In this fascinating excerpt from John Piper’s new book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, we learn how Pastor John learned to read, to really read at the age of 22. In this brief excerpt we will be encouraged and challenged to question how we read the Scriptures, and then to dig in again to have our eyes opened to the truths of the text that have been there all along. No matter how old we are, it’s never too late to learn how to read again.
How Did I Learn to Read at Age Twenty-Two?
The years 1968–1971 were explosive in my discovery of what it means to read. In one sense, I said, I learned to read when I was twenty-two. My encounters with Daniel Fuller, Mortimer Adler, and E. D. Hirsch were life changing. Hirsch convinced me that interpretations can claim validity only if meaning is defined in terms of what an author willed to communicate through his words. Adler showed me how passive my reading was and what it means to put my mind in gear as I read so that I am constantly asking questions and trying to answer them. Fuller took my hand, as it were, for three years, and guided me through dozens of biblical texts, forcing me to put into practice the disciplines of aggressive attentiveness.
Did I really learn to read when I was twenty-two? Did I really have to wait until my first year in seminary to discover what it means to read the Bible? You judge. The most fruitful discovery I made about how to read was that the authors of Scripture argue. They develop arguments— trains of interlinking thoughts that lead somewhere. Until those days, I read the Bible mainly to collect precious nuggets. Doctrinal nuggets. Devotional nuggets. Pearls. These were wonderful. I don’t begrudge the years of collecting and stringing pearls. They served me well. I loved them. I think they probably would have led me faithfully to heaven.
But within a matter of days, in a hermeneutics course based on the book of Philippians, I was startled to see that Paul does not string nuggets; he forges chains. This is what was new. I don’t blame anyone in my past for not showing me this. They may have shown me, and I was simply not ready to receive it. So it may not have registered. This is not about blame at all. It is about the joy of discovery. Or maybe I should call it awakening. Paul’s thoughts are not nuggets. They are links. If this has always been obvious to you, and you are saying, “Duh,” then I say, praise God. But for me, it came at age twenty-two with the force of a hurricane. I was caught up into a way of reading that was new, and arduous, and rewarding beyond all hopes. We called it “arcing.”
Daniel Fuller developed this procedure of identifying the clauses or propositions of a text, figuring out how they relate to each other in the emerging argument, and then labeling them with abbreviations under the arcs that we connected with ever-enlarging arcs as we saw how the pieces of the argument fit together.
This book has encouraged and challenged me in how I read the Bible. Whether you are a new believer, or a long-time disciple of Jesus, you will be motivated to pick up the Bible with a new set of eyes and an understanding that will prayerfully take you deeper into His Word.
Content taken from Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.