Training in Righteousness
Other places I blog



web stats

Find Me On Twitter

Are we attentive readers?

When we read the Bible, our first line of inquiry is to observe what is being said in the text. Because the Bible is the wonder it is, a revealed word of God, written over thousands of years, from several authors, from two different cultural perspectives, and three different original languages, it is work to unravel everything it says. Solid interpretation depends on good observation.

In their book Inductive Bible Study, Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr devote a chapter to "Having Eyes to See." These days, with our attention spans being compromised by a flood of visual information, it can be tempting to skim. I catch myself skimming when I shouldn't all the time.

While the chapter deals with the principles of good observation, specifically things to look for when reading, the authors repeat more than once the need for attentive readiing. One one page alone (p. 143), they mention it three times:

"Attentive reading will usually bear this out . . . "

". . . an observant eye will catch figures of speech throughout all genres and books of the Bible."

". . . without attentive readiing, many fail to see figurative language . . . "

They conclude the chapter with this: 

Attentive reading is perceptive reading, and perception tends to connect the dots, to make sense out of relationships.

How does one become an attentive reader? Obviously, we need to slow down. And we must pay attention to words and phrases. In this chapter, the authors point out several things to note in order to be an attentive reader: repetition, escalation, contrast and comparison, association, question and answer, conjunctions, conditional clauses, illustration, question, and irony. It's a substantial list. I am reminded again what a task it is to read the Bible well.

I would suggest also that becoming a more attentive reader of the Bible necessitates a rich reading life in general, and specifically, longer works other than short articles on the internet. Furthermore, I think we need to read from numerous topics; science, history, philosophy, theology, and fiction. Yes, fiction. I honestly don't know how anyone can fail to truly appreciate the importance fiction has on our ability to detect imagery and figures of speech. My friend and I joked once that we don't trust people who don't read fiction.

There are books out there which focus on how to read well. There is the oft recommended, but mind-numbingly boring How to Read a Book, for example. Also good are James Sire's How to Read Slowly, and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind.

Those would be worthwhile reads, but if you weren't inclined to purchase a book about reading, the simple practice of summarizing is helpful. Keep a notebook and write a summary of each chapter or section. Take note of questions you have, words which were unfamiliar, things which puzzled you or challenged you. That alone slows us down in our reading.

I also prefer reading in silence. The world is full of noise, both to the ear and to the eye. Reading in silence means we focus on the material. Try choosing the quietest time during the day to read the most difficult material. I used to have music on while I read, but then as I got older, I found music with words a distraction. Now, I even find music that is just instrumental a distraction. 

It is true that the Holy Spirit will teach us as we read Scripture, but applying ourselves to read attentively can only help our understanding, and thus make our minds open to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us.


We hate all sin but our own

In his book Rediscovering Holiness, J.I. Packer emphasizes the need for repentance. If we are going to be holy, repentance is essential. Practicing repentance is what he calls "going downward to grow up." Repenting is essential for our initial conversion to Christ, and it's essential to our ongoing pursuit of holiness.

Packer points out that in order to pursue regular repentance (and he insists that repentance must be daily because sin is daily) we must pursue humility:

Humility rests on self-knowledge; pride reflects self-ignorance. Humility expresses itself in self-distrust and conscious dependence on God; pride is self-confident and, though it may go through the motions of humility with some skill (for pride is a great actor), it is self-important, opinionated, tyrannical, pushy, and self-willed. 

I don't know about anyone else, but I see myself all too clearly in those last five adjectives. I am far too opinionated at times, far too sure of myself, too self-willed. The principle that we must be aware of ourselves is crucial, I believe. Too frequently, rather than focusing on our own sin, our attention is drawn to the sin around us. Yes, we hate sin, but how much do we hate the sins that lurk subtly; like the sin of pride? It's so easy to point a finger, totally oblivious that the act itself may reveal our own pride.

I found Packer's comment convicting:

We should not take it for granted that, because we are holding on to the faith that others have given up, God has to be pleased with us, and therefore we should be pleased with ourselves.

Are we pleased with ourselves? Do we take pleasure in pointing out others' sins? Do we spend more time proclaiming the faults of others rather than our own? If we use social media or blog, is our writing filled more with the descriptions of others' sins? Too much focus on the sins of others leaves little time for reflecting on our own. Are we patting ourselves on the back, oblivious to the fact? Do we even take time on a daily basis to examine our own hearts or do we rely on our respectable exteriors?

Only by doing what Packer suggests, "growing downward," will we be honest with ourselves about our own sin. It's painful, to be sure, but without that honesty, we will not grow in holiness.


