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Bible Engagement Blog

The Death of Reading

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I recently read Philip Yancey’s article in The Washington Post titled “The death of reading is threatening the soul.” While Yancey’s article isn’t specifically focused on reading the Bible, it got me thinking about how the death of reading is having an adverse effect on Bible engagement.

Yancey’s premise is that reading books (“deep reading”) is dying out. He suggests this is due, in large part, to our brains being rewired by the internet to read only a paragraph or two (shallow reading).

In the book Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, Glenn Paauw promotes reading the Bible in “slower, smarter, deeper” ways as a prerequisite to reading the Bible adequately. I agree with Paauw. Our spiritual formation is significantly hampered if we’re not in the habit of concentrated reading of big chunks of the Bible. As I said in the book Bible Engagement Basics, “When Christians subsist on a diet of Scripture snacks, they’re not feeding on the Word! Bible reading is more than a catchphrase, more than a shortStudy-of-Death-300x208-lived inspirational text, and more than samplings of texts isolated from their historical, literary or cultural contexts.”

So if deep reading of the Bible is essential for spiritual formation, how do we do this when our brains may no longer be attuned to deep reading? Or to phrase the question differently, Is there a way to overcome shallow reading and develop deep reading skills?

The answer to the above questions is that we can all develop deep reading skills. But determination or discipline won’t get us there. According to Yancey who quotes Quartz, “willpower alone is not enough.” We need to build a “fortress of (new) habits” if we’re going to break free from shallow reading. And how are a “fortress of habits” that facilitate deep Bible reading developed? Here are some suggestions:

  • Claim God’s promises. You can develop deep reading skills because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (cf. Philippians 4:13)
  • Ask God to renew your mind (cf. Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:23). If the internet can wire our brains to read one way (shallow reading) surely God can reprogram our brains to read another way (deep meditative reflective reading).
  • Change your lifestyle. Replace bad habits with good habits. We should make no provision for the flesh (cf. Romans 13:14). If you continue to spend most of your time on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and reading emails you’ll never develop deep reading skills because you’ll continue to get a dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) from your shallow reading.
  • Ask mature Christians to help you (cf. Proverbs 15:22, 19:20, Galatians 6:2). Don’t try to battle this out by yourself. Invite instruction from Christians who have strong daily devotional Bible reading habits.
  • Spend time in prayer (cf. Mark 11:24).

Have your say. What would you add or subtract?

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5

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