Do We Really Need To Take Notes?


In all honesty, a post like this can be counterproductive. I’ve argued for two posts that there should be some theological methodology for taking notes and that there are some goals while taking notes. In this post, I want to point out that none of this is really necessary and that might wind up cancelling the previous two posts.

Here’s why: we moderns tend to think that if something isn’t necessary then it isn’t really important and might not even be helpful. We Evangelicals happily point out that liturgy isn’t necessary and then often condemn liturgical churches while ignoring our own liturgies (Open in Prayer; Make announcements; sing three songs; introduce the speaker with a benediction; Prayer before speaking; the message; Close in Prayer). I’ve seen the same thing done to sports, movies, exercise, and voting.

And then, things that we want people to do, we underscore as “necessary” and add a guarantee to the thing (ie: note-taking is guaranteed to increase your love for the Lord). So here are 8 reasons why note-taking isn’t necessary.

Note-taking is not a guarantee to Spirituality. I don’t care how many notes you take; or how often you take them; or how big your digital files of notes are—none of them promise that you will grow in Christ.

Note-taking is not a guaranteed mark of maturity. I’ve been taking notes since I was in High School and the main reason then was to stay awake while someone was preaching.  Indeed, it is still a great way for me to stay awake. Think about that next time you see me clacking away on the keyboard during a service.

Note-taking is not the fast track for bearing fruit. Sure, note-taking might be a practice in discernment but that doesn’t make it the reward of discernment.

Note-taking can be distracting. You might distract yourself when you’re focusing on how you’re taking notes, and you might very well distract others who are near you: typing is sort of loud!

Note-taking has the danger of pride-inducement. Let’s be honest here: anything we do has the danger of pride-inducement. Preaching, teaching, writing on a blog, not-taking-notes, and taking notes. Moreso when you look around and see no one taking notes…

Note-taking can be a useless endeavor. The only good that might come out of it is if you die, someone else might get them and learn something. That being the case, we should try to do Something with our notes. Maybe start a blog. Or print them out and hand them to your local elders / pastors. Or (crazy talk) study them.

Note-taking won’t increase your love for the Lord. Oh it might help, but so would looking at a sunrise, or going on walks through the park, or visiting an art-show at the Museum, or listening to Mozart. No, note-taking isn’t an additive thing. As I said in my first post, it is closer to an expressive thing. I take copious outlined notes because I love God and what He has said in Scripture; others jot down notes because they love God and what He has said in Scripture; and yet others give rapt mental attention because they love God and what He has said in Scripture.

Note-taking isn’t for everybody. Yeah, there, I said it. Now I’ll have seventy-five percent of my readership (three of you) walk off agreeing that you don’t have to take notes. Go back a couple millenniums and you’d find a culture that was so deeply oral that listening was note-taking and examination would come later. Some people just can’t take notes and need to focus on smaller bits to the capacity of their mind (like kids). Others might draw the message after the fact and you realize that their brains were engaged. For most of us, I think that note-taking is the way to go. We do it with school, our jobs, and even our spouses before we go shopping—why exclude this helpful tool within the walls of the church? Even so, some people just can’t.

(Crossposted at The Bible Archive)





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How To Take Notes


So with my previous post on the theological methodology for note-taking in mind, and as part of a textually minded culture, I think we should be taking notes—no matter the tool (computer, notepads, mp3 recorders, stenography). In this post I want to six goals for taking notes.

1. Note the verses used.

If the preacher is speaking on a specific text, note what that text is. If you’re recording an mp3, label it according to that text (if that helps) or put that information in the meta-data. If you’re taking notes highlight the main text (maybe in the heading, maybe in the color, or maybe even in the document name). If the preacher cites verses, write them down and tie why they’re being cited. Most of us will not remember these things but this process will help us examine the thought flow in the light of the text.

2. Note the main points.

If the speaker is emphasizing something, it is likely (though possibly not) important to the message: list it as a point. You might not want to spoil your mp3 recording with you whispering “important” at key points, but it might mean you jot down a time mark with the key point that is being made. Likewise here, you shouldn’t be inserting what you expect to be the main point. If it takes a while for the point to become clear, leave the heading blank and insert after the point is made.

3. Note point substantiation.

Usually (though admittedly, and sadly, not always) the speaker substantiates his or her points with either verses, or a logical argument, or an illustration, or an example. Take note of how that point is substantiated. Here you shouldn’t be running off and adding further [, that is, your own] substantiation. [We’re simply noting what logic or verses the speaker uses to substantiate the point; or if he assumes the point note the assumption. This is note-taking, not helping the preached message.] 

