Nathan writes in to ask, “Pastor John, you mentioned in episode 107 that one of your seminary professors, Dan Fuller, helped to establish your framework for how to rightly read and interpret the Scriptures, called arcing. I was wondering if you could give me one piece of advice to help me read my English Bible better.”
Write to See
Okay, since you asked for one, here it is: Write down the text with a pen and paper, not with a computer. Don’t type it on a computer. Copy it out of your Bible with a pen on paper — either just a plain old sheet of paper, or buy yourself a nice Moleskine. Call this notebook you just bought your Written Bible. I am saying, “Write it out.” Here is why. When I was in seminary, 23 years old — so this is 44 years ago — I began to see how, when I began to learn arcing from Dan Fuller — which had a step in it of writing every proposition of every paragraph on a different line and figuring out how those propositions relate to each other — the very writing caused me to see things.
So a few weeks later, after I began to see that, a young woman came up to me at Lake Avenue Church and she said, “I am not getting anything out of my Bible reading. You got any ideas for me?” And I said, “Why don’t you try to write it down? Just make that part of your Bible reading this week.” She came back to me a week later and said, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe what I am seeing.” And she was so excited.
Four Reasons to Write What You Read
1. Writing slows you down.
It slows you down. Most of us read the Bible and everything else too fast, like sprinting through a rose garden: “Let’s just get through the rose garden here. I saw all the roses. I really did.” Well, you did. But did you really? So don’t sprint through the rose garden. And the best way to not sprint through the rose garden is to write down the rose garden. Write down the text. It slows you down.
2. Writing helps you respond and preserves what you see.
It gives you a way to respond and retain. For me, anyway, when I am reading, and I feel something, or I see something, often I get a little frustrated, because I know that if I keep reading, that feeling is going to go away, and I am going to forget what I just saw. And if I am writing it down, I can circle the word. I can underline the word. I can draw lines between the two words that I just saw. I can put a bracket in, scribble what I just observed, close the bracket and keep writing.
So it gives me a way to respond, and I have a sense that I can hold onto this. I can keep this, because there it is. Now I can come back tomorrow and see what I saw again.
3. Writing makes it easy to ask questions.
When you write the text, it raises more questions and it gives you an immediate way to preserve them right there. You can just write the question down. You don’t have to answer it right there if you don’t have time or you are not able to, but there you are. And asking questions is the key to understanding, and so anything that enables you to cultivate and then preserve and then eventually answer questions is going to take you deeper.
4. Writing records your relationship with God.
And one last thing: This all leaves a record of God’s dealings with you in your soul. And that is what we want. We want to meet God in the Bible. And in my experience, slow, meditative, commenting, question-asking reading is where I meet God. I don’t meet God when I am rushing through a text. So get a pen, get a notebook or a piece of paper. Open your Bible and copy out a paragraph. I don’t mean, by the way, that all four chapters that you are going to read today in your trek through the Bible should be written down. I just mean, let part of your experience be this, not all of it.