In the final two chapters of Reading for Preaching, Cornelius Plantinga deals more concretely with how reading gives us wisdom on different aspects of life and sin and grace. He quotes Joseph Epstein who writes,
“From the study of literature we learn that life is sad, comic, heroic, vicious, dignified, ridiculous, and endlessly amusing sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once, but never more grotesquely amusing than when a supposedly great thinker comes along to insist that he has discovered and nattily formulated the single key to its understanding.”
Literature gives us life in all of its varied beauty. As leaders, we should read good literature so that we can learn how to deal with the complexity of life. Life cannot be understood or “formulated”—we are complex creatures living complicated lives.
I have noticed that this is where many younger leaders struggle—everything seems black and white. What is worse, many of our leadership works suggest that there is simply ONE paradigm to understanding business, life, spirituality etc. We suggest that if you do “these five things” you “too can experience success.”
I would also suggest that sometimes our “Gospel-centered” preaching or teaching can often times become unvaried and not take into account the complexities of life. This is unintentional since the Gospel is broad enough to handle any variedness in life. Our preaching, teaching and leading must take into account that life is difficult and sometimes there are no good or easy answers. The Gospel is alive—but just as God incarnated into our brokenness so also our Gospel preaching, teaching and leading must “take on flesh” within the lives of our hearers.
But this takes a substantial amount of work on our part. It is far easier for us to use low-hanging fruit in our illustrations and application. I do this—it is easier to use personal illustrations or family illustrations in my teaching. That is easier than me mining literature, articles or film for better, more tangible, grittier examples.
And here Plantinga offers us the hack—read literature. This requires discipline of course. If you aren’t a reader or are extremely busy, it may not seem worth it. But I think it is. If nothing else, Plantinga’s book has given us a glimpse of what reading can do. Perhaps the most important thing reading does is help us grow as leaders by forcing us to consider different perspective and develop empathy. Good literature creates a Gospel-awareness that tune our hearts and minds to our culture.
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed about the prospect of developing good reading habits and don’t know where to even begin. I can help. You can take a look on how I read books and how I manage my time to read more. Second, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter. If you sign up now, I’ll send you a free “Reading for Leading” genre schedule. It lists a specific genre to read each month so that you can grow as a reader and as a leader.
Also, consider buying Reading for Preaching because I really just skimmed the surface of what this great book has to offer.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.