How should we read?

The following tips are reproduced from the article Give Attention to Reading, PCC Bulletin, 22 April 2001. The Indonesian translation of the article can be read here.

  1. Always give priority to reading the Scriptures. If you have no time to read other books, then make sure you read the Scripture.
  2. Where the books quote the Scriptures, be sure to look up the verses in the Scripture unless they are verses you are very familiar with
  3. Be very selective on what you read. “Being a good reader does not mean having read many books, but knowing some good books, and having mastered your best and greatest books” (Ferguson, Read any Good Books?, 10)
  4. For some books, abridgements are useful (such as some of Owen’s treatises); but for some other books, abridgements make for frustrating reading (e.g., my introduction to Calvin’s Institutes was through an abridgement which I found to be rather dry and hard to understand. Imagine my amazement and joy when I begun reading the translation by Ford Lewis Battles and found it to be easier to read and understand, and much more heart-warming!)
  5. Unless you have a very good grasp of English, read modern translations rather than old translations. For example, reading a modern translation of Augustine’s Confessions will probably be much more profitable for most of us than if we were to read an Elizabethan English translation of the same book.
  6. Plan your reading. Unless you are a very discipline sort, it may help when reading large volumes to work out a planner so that you are kept on course to read, say, a chapter a day. If you follow the schedule, you will be surprised how quickly you will complete reading a large book (such as Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion), which you would never imagine yourself to be able to complete.
  7. Maximise your time. I would recommend that you carry a book wherever you go. Read while waiting for the bus or while waiting for the train. Read in the bus and train if you are able to. Read in the toilet. Read when having your meal alone. Why waste your time away?
  8. Read books that are easier to digest or lighter books such as biographies when you are tired, and read the more difficult books when you are alert.
  9. Take notes and highlight in the book if the book belongs to you. I have personally found it useful to use a yellow highlighter and make notes on the side-margin of some of the theological books I have. Though this slows down the reading pace, I have found the practice to be extremely helpful when I have to review the book.
  10. You do not always have to read every single page in every book you pick up. For example, if you are reading a systematic theology, you may want to select those chapters that deal with subjects which you are most unfamiliar with to read first and then come back to the other chapters if you have time. Of course, this hint will be meaningless if you are a fast reader, or if you are the type of readers who cannot stand reading any book incompletely.

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