Becoming a “demanding” reader.

Over the past two posts I have been writing regarding how to be a better reader. I have outlined the different levels of reading and in my last post, given you some ideas about how to inspect a book/skim a book. Hopefully by doing this, you can make better decision about whether you want to read a book or not. 

In this post I want to give you some ideas about how to become a more demanding reader - that is a reader who keeps their mind on what they doing.

Four Basic Questions

Active reading is best described as “…reading where you ask questions while you read - questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading”.

1. What is the book about as a whole? Think about the main theme of the book and how the author develops them.

2. What is being said in detail, and how? What are the authors main ideas, assertions and arguments.

3. Is the book true, in whole or part? This follows from question 1 and 2. 

4. What of it? Is this significant? Why is it? What does this mean for your understanding of God, yourself, others, the world?

How to make a book your own?

If you have the habit of asking questions as you go you will be a better reader. But here is a big tip… always read with a pencil.

This will mean (1) you will stay awake, (2) think better as you write words/thoughts you have and (3) you’ll be able to write reactions down to help you remember. 

Adler & Van Doren give some great tips about how to mark a book as you read. They are:

1. Underline major points

2. Vertical lines at the margin to emphasise a statement already underlines or to point to a passage too long to underline.

3. Star, asterisks or some other mark to emphasise the 10 or so most important statements or passages in the book.

4. Numbers in the margin to indicate a sequence of points in the authors argument. They will say things like “first, second….”

5. Write numbers in the margin of other pages where they talk about a similar thing - or use a blank page in the back of the book to keep these notes. This is really important for essay writing and quotes.

6. Circle key words and phrases.

7. Write at the top or bottom of the page questions you have. 

When you finish a book use the front cover or equivalent to outline to book.

In the end this may or may not work for you but at least give it a go. It comes with force of habit. I have found it extremely helpful to do this. If I read a book I only want to read it once - i just don’t have time to read a book more than once. 

This means that when you come back to it you want a system that works.

In the next post we’ll being to look at the 3rd level of reading analytical reading and how to “pigeon hole a book”.


How to Read Theology: Inspectional Reading

Here is my first assumption… you can read. I know that this might be a stretch for some but I think on the whole if you can read this post you can read.

What this means is, that I am not going to discuss the first level of reading which is “Elementary Reading”. 

The second stage of reading, and the content of today’s post is inspectional reading.

What is involved? How do you do it?

Imagine you are in a Christian bookstore or the library and you want to read a book on a particular topic …let’s say “Amillenialsim”.

So you head to the doctrine section and find a few books. You go to the cafe in store or a comfy lounge and look at the book… how do you know if it’s worth reading (there is a lot of crappy books out there on eschatology after all!).

There are two types of inspectional reading using the same skills. When you’re starting out though it is recommended to consider them seperately.

#1: Systematic Skimming or Pre-reading

What your trying to achieve here is to figure out if this book is worth a careful read later.

  • Look at the title page and if the book has one at its preface. Read each quickly. Note any subtitles or other indications of the scope or aim of the book.
  • Study the contents page to get an idea of the books structure. Some contents pages are better than others unfortunately.
  • Check the index. What are the topics covered in the book, are there key terms that you need to be looking for if your going to write an essay on this topic/book?
  • If the book is a newish one or has a dust cover read the publishers blurb.

This may be enough information to justify reading the book further. But if you want to make sure here are some further things to look for when skimming.

  • From your vague knowledge of the books contents look now at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its arguments. Are there any summary statements in the opening or closing pages? If there is read them carefully.
  • Turn the pages and dip in here and there. Only ever read a few consecutive pages.

…above all, do not fail to read the last two or three pages, or, if these are in the epilogue, the last few pages of the main part of the book (Adler & Doran,35).

#2: Superficial Reading.

Here Adler & Doran help us by giving us this rule or guideline: 

In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away…concentrate on the things you do understand.

What they argue is that when you read it a second time, you will have a much better chance of understanding it.

What’s the big idea?

In the end what you are trying to do here is by skim reading getting to know the structure of the book. Whilst when you do a “superficial” read you are helping yourself to interpret the books contents when you come back to it.