4. Summarize the general message.

Break down the entire message into a basic thrust or three. What was the important take home point? What did it teach about God? What was mandated of the listeners? Why was this all important. I usually do this close to the end of the meeting, after the concluding points and closing prayer while the whole thing is still fresh in my mind. For you it might mean doing it later.

5. Ask how it relates to the Gospel.

If the Scripture points to Christ and the Gospel, we should rightly ask what the preacher unveiled about the Gospel in a positive way (yes, the message clearly reflected Christ and God’s Gospel in this point here, there and the other) or negatively (no, the message laid on me a demand—something I had to do—when I know that I don’t have the power to do it. It preached “law”). If “no” was there ever a solution found in the Gospel or was it strictly demand and command?

6. Ask how it relates to the rest of Scripture.

Look up the text and the immediate context—does it support the speaker’s point? Read commentaries and equipped teachers—do the given translations match what is actual? Is it supported in the text (all of it) which preaches God’s Gospel? With so many tools on our e-Bibles I’ll offer a warning: don’t do this while the message is being preached!

Next I’ll answer if note-taking is necessary. Yikes!

(Crossposted at The Bible Archive)





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How To Think Theologically About Note-Taking

In the How to Study Your E-Bible series, I listed digital tools for note-taking with respective methods (recording mp3’s, outlines, ipads, etc). I mentioned that the process should be easy, accessible, and personal but in this first of three posts I wanted to highlight seven points of a theological methodology for note-taking.

One. Reject passivity with the preached Word of God. If we believe that God is speaking the text (notice my phrasing and check out my argument if you need convincing) or at the very least speaking through the text (a weaker claim though still valid enough for this point) then we would do more than just hear what is being said.

Two. Listen to the preached word as an expression of loving God (Luke 10:27). Now get this: the ancient Jews didn’t think the heart was the seat of emotions like we moderns do. So we read the text and think “ah, love the Lord with all of your feelings.” They thought the seat of emotions was the kidneys (or the bowels it reads in some places). The Heart was more like the seat of personhood—what we often mean by Mind. Likewise, what we moderns mean by soul is usually “My Immaterial Self” but the ancients saw Souls as “The living person”—more like the living body. God says “Love me with all of you!” Not just emotions. Volition. Strength. Body. Mind.

Three. Intentionally seek obedience opportunities (Acts 17:11). As the Bereans weighed what was said, so should we—but that shouldn’t be the end of the process. The Bereans were nobler not because they only researched to see if those things were true, but upon seeing them as true they acted on them by believing.

Four. Have more care with Scripture than the compiled message. The compiled message includes a whole mess of things that the preacher is relying on: style, humor, illustrations, etc. But these things are all within our realm of generating. God’s wisdom is above us (Isaiah 55:8-9; see also Job 28:12-28; Jeremiah 51:15-17) and against the Sinful Us (1 Corinthians 1): we must realize that he alone is wise (Rom 16:25-27) relying on the message over the messenger.

Five. Acknowledge the weight of the wisdom of God. By this I don’t mean listen to intangible inner feelings or urgings to authenticate the message; what I mean is that if Scripture is the Word of God, we must realize that they are the words on which we live—its potency, sufficiency and necessity is vital. The preacher up front is not vital (which is why I really don’t like when preachers say that God has laid this message on their hearts) but his Word definitely is.

Six. Give ear while trusting the Holy Spirit. By this, I still don’t mean some internal intuition, like a Spiritual Spidey Sense, that warns you of the mishandling of Scripture: the Holy Spirit isn’t the Force.  What I mean is that God speaks Scripture, and we must trust what He has said (and is saying) over against what an individual is saying no matter how flashy he or she says it. We might find this confirmed in church history or by Bible commentators as the Holy Spirit also worked in history illuminating people throughout Church History.

Seven. Plan to do hard thinking. Too often modern-day Christians make arguments for ignoring swaths of Scripture in favor of “meditating” on a three word subset of a verse. This is merely setting up our own imaginations as the final authority while using the Word of God as a springboard. It’s dangerous, foolish, and unabashedly childish. With this meditative/devotional approach we sacrifice the explicit teaching of Scripture with a thin veneer of something we call Spirituality but is merely modernity’s romanticism having sway—in other words, we’re enthroning emotions like the rest of the world and think we’re Spiritual Jedi’s while doing it. And unfortunately, this comes out with how we treat preached messages. We walk away with a take home bit that we “meditate” on and think we’re being spiritual.

Next I’ll look at how to take notes.

(Crossposted at The Bible Archive)





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