen, I suspect this would be a good way to convince them of the merits.
Profile Image for Bob.
1,815 reviews616 followers
June 28, 2016
Summary: Explores how the communal practice of reading in congregations fosters a learning community and shared social imagination the results in clearer congregational identity, sense of mission in one's setting, and wider engagement with the environment, economics, and political order.

I came across the work of C. Christopher Smith a few years ago through an online version of The Englewood Review of Books. The online site has become one of my "go-to" places to learn about new releases and also great books available for discounts (usually in e-format). Smith is the editor of this enterprise which is tied in with the ministry of Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, an urban congregation on the east side of Indianapolis. In his previous book, Slow Church, which I reviewed a year ago, Smith offered a few more clues that books were not just a personal passion that his church indulges but that reading plays a role in its common life. In this book, Smith articulates a vision for reading that goes beyond personal or even common life to the common good of his congregation and wider community.

Fundamentally, he and his community have fostered the idea of becoming a learning organization, building on Peter Senge's idea in The Fifth Discipline. Learning to read together, beginning with the scriptures both in preaching and the practice of lectio divina, and discussing other works together has helped its church understand its context as well as envision a different "social imaginary." This is a key idea in the book, borrowed from the work of Charles Taylor. Social imaginaries are our mental images of how things are done in our social context, often not articulated nor evaluated. For example, it might be contended that we have accustomed ourselves to a very polarized political dialogue between two parties. And we may think we must choose one of the two alternatives, both individually, and communally as congregations or church bodies. A different social imaginary might envision a very different type of political engagement.

Smith contends that as we read, reflect, discuss and imagine together around the scriptures, and around books that may speak to our context, we can explore, and be confronted by different social imaginaries that change the way we think about who and why we are as a church, about when and where we are in our context, and how we think about our presence in our communities, in the physical environment we inhabit, in the economic order in which we participate, and the political order of our communities, states and nations.

I had two questions in mind as I was reading this book. One was, can you really hope for all this to happen from our reading of scripture and other good reading? The other was, how does he get his congregation to do this kind of reading together? The answer to the first question was simple. I found myself asking, "isn't this in fact why I do Bob on Books in the first place?" I believe that not only the "book of all books" as well as other good writing can change the way we see the world and our place in it and shape our actions in ways that seek the greater flourish of the people and the places we share life with. What Smith did here is give me better language for what, instinctively, I've sought to do on the blog, both in my own writing and my reviews of the writing of others.

Chapter 9 in the book helped answer the second question for me. As noted already, Smith and his community begin with the slow reading of scripture, and he believes that learning to attend to God's word in these ways is both foundational and helpful in learning, and loving to attend to other words. Congregational leaders promote reading within various teams related to the particular work they are doing. Their goals are modest. Even one book read and discussed together in a year is good. They create spaces for conversations about reading in classes, book clubs and seminars. They make resources available including books related to a current sermon series, they develop a process for including reviews of books on websites and a process to curate those reviews. And they keep fostering the love of reading among the children of the congregation. I read this and was struck with the conclusion that even in a busy congregation (whose isn't?) of people who don't read much, this is doable.

Smith concludes the book with a couple of reading lists: an annotated one of books related to the chapters of the book, and a list organized by subjects of books that have been helpful to his church community. My impression was "meaty, but accessible" for both lists--plainly richer fare that the inspirational fiction and non-fiction that is the typical "Christian reading diet."

It is refreshing when a book comes along that connects the dots and clarifies one's understanding of the things one cares about. This was such a book, and in doing so, the book accomplished for me, or rather in me, what the author contends reading does for us. I concluded the book with fresh ideas about fostering learning community around books in the professional and church communities with which I connect. Hopefully, that will indeed lead to some "common goods."


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Profile Image for Robert D. Cornwall.
Author 31 books77 followers
June 30, 2016
I am an avid reader, and I've always been an avid reader, as can be seen in the very fact that in elementary school I was a member of the Library Club! I've always preferred non-fiction to fiction, with history and then theology being at the top of the list. At any moment in time I have probably five to ten books in play, and my Kindle makes it even easier to access books. Books inform and form us. The open new worlds and new opportunities. When Gutenberg invited the printing press the world of literacy opened up. The Reformation would never have occurred without it.

Chris Smith is another avid reader, and like me he's always been an avid reader. He took his reading inclinations to the point of launching a book review website and then a published book review journal, to which I have contributed. The Englewood Review of Books is a must stop for those of us who love to read. In this book, "Reading for the Common Good," Chris Smith invites us to expand our vision of what reading is to what it can be. He speaks of reading in terms of the way in which it, as the subtitle declares, help our churches and neighborhoods flourish." This is a book about reading with a purpose. It's a book about recognizing the importance of not only being informed, but being formed. It is that opening up of the larger world that is at stake here.

Chris address the question of the role of reading in the context of the church, which he speaks of in terms of being a "learning community." This involves reading scripture, which Chris believes is foundational, but it can't stop there. He writes that "we also find ourselves reading broadly as we seek to interpret Scripture and to embody Christ in our particular time and place: theology, history, urban theory, ecology, agriculture, poetry, child development, economics, fiction and more" (p. 15). That's pretty broad!

In the course of this book, which I loved reading, Chris helps us imagine the church as a learning community that blesses the neighborhood. With this in mind he offers chapters that describe "slow reading." That is, he wants us to take our time in our reading to be formed by it. In other words, the principle of "lectio divina," which is used to read scripture can be used more broadly. With this vision in place our reading can help shape our social imagination. It can also help shape the congregational identity -- remember he wants us to think of the church as a learning community -- this requires reading in community. There is benefit in reading the same books and materials, so that we can gather and discuss them. We read the text, but as he says, the text reads us. Reading helps form the community, but it also helps us discern our calling as individuals and as communities. Reading helps us understand who we are (identity) and what we're going to do (vocation). Reading helps, he notes, the congregation discern how it will be involved in the neighborhood, and then will help in the process of maturing.

Chris is part of a congregation has committed itself to being part of a neighborhood. It was a church that was populated largely by people who lived outside the neighborhood -- a reality faced by many predominantly white congregations situated in urban locations. But they decided to inhabit the neighborhood. A number of people moved into the neighborhood and committed themselves to community development work and to the task of sharing literacy and reading. So, it should not surprise that they have committed themselves not only to reading as a congregation but also inviting the neighborhood to join them. They have, opened the church up for promoting literacy and providing resources. They have partnered with the local library to make sure it stays open and has resources. Chris reminds us that civic engagement requires civic literacy. This commitment to reading with the community accompanies a commitment to deepening roots in the neighborhood. This involves understanding the context -- the educational, economic, environmental, civic contexts. I admire this commitment to inhabiting the neighborhood, especially since our churches have largely disconnected from neighborhoods.

