(by: Doug Van Dorn)
The other day, someone asked me, “How should I read the Psalms?” I thought, that’s a good question, and given that I’m wrapping up a two-year series in them, it’s one that I think I’m able to answer better than I was before. This will be a four part series, and I’ll keep each post fairly short. This shouldn’t be rocket science.
So how should you read the Psalms? The first thought that came to my mind is that this is a different question than, “How should I study the Psalms?” Reading something vs. studying it are very different activities. In their famous 1940 book, How to Read a Book, Adler and Van Doren (no relation), following a quote from Francis Bacon, explain that there are four levels of reading any book. Using the illustration of eating, they suggest you can taste, swallow, chew, and digest it. Each stage commits you to a more thorough reading such that by the end you really are studying more than reading.
Thus, if you want to read the Psalms, you have to first decide what level of reading you are committing yourself to.
- Do you want to merely taste it? This includes recognizing words, scanning the sentences, etc.? This is the most basic level of reading.
- Do you want to chew it? Here we do things like inspecting, skimming, pre-reading, learning the structure, taking notes, even memorizing. This is the level of starting to make the words your own.
- Do you want to swallow it? Now you begin to analyze, thoroughly read, figure out the plot, the unity, the author’s intent, the author’s message, and read the author fairly instead of importing your own “meaning.” This level begins to include other aids such as commentaries, journals, dictionaries, etc.
- Do you want to digest it? This kind of reading is where you get into the nitty gritty of the heavy demands of trying to understand the context, the culture, the language, how it fits in with other related texts in the Bible, and so on.
My suggestion is, at the very least, you want to commit to the second level of reading (“chewing”), where you are ruminating on the words rather than just letting your eyes glaze blurry over the text. (For more on this, I highly recommend Adler and Van Doren’s book, as the art of even basic reading is something that has been lost in our day to many people.)
In the next installment, we’ll begin to look at some specifics I’ve used when going through the psalms.
 I’ve rearranged the middle two.
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