Learning under lockdown: Fast and slow reading
Learning to slow down, dig deep, or skim ahead - Terry Young continues his series exploring different ways of engaging with the Bible
One of the great things about becoming a Christian as an adult is that swathes of the Bible will be brand new, so you can read for the sheer pleasure of discovering what happened next. As a child, I was getting the story of Esther week by week but was desperate to discover how it all ended, so I looked it up and satisfied my curiosity, but that first sense of suspense is now gone forever.
We discussed audio books in the last blog, and with fast reading, skimming even, you can still sense something new in familiar terrain, by travelling quickly. If you have a favourite Bible version, trying something new may freshen things up. I like commentators who provide their own translators – Tom Wright for instance, with his New Testament for Everyone, while you may find a paraphrase, such as The Message or The New Living Translation, supports fast reading better than your usual NIV. Paraphrases can work even out loud in church if the reading is longer than usual, provided the speaker’s points have not been gently erased by the smoother wording.
For some, a plan that schedules you through the Bible or the New Testament, a chapter or three at a time may be the fastest reading you are comfortable with. Don’t knock it! There are dozens of plans, for example Ligonier Ministry.
I like prizes, too, and read the New Testament because a prize was going one going one summer for anyone who finished by Christmas. It meant six chapters a day and I was 10, but I wanted the prize! The momentum carried me on through the Old Testament two or three years later. When I’ve offered prizes, there are always a few young people who go the distance. Make sure your offer is attractive, though, since you don’t want them to have to wait until glory to discover it was worth it. Most churches have a few well-off grown-ups and a few young fast readers: prizes connect the two!
Changing down a gear, I’ve recently discovered a new resource halfway between a commentary and the text. Alex Motyer produced a set of readings in Psalms and Isaiah: Psalms by the Day and Isaiah by the Day, where he has tried to give you a sense of the original Hebrew cadences. There are a lot of notes, so you keep flipping from the text to the notes, but he shone a fresh light for me on the relationship between Isaiah and Hezekiah. I’ve also enjoyed Allen Ross on the Psalms (a full commentary in three volumes – here’s volume 1) with his own translation. I like the different sections he provides, so that you can dig as deeply as you choose. Books like these, typically cost less than a tankful of fuel – which will take you further?
Changing down another gear, when our church decided to do the Bible in a Year, I decided instead to resurrect my schoolboy Greek (I only scraped an O Level in those days) and attempt the New Testament with help from BibleHub. It got me through: just type a Bible book and chapter with the word ‘interlinear’ into your search engine. The text, definitions, parts of speech and a word-for-word translation are all there at the click of a mouse. And even if you are as incompetent as I am, you’ll still sense a difference between say John’s style and Luke’s. What other language might you try?
Let’s finish with two more ideas. I’d grown up with memory verses but got a whole new take as a teenager during a US visit, when a pastor paid for my Dad and I to hear a chap called Bill Gothard. His set of interesting and unusual seminars flowed from a life transformed by memorising Scripture. Some time after that, I started on Romans in the old King James and moved to an early NIV edition. I got around halfway and decided that new translations are a double-edged sword if you are as slow as I am.
More recently, I’ve returned to see how much it would be reasonable for an average Christian to memorise in a week. I’ve taken an experimental approach with 1 Peter and my research shows that memorising masses of material is a matter of time and technique, rather than ability. The tricks were worked out centuries ago when ancient orators would walk around a room in their heads and pick up items that would link the their talk – which is what Joshua Foer’s TED talk is all about. Memorising is a great way to slow it all down and take it all in.
The thing is, you can do all kinds of interesting things. Don’t follow my pathway: pioneer your own, playing to the way God made you, trading on the experiences God has sent your way, and learning to hear more of what God wants to say to you each day.
Finally how do you slow down to bottom gear? Why not turn the passage into a poem? You may need a decent translation and a good commentary as well as time to reflect but the passage will come alive!
Here’s a take on Psalm 126 that expresses something of what I came to enjoy about it:
Joy is flowing like a stream,
From the captives who are free.
And we join the melody
As we waken from our dream,
When our fortunes were restored
Those around us gazed in awe,
And we laughed at what we saw
Of the power of the Lord.
Harvest time will come along:
Grain is swelling in the bud.
Like the rain that swells the flood
You have filled our mouth with song!
Sowing threatens to destroy
All that’s left from yesteryear.
Irrigated by each tear,
Reaping comes with shouts of joy.
Starting out, we wondered how
We would ever reap again,
Broken women, ruined men,
Weeping then but laughing now!
Image | Daniel Leeves | Freely Photos
This is part of a series where Terry explores four ways of engaging with the Bible now:
Just listening: remember, the first readers were mainly listeners!
Fast and slow reading: learning to slow down, dig deep, or skim ahead.
Driven by curiosity: using other’s people’s material to enrich your own experience
Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.
After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and moved to Datchet with a position as a university professor. He is a member of the Baptist church there
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