Chris doesn't stop with the neighborhood. He speaks of how reading can help us re-imagine the world. He speaks of an interconnected creation, where the congregation equips people to pursue shalom in the world. One thing that's clear is that Chris invites us to consider reading broadly. Reading theology and the Bible are central to our task, but we can't stop there. We need to be informed on matters economic and political. These are matters of context, and we can't address the world in all it's complexity unless we're literate on such matters. As I write this review, there is grave concern about economics and politics, and great numbers of citizens seem uninformed and disconnected. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and we learn afterwards that many who voted to leave didn't even know what the EU was. That's dangerous, especially for democracies, which depend upon an educated citizenry. So we must read broadly on such matters.

Chris closes the book by recapping and suggesting ways in which churches can become reading communities. He suggests that we connect reading with as many of our activities as possible.There are times when we will read in common, but there will also need to be allowance and encouragement for diversity in our reading so that we can contribute to a growing conversation. Chris recognizes that not everyone will be a reader, but even those who do not read can be included in the conversations so that they might benefit from what others have read.

This is a long-awaited book. It appeals to me, because I am a committed reader. I believe in its power. The question is, how do we enable our congregations to become learning communities that can bless our neighborhoods and thus the world? That is the question to which Chris responds. I affirm his message!
Profile Image for James.
1,493 reviews105 followers
August 29, 2016
 C. Christopher Smith is the editor of The Englewood Review of Booksan online and print journal  which  showcases valuable resources for the people of God. Another site Smith, curates is Thrifty Christian Reader, a website which catalogs quality sale books—mostly Kindle, mostly Christian—which explore culture, theology, sociology, justice, ecology, poetry and literature. His own books also promote the kind of thoughtful Christian engagement he highlights online. Notably, Slow Church (IVP, 2014), which he co-authored with John Pattison, is a prophetic challenge to the way churches are sometimes co-opted by the dominant cult of speed and efficiency. Smith and Pattison point us instead to honor the terroir of place, cultivate community, and ways for the church to be a faithful presence and witness to God's in-breaking Kingdom.

For a church to transform a community it is imperative we learn to read well. Earlier generations of Christians were sometimes called 'the people of the Book.' A good part of Smith's influence has been about helping us to, again, be the people of the Book. In Reading for the Common Good: How Books Can Help Churches and Neighborhoods FlourishSmith points out the crucial place reading (in community) has for shaping our identity and practice of God's people.

In his introduction, Smith helps us to conceive of church as a 'learning organization,' with learning and action as central components of our identity. We can have a significant impact on our communities as we understand our context and discern effective ways to act and then act(16). Learning and acting form a cycle which helps us live out the compassionate way of Jesus for our neighborhoods and communities (18-20). But this sort of reading is a communal, rather than individual activity.

Smith's first couple of chapters orient us to the practice of reading. Chapter one points us away from our modern, technologically infused reading (where we read a lot but not deeply) towards 'Slow Reading.' The ancient practice of lectio divina and preaching which attends to the words of Scripture provides the church with counter-cultural habits of mind. Chapter two illustrates how reading and conversation help shape the social imagination. Smith observes:
The practices of reading and conversation are vital for the process of transforming our social imagination. Part of human experience is imaging how the world should function. The question is what stories are feeding and shaping the imagination? Reading renews and energizes our social imagination. For our churches, reading and embodying Scripture is the foremost source of renewal, but renewal comes from reading reflecting on and discussing a broad range of works in the life and teaching of Jesus (51-52).

The next six chapters explore the way reading shapes our social imagination and paves the way for communities to flourish. Chapter three explores how reading the Bible in communion with other believers helps shape us into "the image of Christ, the Word incarnate" (55). While the Bible remains central, reading other books communally (and in a cruciform way!) is also beneficial for making sense of the world and our place in it (59-61). Chapter four discusses the role of reading in helping communities and individuals understand their vocation. Chapters five and six discuss how churches can read with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Churches can be (or support) libraries which preserve the shared memory of place and provide resources for the community. Churches can also become centers of education which promote literacy and understanding. The telos of this is a greater civic literacy and engagement in the community. Our reading also promotes a better understanding of our neighborhood place in the economic, environmental, educational and civic realms (103-107). Chapter seven discusses how reading connects us to our world, creation and other churches and chapter eight discusses how reading can support our faithful engagement in the realms of politics and economics.

Smith's final chapter discusses ways to help congregations become reading congregations, with examples from Englewood Christian Church (the faith community that Smith is a part of). The book closes with two reading lists: Recommended Reading for Going Deeper and Englewood Christian Church Reading List. 

Smith is an avid reader and this is a book about how reading well (in community) can help churches and neighborhoods flourish. So this book will make you want to read other books. Lots of them. Smith promotes helpful books throughout and he himself has been shaped by his reading of such luminaries as: Charles Taylor, Alisdair MacIntyre, Wendell Berry, Peter Senge, Marva Dawn, Gerhard Lohfink, Mary Oliver, and more. I think it is impossible to read through this book without discovering new literary treasures (or at least places to dig). My wish list grew exponentially from reading this.

More significantly, this book touches a hunger I have for thoughtful engagement. I have been a part of churches which felt like the theological equivalent of a 'food desert.' Sometimes the  reading theology (or biology, philosophy, or whatever) is criticized for being disconnected from 'real life.' Smith rejects the binary between academia and activism, thinking well and living well. His chapter on the social imaginary (with a generous nod to Charles Taylor) should be required reading for pastors and leaders. I give this five stars and highly recommend it.

Note: I received a copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Profile Image for Emmanuel Boston.
134 reviews33 followers
May 28, 2016
“In the age of fast food and fast culture, we are often inclined to speed along with the flow of traffic on the highway leading to the death and destruction of creation. Will we, through practices of reading and conversation, attempt to exit from this highway? Will we begin to crawl, perhaps even to take baby steps, along the path that leads to life and flourishing?” (Page 143)

This book is internally-conflicting for me. Perhaps that’s the mark of a really good book, or perhaps that’s the mark of a book that is almost there. Or perhaps that’s the mark of something deficient with me. I’m not sure, so I apologize in advance for any confusing discourse hereafter.

I approached the book with two primary questions:
· How do I get my church to be a reading church?
· In what ways does reading specifically influence & better the community?
The first was only generally answered, but the second accurately predicted the thesis and received a fuller answer—though not quite to the extent for which I was hoping or the thesis led me to believe.

