I’ve spent a profitable week reading. Some weeks it doesn’t feel like that, but this past week was encouraging. Tim Carmody put Rolf Engelsing’s ‘Lesenrevolution’ at the top of his 10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books\1/. Engelsing saw a shift in C18 reading patterns from intensive reading a small number of text to extensive reading of large numbers of text, most of which would only be read once. But Carmody’s not convinced that this is the real revolution, since both types of reading be be identified before and since C18.
Engelsin’s distinction does have application to Christian reading, however. To illustrate the distinction, Carmody contrasts Bible and newspaper reading. Certainly for Christians the Bible ought to be read intensively. It has been the practice of believers since the Bible was written, but it definitely in serious decline today. That is so, despite the plethora of Bible reading programs available (a selection of which can be found on my church’s Web site).
This week I came across another program that will no doubt not suit the modern taste for sixty second quiet times. Grant Horner’s ten-chapter-a-day program (HT: Tim Challies\2/) could even qualify for intensive and extensive at the same time. Ten chapters is certainly intensive, but by reading from ten different books at a time it is much more intensive than other programs. Its consecutive reading of different chapters over a long period appeals to me as a way to see the connections between different parts of Scripture. I am convinced that cross-references alone are insufficient to see the connections, nor is Beale and Carson’s excellent and profitable guide to the NT’s use of the Old.\3/
I’ve noticed how in recent years I can more readily identify connections, allusions and the like in Scripture. I’ve also noticed the blank looks one other people’s faces when I mention them in conversation or study groups. I’m sure that it is only intensive reading over several decades that enable me to see them.
I’ve never followed any formal reading plan for long, but I have decided to give Horner’s a go with one alteration. I’m keeping all of Paul’s letters in list 3, and everything from Hebrews on in list 4. I don’t find the length of time required a problem, I doubt any serious reader would. It remains to be seen whether I can stick to it, since I regularly get “stuck” on verses that leap off the page at me. I think Martyn Lloyd-Jones was onto something when he recommended stopping at them before moving on (in Preaching and Preachers, I think).
Horner’s plan applies intensive and extensive reading to Scripture. I’m sure that each of us ought to have a small number of other books that we read intensively, besides the Bible. Pilgrim’s Progress, Calvin’s Institutes, and C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity regularly appear on suggested lists. Everything else should be in the extensive category. And I don’t think this is a luxury for any Christian, much less so for preachers. John Brand recently quoted John Wesley’s rebuke to a preacher whose reading was far from adequate:
“What has exceedingly hurt you in times past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the appetite for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago.
It is lively but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. O begin!”\4/
What a rebuke! But he’s right. It fits with what I recall of James Montgomery Boice’s advice to someone contemplating Christian ministry–study literature before theology.
Extensive reading is not a magic formula for terrific preaching, but it is evidently a means that God regularly blesses. It strikes me that part of the reason why it works is that intensive Bible reading enables us to engage critically with extra-biblical extensive reading. Our extensive reading ought to go beyond biblical and theological topics because such books enable effective critical engagement with the world’s ideas. That can only sharpen our gospel perspective. Without intensive reading of Scripture it may blunt it, or even damage or destroy our faith.
Extensive reading holds little or no danger, so long as we engage in intensive Scripture reading. That’s not closing our minds, but treasuring the most valuable book we possess, and using it to inform our judgment of other books. I’m happy to continue my pattern of combining intensive Scripture reading with extensive extra-biblical reading.
It’s definitely been a profitable week’s reading.
1. Tim Carmody, “10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books”, The Atlantic, 25 August 2010, http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/08/10-reading-revolutions-before-e-books/62004/.
2. Tim Challies, “Ten Chapters Per Day”, challies.com, 18 August 2010, http://www.challies.com/christian-living/ten-chapters-per-day.
3. G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).
4. John Brand, “Preachers Should be Readers”, Encouraging Expository Excellence, 27 July 2010, http://www.encouragingexpositoryexcellence.co.uk/?p=559.