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The Death of Reading

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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Create a Banquet

Writing experts say that half the struggle is getting people to read what you write. They also say that a good title is everything. This may be true. When I saw The Hottest Thing at Church is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader, the title of a Christianity Today (April 2017) article, I was enticed to read it.

It’s a good read. It highlights the fact that the number 1 explanation for why Americans go to church is for “Sermons that teach about Scripture.”

That’s music to my ears! I firmly believe that reading, preaching and appreciating the Word (which is to appreciate the One of whom the Word speaks) should rank above every other reason for why we go to church.

Which reminds me of something a veteran Bible teacher and preacher recently said to me, “We should lay out a banquet for people to feast from when they come to church.” He’s absolutely right. The preaching and teaching of God’s Word should be spiritually tasty and filling.

Unfortunately pastors don’t always provide their congregations with a weekly banquet on God’s Word. Sometimes it’s only a snack and sometimes it’s just a morsel – certainly not enough to sustain or nourish a congregation.

Pastors, “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). That’s literal language. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not figurative. With every ounce of strength and passion, prayerfully and humbly, carefully and patiently, in the power of the Spirit – preach the Word! Exegete the text. Do everything possible to invite every person to enter into the Scriptures, engage the Scriptures, encounter the One of whom the Scriptures speak, and emulate the Scriptures in everything they say and do.

I still remember, about 30 years later, how one pastor told me that it only took him 3-4 hours to prepare his Sunday message. He was proud of this because it gave him more time to spend with his family … the implication being that it was good and right for him to make his family his highest priority. I’m still flabbergasted! A good message takes days of preparation, hours and hours of wrestling with the text, and even sleepless nights as the preacher seeks to reconcile himself with the text because he knows he can’t preach if the Scriptures don’t have ascendency in his own life.

In fact sermon preparation is somewhat similar to cooking. When my wife and I want to prepare a really nice meal for friends or family it takes us about two full days to do the planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, vacuuming and dusting (our house must first be clean before we can serve up a banquet), dish washing and drying. Similarly, when I prepare a sermon I know it requires planning, getting all the ingredients together, arranging and organizing, making sure my own house is in order before I tell others how to get their house in order, serving something sumptuous, and doing what needs to be done so that others will say, “Thanks, that was great!”

One more thing: I’m a nobody when it comes to cooking and I’m a nobody when it comes to preaching. But that’s okay. The Christianity Today article mentions how the Gallup poll also discovered that “people in the pews care far more about what’s being preached than who’s preaching it.” That’s good news for every ordinary pastor who is diligently feeding the congregation a Sunday banquet week in and week out.

It’s also a reminder that the preacher plays the supportive, not the main role. When I go to a restaurant and eat a good meal, the food itself, not the chef, is the focus of my gastronomic experience. Similarly, the texture, flavour and aroma of the Scriptures should be the focus of the preaching, not the preacher. And for this to happens the preacher’s main aim should be to preach the Word so that everyone can “taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5