Book thesis:

“In this book, we will view the local church as a sort of learning organization, in which both learning and action lie at the heart of its identity. We will explore the practice of reading—perhaps the most important component of learning in the twenty-first century—and consider how we can read together in ways that drive us deeper into action” (Page12).

It will helpful to note a few other details more or less stated in the introductory pages:

Assumption: The church’s primary task is ‘reconciling the world’ (as in Colossians 1:20) and the flourishing of society.

Caveat: Church is a ‘learning organization’ [as defined by Peter Senge: “At the heart of the learning organization is a shift of mind—from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world…. A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality. And how they can change it.”]

Audience: Christians…?

So… in what ways does fulfill or fail his thesis? Well if we accept his definition of the church primarily defined in terms of a ‘learning organization,’ albeit with a re-creational/reconciliatory nuance supported from Colossians 1:20 rather than a full theological/biblical ecclesiology, then yes, the thesis is supported. He frequently shows the myriad of strings which tie back to reading: from ecology to politics, from grocery shopping to increased education. And yet, I often found myself reading the things that he is saying, getting caught up in the beautiful vision his words convey, only to be reminded that his thesis is 'reading' and that his previous ideas, statements, imaginations, etc. don't quite so easily tie to his thesis. Sure, reading can be tied to all things, but I was looking for immediacy, not abstraction. As it is the book weighs more heavily upon the ‘learning’ side and less on the ‘action.’ Not only the abstract v. immediate, but in the ideological v. practical.

Smith defines four implications for his philosophy on reading & church-community life.

Reading plays a role in “following Jesus in the way of compassion [that is] entering into the pains and struggles of our churches, our families and our neighborhoods” by…
· Forming us into the compassionate and faithful people of God, deeply engaged with our church, our neighborhood and the world
· Calling us to understand who God is and how God is at work in the world (particularly by reading Scripture)
· Guiding us into a deeper understanding of out broken world and teaching us to imagine how such brokenness might begin to be undone
· Discerning and developing our vocation—that is, how each of us might make our unique gifts available for God’s healing and restoring work in the world
(Page 14)

I found that through the book, the following five verb phrases better encapsulate the book’s argumentative thrust:

Reading can help with the flourishing of our communities by…
… revealing the interconnectedness of things & connecting us further
… showing us the perspectives of other people
… informing us of knowledge and practical how-tos
… increasing education levels, helping us think & evaluate
… guide us into a better sense of identity & vocation

These five reappear repeatedly throughout the book. In fact, whenever it came to a specific topic or discipline, I would hope to discover a new, immediate implication for reading only to discover a restatement of one of these five statements. If it was an aside on fiction, however, it would always state rather similarly: ‘fiction can often do this even better! Fiction shows us the perspectives of others!’ –my paraphrase, of course. Further, I discovered that Smith’s apparent implication #2 is relatively limited in both scope and application—I mean to say that his view of God’s work is primarily Colossians 1:20, and he hardly utilizes this method for influencing the content of his chapters with the notable exception of chapter 3 “Reading and Our Congregational Identity” which primarily reinforces the overarching preunderstanding of the church that we’ve mentioned before a ‘learning organization’ with a view to reconciling the world. Which brings us to my two primary recommendations for improvement.

1. A more biblically-saturated, gospel-influenced, theologically-defensible foundation; this book utilizes Scripture, has a view to the reconciliation of the world, and is sound in its argumentation, but somebody who doesn’t subscribe to the Christian faith could just as easily read this book with little difference of significance. Because it is so ‘public-square’ focused, readers may run the risk of devolving into a ‘social gospel’—the only Jesus glimpsed in these pages is truncated: reduced to a compassionate social guru and amicable friend of the trees. ‘Reconciliation’ and ‘flourishing’ areas so a-theologically defined that with whatever presumptions the reader approaches the book will remain essentially unchallenged. And while everything Smith argues ‘makes logical sense’; there is hardly any reason for this to be a particularly ‘Christian’ book. As case in point, read his final exhortation “Reading, reflecting, conversing, learning, working, binding together: these are the ways in which our communities—church, neighborhood and world—begin to mature and flourish. This interconnected life is the joyous and meaning-rich end for which were created. This is humanity fully alive!” (Page 143)… but is that the end? Is that humanity fully alive? What about the gospel, what about repentance and belief? Perhaps we really do need a ‘common grace’ book on social flourishing; but again, I would fear that Christians reading this book and then jumping into all the other recommended avenues for flourishing might forget Christ along the way; would lost sight of the suffering servant who is enthroned as king, deserving of all honor and glory, and soon returning to judge the living and the dead.

2. The ideal Smith posits is exactly that: an ideal—a utopia. And while he uses his own church & community as an example, I question whether he’s been entirely honest: every ‘struggle’ has been on account of a third-party who ends up defeated. In other words: does Englewood (Smith’s church) have any difficulty in maintaining this vision, in inculcating these behaviors? Are there people who have left over this vision? How long did it take for this to become the church default? Has there ever been a bad book recommendation that spread through the congregation? Or is everything really as perfect as Smith says it is? On the one hand, that would be incredible! And amazing. On the other… it makes me doubt whether my church (or any church I’ve ever been part of) is made of the same moxy…. Utopia is far from where my congregation is. It’s hard enough to get people to read their Bibles. I suppose what I’m looking for is a FAQ, or a “When things don’t go like they’re supposed to” section.

As a postscript to this ‘honesty’ section, I might add that in one significant moment in the book, Smith brushes past an entire theological controversy without remorse. He paints the gender-authority debate as something that no real, thinking person would ever see as a viable discussion—it’s already been solved, case-closed. For someone who over and again emphasizes the value of seeing other perspectives, he dismisses the thoughtful work of many evangelical scholars out of hand. I’m certainly willing to consider that one or the other side is mistaken in their understanding of certain passages or in cultural affability, but I’m not willing to pretend that one side’s argument remains “long after the undergirding theories have lost legitimacy” (Page 36-37). That’s not an argument, that’s an unjustified a priori dismissal. It is unwise to use controversial issues as ‘obvious’ examples, better to just remove it.

I’ve been critical, but I don’t want to end the review sounding sour, having people believe I found this book entirely unprofitable. I didn’t: there were parts that were beneficial; most of it was encouraging, some of it was convicting; the annotated bibliography is worth the price of the book alone. But there were other benefits too. Personally, I’ve discovered three particular applications. I need to broaden my horizons. True, Smith reminds readers that not every church member should be the jack of all [reads], but I personally read enough that adding a new discipline into my schedule won’t diminish my overall ministry effectiveness; if anything it should improve it. Second, I need to consider attending my city council meetings, and be overall more involved in my neighborhood and city. Third, I need to consider interviewing my neighbors, perhaps beginning a neighborhood book detailing the history of individuals, maybe include and appendix of obituaries in the last 50 years. And fourth, I need to remember to slow down. Smith’s first chapter is dedicated to reading slowly. And I need to remember that even beyond reading slowly, change and worldview like the one Smith is espousing will take time. I was hoping for an end-of-the-month solution, but that’s not the way life works… God created our bodies to sleep 1/3 of the time, and to fill 90% of the other 2/3 will mundane things… I need to be more like Fangorn, or maybe even Galadriel fighting ‘the long defeat.’ (Though I suspect Smith’s eschatology sees not defeat but only victory.)

