Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Reading for Writing

Written by: on September 20, 2018

I’ve always loved reading. Fictional characters were my dearest companions growing up. Years before Shakespeare was part of my school curriculum, I was delving into Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream with enthusiasm. Critical analysis emerged in late high school and then was refined in University. So while Adler’s book was useful, it was not new to me. Even his suggestions at how to make notes, could have been derived on many of my books, already marked in appropriate fashion. Though terminology was occasionally different than what I have previously encountered. However I soon recognized that my position as a reader has shifted recently, as I now come with specific questions as a doctoral student. Reading in preparation for writing was the lens that developed as I went through “How to Read a book”. It wasn’t until I reached the section on analytical reading that I was reminded that I will soon face the task of writing something that I hope will be of enough significance that others will read it. Perhaps I wouldn’t find an explicit answer to my question of how to write a dissertation, but as he suggested, I might “find an implicit answer in his book.”1

To a certain degree, I expect that writing will follow a similar pattern to the notes one would take when reading. For example “The questions answered by inspectional reading are: first, what kind of book is it? second, what is it about as a whole? and third, what is the structural order of the work whereby the author develops his conception or understanding of that general subject matter?”2 If I were to answer these questions in order about my own writing, it would in fact help me to fill in the blanks, taking into account what I would hope my reader would be able to reproduce. For a dissertation, genre is somewhat laid out, but perhaps like the artist who begins with familiar rules, their will be room for creativity yet.3 The topic will likely begin in one place, but if I read syntopically well, it will need to be flexible, allowing for refinement in response to honest reading. Finally, any work must first be fully outlined, with the details and description linking the key points in artistic fluidity such that they are beautiful enough to invite the reader to engage fully and yet somewhat unnecessary for understanding if the key paragraph sentences are indeed faithful to the outline. Clarity must be achieved in order to truly invite a reader to dialogue with me as an author. For they “must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, ‘I understand,’ before (they) can say one of the following things: ‘I agree’, or ‘I disagree’, or ‘I suspend judgement’.” 4Thus it is useful to consider my writing first of all an invitation to a reader to be in conversation with me by being clear.5

A further conversation that I will be facilitating will be one of the reader with the key source text of our Christian faith.Given that our work in this program will be derived in part (at least) from our reading of scripture, it was interesting to me that Adler considered how we ought to read canonical books as a distinct category. However I’m unconvinced of his conclusions. He describes the task of engaging with this genre as such: “The characteristics of this kind of reading are perhaps summed up in the word “orthodox,” which is almost always applicable. … These are books for which there is one and only one right reading” .6 Given the diversity in interpretations of the Bible through the ages, the majority of which demand respectful consideration, I believe there are many ‘right readings’. It will be necessary for us within our writing to thus be clear about which reading of pertinent passages we are accepting as applicable to our various subject matter. The task will be to read and reference scripture being faithful to the overall understanding of the grand narrative as well as ensuring referenced scriptures truly support or gesture towards our conclusions. Adler continues his guidance on reading this genre more usefully. “The faithful reader of a canonical book is obliged to make sense out of it and to find it true in one or another sense of ‘true.’” This affirms that our task while synthesizing our research and our reflection will require us to clarify in what sense our key passages are being affirmed as true, rather than assuming our readers will automatically share our perspective.

Given that faith resides both in the mind and the heart, to produce writing that will engage the practices of our faith in any way requires a creative element, regardless of the desired practical implementation I might desire. Adler thus acknowledges, “(y)ou can see why the practical author must always be something of an orator or propagandist. Since your ultimate judgment of his work is going to turn on your acceptance of the goal for which he is proposing means, it is up to him to win you to his ends. To do this, he has to argue in a way that appeals to your heart as well as your mind. He may have to play on your emotions and gain direction of your will.” Perhaps this recognition offers appropriate permission to embrace motifs that would intentionally engage the emotions towards the end of producing an effective practical work.

If I’m really honest, the book I wish were on our reading list would be “How to write a dissertation”; better yet, I’d like one called “Jenn—here’s how you should write YOUR dissertation”, but Adler’s book went a long way in articulating how to go about writing something readable. Which is more than this google image offered.

1. Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Touchstone Pbl Simon & Schuster, 1972. 311. Kindle.
2. Ibid., 49.
3. Ibid., 53.
4. Ibid., 140.
5. Ibid., 49.
6. Ibid., 287.
7. Ibid., 287.
8. Ibid., 193.

