This article is part of a larger series where I look at the theological implications of reading by going through Cornelius Plantinga's Reading for Preaching. Check out part 1, part 2 and part 3.
If you lead, you need wisdom. Not just wisdom on a few things either--you need wisdom on a multitude of topics. But how do you acquire wisdom?
As Christians, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). While fearing God has a bunch of aspects to it, one of the larger ramifications is that it means we invite God into every sphere of our life because He is God. This means that why we read, how we read and what we are to glean from reading should be shaped by God. For Christian leaders, therefore, we read to acquire wisdom for the glory of God.
Chapter four in Cornelius Plantinga's book Reading for Preaching addresses the connection between reading and wisdom. "General literature abound sin incidents, characters, images, and observations that illumine everything under the sun, including most of the topics which the preacher [and I would leader in general] has to become at least a middleweight sage" (pg. 74).
However, if you are like me, sometimes you just enjoy reading because it's...well...fun! The good news, according to Plantinga, is that "the preacher in quest of wisdom is realistic about what a program of general reading will yield. She doesn't need her reading to yield one desperately deep insight after another that, once ingested, make the preacher more profound than everybody in the philosophy department. Of course she would like to draw more from her reading than mere commonplaces, but she doesn't expect her soul to shatter and mend every time she sits to read" (pg. 74). We should be satisfied with small insights that we find.
The wisdom we acquire from reading is a sort of "middle-wisdom." What is that? It is a type of wisdom that is more profound that commonplaces and yet fall short of the proverbs that we hold so dear from century to century. According to Plantinga, this sort of wisdom saves the preacher (and leader) from banality, presumption, vagueness, and dogmatism. The more we read the more our horizons are expanded and the more we learn. We don't deal with abstract spiritual principles--we apply them to real life situations.
Of course, it may be tempting to read the above and think that the Bible plays a lesser role. This would be an unfortunate conclusion. "Christ, the wisdom of God, is the standard, The preacher measures her reading against the standard...the preacher's authority in the pulpit does not derive from the lordship of literature. Nothing in my ordination compels me to declare, 'Thus saith Philip Roth'" (pg. 79). Wisdom derived apart from the Scriptures is part of God's common grace to us--but it does not possess the authority of the Bible.
So does this mean we should only read literature that coheres with biblical truth? Not necessarily. By fearing God, we can actually read literature that is a sort of "anti-wisdom." We can read from atheists, nihilists and the like and learn from them. How? By keeping Christ as the source of our wisdom and anchor point. Sometimes we can learn the most by way of contrast!
Along similar lines, we may find knowledge that we wish we didn't know. However, this too plays a role in the life of a leader. I wish I didn't know some of the stories I do about abuse at the hands of religious people, but now that I know, I cannot turn back. It forces me to speak about it and address those areas of concern. Ignorance may be bliss but it is also highly irresponsible.
All of this points us to same reality: God's lordship rules over our reading.
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.