All that being said, I give this book 7/10 stars, reducing it 3/5 on such scales. It has good things to say, but it doesn’t say all the good things. Smith’s style is impeccable, and his word choice winsome and provocative—it’s clear that he has read countless books. And again the bibliography is incredibly valuable!

But for recommendations… who then?
My recommendations are too specific to know/state generally.

Maybe some pastors who need specific ideas to help the church become a reading church.

Maybe some people who don’t see the importance/benefit of reading, but are willing to give one book a shot. People who want to see the vast interconnectedness reading affords.

If, after reading this review, the book still interests you, this book might/might not be for you.

If, after reading this review, you don’t want to read the book because all your questions have been answered… this book is probably not for you.

If, after reading this review, you don’t want to read the book because you think it doesn’t pertain to you… this book is probably for you.

Thanks for reading, and may you go and read more… and may your community flourish because of it.

This review has been crosslisted on Amazon, NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.
I received an e-copy of this book from IVP through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Joe Johnson.
37 reviews5 followers
July 8, 2016
Reading normally seems like a pretty private affair, something one does late into the night after everyone else has finally fallen asleep, or in order to better pass the time on a train. While it’s not that hard to find people (rightly) arguing for the importance of thoughtful reading habits when it comes to becoming more deeply rooted theologically on a personal level, it seems more unusual to find it regarded as something with significant implications for community life.

In his new book, Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith acknowledges this fact, but nevertheless develops a compelling case for why reading can (and should) play an important part in helping local church communities discern wisely how to take part in God’s work in the world (p.20). Near the beginning of the book, Smith makes clear one of his main points: when the practice of reading is done well, it can do much to help local churches and their surrounding neighborhoods flourish. He clarifies what he means by adding that:

The term flourishing comes from roots that mean “flower”‘ to flourish is to bloom, to emerge into the full glory for which God has created us… Thus in these pages we will explore the sort of reading that moves us toward flourishing in our churches, our neighborhoods and the world at large. (p.21).

Reading for Both Learning and Action

When it comes to the ways in which Christian communities seek to love God, serve their neighbors, and participate in the building of God’s kingdom, it’s crucial that they affirm the importance of both learning and action (pp.15-16). Those who are familiar with the works of scholars like George Marsden and Mark Noll will know that evangelicals in America have historically not always been successful at this. These learning/action categories come from the business writer Peter Senge’s work on what he terms “learning organizations” (p.16). In light of this, Smith wonders what might be gained by thinking of a local church body as a kind of learning organization. In the category of “learning,” Smith places the many aspects of ecclesial life that center on theological study and long-term discipleship. The category of “action” denotes the whole range of activities carried out by church communities in their neighborhoods, things like tending to community gardens, caring for the elderly, advocating for racial reconciliation, and extending hospitality. Smith argues that for either of these categories to be truly lived well, they have to be pursued together:

Without learning, our action tends to be reaction and often is superficial—we act without comprehending the many factors that are at play in a situation. Without action, our faith is irrelevant, and most likely—to borrow a thought from the apostle James—dead. (p.16)

So how do church communities manage to devote time and energy to both of these things? Much of the rest of Reading for the Common Good consists in developing an answer to that question. In Smith’s eyes, reading is “perhaps the most important component of learning in the twenty-first century” (p.17). Therefore, he argues that reading deeply and broadly as a community is one of the best ways for local churches to both continue in their discipleship to Christ and become better equipped to work for the good of their neighbors (p.17).

Reading in Communion Together

It’s possible that Smith’s readers could misunderstand the thrust of his argument at this point and assume that he’s merely advocating that congregations work harder to equip themselves with more theoretical knowledge. Of course, knowledge is good, but I don’t think that he is merely advocating that. Rather, he is pushing for churches to cultivate deeper reading practices (primarily of Scripture as well as other books) so that they can be more robustly transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. In support for this point, he brings up the work of Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones, who suggest in their book, Reading in Communion, that “the vocation of Christians is to embody scripture.” In Smith’s words, “Our primary calling is not merely to read or analyze Scripture… but to allow it to shape us into the image of Christ, the Word incarnate” (p.55). Of course, it’s true that one can “read together” without necessarily “reading in communion” (p.55). The difference, for Smith, is that:

Reading in communion is reading that draws us into a deeper shared life with one another and with our neighbors. It is a formative practice that shapes our church communities into more integrated and more mature embodiments of Jesus. (p.56)

So how do communities read in communion? Smith again draws upon the work of Fowl and Jones in this area. They suggest that this activity includes “three intertwined dimensions… reading the text, the text’s reading of us, and our reading of the world” (p.57). This first dimension (reading the text) is something that, hopefully, is already a natural activity for most churches. This step is fundamental because, “It is by reading and submitting to Scripture that we are shaped into the holy people that God intends us to be” (p.57). I think it’s safe to say that slowly and meditatively reading through Scripture as a church community is a truly essential habit for those who wish to embody Christ well in their local contexts. The second element described by Fowl and Jones is that of allowing the “the text to read us” (p.57). It isn’t enough to read through Scripture and then analyze it like a passive object. Smith argues that by “allowing it [the Scriptures] to ask questions of us,” we allow the transforming light of Christ to be shed more broadly into our lives, which conforms us more closely into the image of Christ and enables us to follow God more faithfully (p.58).

The third, and final, dimension of reading in communion explored by Smith is “reading the world.” This aspect seems to shift the focus more onto how churches go about faithfully embodying Jesus in their neighborhoods, in light of Scripture (pp.58-59). Smith adds that:

[W]e must seek to discern and depict the social, economic and political relations that constitute the world. Therefore we need to interpret carefully the contexts in which we find ourselves, and Scripture informs and directs our efforts to make sense of these contexts. (p.59).