Either way, when you come to the book a second time, you will have a much better start, and be able to use your time more wisely.

In the next post I’ll talk about the four basic questions you should ask as your reading.


How to Read a “Theology” Book.

Not long ago Michael Jensen and Graham Stanton gave us some thoughts about how to write a theological essay. You can read Michael’s thoughts here and Graham’s here.

As I thought about their great advice (both to late for me…), it occurred to me that there is a prior step that we also need to discuss, that is, how to read a theology book.

I love books and I love reading.

Over the past few weeks I have read a great book called “How to read a book”. It is a best seller and has been revised and updates several times.

The book is not written specifically about reading theology. Though I feel that many of the points that are made are helpful and insightful.

What follows are some of the best tips that I have taken from the book, and I hope will make us all better readers.

The levels of reading (ch.2)

Adler and Van Doren begin by outlining the 4 “levels” of reading.

#1: Elementary Reading: What does the sentence say?

#2: Inspectional Reading: the aim of this stage is to get the most out of a book in a set amount of time. You could call it “skim reading”. The questions are “What is the book about?”, “What is the structure of the book?” and “What are its parts?”. By the end of this you should also be able to answer “What type of book is it?”.

#3: Analytical Reading: This is when we read read for understanding that is “chewing and digesting it”.

#4: Syntopical Reading (or as I call it Comparative reading): this is where you read a number of books and try to categorise them for the sake of argument and/or get to know what the issues are in a particular subject.

Each of these levels build on the previous. 

In the next post I will share some ways to go about “inspecting a book”. You have 20 books to read - how do you know which are the best? This is where stage 2 is great!


The Christian Faith

Over the past couple of months I have been reading this book by Colin Gunton.

When I attended Moore College I tried to read some of Gunton’s other works but to be truthful… I just didn’t get it. 

As a little challenge then I decided to give this book a go. I have found it greatly encouraging and I thought I would make a few posts about what I have found helpful. 

Starting point

Unlike many systematic theologies that have been written, Gunton begins in this book with a doctrine of creation and providence. By looking at these two things up front, Gunton   is seeking to help the reader to see the world as God intends from the beginning. Which in turn, illuminates our human condition as we live it out in time (x).

Following the Creed, Gunton moves from a doctrine of Creation - the work of the Father (Mediation of Creation, Providence, Men and Women) to Christology (the person and work of Christ) and finishes by looking at the work of the Spirit (Church, the Christian life and death/judgment and redemption).

In conclusion, Gunton brings these various chapters (and sections) together to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. I particularly enjoyed this chapter as he was able to help me think  through a number of topics, such as the attributes of God, in a “new way” thus bringing a different and fresh perspective.

If you want to know more about Colin you can check out his bio and other books here. Here is a picture of Colin. He died in 2003.


Creating Community That Lasts

Have you ever had an experience like this? 

Your new at St Michael’s, and the 7pm gathering has finished for another week. The lights go off, and your “strongly encouraged” to head over to the hall for Supper. When you get there music is playing, food is served and most people are standing around talking. This seems like a nice place. As your eyes adjust to the light, you feel your heart racing… Where do I go? Who do I talk to? 

You try the first group of people. Deep breath… You introduce yourself and they are friendly enough. They tell you their names, ask about you, but quickly return to talking about their weekends or some sport called “Football”. You try again with a different group… same thing, different topic. 

That’s it! I am out of here. This place is way to Cliquee! 

Or maybe this?

Every Saturday afternoon a group of people meet at the local park to play sport. You want to join them but you don’t know where it is or how to get invited. You know somehow, that you can’t invite yourself. But you  also know you can’t ask to join in, especially because of what people might say about you…

Two experiences of the same thing, what many of us call a “clique”. 

As C.S. Lewis has written, cliques are not ‘…evil [and] certainly unavoidable, [for] there must be confidential discussions and personal friendships’. But ‘..the desire which draws us into Inner Rings (or cliques) is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous’.

What is a clique?

