Monday, August 08, 2005

On Reading

Reading, a dying art....
(from Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p26)
"...you must be able to tell from the tone of the language what is the author's attitude towards the subject and towards the reader. You must, in other words, know the difference between a joke and an argument. And in judgeing the quality of an argument, you must be able to do several things at once, including delaying a verdict until the entire argument in finished, holding in mind questions until you have determined where, when or if the text answers them, and bringing to bear on the text all of your relevant experience as a counterargument to what is being proposed. You must also be able to withhold those parts of your knowledge and experience whichm, in fact, do not have a bearing on the argument...."
In the age of TV we are rapidly losing the ability to read well, and so Christian Bible study suffers. Where once an ordinary audience could listen to complex political exposition for 3 hours, with 3 hours response and further counter-response.

Today we say that 20 minutes of exposition is considered too long to listen for. Indeed most sermons of 20 minutes probably only contain a few moments of expositional argument concerning the truth, the rest being humour and stories meant for entertainment and cultural engagement (neither of which is necessarily unimportant).

The internet makes us read again. Or rather, Scan-Read. We read occasional words. Occasional paragraphs. And request short tabloid sentences. Not long complex arguments.

Sinclair Ferguson's edition of Puritan John Owen's work (from 400 years ago), edits sentences that once had 5-6 clauses or more. Today we struggle with one. Its no wonder we can't read the Bible. Its no wonder we are losing the knowledge of God.

...and even when we do read we fail to truly read. We fail to follow argument and authors intent. And so we read the Bible allegorically about ourselves and our lives. We find ourselves unable to bring relevant information to the text, and unable to hold back irrelevant information. We fail to follow the argument - prefering to select favourite phrases out of context to make us smile. We fail to hear God speak the wonderful things he seeks to reveal to us.

Hearing the voice of God is not merely about being able to engage the brain in reading. Revelation from God is a work of the Holy Spirit. But the chief medium remains the written word. This is God's means. We must learn to read, and listen, again, so that we can again hear from God.