About the Author

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

10 responses to “Reading for Writing”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Jenn. Without intending to give clues to my theological persausion, when you take issue with Adler’s view of ‘Orthodox’ reading, what word would you put in it’s place? Diverse interpretation by the pious doesn’t necesarily mean a difference in treasuring a text (no matter what faith texts we are dealing with). When I read his comment, I got the impression he meant reading in a dismissive fasion. If we begin our engagement with the perception that a sacred work in merely an opinion rather than a deeply held worldview, we will not grasp the nature of the material. So again, if you were to replace “orthodox” what word would you use?

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      A couple of acknowledgements before my word suggestion Digby. First I would confess that the word orthodox has been wielded against me on multiple occasions, whereby I’m reminded that an ‘orthodox’ reading of scripture means that women should not be pastors. So it pushes some buttons. I then resist the oversimplified idea that their is ‘one’ right reading. As I have engaged cross culturally and cross lingually I’ve found that because words have different nuances in different cultures, that there are places where passages have been understood very differently. Similarly when I’ve done Bible studies with people who are studying from a Bible in their mother-tongue, we have been entertained by the fact that their have been significantly different word choices into our different languages which have sometimes given us very different understandings of key passages. Certainly even when the ideas are preserved, the tone or nuance can be quite varied. It is for these reasons I resist a singularity in valid readings. So I suppose as a cursory suggestion I’d offer ‘faith-filled’ readings of our sacred texts. For me this would imply that we come with a shared right position of our heart rather than resulting in singular ‘right thinking’.

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jenn, thanks for your post. I really appreciated your statement about reading in preparation for writing. You summed up the shift that was happening in me through this week’s reading. It is quite a different approach to read in this manner rather than to acquire knowledge or be entertained.

    My husband is two years into a PhD and in some ways I have been getting prepared for my own adventure through hearing about his. It seems doctoral programs are designed as building blocks toward the dissertation so that your cartoon is not complete reality though the emotional journey seems very real. My husband has found the cohort to be an incredible support to the process.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    I appreciate how pragmatic you are in coming to every required text and asking yourself the question how will this text help you write your dissertation. I certainly think this is included in becoming a demanding reader. You bring a very interesting perspective in envisioning what a prospective reader would want to know and discover in reading your dissertation. Thank you for these fresh insights, H

  4. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    A fan of Shakespeare! No wonder you are pondering the creative element of reading and writing. I greatly appreciate how you appreciate the room for creativity in even the most forma of writing settings. I firmly believe that the creative process is one of the most holy things in which humans can participate, especially when done in community.

  5. Jenn, I like your sence of humor in the six steps to writinf a desertation. I agree with you about Adler’s book which is very handy for the task ahead of us in writing the Desertation. For those of us who aspire to author books and academic journals, this book is such a great resource and will ensure that you can a book that will get the necessary readership and become a resource that others will refer to for knowledge.

  6. Karen Rouggly says:

    I can tell we’re going to be friends already. I appreciated so much about this post. I can empathize with you in having the desire for someone to give me a book about how to write my dissertation. In fact, I wish I had a guidebook for most things, “how to parent my children”….”how to not get overwhelmed with my work”…..”how to be married to my spouse”….but Lord knows I probably wouldn’t have time to read those either!

  7. Fred Stewart says:

    Jenn – you have always amazed me and this adventure you are embarking on fills me with amazement. God be with you.

    I just finished Scott McNight’s’The Blue Parakeet’. While it left me with scriptural challenges, I am much clearer on the process we all must go through to discover what ancient holy words call us to do and to be in our context today.

    Bon voyage both physically and metaphorically.


  8. Sean Dean says:

    I’m really intrigued by this idea that the writing of our dissertation is essentially reverse engineering how you’d read a book. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it makes a lot of sense. I will ponder this as I think about it during the panic or despair steps of writing.

    Also, I think you make a good point about canonical books not having one correct interpretation. But I would add that it’s not just that there have been many interpretations of the Bible over time, there are many interpretations now and being literate of many of those will make our interfacing with the Bible during the dissertation phase of the program will be infinitely helpful.

  9. Tri Maitland says:

    Hi Jenn,
    Your reflections on reading for writing and thus writing for readers have led me to reflect on other variants on this theme:
    Learning for teaching, and teaching for learners.
    Listening for speaking, and speaking for listeners.
    When I turned my thoughts to my professional area, I wondered how does this principle apply to medicine and healing? For example, one cannot usually experience the full extent of dying in order to more appropriately provide palliation. On thinking about this I realised that the parallel lay not in the dying but in the living of life. I can treasure and value life in all its richness and challenge and juxtapositions, and in doing so continue to discover, understand and enable what is valuable, meaningful and important for those living their last.
    To attempt a neater way to say this: living well (gratefully/heathfully) for healing, and healing for those who are living (be it long or short).

    Thank you for sharing this leg of your journey and for providing inspiration via your thoughtfulness.
    Looking forward to reading more.

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