Reading the Bible: Ordinary Reading (Part 1)

“Don’t be discouraged. Reading, like anything else, is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced, and trained. You might think “I know how to read,” and once you know how to read it’s simply a matter of increasing your vocabulary. Reading is easy and intuitive, and therefore shouldn’t require any extra training once the skill is acquired. It’s like riding a bike.”

 

Sitting down to read the Bible isn’t enough. We need to learn how to read it well; and, reading it well is actually more difficult than one might think. Many of us want to grow in our relationship with God, in our knowledge of what he has taught, and in our spiritual lives, and we know that reading the Bible is central to that goal, but we often find our bible reading frustratingly fruitless. What am I supposed to be getting from this text? How does it teach me about Jesus? How does it help me to grow?

Don’t be discouraged. Reading, like anything else, is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced, and trained. You might think “I know how to read,” and once you know how to read it’s simply a matter of increasing your vocabulary. Reading is easy and intuitive, and therefore shouldn’t require any extra training once the skill is acquired. It’s like riding a bike.

But that’s not true. It’s not true for “ordinary” books, and it’s not true for the Bible. In fact, there’s a justly famous book called How to Read a Book (which, I must admit, I have not read) that addresses the complexities of reading, and this is just one of many such books. Reading requires developing certain skills and, like anything else, practicing those skills over and over and over again! That’s true for ordinary books, and it’s also true for the Bible.

The Bible, of course, is not ordinary, so it requires two sets of skills. On the one hand, the Bible requires us to have ordinary reading skills, and we will begin our quest in this post by looking at those. The Bible also requires what we might call Spiritual skills (Matt. 11:15; Rom. 1:21; 1 Cor. 1:6-16), and we will address those later on. For now, though, be encouraged because many of the skills involved in reading ordinary books will pay big dividends when it comes to reading the Bible.

Ordinary reading begins by sitting down and reading the book in question. This may sound obvious, but it isn’t. The first step to reading a biblical book well is to actually read it, and to read it in the “ordinary” way that a book is to be read. To put the matter bluntly, you are probably not doing that right now. In fact, I can almost guarantee it.

Think about the last narrative you pulled off the shelf. Maybe it was something sophisticated like The Brothers Karamazov, or maybe it was something historical like Chernow’s biography Hamilton. My most recent was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Or maybe narratives don’t appeal to you and you are currently knee-deep in some theological tome or poetic pursuit. Regardless, ask yourself how you read it. What did you do? What kind of questions did you ask? Describe the reading process. How many times did you pull out a commentary? How about a dictionary? Did you pause and meditate after each sentence, or did you read straight through? How long did it take you? If something was confusing did you just move on, or did you make sure you fully understood paragraph ‘A’ before moving on to paragraph ‘B’? Maybe you’re a pretty varied reader and thus would answer those questions differently depending on the book in question—you slowly savor poetry, but devour fiction, for instance. When do you switch over to a different process and why?

The Bible and a “Natural” Reading

The point of all this is to describe what “natural reading” looks like (and what it looks like given different circumstances or types of writing). How do you ordinarily read? Whether you are sitting down with a newspaper, or blog post, or beach reading, or even a textbook, your reading “process” is very natural. You instinctively approach those diverse types of material differently, and you don’t overthink it. It’s natural and intuitive, and for the most part I bet you feel like you got something out of what you read, even though some things were confusing or unexpected.

So back to the Bible. Describe your reading process when you approach a biblical book. What do your devotions look like? Do you proceed sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, or book by book? What kinds of questions do you ask as you read? How long does it take you to read a page of the Bible vs. a page of, say, Harry Potter? How long do you spend on questions like “what does this word mean” or “what’s going on in this paragraph?”

My guess is that you read the Bible totally differently than you read anything else. This is an indication that you are likely approaching Scripture unnaturally. You are not reading it as “ordinary” communication.

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The post Reading the Bible: Ordinary Reading (Part 1) appeared first on The Aquila Report.



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