Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Writing for those who skim read. . .

Recently someone suggested to me that our Sunday worship folder would look better if we had more white space and broke up the text a bit more.  A few have said something similar about this blog, advising me that blog posts are sometimes too long and could benefit from shorter sentences and more white space.  The reason for this is that we live in an age in which people do not so much read as skim the text.  This is why some periodicals pull out pivotal sentences and put them as graphic content in large and distinctive typefaces.  If you cannot force yourself to read the whole article, then you can get the gist of it all by focusing on those theme sentences so conveniently highlighted for you.

All of this coincides with (or perhaps is the cause of) growing Biblical illiteracy.  Scriptures turned into graphic novels or designed with a basic reading level (some as low as 3rd grade) are being published in the hopes of getting folks back into reading the Word of God.  While I will not diminish these efforts, the real issue is not a problem with the Word but with the people reading (or not reading) that Word.  We have become a people for whom the sound bite has become their in depth content.

The issues lie not with an imprint early on in the lives that cannot be changed but the result daily experience constantly re-imprinted upon brains.  The brain is remarkably pliable and elastic but it cannot escape the implications of a routine that constantly reinforces a pattern upon the mind.  It is a matter of the things which are being turned off as well as those things that are being turned on for our brains.  Only a fool would deny that our ability to concentrate upon and digest the information before us has been radically affected by ever present screens and the fast moving stream of stimulus.  While this is of great interest to those who educate our children, it is not without concern for those within the Church.

You cannot skim read the Scriptures and be equipped to resist the wiles of those who pervert the Word of God or be informed enough to identify those who distort that Word.  In other words, the less you know of God's Word, the more vulnerable you are to being led away from Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  A shallow knowledge of God's Word is not a minor danger.  It leaves the Christian dependent upon others to know what is right and true and the religious marketplace is filled with hucksters and hacks who are like the blind leading the blind.  Their own lack of knowledge becomes the foundation of your own undoing -- not knowing the Word enough to identity if they are teaching you truth or error.

A liturgical church nearly drowns the Christian in the Word of God.  Far from snippets of that Word, the Christian is surrounded with the Word, prays that Word, sings that Word, and hears that Word.  With three readings and a Psalm, the lectionary adds to the mountain of God's Word that you encounter every Sunday.  The sermon is based not on a word or phrase but lives within the context of a system of readings and a liturgy that is itself Scripture sung, prayed, and read.  Yet even liturgical churches live within the pressure to reduce the length of the services and shorten the sermons.  If we succumb to our penchant for worship lite and for a cursory knowledge of Scripture, we not only work against our own endurance in the faith but we cripple our ability to pass on the faith to those who come after us.

God did not write for those who skim read.  From Old to New Testament, God did not shape the structure of worship for brevity or to satisfy those who choose not to read.  It is God's expectation that we will desire His Word as newborns desire the milk of their mothers and that we will grow from that mother's milk to the solid food that builds us up and enables us to grow into maturity as God's own baptized children.  This is the discipline of God's people and part of the training of the mind from that which is trivial to that which is profound.  This is what it means to be captive to the Word of God. 


ginnie said...

Excellent article, thank you, Pastor Peters.

jwskud said...

"A liturgical church nearly drowns the Christian in the Word of God." Praise God for this. As Pastor E. Goeglein (Table Talk radio) is fond of saying, is there any better way to deliver Christ than the very words of God which make up our liturgy? Methinks not.