Christians as Readers – How to Read
Over the last few weeks, I have worked through why I think Christians should strive to be readers. This week, I thought it might be helpful to focus on “how to read” – or at least “how I go about reading.” I will lay out below how I read and find the most enjoyment from it. This is by no mean the only way to do it. So, try this approach and either scrap it or modify it as you see fit.
I usually follow a basic pattern laid out for me when I started my doctoral work. Sadly, it took me doing a higher degree for someone to lay out what I think is the most straightforward approach to reading a book I’ve ever seen. Every time I read a book, I answer three questions:
What argument is the author making? (Argumentation)
What is the author trying to say? This is where you want to know what the author thinks on their terms, not what you think about what they are saying. Many people skip this step – to their detriment. We immediately run to what we think of what they’ve written, but we must always start with what the author thinks of what they’ve written. A good rule of thumb is to assume the author is sitting with you. Before you can move to what you think, the author must say, “Yes, that is a fair assessment of what I’ve said.” This makes you a more thoughtful and charitable reader.
You might think this only works with non-fiction books, but that isn’t true. Most books, including fiction books, are trying to argue about how they see reality and what is important to them based on the circumstances they wrote. For instance, in The Lord of The Rings, one might be tempted to say Tolkien wrote as an argument about the evils of Hitler during WWII. However, Tolkien himself states this was not his purpose or intention. So, to place this reading on the text makes it impossible to evaluate it rightly. So, what is the argument he makes? I’ll let you figure it out.
What do I think about what the author is saying? (Evaluation)
Do I think the author is correct? Now that you’ve done some hard work, you can decide your thoughts. This is where you must do critical thinking and pull-out things you found helpful and things you didn’t. Every evaluation should have something positive and something negative. If you have no critiques, it might mean you weren’t being thoughtful. If you have no compliments, it might mean you weren’t being thoughtful. So, I guess the rule of thumb is this: be thoughtful.
How can I grow from what I’ve read? (Application)
What is worth remembering? This is where you want to find something to take away with you. I aim to find at least 3-5 things to apply to my life in every book. And, yes, I mean every book. I believe you should always practice finding something, even if it is an author with whom you disagree. Maybe it’s their tone, the way they turn a phrase, one point of argumentation, or anything else. In other words, take on the heart of a learner. Read every book expecting you have something to learn and something to be gained by it. Do not go into a book thinking you are doing the author a favor. Instead, assume that they have done you a favor and try to get something out of it.
How To Implement
Now, don’t think that with every book I read, I sit down and write a paper going through these three questions. That only happens on occasion. Typically, I do these three steps the whole time I read with highlighters and in-text notes. I use a color-coded system to help me think through them. If I highlight it in red, it is a main argument or points to the main argument. Orange and yellow highlighters are for personal evaluation. Orange means I’ve got questions or disagreed. Yellow means it was helpful for my thinking. Blue highlights are things I want to apply to my life moving forward. So, when I’m done reading a book, I can look at my highlights quickly and categorize them. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s the way I’ve chosen.
However, I do try to write out the application portion in almost every book I read (there are exceptions). I have tried to make it a practice when I finish a book to write on the last page or back cover 3-5 things I want to remember. There is no way for me to remember everything I read. But it is manageable to remember 3-5 things about a book that may spark further thought and dialogue later. Thus far in my reading journey, this has been the most helpful practice as it gives me something tangible to walk away with from every book.
This is how I read; how do you?
Thanks for reading.