I think this helps us better understand why reading is such an important practice in Smith’s eyes. Earlier in this post we highlighted the importance of both learning and action. Reading practices are aimed at transforming and equipping churches to join in the work of God in the world. It’s that last phrase (in the world) that I suggest matters here. If local congregations want to get involved, for example, in helping those in poverty around them in ways that empower and don’t just maintain systems of injustice and extend patterns of dependence, they will need to read deeply and broadly through both Scripture and other works related to poverty, sociology, and economics etc., so that they can wisely work for the flourishing of their more needy neighbors. We could continue to examine other examples like this and find that they make similar points, but instead I want to move on and bring up one last point made by Smith in Reading for the Common Good that struck me.

Fiction and poetry also matter (p.60). It might seem that the line of argument pursued by Smith leads to a reading diet that consists strictly of academic prose, but he actually notes that “our reading should not be limited to instructive nonfiction. Literature that is done well, even popular fiction, often sheds at least as much light on ourselves and our world” (p.60). One of fiction’s strengths is its ability to grow our capacity to empathize with others who are unlike us. “Jane Austen’s novels, for example, allow us to in some sense imagine ourselves as living in the world of Victorian England, giving us a slightly different lens on societal and personal relationships than we might otherwise have (p.47). Poetry, which Smith calls “in essence, the art of noticing,” helps us to better cultivate an openness to beauty, “training us to imagine a future that is rooted in deeper sorts of beauty” (pp.48-49). In summary, Smith’s call for deeper congregational reading habits isn’t restricted to abstract works of scholarship. It includes all sorts of literature and imagines a community that is simultaneously fostering robust habits of reading and conversation (p.49). There are, of course, other good discussions raised by Smith in Reading for the Common Good that we could delve into if there was enough time.


In this day and age, it seems audacious for someone to set forth a vision of how churches can work for the flourishing of their neighborhoods and cities, through as mundane a practice as reading and conversation, no less. One only needs to spend a few minutes browsing through the latest newsfeed to notice the deep, tragic brokenness present in the world today. Holding onto hope is difficult, and surely the Church can do a better job of listening to those who suffer and standing with them. At the same time, Christians need to hold onto the vision of ultimate renewal found in passages like Revelation 21:4, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (NRSV). Working for the flourishing of churches, neighborhoods, and the world cannot be done without the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, and I think it’s a reasonable proposal to argue that reading is an important means by which the Spirit works. Reading for the Common Good makes a very interesting case for the communal importance of reading and conversation, and it paints a portrait of what local church life can be like that is well worth pursuing. I recommend it.

*Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Books for review purposes. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

**More theology book reviews can be found at Tabletalktheology.com
Profile Image for Adam.
311 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2018
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will generate many fantastic ideas in the minds of pastors and church leaders. Smith presents this overture to church members: only by educating yourselves will you know how to act, and you should act, in love, in service, in hospitality, for the good of your community. So, read more. But don't read for yourself, read for others. Learn about your Faith, your neighbors, your community, your government. Dig into your town's history and get to know how your church's identity fits into that history.

If our goal as members of the Kingdom of God is to love with the love of Christ, then we need to know the people we are loving. To know is to love, as Pope St Gregory the Great put it, and congregations will fall into either activism or apathy if they don't slowly, intentionally read with the goal of knowing how to serve. This opened my mind.

This is a brief sketch of the importance of study and conversation in the local church community; it is by no means an exhaustive "theology of reading" or a "how-to" manual to transform your congregation overnight. For what it purports to be, it is a very engaging, interesting approach. Smith does not deal with evangelism as much as I would have liked, but I suppose this is because his book is specifically concerned with shalom - the peaceful flourishing of communities. If this shalom can prepare the way for the love of Christ or show non-believers to the love of Christ, then reading has done its job. Yet, true shalom is never possible without the Gospel; Christ saves sinners, of whom I am the worst. I would have liked this book more if Smith had specifically examined reading's connection to evangelistic outreach - the act of sharing this Good News with our neighbors. This book would have benefited greatly if Smith had approached the Church as not just a learning organization, but as the Mother of Christians. The Church is the bride of Christ and must seek to usher others into the mystery of His love.

Now, as a pastor myself I'd like to put forward a couple ideas that are gestating in my head after reading this book. My church has a very, very nice library, yet it's under-utilized. Perhaps we could construct a "little free library" just outside our church walls facing the public sidewalk and fill it with useful books. This is a relatively inexpensive way to present some of our best materials to the public. The construction of the thing would bring people together, as would the regular curation of its contents. Also, my church has a governance that, for better or for worse, is based around boards. There's a board of youth ministry, a board of stewardship, etc. If each board read one or two books each year, educating its members in why they exist and how to best serve, we'd be a stronger congregation. Boards devote so much of their time to meeting and less time to action. Our action would be more effective if it was thoughtful and intentional.
Profile Image for Amanda.
321 reviews18 followers
December 8, 2017
More a book about how vital conversation is for our flourishing, conversation with God, conversation with each other, and conversation with our communities. And conversation happens with books, over books, through books! It's great!

"[The Church] is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the 'world to come,' to see it and to live it in Christ. . . . A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world's return to Him who is the life of the world."
-Alexander Schmemann
Profile Image for Jim.
406 reviews3 followers
September 6, 2016
In 2014 I read Humanities and Public Life edited by Peter Brooks. In that book the “ethics of reading” was a theme addressed from a variety of perspectives in a scholarly conference devoted to the humanities and public life. One key idea from that conference and the essays published from it had to do with the possibility of reading making people more humane people.

I think that C Christopher Smith’s book Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods to Flourish (IVP, 2016) asks a similar kind of question, “Can reading and should reading makes us more faith and community sensitive people?”

I believe that Smith makes a strong case in favor of a hearty “YES!”

Reading for the Common Good is a wonderful book about the power of reading, literacy, faith development/discipleship, and community development. Starting with the perspective first introduced by Peter Senge twenty-five years ago, with his concept of the learning organization, Smith argues that reading in communion, in community is an vital and important task for people of faith as they seek to live out the gospel in the context of their local, regional, and even national and international communities.

In nine chapters, Smith addresses the ideas of slow reading, reading and congregational identity, reading with our neighbors, and faithful engagement in economics and politics, among other topics. The result is a fresh view of community learning and development which has implications for both congregational and community life as well.

Reading for the Common Good was a refreshing book to read about the power of reading… together in order to grow in one’s faith as well as meaningfully contribute to the development of one’s neighborhood and community as well as beyond them. This would be a great book for college and seminary classes as well as Sunday School classes, small groups, book clubs, and people who are earnest in reaching connecting with their neighbors to improve neighborhoods.

