Wide and Shallow or Deep and Narrow?

A while ago I was listening to John Piper talk about reading. He mentioned advice given to him by Daniel Fuller, who said something along the lines of “John, you only have one life. There isn’t enough time to go deep with every thinker in the world. Pick one. And go deep with him [or her]. But don’t give a brief read to everything written by everyone.” I took the advice to heart because the same reality has begun to dawn on me: I can only take in (read and remember) so much in one lifetime. And so for the past few months I’ve been wondering, “Who will I choose to read deeply (and specifically) from?”

Then the other day I followed a link to this video by Thomas Schreiner. The point of the video is to see what he’d advise students to do in their seminary years. At one point he says, simply, “don’t just be a specialist. … the danger of specialization is that we can become narrower and narrower and forget about broader issues.” Schreiner tempers his point and admits that even though he’s in favor of reading broadly, no one can do everything at once. But the main thrust of his advice (especially the examples he gives) is that we all ought to read more widely.

So, wide and shallow or deep and narrow? Here are two seasoned thinkers emphasizing different ends of the spectrum. On the one hand there is Piper (quoting Dan Fuller) to the effect: Deep and Narrow. And on the other hand there is Schreiner pushing for (what I would call) Wide and Shallow.

Now, “narrow” and “shallow” might sound a bit pejorative. They’re not supposed to be. But aren’t they the effects of reading Wide and Deep, respectively? I think they are. They’re the poles we have to strike a path between – the outcomes of stressing each one heavily enough.

I think there’s room for a middle-way, a via media. But their differing and complementary opinions have given me cause for thought.

Deep and Narrow? Or Wide and Shallow?

What do you think?

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One comment

  1. Reminds me of my old Sunday School days where we sang, Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide. Personally, I’ve tried both reading by drilling down deep on C.S. Lewis, John Stott, and Francis Schaeffer in my early Christian days. Now in my golden years I read more broadly but feel that my foundational practices have set me up to absorb more quickly as I read broadly. So I say both!

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