In my Leadership class here at IWU students are required to read and master two books during the first week of class. Few students can accomplish this without developing some “rapid reading techniques,” which is, of course, part of the assignment’s purpose.
This week we’re in the middle of that “reading week” and I’ve received several student notes thanking me for “pushing us beyond what we thought we could do.” One was particularly interesting. The student said, “and I even comprehended just as much if not more than I would regularly read a book!” What Eddie had discovered is what all effective rapid readers learn – proper rapid reading actually increases comprehension. One can read faster and retain more with rapid reading techniques.
But that’s not the only gain from rapid reading. The faster one reads the more likely they are to get the over all point of the work. That is, laboring slowly through words and sentences, cogitating on each one endlessly while listening to a CD, actually may cloud one’s understanding of the author’s big ideas. The slower one reads the less likely we are to get the over all point of the book.
Which brings me to the Bible. Our standard scheme of Bible study (especially on a college campus) is to take a tiny portion of Scripture – often even a phrase — and chew it to death with our exegesis, exposition and application. It is our way of Bible study. I do it too – and I love it.
But there’s a big snare here. When I pluck a tiny portion of a letter and beat it to death with exposition I sometimes miss the big picture. I am becoming an expert in leaf study but the shape of the entire tree escapes me. And even if I see a dim shape of the tree, the idea of a “forest” never occurs to me (let alone “forest ecology”). Such Bible study makes us like the plodding reader who decides he’ll understand a book better by reading only one sentence a day. He “understands” the day’s sentence wonderfully but misses the main point of the book. Indeed, our repeated reprocessing of tiny pieces of Scripture term by term sometimes yields all kinds of “deep truths” I suspect St. Paul, or James, or John – the original authors — never even imagined!
So how would our understanding of Scripture change if we sat down and read the entire book of Mark in one sitting? Would we “get less” or might we understand the central message of Mark better? What if we used rapid reading techniques on the Bible for a spell? What would we get we are now missing?
But there’s a second issue here besides private personal reading. How about public reading of Scripture? What if we started reading whole books in worship at one sitting? What would we gain? Lose? (I know, I know, “Today’s listeners won’t put up with hearing you read to them.”) But what if they would? What if you read the entire Sermon on the Mount this Sunday as a single reading? (For one thing, it’d be shorter than a regular message.) But if you did what would your people hear that they’ve been missing with our short, “Blessed are the meek…” snippet before launching into our sermon? What if we took the Scripture so seriously that we actually thought it was equally important as a sermon? (Equally?) What would people hear that they’ve been missing in the snippets we now give them?
But there’s even a third notion here worth examining: public hearing of Scripture. What if the message of the Bible comes across differently when heard? A solid argument can be made that the Bible – especially the New Testament — was never intended to be read at all, but rather heard. That is, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians he really was writing to a real congregation of people in Corinth and he really expected someone to read this letter aloud to the congregation, perhaps he even sent his own representative to read it (Titus?). And the Corinthians were to hear the reading in their worship assembly. Would hearing Corinthians read as a group communicate something differently than reading it personally, or studying it over the next quarter in a Sunday school class? To the ancient worshipping congregation the Bible was something to be heard, not read or studied piecemeal. In worship the Scripture was read – both Old and New Testaments – and it was heard by the people. There were “readers” (lectors) who specialized in dramatic reading of Scripture long before the “sermon” became longer and more central than Scripture.
So, if Scripture was originally intended to be read aloud in larger portions and thus heard in collective worship, does that mean its use today should be the same? Or are we free to treat Scripture differently than it was intended to be used by the first writers?
©Keith Drury September, 2000. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.