I grew to like this book as it moved along and it gave me some fresh ideas about community connection and faith. I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Note: I received an galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.
Profile Image for Ian Caveny.
111 reviews24 followers
June 22, 2017
I can't quite decide whether a book whose purpose is to encourage reading that is also functionally a bibliography is a good thing or a bad thing. It is certainly helpful, in a metaliterary way: Smith opens up a wide variety of texts that would be invaluable for thinking about the imagination and reading as vibrant modes of Christian discipleship. Yet, all-too-often one gets the feeling that Smith is just a medium for those same other texts, that he hasn't relayed enough of his own life, his own experience, and his own thoughts.

One of the strongest qualities of IV Press, especially in their general line, is their commitment to writers who are also doers. In previous works that I have thoroughly enjoyed, I have read of a vocation coach telling stories of his interns (Visions of Vocation), an evangelist doing evangelism (Grow Your Faith By Giving It Away, amid a plethora of others), and a master of leadership discussing the Books of Colossians and Philemon (Relational Leadership).

So I was expecting C. Christopher Smith to take his book review and literary expertise and apply it more directly to his task. Unfortunately, he over-mediates, relies on his sources too much, and presents an over-broad vision of reading and the church.

The big vision of the work is spectacular: the notion of "literacy" (as only we philologists consider it) as a matter of faithful Christian witness is profound and beautiful. But Smith lacks in his both theoretical and practical descriptions. I get the feeling that I would have been better served by "reading broadly" a few of his suggestions.

As someone who intends to enter pastoral ministry, I will certainly take the sketches of a vision Smith provides here and attempt to make something living and real out of it. But I honestly wish I had more of the story of Englewood Christian Church and Smith's own book review experiences. I hunger for that type of wisdom.
Profile Image for J.L. Neyhart.
414 reviews146 followers
August 23, 2016
Read my full review at www.jenniferneyhart.com


-Well written
-Some good ideas (I especially like the idea of the way books read us and form us.)
-Great annotated bibliography at the end of the book.


-Seems a little thin on the question of how to get our church to be a reading church. (Though Chapter 9 attempts to address this question.)
-The question the subtitle of the book sets itself up to answer is “How do books help our churches and neighborhoods flourish?” While Smith does set out to answer this question, I found myself wanting more practical and concrete answers. It all felt rather abstract at times.
-Sometimes Smith’s ideas seem a bit too, well, ideal. Even though he talks about his own church and community, it just doesn’t seem like his ideas would work as well in other places.
Profile Image for Daniel Silliman.
230 reviews21 followers
June 18, 2018
This is an argument for communal reading and reading for community. It's also a demonstration of how individual social practices, which have become individualistic social practices, can be re-immagined for the common good. In that sense, the book is kind of a model for evangelical thinking about intentional living.
Profile Image for Patrick Walsh.
229 reviews2 followers
December 27, 2017
Reading for the Common Good, as the subtitle suggests, is written in part for Christian churches. There is considerable focus on the reading of the Bible and on practices for disciplined reading of the Bible such as Lectio Divina. There is broader application to reading of just about any other form of literature, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Application is also made to reading in other types of community organizations beside churches.

Reading for the Common Good is about more than just what the members of a congregation or community organization are reading themselves individually. Reading in communion and discovering a community's identity and calling through that reading are central to its thesis. Reading for the Common Good is also about how members of a congregation or community advocate for and facilitate literacy and reading in the neighborhoods where they serve by offering literacy instruction, and even housing lending libraries and book shops.

Reading for the Common Good sets lofty goals for those who choose to make reading a core practice within their community. Reading communally can help us bridge social barriers such as those erected by racism. It can help us address social ills, injustice, and ecological ills. It can even help us build integrity into our political systems and democratic processes. One imagines that if every pastor, politician, and community leader in the United States would encourage their constituents to read together, the problems that beset those communities could be dealt with in the space of a generation. That is the kind of hope that Reading for the Common Good seeks to cultivate.

One doesn't need to take Christopher Smith's word for these promises. Every chapter includes multiple quotes from such diverse voices as Allen Ginsberg, Wendell Berry, Neil Gaiman (whose "Why Our Futures Depend on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming" is worth a side trip), Peter Senge, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones, Virginia Milhouse, and Walter Brueggemann. Are there more women's voices that could be heard in making these arguments? Without a doubt. Still, the endnotes point to fine additional reading in subject areas that Smith touches.

Finally, Smith includes two separate reading lists. One is a chapter-by-chapter list specific to the book. The second is a topical list developed by and for Smith's congregation, Englewood Christian Church of Indianapolis, Indiana. If the reader borrows this book from a public library, photocopy or scan these pages and the endnotes before returning the book!
Profile Image for Chris Little.
105 reviews2 followers
September 22, 2020
The surprise for me on reading this book is that it's not about reading, not primarily. It seems to me that Smith's primary argument is that local churches can and should aim to make their neighbouring communities flourish. As part of this - a very major part of it - is to read well and to read widely. To say that reading is secondary in this work is in no way to minimise its significance, but to place reading in service of a greater purpose.

For Smith, reading is broad. He mentions material from technical manuals, through journalism, fiction and non-fiction, as well as the Bible. He is also equally generous in acknowledging the range of reading skill levels: there's a clear effort to avoid snobbishness.

I have a couple of niggles, though, one of these is probably just a personal preference but the other is more important.

Firstly, the less important complaint, about a matter I notice in Christian books from time to time. I sense - maybe I'm oversensitive - that there are many moments of too-easy judgmentalism. There often seems to be a hidden phrase at the end of sentences like, 'We have been poor at ...,' or 'The church has failed in ...': 'by we I mean others.'

The second complaint is of theological looseness, of major terms going undefined. To limit myself to one example, take 'reconciliation.' This appears to be a kind of place-holder for the (true) idea that God is doing something for the whole of reality ('the healing and reconciliation of all creation' on p.18, or 'a way that bears witness to the reconciling love of Christ' on p.147). But what does Smith mean by this reconciliation? And who does it? I can't tell if he thinks churches and Christians to some extent bring about reconciliation, or if it's a completed work of God, or some other formulation. I expect that 'flourish' (used in the subtitle) will always be a flexible term, but think some terms do require more precision. Perhaps Smith covered this is his earlier work, Slow Church, but it still needs some coverage here.

But moving from these matters, I think this is a book worth reading with others to expand our view of what a church can be and do. It's full of ideas, it set me to think of ways we can be better neighbours, and it can promote something that Smith repeatedly extols - conversation!
Profile Image for Andy.
Author 2 books59 followers
December 4, 2022
While I applaud the intent of the book, Reading for the Common Good tries to cover far too much territory, justifying that attempt by prescribing reading as the solution to every community problem. Unpacking the words of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor alone (which is quite a task) is glossed over far too quickly, to say nothing of other writers and thinkers mentioned in this book. To thoughtfully do so would take a much longer book, yet I understand the need to make this work readable and compact. But many writers/works are named as important without much more than a very general reason for why they are named, leaving readers to wonder "Why should I read this?" when they come across such suggestions. (Smith does give a bit more information in the reading lists that close out the book.)