Daily Readings - John 12:1-11

J.C. Ryle, Daily Readings
John 12:1-11

But Judas Iscariot, one his his disciples, who was intending to betray him . . . (John 12:4a)

Hardness appears in Judas Iscariot who, after being a chosen apostle and a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, turns out at least a thief and a traitor. So long as the world stands, this unhappy man will be a lasting proof of the depth of human corruption. That anyone could follow Christ as a disciple for three years, see all his miracles, hear all his teaching, receive at his hand repeated kindnesses, be counted an apostle and yet prove rotten at heart in the end -- all this at first sight appears incredible and impossible! Yet the case of Judas shows plainly that the thing can be. Few things, perhaps, are so little realized as the extent of the fall of man.

Let us thank God if we know anything of faith and can say, with all our sense of weakness and infirmity, 'I believe.' Let us pray that our faith may be real, true, genuine, and sincere, and not a mere temporary impression, like the morning cloud and the early dew. Not least, let us watch and pray against the love of the world. It ruined one who based in the full sunshine of privileges and heard Christ himself teaching every day.


Same sin, different packaging

I highly recommend hanging out with older, seasoned authors. J.I. Packer's book Rediscovering Holiness if proving to be very enjoyable. I loved this:

Puritan theology affirmed that in Christians, sin has been dethroned but not yet destroyed. Now sin takes on, as it were, a life of its own, seeking to reestablishthe dominion it has lost. Its power appears both in bad haibts, which are often deep-rooted and linked with temperamental weaknesses, and in sudden forays and frontal assaults at points where one thought oneself invulnerable. Of itself sin never loses strength. The most that happens is that with advancing age, ups and downs of health, and shifting personal circumstances, indwelling sin finds different modes of expression. 

At the time packer wrote this book, he was in his 80's, so he knew a lot about sin's impact on our lives. I am only into my 50's, and I can see the truth of Packer's observation about indwelling sin. The daily circumstances of my life are very different today even from ten years ago, but there are certain sins I still struggle with; they simply appear in different packaging. 

We can have victory over sin every day, but as Packer points out, it has not been destroyed. Part of the pursuit of holiness (not the entirety, mind you) is putting off sin. And that means self-examination and honesty with ourselves. 


The Catholic Presence Makes a Difference

One of the areas of study I am always in the process of engaging in is the history of the Church in Canada. I will be taking Church history in September, and I hope at that time to find more resources about the history of evangelicalism specifically. Evangelicalism in the U.S. is well documented, but there is much less with a specifically Canadian focus.  

For quite a few years now, I have had Mark Noll's A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada on my shelf. It's a large volume, and I've just never decided to sit down with it and pick away at it. As part of my reading of Canadian material this year (and reading books which sit on my shelf unread for a long time), I decided to take it out on the deck with me and my tea yesterday afternoon. I have always like Noll's writing. 

Noll begins right at the beginning, with the colonization of the New World, and the impact it had on the indigenous peoples. I was happy to see Noll's admission that what Columbus and his kind did was not always Christian. As he discusses these early years, he points out that in Canada, because of the French presence, had a Christian presence for a long time before Protestantism began making its mark.

One of the most famous French mission initiatives to Canada came through Jean de Brébuf, a Jesuit. He was a man reputed to be more sensitive to the people he was ministering to, although he is quoted as using the word "savage" to describe the native population. That said, he did believe in recognizing that the natives were to be viewed as  "ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our Brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives."

This presence of Roman Catholicism did not stay confined to what is now Québec. It spread throughout the country. The enduring element of French culture and language which remained even after the British were victorious at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, has left its mark on Canada. Noll says:

Whereas Roman Catholics in significant numbers came relatively late to what would be called the United States, they were present as the first permanent settlers of Canada and so provided foundational contribution to later Canadian civilization.

Through the succeeding centuries Quebec's French Catholic culture remained an important counterpoint to the Protestant societies of North America and even to the more pluralistic Catholicism that eventually came to play such a large role in the United States and elsewhere in Canada.

The dual nature of our country is still evident, of course. But more than than, the soil in which the seeds of evangelicalism were sown is not the same as the United States. Canada is a country defined also by its regionalism, and thus the environment of the Western provinces provides a different climate for evangelicalism to flourish. Those provinces have the further influence of large numbers of Mennonites settling, as well as American influences and large numbers of European immigrants. I confess to finding immigration history very interesting; not just the statistical aspects, but how that immigration worked itself out in society.

I don't imagine I'll finish Noll's book before school begins again, but hopefully I will get through much of it. I also recently picked up a copy of Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, by John Stackhouse. I am confident that Noll's book will provide more resources, as he ends every chapter of this book with suggested resources.