Double-Efficiency in Reading

In a letter (HERE) based upon Ecclesiastes 12:12, John Newton makes the case that wide reading does not necessarily relate to true intelligence:

An eager desire of reading many books, though it is often supposed to be the effect of a taste for knowledge, is perhaps a principal cause of detaining multitudes in ignorance and perplexity. When an inexperienced person thus ventures into the uncertain tide of opinions, he is liable to be hurried hither and thither with the changing stream; to fall in with every new proposal, and to be continually perplexed with the difficulty of distinguishing between probability and truth. Or if, at last, he happily finds a clue to lead him through the labyrinth wherein so many have been lost, he will acknowledge, upon a review, that from what he remembers to have read (for perhaps the greater part he has wholly forgotten), he has gained little more than a discovery of what mistakes, uncertainty, insignificance, acrimony, and presumption, are often obtruded on the world under the disguise of a plausible title-page.

He is making the point that absorbing vast amounts of information can lead to vast confusion and even, in a sense, vast ignorance. ‘Learning’ or the appearance of intelligence can give an illusion of wisdom as much as a nice title can give the illusion of good content.

He then urges the necessity of reading Scripture.

But should we only read Scripture? His answer is ‘no’:

Allowing, therefore, the advantage of a discreet and seasonable use of human writings, I would point out a still more excellent way for the acquisition of true knowledge: a method which, if wholly neglected, the utmost diligence in the use of every other means will prove ineffectual; but which, if faithfully pursued, in an humble dependence upon the Divine blessing, will not only of itself lead us by the straightest path to wisdom, but will also give a double efficacy to every subordinate assistance.

Notice the takeaway here. If you read all the books in the world, but do not understand God’s Word, you will gain essentially nothing. But if you have God’s word, everything else you read will gain ‘a double efficiency’ in helping to understand the truth.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes makes this point: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12). Wearing yourself out with reading and study serves no ultimate purpose in itself. But if that studying is mingled with the words of the “Shepherd,” it will lead to wisdom, stimulation (“goads”), and longevity (“nails”) (12:11).

Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.

At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul makes a request his younger student Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). He wants to read until the day that he dies. But above all he wants to read the Scriptures.

Do you want to be a doubly efficient reader? Do you want to enjoy books more? Do you want your experience with literature to be more deep and rich? Then read and digest the Scriptures and let them form your imagination as you come to other writings.

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How to Shut Up

I had a teacher in 6th grade that banned the phrase, “Shut up.” She called it the S word. The penalty was a trip to the croakery. Listen to find out what that means.

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 Solomon breaks the rule and tells us to shut up. Solomon looks at mankind and says the dreaded S word. Shut up and listen. Shut up and obey. Our mouths are constantly writing checks our bodies can’t cash. Jesus pays our debt. The gospel re-frames the meaning of “shut your mouth.”

You can listen to the latest sermon in my series on Ecclesiastes by clicking HERE.

Under the Bleachers

A lot of people sit back in life and have their overview, compared to my underview, where I scout, under the bleachers, for what life has dropped.

-Barry Hannah, Boomerang

I picked up this book at the library. I’m growing to appreciate Barry Hannah. For starters, he grew up in the town in which I’ve lived for the past 10 years. But that’s not important. He’s a compelling writer, that’s what’s important. He once wrote an interesting introduction to the Gospel of Mark, by the way.

Hannah was great at observation. Almost great writers are. Why was he so great? He lived life under the bleachers, looking for what life drops – the non-significant events, the pain, the ugliness, the trash, the dregs.

I’ve likened Solomon’s observations in Ecclesiastes – life ‘under the sun’ – to Hannah’s idea of life ‘under the bleachers.’ You have to open your eyes to see it. You have to get under the bleachers and live life there. You have to at least imagine life without God in the world. If you were converted as an adult (like me, at 19), then that shouldn’t be too difficult. Don’t forget the underview.

 

Sermon: The Triumph of Sympathy

You can listen by clicking HERE. To download the mp3, hover over the media menu under the player and click ‘download.’

My latest Ecclesiastes sermon is up. I am now working through Ecclesiastes 4, in a mini-section I am calling Life Under the Bleachers (which is a nod to Barry Hannah). In this sermon we deal with Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.

Solomon looks at the world and sees a bunch of people hunched over bearing burdens on their backs with no one to pity them or come alongside to help carry the burden. In the gospel, rather than giving us pat answers, Christ gives us the best thing he can give us – true empathy and sympathy. He lives life under the sun for us.

Learn how the sympathy of Christ can empower you to change.

Haunted

My newest sermon from a series on Ecclesiastes is now online. I deal with Ecclesiastes 3:11-22 and ask the question, What does it mean that God has put eternity in our hearts? More specifically, I try to make the case that we are haunted by a sense of eternity and there is only one way to be rid of the ghost – it must take on flesh.

If you like American History X, Flannery O’Connor, Boethius, Autobiography of a Face, or Louis CK, you might want to listen just for the references.

You can listen to that, and a couple of my previous sermons on Ecclesiastes, by clicking HERE.

To download the audio, just hover over the menu on the left-hand side underneath the player.

Christ-Haunted

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.

-from Flannery O’Connor, Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction (read it online HERE).

“Ghosts,” says O’Connor, “can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows…”

20 years ago at a party with a bunch of guys a few years shy of legal drinking age, emphasis on legal, I watched American History X. I can only see one thing about that movie in the screen made up by my neurons, and I’ll never watch it again on purpose. Not on purpose, on occasion, I’ll randomly see Ed Norton (whatever character he was playing) curb stomp somebody’s face teeth-first into the concrete. I don’t have to watch it again to prove that it happened. It haunts me.

There are images you can’t kill. There are words you can’t erase. There are stories you can’t unread. They haunt you. Though they are whispy, they are present. They can haunt you to the point of destruction, or they can serve for good.

All this because I’m studying Ecclesiastes 3, and it’s the only way I know to describe what it means that God has “put eternity into man’s heart.”

When We Turn Good Things into Ultimate Things They Become Empty Things

Another one of my Ecclesiastes sermons is up, focusing on that famous phrase ‘vanity of vanities’ as it occurs in Ecclesiastes 2. You can listen by clicking HERE.

My sermon on Ecclesiastes 3 about seeing life as a narrative is available there as well. If you’d like to download the audio, hover over the ‘media’ menu to the bottom-left of the player.

Sorrow and Joy as Sharp as Swords: How Seeing Life as Narrative Helps us Overcome Evil

I have about a month and half in between semesters (starting December 10th), so I will begin posting regular blog posts in the near future. Until then, my sermons are going to be posted online semi-regularly going forward. My sermon from this past Lord’s Day is up.

I am preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes at the moment. This particular sermon is on Ecc. 3:1-11, the passage that inspired the song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’ The title of my sermon is a nod to Tolkien: Sorrow and Joy as Sharp as Swords: How Seeing Life as Narrative Helps us Overcome Evil. You can stream or download the sermon by clicking HERE.

You can download the audio by hovering over the ‘media menu’ on the left side of the screen and clicking ‘download audio.’