Yet Smith nails it in a section called "Churches and the Flourishing of Our Places" (pp. 85-88) when he provides great information about how The New Parish (written by Dwight Friesen, Tim Soerens, Paul Sparks) articulates the "faithful presence" of the church and "what it means to live within our place," making opportunities for the common good, not only spiritually, but also physically, emotionally, and relationally. The book needs more solid, practical connections like this one, tied to the works cited.

Other broad-based statements, such as, "Poetry can provide new language or images that lend powerful insight into the human experience" are true, but too general to do much good without more exploration. Other assertions such as "Sometimes reading can directly help us fulfill a dream for our neighborhood" are well-intentioned, yet are followed with responses that are too obvious, such as finding books to help transform vacant lots through gardening.

Ultimately everything a Christian reads should be examined in light of Scripture. This is touched upon in the book, but the idea should be a running thread throughout the work, reminding readers and potential community-builders why they're doing what they're doing.

Reading for the Common Good has some useful information for churches seeking to build thriving communities, but the majority of its information is basic and obvious. The book is trying to do far too much without clearly defining what it seeks to do and how to do it.

Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,407 reviews81 followers
March 7, 2019
Positives: Smith lays out a wonderful plan for developing churches into reading communities, investing in local communities politically and economically, and practicing lectio divina as a church. He has some helpful tips on building a church library, book lists, and accessibility to books in general for churches. I love the idea of a church-based book club that meets elsewhere and thus involves the local community more. Fiction as cautionary, showing the negatives in society, fit well into his vision. I deeply resonated with his desire for "slow church" and "slow reading" in this fast world.

Negatives: The chapter on vocation and calling was very weak--it was Smith's rather self-congratulatory story of becoming a reader. It would have been stronger had he given examples of how communal reading changed someone else's life, or even his own life. Perhaps it's my English-major bias, but Smith doesn't have a deep understanding of fiction. He emphasizes the distortionary nature of fiction (evident in dystopic and grotesque fiction), to the the vision of truth, beauty, and goodness laid out in so much of fiction and narrative essays (he mentions Wendell Berry often but entirely misses this aspect of his fiction). Overall, the narrative/poetry portions of the book were just weak. Smith has a background in philosophy and is evidently well-read in many informational subjects, but a lot of people connect to stories and poems better, and that ends up being a lacuna in this book.
Profile Image for John.
26 reviews2 followers
January 19, 2021
C. Christopher Smith has written a wonderful book on reading and how it influences one’s local church and one’s environment where it is located. He uses the example of the Irish monks in the Middle Ages and how they brought literacy to Europe. Literacy was used by the missionaries.The
local church can recommend certain books or it may have a library or a bookstore or it may connect with the local town library to promote literacy. Smith makes many recommendations of books relating to the topic of each chapter. The important message is that literacy is a vital interest to the local church for reading is for the common good. He says we read as a way of listening to the wisdom of others.
Profile Image for David.
319 reviews12 followers
February 1, 2022
I'm torn because on one had I really liked this book, but I also felt like it never got off the ground. Most of the book is spent arguing that reading helps the common good! But the specifics of how was lacking for me. I'll probably return to this book in the future because my expectations could have been off.
Profile Image for Justine.
586 reviews
February 5, 2020
A thorough examination of challenges facing the modern Church and how reading and discussing together as a congregation might lead to the flourishing (Shalom) of our communities.
Profile Image for Elizabeth .
279 reviews23 followers
November 27, 2022
I found this good and filled with interesting details, but it wasn't one of the books I wanted to devour.
1 review4 followers
March 4, 2017
In Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith imparts a vision for the local impact that can come through deliberately reading together across a broad range of subjects and taking collective action from what learn for the good of our communities. Reading is more than an individual effort for our own enrichment. It is a way for us to join efforts toward the flourishing that God intends for the world.

The book’s theme follows up well on what Smith and co-author John Pattison presented in Slow Church. The local church is to be a learning organization that continues its reading together over time with slow and deliberate intent. While focused on the local church and using many examples from the author’s home church, Reading for the Common Good is relevant to any groups of people who want to join together to learn and impact their local communities. This broader vision for not only reading scripture but for finding and exploring books with themes relevant to the common good is an emphasis not often found in discussions about what it means to be the local church.

One of the pertinent themes explored is the importance of reading to civil dialogue. We need to be reading together to promote our mutual flourishing and to reimagine how society as a whole can change through what we are learning on the local level. This contrasts with the emphasis that is usually directed at the federal level in discussions for social and political change. Change starts locally and in our communities through reading and acting upon what we learn together.

Reading for the Common Good motivated me to find more readers focused on similar themes and to work toward my reading being a collective rather than individual effort. It inspired me with a vision for the impact that can be made when people are learning and working together. The book also introduces relevant books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry across a variety of themes and lists all of the mentioned books in the back. This is a reading list that could keep one busy for a long time.

I highly recommend Reading for the Common Good for those who wish to inspire groups of people to learn together and to impact their communities.
Profile Image for Phil Aud.
62 reviews7 followers
June 17, 2016
-Love the idea of sermon as Lectio Divina

Ch. 2
Social Imaginary (Taylor) in our time becoming important as local challenges corporate. Novels change how we see ourselves in the story, possibly contributing to less violence (loc. 475).

Book has great resources for reading on particular topics from science to mentorship.

Reading for the Common Good is a unique and necessary book for our time. There are some decent books available on reading from a pastoral perspective, such as Plantinga’s “Reading for Preaching,” and several books on reading that address the general public. This book, however, is not geared towards the individual but the church at large. How do you develop a reading congregation is the question this book addresses. It’s important, though, to quickly qualify this statement. While the author is interested in developing the congregation as a “learning organization,” it’s a specific type of learning he is after. The pursuit is not to build intellectual communities, per se. This is clear throughout, but chapter 9 begins with these words of Gregory the Great’s: “Love itself is knowledge: the more one loves, the more one knows.” The point of our reading should lead us to love. This is clear in the first chapter where the author writes that our faithfulness as neighbors comes about through “learning and action.” “Without learning,” he writes, “our action tends to be reaction and often is superficial…Without action, our faith is irrelevant, and most likely–to borrow a thought from the apostle James–dead.” Another assumption that should be avoided is that the book is an attempt to develop theological readers. This is true, of course, but not exclusively. Our reading should be as broad as our mission. The book deals with reading everything from food labels to serious works of theology.

