In my last column I was exploring my journey from reading just one book at a time to grazing several at a time. A healthy mix of books could work together to both retrain and refresh the mind, mimicking in some fashion the pattern of work and rest God impressed upon the world. But I think there’s more.
Though a few years old, I recently viewed The Pixar Story, a documentary detailing how Pixar Studios came to give us classics such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. Most of their productions have been met with box-office success and often critical acclaim as well. Upon reflection, many of Pixar’s directors, who began working in other capacities than director in the beginning of Pixar’s inception, noted a crucial element to their success: collaboration. Artists working with computer scientists working with storytellers working with other studios. Opening the floor to a number of voices, all working towards the same goal, allowed the studio to think past the typical animated narrative by challenging and pushing one another, affirming good thoughts, adding new thoughts to the conversation, etc.
Multi-reading produces a kind of collaboration of thought. In reading one volume at a time, yes, you can delve deeply into that one author’s thoughts, but unless you have joined a book club, who will be able to challenge or affirm the content or welcome new, interdisciplinary ideas into the conversation? And even with a book club, you would be collaborating with people shaped by generally the same culture as yourself. Because of multi-reading, I am currently receiving ideas written in the 2010s by an American (but about a Frenchman from the 1500s), in the 1970s by a Brit, in the early 1900s by a Dutchman, and in the 1600s by a Spaniard. This collaboration with diverse perspectives increases the chances for creative, critical thought.
This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that one should partake in several books on the same topic from diverse authors. That likely would be a fruitful enterprise. But just as fruitful may be engaging two totally different kinds of books. Those, in fact, often provide the most interesting collaborations. Consider a modern book on personal finance and a history of World War II. The financial and historical might blend together, allowing you to see both topics with different lenses. You could consider the financial historically and the historical financially. Who knows what innovative ideas might follow!
Perhaps finance and history do not interest you, and my exclamation point seems entirely unnecessary. That’s fair. Plug in different kinds of topics and genres that interest you — and maybe one that stretches you — and imagine the results. Personally, the intersection of biography/history, theology, and fiction rarely disappoints and has, on a number of occasions, significantly and beneficially shaped the way I perceive and engage the world.
With this collaboration — this critiquing, confirming, and connecting of ideas — the ability to express your own thoughts often follows. In terms of writing specifically, reading good writers improves your writing. They model effective communication and can, in a small way, rub off on you. (Of course, practice must also enter the equation.) I am no master writer by any means. Nonetheless, I know that having read some writers who are masters of imagery, some who are masters of organization, and some who are masters of intellect have directly benefited my own writing.
In other words, the positive effect of collaboration that multi-reading provides to your thinking applies equally well to your communication. You can more easily take the thoughts and images of one author and send them through the filter of another, capturing and then conveying ideas in unique ways.
Multi-Reading the Bible
Now imagine these effects applied to the Bible. What might happen if you poured over Genesis, Matthew, Ezra, and Acts at the same time? Or Leviticus, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and 2 Timothy? A collaboration of biblical inspiration would fill your imagination! This is just what the M’Cheyne reading plan and others like it purport to do. (This is my second year to attempt the M’Cheyne plan. I personally recommend it.)
Reading God’s Word in this way stamps down the tendency to nibble the text for spiritual nuggets taken out of context and applied in self-serving ways, a tendency each of us must shake off. Instead, you tear into several parts of the Word, gaining a greater sense of the whole biblical story. Rather than fitting God’s story into yours, you begin to see how you fit into his. You see, for example, God’s promise made to Abraham, the attempt at restoring the Law and Temple, the fulfillment of these in Christ, and the beginning and sending out of his church, all in the same scope. It helps to reorient your stance toward the text from self-serving to God-glorifying. Given that he is a gracious and generous God, this ends up working for our benefit.
The Bible can “make wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7), but it is nonetheless a complex and diverse book. Reading these different voices together allows you to listen in on their conversation. Besides seeing their inherent unity in the grand story of God, the particularities and nuances stand out as well. When we think we have figured out salvation, for example, suddenly we see a new, previously unknown (to ourselves) facet by pairing Jeremiah with Paul perhaps, and the lavishness of God’s grace grows even more in our heart and mind. We thought salvation only meant X, but it also means Y and Z too.
[Disclaimer: There will certainly be times when you feel like you have to slug through the text. It’s not always about the immediate but about the big picture. I find that The Bible Project videos do a great job of helping you see how a particular book fits into that big picture and even what to be paying attention to when reading particular genres.]
Yes, pick up a couple books at a time and reap some personal benefits. But do the same with God’s Word as well, and you will find his special revelation blowing you away as it exposes God’s grandeur and majesty.