Friday, September 25, 2009

Bible Reading

Since entire books have been written on the subject of reading the Bible, it seems ludicrous for me to write a single blog about it. After taking a few moments to peruse my library, I will dive in for the attempt.

Okay, dear readers, I will reward you for your patience, and as an added bonus, I will shock you at the same time. The winner of the best book to help you read the Bible is How to Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Here is the disclaimer: it is not a Christian book, per se. It is a secular book for learning to understand what you are reading.

I wish to concentrate on the chapter, How To Be A Demanding Reader. I will list a few excerpts in the following paragraphs which I feel apply in Bible reading, as well as other types of non-inspirational reading.

Ask questions while you read-questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading...There are four main questions you must ask about any book.


I will interrupt my notes from the book at this point to say that as Christian readers, we believe that the Bible is true, in the whole. However, our awareness of the truth of God's word will grow as we study it because according to Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active." Furthermore, " judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

This means that while we acknowledge the truth of the Bible before we start, we will have to weigh and examine it again and again as we read it because it will be judging the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. For instance, I believe that the Bible is true. If, however, I read that God hates lying, I will have a decision to make about that truth when I am presented with the opportunity to lie because it is easier than telling the truth on many occasions. When I decide to tell the truth anyway, I have affirmed the truth of God's word. If I decide that to lie, then I have not affirmed the truth of God's word.

Here are a few more noteworthy excerpts. Keep in mind that this was not written for Christians, but secular readers, and yet it applies in an excellent sort of way.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully. Here are some devices that can be used:

1. UNDERLINING --of major points, of important or forceful statements.
2. VERTICAL LINES AT THE MARGIN--to emphasize a statement already underlined or to point to a passage too long to be underlined.
3. STAR, ASTERISK, OR OTHER DOODAD AT THE MARGIN--to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or dozen most important statements or passages in the book. You may want to fold a corner of each page on which you make such marks or place a slip of paper between the pages. In either case, you will be able to take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it to the indicated page, refresh your recollection.
4. NUMBERS IN THE MARGIN--to indicate a sequence of points made by the author in developing an argument.
5. NUMBERS OF OTHERS PAGES IN THE MARGIN--to indicate where else in the book the author makes the same points, or points relevant to or in contradiction of those here marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together. Many readers use the symbol "Cf" to indicate the other page numbers; it means "compare' or "refer to.'
6. CIRCLING OF KEY WORDS OR PHRASES--This serves much the same function as underlining.
7. WRITING IN THE MARGIN, OR AT THE TOP OR BOTTOM OF THE PAGE--to record questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raises in your mind; to reduce a complicated discussion to a simple statement; to record the sequence of major points right through the book. The endpapers at the back of the book can be used to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance.

To inveterate book-markers, the front endpapers are often the most important. Some people reserve them for a fancy bookplate. But that expresses only their financial ownership of the book. The front endpapers are better reserved for a record of your thinking. After finishing the book and making your personal index on the back endpapers, turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page or point by point (you have already done that on the back), but as an integrated structure, with a basic outline and an order of parts. That outline will be the measure of your understanding of th work; unlike a bookplate, it will express your intellectual ownership of the book.

Back to my thoughts: some of you are completely horrified at several of the suggestions already.

I will address those horrors if any of you decide to comment on them. Otherwise, I will leave you in your horrified state.

Adding to Mr. Adler's ideas, I would highly recommend a few purchases to help you in Bible reading and marking. I hate bent corners in books; invest in small post it notes instead. Also, I have found that while marking has helped me a great deal to draw out thoughts and ideas from the Bible, that writing in my Bible can sometimes be unsatisfactory because the space is so limited. I recommend shopping around for a notebook that can hold your thoughts and is easily transportable. The other benefit of investing your time and money in a notebook is the ability to look back over what you have meditated on and find common themes of what God has been speaking to you, areas of struggle in which you have found an increased faith and confidence based on specific promises or just plain old encouragement that God is near when He seems a million light years away. Last of all, I recommend having a Bible that is already divided for you into 365 sections so that you can easily accomplish your daily reading without having to check lists etc. The big advantage for new readers is that you don't get stuck in endless days of Leviticus or Ezekiel, wondering why you ever started on this Bible reading journey in the first place. Each day will have some Old Testament, some New Testament, as well as something from the Psalms and Proverbs.

I would also like to point out some things which you are better off without. You are better off without daily devotionals, which in a weak moment could become your 'only' Bible reading for the day. This will horrify the fans of Oswald Chambers. So be it. It is best to actually read the Bible on a regular basis, rather than books about the Bible on a regular basis. You are better off without a commentary when you are doing your daily reading. Save them for research. Allow God's word to just speak to you first, in a fresh way everyday. I have some commentaries that I enjoy very much, but I don't pull them out until I have already tried to pull the meat from the bones for myself. If you have any of Matthew Henry's commentaries, simply set them on fire. Their best and highest use is to make a roaring blaze in your living room. This assumes you have a fireplace, and that you actually believe the Bible.

Well, I have other things to say, but they fall more into the category of hearing from God. I will have to save that for another day.


Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

Life Words Boise said...

Thank you very much. I will have to check that ou.