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Entries in Reading (48)


If we aren't good readers, we may misunderstand the Bible

I have been reading Linguistics and Biblical Exegesis. So far, this is a very fascinating read. And I've already ordered one of the books which has been mentioned frequently in the footnotes. Ah, footnotes, how I do love thee.

In the introductory essay, the writer, Wendy Widder, comments:

Lingustic analysis focuses on trying to understand the language of a text. If we misunderstand a language we will also misunderstand a text. (emphasis mine)

This is true for biblical Greek, but how about English? As someone who teaches teens, this is often at the front of my thinking: how well do my students read English? The first time my husband and I taught teens was over 20 years ago. Literacy has changed among that group from what I have seen. And I'm not alone in that observation.

When my daughter was a teaching assistant while working on her Master's of English, after having been out of high school for only five years herself, she commented on how poorly many of the students read. She didn't think most students were very well-prepared for university. How well do our young people read? And I'm not talking about those with learning challenges; that is a separate issue.

As their leaders and teachers in the Church, do we encourage reading in general? Yes, we are there to teach, but part of being a good teacher is preparing someone to learn independently. We do have Bible versions that are easier, but one thing we have to remember is that the more dynamic translations often have to sacrifice nuance in order to attain readability; nuance that more difficult translations can reveal. A version like the NIV is great for someone who is 12 years old, but the average student on the brink of graduating from high school can manage the ESV or the NASB. They will, after all, confront more difficult reading if they go to college or university. We warn our kids about the perils of things online, but do we encourage them to put down their phones, video games, and streaming services to read?

Often, because we know young people are developing social connections, what we offer them in youth groups is a lot of social interaction. That is good, but I wonder if anyone has ever offered a youth group the opportunity to read a book together. Perhaps that is too nerdy. My daughter would have loved that. While the female youth events often revolved around maintaining purity and watching Pride and Prejudice, my daughter would have loved to read a good book and talk about it. She was born to be a lover of reading, but even those who don't love it as she does need to read well.

I was challenged as a teacher by the principle that misunderstanding language will mean we misunderstand the biblical text. When I am teaching teens, I'm doing more than telling them what the spiritual implications of the passage are; I am also contributing to their understanding of language. It is an opportunity to encourage good reading skills. It encourages me to stop the habit I've had of using the NIV to teach them, but return to using either the ESV or NASB.


Read hard books

I'm just finishing How to Study and Apply the New Testament by Andy Naselli. Every time I read a book, I've always got a few fellow book lovers in mind as I read. Will I recommend the book to that person? As I read Naselli's book, I knew that I would have to qualify my recommendation. I do indeed recommend this book, but with the qualifcation that some may think this book is difficult.

Naselli's writing is not difficult, and the examples he uses are understandable. But if on has only read introductory books on Bible study, this may seem daunting. One of my favourite Bible study introductory books is Reading the Bible for All Its Worth. Yet, I have had friends tell me it's too difficult. I am of average intelligence, and while I found it work when I first read it, it was manageable. I think we have forgotten that not everything must come easy. I think we are so used to reading online, where the average reading level is not overly difficult, that we find more difficult writing a chore. 

Naselli's book contains a chapter on Greek grammar. That chapter right there would turn a lot of people off. Naselli himself acknowledgs that. But he uses both the Greek words (for people who know them) and he transliterates them so that non-Greek users can at least pronounce them in their heads. And the simple fact of the matter is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. We can't assume that the New Testament was written for us English speakers. There is value in getting a basic understanding of Greek, because it is a very different language.

There is value in reading hard books. In first grade, I loved reading about Mr. Mugs and when I finished one book in the series, I wanted to keep going. That is how we become better readers. That doesn't stop when we leave school. We can always become better readers. It is especially important now when we live in such an image-saturated world. Who needs to express oneself with wit and skill when one can find a GIF of a silly television show to express one's emotion?

Reading hard books helps us grow as readers. A few years ago, I read what was one of the more challenging books I have read, Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer. There were times when as I read when all I could discern was something similar to the sound of Charlie Brown's teacher. But I persisted, and then there were moments of clarity where I was blown away by what I read. 

If a book is difficult, press on. Get a dictionary. Read in small sections. Diagram the sentences if you have to. Just keep going.

Personally, I think there is a glut of introductory Bible study books. What I would like to see is more in between Bible study for beginners and advanced hermeneutics books. I would say Naselli is in that intermediate category. And it is a good book to follow up those introductory volumes. And for those for whom such matters are important, he uses footnotes, and the paper is very nice for annotating.

While I would recommend the book, I definitely want to emphasize that Naselli's bias is clear regarding what influences him. If you are not a John Piper fan, this book may irritate you. In his chapter about practical theology, he comments that he turns to men like Al Mohler, Justin Taylor, Collin Hansen, and Tim Keller for their analysis of the culture. That seems to me a group that would ultimately sound like an echo chamber. And while I respect them all, I would not turn to them for cultural analysis of Canada. I would be interested to see cultural analysis from more people outside their particular group, not just with a different theological perspective, but those from a non-Western stance and from voices other than just men.

That said, it was a valuable read.


"Dreary" modern books?

