What do you think of the results? Let's talk about it in the comments.
The purpose behind the research for this infographic was to find out if writing styles have changed drastically over time. Reading MacDonald and his contemporaries led me to think we moderns don't write, read, and think with the complexity of the Christian authors of that day. This graphic backs that up.
The thought of reading Lyman Beecher's The Nature and Occasions of Intemperence at 16.1 is, well, sobering.
This brings up some interesting questions which go beyond the scope of this inquiry. I am not drawing any conclusions from these results, but conclusions would be worth the time for someone with more of it than I have.
Does a work that is more readable correlate to higher sales? Rick Warren's book would lead you toward that conclusion.
Are we dumberer than we used to be? Or are there more less-educated readers these days than in past centuries?
The works were selected based on the popularity of the author or preacher. The works are focused on popular theology. The hope was that focusing on one type of work would yield more consistent and comparable results.
I stayed away from fiction aside from Bunyan, whom I couldn't resist. I tried to average one work per decade, but obviously didn't make that a rule.
Big thanks to the wonderful folk at The George MacDonald Society Facebook group for helping me flesh out this list.
Do I agree with all of these authors? No.
How I got the numbers
I used a selection from each author of several hundred words and plugged them into this readablity test tool. Take a shot at it yourself. It's fun in a geeky kind of way. For some of the newer works, I used this tool which converts scanned page text into editable text. It works really well.
Is it possible that scores will change from one work to another by the same author? Yes. This comparison serves for a general understanding of writing styles over time, and for that purpose, I think it works well. I tried to take the most well-known of the author's works for the study.
MacDonald fans will be interested to know that I used the Consuming Fire sermon from Unspoken Sermons for the test.
You might also be interested to know that the text in this post scored a 6.4. No offense intended, dear reader.
Links to the works:
- 1667 Margaret Fell 10.6 Women's Speaking Justified
- 1678 John Bunyan 6.3 Pilgrim's Progress
- 1691 Brother Lawrence 11.3 The Practice of the Presence of God
- 1694 George Fox 11.3 Journal of George Fox
- 1729 William Law 14.6 A Serious Call To A Devout and Holy Life
- 1741 Jonathan Edwards 10.8 Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
- 1748 John Wesley 11.7 The Witness of the Spirit
- 1771 George Whitefield 8.9 The Seed of the Woman, and the Seed of the Serpent
- 1789 William Romaine 10.8 Discourses on the Song of Solomon
- 1802 Lyman Beecher 16.1 The Nature and Occasions of Intemperance
- 1829 Archibald Alexander 10.7 Growth in Grace
- 1841 Charles Hodge 11.2 The Way of Life
- 1855 Charles Spurgeon 6.4 The Immutability of God
- 1867 George MacDonald 9.9 Unspoken Sermons
- 1875 Hannah Whitall Smith 10.5 The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life
- 1892 Ellen G White 7 Steps To Christ
- 1895 Andrew Murray 7.2 Humility
- 1908 GK Chesterton 9 Orthodoxy
- 1935 Oswald Chambers 8.9 My Utmost For His Highest
- 1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer 9.4 The Cost of Discipleship
- 1948 AW Tozer 8.6 The Pursuit of God
- 1952 CS Lewis 8.8 Mere Christianity
- 1958 John Stott 6.7 Basic Christianity
- 1973 JI Packer 8.9 Knowing God
- 1978 Richard Foster 8.2 Celebration of Discipline
- 1986 John Piper 8.1 Desiring God
- 1990 Brennan Manning 8.4 Ragamuffin Gospel
- 1995 Joyce Meyer 6.4 Battlefield of the Mind
- 1999 Chuck Colson 8.7 How Now Shall We Live?
- 2007 Rick Warren 6.2 The Purpose Driven Life
- 2009 NT Wright 11.4 Surprised by Hope
- 2015 Beth Moore 7.8 Believing God