Learning to Read the Bible with Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book”

Mortimer Adler's "How to Read a Book" and a cup of coffee, The Orange Thimble, Tiong Bahru Estate, Singapore

Today, I re-read a book that had been a little hard-going for me when I was a wee one. But that’s the problem with trying to a book on how to read a book – you need a bit of a push to get you started on the trajectory.

Now, by surely no small amount of God’s grace in the intervening years, I’ve had enough experience of trying to do so, so that this re-read of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book was not only understandable; it also proved fruitful in learning how to help others to read.

And by “reading”, Adler doesn’t just mean deciphering the symbols to form words and sentences, but to understand the central thought of the passage/book, to see the thrust of the arguments and the subordinate points, to perceive precisely the shades of meaning.

The Bible is a collection of books, and can thus be chewed in almost the same way. It’s no surprise then, that much of what Adler says has been echoed by David Jackman at the Cornhill Training Course, or Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach in Dig Deeper, etc. None of these (just the lecture alone or guidebook alone) have been terribly helpful I’ve found.

  • The advantage of the Adler book is that it is able to articulate what exactly needs to go on in the reader’s head to be able to digest a book
  • What the Adler book does not address of course, since it is only concerned with books written by human authors and not the Bible, is (i) the one-story connection between the books of the Bible, written by different people in different countries over a vast sweep of time; (ii) the limitation of our fallen minds in comprehending the word of God; (iii) the need for the Spirit of God to illumine our minds so that we can grasp the revelation and have it shape our view of the world, and move our wills so we actually obey it
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