God approaches His people through story. Redemptive history is story unfolding and in the making. It is no wonder, then, why Jesus taught through story as well. Jesus’ words resonate through the Gospels as He unpacks the Kingdom of God through parable. And how many people missed these parables? How many did not understand Jesus’ imagery or use of metaphor? It is recorded continually in the Bible. Understanding story should be foremost in our education. Being thoughtful interpreters of our experiences and the experiences of others is an integral part of what it means to be created in the image of God. All of these stated reasons and more comprise an importance of learning how to interpret story and engage it through active reading.

As a teacher of high school literature, some of the most frequently asked questions while analyzing story and discussing a writer’s worldview usually sound something like, “Don’t you think we are going a little too deep?” or “How do we know the author intended this?” and sometimes even boldly sounds like, “That seems a little far-fetched to me.” These are all worthy questions for the classroom. Students need to understand why we delve into matters and look at the details. The importance of learning to interpret and question is at stake here. The why of active reading must be understood and addressed.

We actively read first and foremost because we want to see God’s story unfolding. Every story is a shadow of His story, a remaking in some way. Unbelieving authors cannot avoid God’s truth and His reality. They stumble through it as they borrow from His reality to invent their own. We are called to understand His story and see it everywhere, unfolding before our very eyes. With this in mind we need to embrace story and learn to interpret the various types that come before us. The more we understand God’s story, the more we understand others and their view of humanity. We are called to engage others as we are called to take every thought captive. Active reading is one part in the literature classroom that teaches and shapes the student to see the important moments revealed in story. This process takes time and practice, and my diagnosis is that we are out of shape. Active reading sharpens our thinking abilities and teaches us to look into things, lest we move through life simply “amusing ourselves to death,” to borrow a phrase from author Neil Postman.

When we engage a text, which in essence is engaging an author, we begin to see particulars more and more. Sometimes this comes through repeated exposure and sometimes from diligent imagining. Let me explain. Often when we read something or view something more than one time, we see more of the details that we missed the first time through. This is a common experience and exposes the reality that there is much to miss when engaging something too quickly or not fully enough. When it comes to using the imagination, the reader must make great effort to concentrate. Often this is where students struggle the most—staying with the story. Diligently imagining the story unfold while reading is half the battle with active reading. If a reader does not see the story unfolding as he reads, he is not only failing to actively read on a basic level but, questionably, is not reading at all.

In Part 2, we will examine practical advice on how to read actively.