A clique can be defined as, ‘…a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them’. Some important things to note:

  1. A clique is a “close-knit group”. As Lewis notes above, there is nothing wrong with having a close-knit group of friends. Even Jesus himself had three close friends amongst the twelve disciples (Mark 9:2). 
  2. “who do not readily allow others to join them”. Nevertheless when a clique forms they are generally, by their nature, closed to others joining them. A number of reasons maybe given for excluding others such as; the loss of intimacy between the group, the groups dynamics, the “history” of the group or even fear of change. 

As Christians though how should we think about cliques? Is there an appropriate place for cliques in our community life and even in our personal relationships? 

We start by thinking about God as “Trinity”.

As Christians we believe in one God (Duet. 6:4) who has revealed himself in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Each person of the Trinity is a genuine person who relates to the other. Significantly, this means that the God who creates, is also a God who is personal and relational. 

As we read the New Testament we see that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity is so intimate and strong that each understands the thinking and values of the other two, and therefore commits themselves to achieving the plans and purposes of the other.

This means that the community between the Trinity is of one mind and one heart. And their love for each other is understood as a commitment to please the other (cf. John 14) which embodies graciousness and humility.

We see God’s love in its final and total expression in the love of Jesus. Jesus humbled himself and was obedient even to death (Phil. 2:5-11) dying to save his enemies (Rom. 5:1-11). The essential pattern of personal relationships established within the Trinity, is best described and understood then as a ‘mutual love relationship’

We are made in God’s image yet affected by sin.

As human beings made in the image of God, we to are personal and relational beings. As we see in the garden of Eden, before the fall in Genesis 3, God’s creatures delight in Him, delight in their fellow beings and delight in the created order. This is a model for us of a “community of mutual love”. To love our neighbour as God intended then, is to be committed to their good and to strive to satisfy their needs and desires. 

However, when sin enters the world through Adam it affects all our relationships. As Paul reminds us in Romans 1, by our sin we reject God’s rule over us (ungodliness) and also His order within creation (wickedness). As we think about our human relationships and the place and affect of sin, it can be described like this:

Humans will not graciously commit themselves utterly and totally to the good of others. They may be willing to do good at points, but not in the total way required by God. God must set about redeeming the situation.

In the Old Testament we see God working for redemption through His establishment of a covenant with Abraham and through the Law of Moses. Ultimately though, we see the affects of sin and the fall reversed in the new covenant through our Lord and Saviour Jesus.

Jesus’ love transforms.

Through his life and death on the cross, Jesus restores sinners to a relationship with God the Father (Rom. 3:21-26, 1 Peter 3:18) and teaches us again what true love is (1 John 3:16). This eternal and steadfast love is ultimately the basis for our justification and righteousness. 

Additionally, our new identity and salvation “in Christ” affects our relationship with our neighbour. Through our baptism in Christ (Rom. 6), and our putting off the old self (Col. 3), we put on the new self and ultimately “the love of Christ” (Col. 3:14). As Christians then our love is to imitate God’s love in Christ. We are to do good to all people, especially to other Christians (Gal. 6:10). Moreover, we are to be patient and kind (1 Cor. 13:4) as well as humble (Matt. 18:1-4). Within the Christian community, where all have been transformed, love is to be mutual (Rom. 12:10).

Thinking again about cliques.

Our heavenly Father’s desire is for his people to live and worship together in what I have called “communities of mutual love”. The model for this love, comes from the mutual love relationships between the Trinity. This love expresses itself in a commitment to the good of the other, to please them and to embody grace and humility. In this way, we learn that love towards God is expressed in love towards our neighbour. We must remember though, that mutual love relationships are not something that we can do ourselves. Sin has corrupted the possibility to do “the good” for others. It is only through our redemption in Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Spirit, that mutual love relationships can become a reality.

As we think about our church community and personal relationships this has some important implications:

  • We are created in God’s image as personal and relational beings. It is entirely appropriate to have close friends whom we associate with and have common interests.  
  • However, when these relationships become “closed” they can create alienation and division, which is neither God’s desire or plan. To create a clique and therefore to exclude another person, is to effectively disobey God and his purposes for his people. Which, in the context of Romans 1 is ungodliness and wickedness. 
  • As Christians then we are to consider our neighbour and securing their “good” above our own, this  ultimately pleases God the Father and gives glory to Jesus as we follow his example.
  • Mutual love binds us to each other and forms our community. Knowing that someone is personally committed to your good in an unconditional way brings joy that is greater than all other goods. It is through this love and joy together, that Gospel community is created.
  • Finally, sin will continue to affect our relationships and our ability to love as we should. Consequently, our relationships will only be sustained through the practices of repentance and forgiveness as we love each other as Christ has loved us.

