So much to read and so little time! Although we live in a visual media age, almost all the theological material we access comes to us in print media form. We are attracted to certain books and articles that either addresses an issue that interests us or purports to break new ground or offer answers in an area of theology that perplexes us. How we read depends on the purpose of our reading. We read for pleasure, for general ideas by skimming the material, to acquire specific technological information, to understand and develop a worldview, or to learn a new subject. It is assumed that when we read for worldview and to gain new knowledge in theology that it is essential to do evaluative reading.
The prerequisite for evaluation is the development of a thorough Biblical grid to use for evaluation. Interpreting or judging what the Bible says from what we read has reversed the appropriate order. You do not interpret the Bible by reading it through the eyes of the commentators or other theological writers, but rather you evaluate what writers say through the grid of what the Bible says. Bible reading that develops a mastery of the narrative and its interpretation in the text of Scripture is the essential criterion used for evaluating every piece of written or spoken theology. After all, we are committed to the belief that the Words from God in the Bible are God breathed and that the form of the words as well as the words themselves are from God. It is much too easy to articulate a high view of the Bible while in practice we read it through the eyes of people who write about what it has to say or what it implies.
Selecting something to read out of the plethora of material available can be a daunting task. Since Christian publishing has made the bottom line nothing other than profit, it is no longer possible to say that if they publish it then it is worth reading. One looks to trusted persons, journals and magazines that regularly read and review books to get some notion of what is worth reading. Once the decision to read has been made then the process of evaluating what is read begins with the first sentence of the book.
Since spoken and written theological content purports to communicate the author’s intent to the audience reasoning is present in the content of what is communicated and the response of the reader/listener to the content involves reasoning as well. One of the helpful checklists for evaluating while reading can be found in this simple set of questions you seek to answer as you read.
- What is the purpose the writer is trying to accomplish?
- What evidence is offered for conclusions?
- What are the stated/unstated assumptions in the writing?
- What is the worldview or perceptual set behind the material?
- Are the inferences drawn from the data valid?
- What are the implications of accepting the conclusions drawn?
In reading theological material in a meticulous manner it helps to put these questions into abbreviated form that can be written in the margin of what we read. Perhaps circling every truth claim or piece of evidence would mark out the main flow of the argument by identifying the premises. Putting a large C in the margin next to the conclusions would aid in testing inferences based on the evidence. One should develop a set of symbols that they are comfortable with that include the above plus add others to identify assumptions, worldview and implications of the viewpoint. When the reader develops facility in this kind of careful evaluate reading then the need to circle or mark the margins decreases.
The regenerated mind is a wonderful gift from God. Its careful use in developing knowledge and wisdom is just one of the means to express our intellectual love for God and to think for His Glory by bringing all thought into captivity to Christ.
James Grier (ThD, Grace Theological Seminary) was distinguished professor of philosophical theology at Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Reprinted from Summit Magazine of Baptist Bible College, Fall 2006. Used by permission.