Friday, January 11, 2013

Reflective Reading and Other Kinds of Reading

D. A. Carson:
For all that the web makes information gloriously accessible, it has two huge shortcomings. First, it is so democratized that it is more difficult than ever to distinguish between truth and error, between authoritative opinion and fatuous opinion, between speculation and learning. Second, it swamps us with brief information and opinion; it entices us into endless worthless discussion even on blogs that may themselves be valuable.  
One of the things that thoughtful scholar-pastors will do is preserve time for reflective reading of the best books. You can find out what those books are by having probing conversations with a variety of scholar-pastors who are more mature than you are—but be sure you seek out the opinions of several people, not just one. Through their books, get to know some epochal thinkers reasonably well. Slow down; read, take notes, think, evaluate.
Yet having said these things—things that must be said as a kind of foil to the temptations of reading exclusively on the web—I must quickly add that in this domain of reading, there is, and there should be, quite a diversity of legitimate reading practices. Some, more focused than others and perhaps slower readers and sharper thinkers than others, want you to restrict your reading to very good books, that you must read slowly. For some readers, I suspect that that is the wisest choice; for all readers, reading some books slowly and analytically is mandated. But I doubt that it is wise to suggest that every scholar should read only good books and only slowly, for once again there is diversity in gifts and graces.  
If you can develop the habit of reading different things at different speeds, you might be wise to read some books slowly, evaluatively, and often; to read some books briskly, once but comprehensively; to skim other books to see what they are saying; to dip into still other books to see if they add anything to a discussion or merely say the same old things with a minor twist here and there. All that is apart from reading some poetry, some serious literature, and even occasional pieces that have no enduring value but that everyone is reading at the moment—not because you want to spend much time there, or should spend much time there, but so as to offer penetrating firsthand comments on material that virtually every literate person in your world knows something about.  
Not every scholar-pastor should attempt to do all these, but those who have the gift, the time, and the energy to do so, and who then offer their "take" on a broad array of literature, become a great gift to those of us who read more narrowly or at more limited speed. Precisely because there is a diversity of gifts, the perspective of Roger Bacon is memorable: "Reading maketh a full man; speaking maketh a quick man; writing maketh an exact man." 
What is virtually never justified, however, is never reading anything slowly, seriously, analytically, and evaluatively, for such reading of good material not only fills our minds with many good things, but teaches us how to think.
—John Piper & D. A. Carson, The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 61.

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