The author writes about common and important practices, such Lectio Divina, but offers unique thoughts on these practices as well. I loved the idea of the sermon as Lectio, for example. The author also writes not only about the importance of reading, but the importance of how to read – slowly. This is a dying art in our age and it’s recovery is for our health and good.

A large underlying idea of this book, as expressed in the 2nd chapter specifically, is how the “Social Imaginary” (Charles Taylor) can be shaped through our communal reading and conversation. This takes place through various types of reading. Steven Pinker would argued that violence has decreased with in part through novels, for example. Finding ourselves in the stories allows us to see the world through the eyes of the “other." Many types of reading, then, become important as we purse learning and action. I greatly appreciated the way the last chapter dealt with how to sustain reading cultures. Nurture it at a young age. Have reading clubs for youth and “If teens are not inclined to read a book prior to gathering, they can read it aloud together as part of discussion.” He recommends not giving college students things to read since they are already overwhelmed with reading. “A more fruitful approach might be to spend time with them, one on one or in small groups…”. Really great stuff here.

Finally, the book finishes with two fantastic reading lists on the various topics the book addressed. This alone is worth the price of the book. I walked away from reading this wonderful work thinking of ways to begin to better cultivate a reading institution for the sake of the community and for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Five stars.

*Thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book to review.
Profile Image for Kelly.
483 reviews3 followers
February 17, 2022
A thoughtful book. I'm learning and enjoying.
I highly recommend this book, especially to my friends in the faith and library communities.
Profile Image for Dorothy Greco.
Author 5 books66 followers
February 27, 2017
From the back cover: "Living faithfully in a neighborhood involves two interwoven threads: learning and action." C. Christopher Smith skillfully, thoughtfully addresses each of these threads. Reading for the Common Good challenges us to not simply be diligent, purposeful readers but to then put what we've learned into action for the betterment of our church and our communities. His commitment to reading (and writing) is evident and heartening. I believe that this sentence, found near the end of the book, summarizes the text: "How do we bring together our reading and our learning and allow it to transform the ways we live and act as people?" Indeed. I'll be pondering this for some time.
Profile Image for Ann.
311 reviews5 followers
September 3, 2016
As a volunteer church librarian and book junkie, I didn’t need to be convinced, but I was eager to learn what more my fellow librarians and I could do to help our church and its neighborhood flourish. This book broadened my concept of reading and the importance of doing it in community, accompanied by conversation. Chris Smith (editor of Englewood Review of Books and co-author of Slow Church) addresses the value of slow reading, which he advocates not just for Bible study and the reading of “Christian” books, but for books in every imaginable subject area and genre that could broaden our understanding, bring diverse people together, and lead to flourishing communities and a safer, saner world. At first I found the book intriguing, then exciting, then gradually overwhelming, almost paralyzing. Smith’s many references to other books that had inspired his own remarkable missional congregation, plus a reading list to accompany each chapter, were so tempting that I could imagine myself reading book after book about possibilities for action and never getting to the point of doing anything. I was hoping for a sure-fire formula for getting from reading (the theme of the book) to action (as implied in the subtitle). The last chapter, “Becoming a Reading Congregation,” brought me back to reality, to where it all has to start. Reading alone won’t do it. But if people in my church or yours are inspired by this book to read more and then to do just one new thing for the common good as a result, I daresay it will have accomplished its purpose.
1,143 reviews13 followers
January 28, 2017
Chris Smith believes reading can be transformative, and as he shares the experiences of his church and community it becomes clear why. Reading is thinking, and thinking is best done when it leads to conversation in community. Done in prayer and community, slow careful reading can guide local churches in their calling to love God and neighbor and to live in biblical Shalom with God, our neighbors, and the world.

What I appreciate about Reading for the Common Good is that it starts with careful reading and discussion of Scripture, and that it lays out a plan that wouldn't be overwhelming for individuals. If you are a gifted gardener, a book on gardening might be a more effective way for you to live out your calling in your church than a philosophical or theological tome. The guiding principle is to slow down and consider what God wants from us (the church), as opposed to our individualistic concerns with his plan for "my" life. Once we prayerfully begin the hard work of reading and contemplation, we can decide what we need to do next and how we need to build our reading lists to make that happen. This is an important book that I recommend to introduce how careful thought, reading, and conversation must disrupt business as usual in our churches, neighborhoods, and the world.
Profile Image for Tamara Murphy.
Author 3 books19 followers
December 14, 2016
Oh my goodness. Could Christopher Smith include any more of my favorite words in this title? I thoroughly enjoyed this read (much the same as I enjoyed Slow Church by the same author). As someone who has been encouraged by writer and theologian Eugene Peterson in the act of spiritual reading, I was reminded again to embrace this practice, and not for myself alone.

In "Reading For the Common Good", Chris Smith encourages us to do the slow, thoughtful work of reading in community in order to grow in understanding and deepen our relationships within and without the church walls. After finishing the last chapter, I was immediately inspired to begin a reading group at the church my husband pastors here in Fairfield, CT. Since we are new to this community, this has been an especially encouraging way for me to make connections and provide new avenues for meaningful conversation within our church family.

I highly recommend both the book and the various reading lists the author shares. Well done!
Profile Image for Michelle Welch.
101 reviews
November 9, 2016
Reading For The Common Good is a wealth of information and truth. As the churches get bigger and the world turns to 140 characters and 10 second sound bites we too often miss out on the richness that comes with the shared love of reading. Chris's love of books and everything involved with learning more comes through on every page. Scripture tells us that we should be continually learning as well as teaching and what better way to accomplish this around good books. Of course our time in the Word is of the utmost importance. Chris reminds us that being in community with fellow believers so you can discuss what you are reading helps build both learning and action. This book is full of resources to help you get started today with building a love of reading in your church and your church community. I especially recommend this book to student ministry leaders. What better way to build bridges than to share a love of good books.
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1,286 reviews75 followers
August 21, 2016
Through language we are continually creating and refining reality.

Excellent ideas on creating communities that live, work, support, and play well together. Beginning with decisions and discernment that influence the shaping of that community. Reading is influential collectively as members read and reflect according to their gifts, interests, and passions. Which increases understanding of the times and the placing of each community recognizing the impact of reading.

Fascinating concept for this reader who is actively involved in living in community and its effect on the wider neighbourhood community it's situated within. A positive, influential and much enjoyed read.

*Appreciation to IVP for providing an ecopy for reading and review without cost or obligation.
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Author 26 books80 followers
June 1, 2016
Beside the fact that it's well written, the premise that reading in community (especially in spiritual community) challenges, deepens, and binds us together in mission to the world around (and within) us is cogent and resonating. And we people of faith need to be reminded of the power of reading in community!
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