Re-Learning to Read

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Episode 13 of the Redeeming Productivity Show podcast was made to compliment this blog post. In that episode, I cover a broader range of topics concerning reading better. So, if you want to get more information on reading, check out that episode.

Christians are readers. God’s revelation has come to us in book form. The Word is foundational to the Christian faith as a whole, and to our faith as individuals. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). So it is incumbent upon us to be good readers.

Throughout history, two important factors have preceded every great revival. First, is the preponderance of the Word of God in the mother tongue—from when the Book of the Law was rediscovered during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22), to the translations of men like Luther and Tyndale in paving the way for the Protestant Reformation, to the countless examples coming out of the modern missions movement. Over and over again, history demonstrates that when people receive the Scriptures in their mother tongue, the Word of God sparks revival.

But the second important factor in all great revivals is the literacy of the people to whom the Word comes. Once they receive the Word, they must take up and read.

While the English-speaking world has unparalleled access to the Bible in our language, nonetheless we are still lacking in literacy. I don’t mean that we are illiterate in the binary, elementary sense—it’s not that we lack the basic ability to read and write. But literacy admits of degrees. And, sadly, though we may have learned to read, most of us never learned to read well.

Re-Learning to Read

Good reading is the reverse-engineering of good writing.

This semi-literacy applies to how we approach our Bibles and other books as well. From the start, the Christian tradition has been enriched by beneficial extra-biblical literature. From the Didache, a first-century treatise on Christian practice summarizing the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, to the excellent Christian books still being published today, the tradition of writing and reading are an important part of the Christian faith.

But the sad fact is that Christians who don’t know how to read well miss out on so many of the benefits of this rich tradition. So, how can we learn to read our Bibles and other books well? To answer that we need first to define what we are trying to accomplish when we read.

The Goal of Reading

The first thing to understand about reading well is that good reading is done with purpose. Most do not read with any sort of deliberate awareness of the goal of reading in mind. Ask yourself this, when you pick up a book, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? With fictional books the aim is usually quite obvious—usually, you are reading simply to be entertained. And that’s okay. Non-fiction works must be approached in a different manner than fictional books.

Non-fiction books are didactic, meaning they are seeking to teach something. Whether it’s history, science, or theology, the author has information which he is seeking to convey through the written word to a reader’s mind. The aim of reading, therefore, is to understand the author’s intent. When reading is done correctly there is, in a very real sense, a meeting of the minds. But for this to happen, it requires active participation from the reader.

Reading Like a Writer

There is an important relationship between reading and writing that must be appreciated if we are to get the most out of the reading experience. Consider that all truly good reading material required a great deal of effort to write. The author labored over, not just the individual word choices and sentences, but the overall structure—the flow of the chapters, the transitions, and the underlying substructure of each component.

To be useful to Christ is the desire of every productive Christian.

Good writing has a thesis, is logically ordered, and is arranged as an argument. The writer is doing something. Readers, therefore, need to think like writers when they read. They need to be searching for that thesis, flushing out the substructure, and assessing the merits of the arguments. Reading well is not a passive activity. Good reading is the reverse-engineering of good writing. It requires sustained attention and a detective’s mind.

Is Reading Well Worth It?

This all sounds like a lot of work. Is it really worth it?

Reading a blog on productivity, you might have expected to find an article on speed reading rather than an argument for reading slowly and carefully. But Christians are not simply seeking to cram our heads full of trivia. The process of growth in the mind happens when we think deeply and meditate on what we’re reading and ask ourselves how our reading material squares with the Word of God. But re-learning to read is well worth the effort.

When Christians read well, taking the time to ponder all that God has for us in His Word along with the ideas and arguments of extra-biblical authors, we aren’t just adding data points to our brains. The process of truly active reading transforms us into better thinkers and sharper tools in the hands of our Lord and Master.

Join the discussion

  • In 1:1 discipleship meetings with other men, I ask them (in one of our 30 meetings), “Imagine someone in the church comes to you and says, ‘I really don’t get anything out of reading the Bible. But to be honest, I’m don’t know what I’m SUPPOSED to get out of reading the Bible. Can you help me?” I’m always surprised at how many men say, “I don’t know how to help. I’ve had that question myself.” Then I show them what God wants every Christian to want from His Word. Pure milk, i.e. truth, sound doctrine (1 Peter 2:2). You’re right. We don’t know how to read.

    • Well said, John. Even people who have grown up in the church have gaps in their understanding of basic things. But if they haven’t been taught it, how can we expect them to know? It just goes to show we can’t assume anything. And going back again and again to the foundational doctrines and practices will always pay dividends.

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