I have a built in book case in my living/dining room. Every time I come to sit down at my desk, I see it. On the top shelf, there is a 10-volume set of the writings of B.B. Warfield. I love sets of books where each volume looks the same. Beyond looking pretty, I have enjoyed partaking of those books over the years. There is still much which I have not read, but I have found everything I've read by Warfield worth the effort. 

I was reminded of the value of reading older books as I read Nasell's How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. In a chapter discussing historical-cultural context, he quotes C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve  pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadquate and things he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern book on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.

This past year in Church History, we were exposed to a large volume of primary source writings, and I enjoyed that immensely. I was introduced to theologians I'd never read before, and had been hesitant to read from. Karl Barth was a fascinating read. It really is true that going to the source first is helpful. And that applies to the primary source of the Bible. How often do I spend time reading what people say about what the Bible rather than finding out for myself? 

This summer, I'm moving my books, shelves, and desk to my new study. The books on the built-in shelf will remain where they are so that I may see Warfield up there regularly, and be challenged to read widely, and not neglect those older books.


A year of reading

I have not often kept a list of books read in a year, but this year I tried to do so. I don't know as if my list is complete because I had to look at two different journals to figure it out. From what I gather, I read 37 books this year. By some standards, 37 books means I'm not a serious reader. That standard is twaddle. I'm a serious reader. 

The first book I finished this year was The Break by Katherena Vermette. It was an excellent book. Vermette is Métis, and from Winnipeg. She is also a poet. It was a book that left me with very vivid mental pictures. I lived in Winnipeg (where the book is set) and her descriptions of the winter took me back to those years.

Unless I finish Re-thinking Baptism before next week, the last book I will finish in 2017 is The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. It was an excellent story. It had lots of surprises, and it was set in Ireland, which I always enjoy.

My favourite fiction book of the year was Barometer Rising by Hugh Maclennan. I can't believe I hadn't read it before. It was suspenseful, and I always enjoy books based on real events. This was set during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

For favourite theological book, I think I would have to say it was a tie between two J.I. Packer books, 18 Words and Re-discovering Holiness. Packer is always astute, witty, and profound.

The saddest book I read was The Education of Augie Merasty. It is the memoir of an First Nations man who was in a residential school. The co-writer tried to stay as close to the words of Merasty himself, and it makes for a very but stark but compelling read. 

I don't have a list for 2018. I just read what I want to at the moment. As always, my first priority is to read what I have unread on my shelves. In addition to that, my goal is to avoid purchasing books just because everyone says I should read them. I fell prey to that this past year and ended up with a few half completed books. My goals is to enjoy what I read and benefit from it, not be able to say I read x-number of books. Reading takes time, and I like to enjoy a variety of entertainments. I also like a clean house and home cooked food, which also takes time.

Reading is a daily thing for me. I can't remember the last time I went a day without reading (aside from my morning devotions). I'm thankful for a house with books.


Holiday Reading

I'm looking forward to reading for fun. Not that reading this past semester wasn't fun. It was very interesting. However, reading without having to submit a reflection or use it to complete an assignment is always nice. Once Christmas is done with, I have a  couple of weeks and I hope to get a few things read.

Right now, I'm reading Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflelctions, which is by Stan Fowler. He was my Systematic Theology and Moral Theology professor. He did his doctoral dissertation about Baptist perspectives on baptism, and this is a more popular level book addressing the subject. I have had it for a while, but just had not got around to it.

I also started John Stackhouse's Canadian Evangelicalism in the 20th Century: An Introduction to Its Character. I've had this for a while, too. It's not too late to fit in another book focusing on Canada in this year of Canada 150.

I also plan to read Road to Renewal, which is by Wayne Baxter, my Greek professor. Prayer is something I've been thinking about a lot over this past year. I suppose I could include this as another book for Canada 150, since Dr. Baxter is Canadian.

Because I can't get enough of Hildegard, I'm looking forward to reading Hildegard of Bingen's Medicine. Some of the weird and wacky ways she treated illnesses made me curious for more about this subject.

For comforting, easy to manage bed time reading. I am planning on reading Monk's Hood (still on that Medieval Monastic theme) by Ellis Peters. I really enjoy the Cadfael series of books as well as the television series.

I don't know how much of it I will get into over the holidays, but because my term paper next semester is going to be on the subject of the influence of Menno Simons on Anabaptism, I decided to start early and begin The Complete Writings of Menno Simons. Last semester, I wish I'd started reading Hildegard's own words earlier so that I would have been able to include a wider variety from her in my term paper. This time, I'll start early. I always say that, and I always start early, but I still always find myself working on the paper right up until the end. There must be something helpful about that working under pressure thing.

I'm not going to neglect my Greek, either, over the holidays. I hope to find time for vocabulary review and parsing practice. I recently discovered a really great tool, Daily Dose of Greek. Two minute videos are featured daily, showing a brief exposition of a Greek passage. It is very helpful. It does include material I haven't yet learned, but so far, it's also cemented things I've already learned.

I still have knitting to accomplish before December 25th, and I've been binge watching Vera, one of my favourite British mystery shows. If I finish her before the knitting, I'll find something else from Acorn, where I get my fix of British t.v.

Happy last week before Christmas!