Thinking about this for yourself:

  1. When have you experienced both the good and the bad side of a clique? How have these experiences shaped you as a Christian person?
  2. Jesus is our example of mutual love. What do you find most confronting about Jesus’ life and teaching, especially regrading love for our neighbors? 
  3. Do you think it is important to be friends (not in a Facebook way) with everyone from your church gathering? What makes you think this?
  4. What does it mean for you to be a part of our community of “mutual love”?


    I have started reading a book on Adolescence and thought I might post somethings I find interesting and/or relevant to youth ministry. 

    The book is called Adolescence by John W. Santrock. I came across it as I was doing some research for studying this topic at University. This seems to be a standard text. 

    What I like about the book is that it covers a number of topics:

    - Puberty, health and biology

    - Brain development

    - Self, identity, emotion and personality

    - Sexuality

    - Moral development

    - Peers, relationships and lifestyles

    - School

    - Work

    - Culture

    At the end of each chapter it also has links to online information and even some web sites and videos to watch on particular subjects. All included.

    My aim is to do one post on each chapter and then think about application for Youth Ministry.

    See how we go.


    Thanks to Dave Miers for putting me on to this Video.


    I love this video. It is all about the G.O.S.P.E.L


    Christian Identity (Part 1)

    "True love is worth dying for. Please tell me I’m worth dying for" 

    We all want to be loved. We all what to feel needed. Some however, feel this more than others. Enter the teenager.

    When it comes to our faith Kenda (KCD) is on to something when she says..

    "Please show me a God who loves me this much - and who is worth passionately following in return. Becasue of Jesus isn’t worth dying for, then he’s not worth living for either’ (p.32)

    What this desire reveals is the strong connection between who I am and why I exist and these questions of identity can only be answered theologically.

    As KCD argues, ‘..this idea of [Christian] identity…runs counter to the expectations of society, and therefore impedes our ability to succeed by the standard of contemporary culture’ (p.34). 

    Consumer culture defines identity through the ideologies of self-fulfillment.

    In contrast, Christian young people who identify with Christ’s Passion (that is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) will enact self giving love.

    This love undoes the ideology of consumer culture and  ’…inevitably unmasks culturally accepted forms of domination, greed and fear’ (p.34).

    So how do we help our Christian teens develop this subversive identity?

    For KCD youth ministry finds its moorings in the practices of Christian community - and her practices. These are practices ‘…that have the force of the cross behind them’.

    These practices;

    1. Challenge the social forces that clamp down on teenage passion.

    2. Heighten the tension between youth and their culture which,

    3. Marks them as people who belong to a community “set apart”. (p.36)

    4. Finally, through these practices… ‘young people are invited in to the odd and holy life that imitates and participates in a life and death commitment: the life, death and resurrection - or Passion - of Jesus Christ”.

    What these practices are will be discussed later… 

    For now I’d like to spend a brief moment thinking about the “oddness” of youth ministry and identity.

    What is it that makes your youth ministry odd?

    Many youth ministries have nothing odd about them. Sadly, many are built on the same principles of consumer culture and self-fulfillment as the rest of the world is.

    Here is are some thoughts about how we are trying to be “odd”.

    1. We spend most of our time together in God’s word. We read the Scriptures and we think about them. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that through it we find our place in God’s great drama of redemption.

    2. Each week we call teens to look outside themselves. They wear a name tag so others can learn their names, we do activities that make them expand their friendship groups and we offer them opportunities to serve, either at youth group or in the wider church community.

    3. We encourage them to read the Bible, pray and develop a devotional pattern of these practices during the week.

    4. We call them to repent and take up their cross. That is odd!

    What’s “odd” about your youth ministry?