Friday, June 20, 2014


Do you know how to read?

There's a little word, ἀκρίβεια, that crops up relatively frequently in Patristic writings. Often you'll encounter its adverbial form, ἀκρίβως, translatable as 'precisely, accurately, exactly'. Chrysostom, in particular, is quite fond of talking about the need to read 'with exactness'.

The reason I mention this is because, at the end of the day, I would describe the major portion of what I do as simply attempting to teach people to read with exactness. Which is really just teaching people to read well.

Many people, perhaps surprisingly, do not read well. And they think they can read, which compounds the problem. Reading with attentiveness is a demanding discipline, it requires focus, concentration, and a kind of scientific precision paid to observing exactly what is there. In everyday life our minds regularly do a lot of processing for us - we often read what we expect to read, hear what we expect to hear, and fill in the gaps.

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in group bible studies and asked simple, comprehension questions, and waited in vain for an answer that was sitting there in the text we had just read. All it would take would be one person to look a second time at the passage and read a handful of words. Instead one often hears an array of thoughts, opinions, sometimes theologically correct, othertimes wildly erroneous, and even when correct often totally disconnected to the text at hand.

Even in more academic contexts, some strategies of reading simply overturn what is plain. I recall reading a rather self-congratulationary piece by an Arminian who provided a reading of Romans 9 that began at the end of the passage, and used this argue that in fact the whole chapter was supportive of an Arminian theological position.

Nor is poor reading confined to reading Scritpural texts. I sometimes wish that I had done some different undergraduate options before heading into biblical studies, but majoring in literary criticism and philosophy actually taught me to be an attentive reader, and studies in classics on the side didn't hurt either. Inexact reading is endemic.

This is why most of my teaching is simply trying to draw attention to what is in front of us, on the page, in the words. It's why most of my writing is of a commentary or exegetical style. I actually have very few creative thoughts, I'm just trying to be a good reader and help others do the same

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