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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

They Read Me Too Well

Written by: on October 5, 2017

“There is clearly no difficulty of an intellectual sort about gaining new information in a course of reading if the new facts are of the same sort as those you already know.”[1] I must admit that these words were my biggest fear with this book; in other words, what is the challenge of reading a book when I have so much experience reading books? However, though this was truly the case at some points, I also found myself very pleased at some of the revelations made. There were many times I found personal insight into my own reading voyage through my life. As a young lad I loved stories like “Shipwrecked”, “Oliver Twist”, “The Three Musketeers” and of course, “Tom Sawyer”. I was raised in a house with five older sisters and no brothers, and often found that it was much better alternative to get lost in a book than to hang out with the girls…well, I out grew that stage. Instead, as I got older, my creative books were traded for schoolbooks, and for some reason, I just did not find history as interesting as fantasy and fiction. My reading seemed to take a hiatus and I actually found that I could make very good grades by only reading what was necessary to get the grade; hours upon hours of deep reading turned into skimming and page flipping. College did not make reading any more enjoyable except that I felt as though I was back to making more decisions in my extracurricular reading…mainly in regards to bible study. For the first time in my life since boyhood, I actually started getting interested in the story again. As I read through “How to Read a Book,” I felt as though their levels of reading almost mirrored mine exactly, and found it almost intriguing to how well they knew me…they should be scared though.

This past week in South Africa we actually had a conversation about how I viewed some readings I had to do during my M.Div days. I had become less interested in the works of a particular author because of his use of giant words that I felt seemed to alienate the reader. As I worked through our reading, I found some of the very skills they discussed had been put to work without me even intending on it. Believe me, it was not planned, but rather just disinterest in what I was reading. Though I was relating a lot to the reading, I also found myself remembering some of the emotions I felt toward the author. In one chapter the authors were talking about the attitudes of “agreement or disagreement” we come to when reading, and how we choose to agree or disagree with the positions presented by the author; I found that true with the book, only it was not as much because of the content, but rather because of how the content was presented. It literally bothered me that the author used so many, as I like to call them, 5-point words. I kept feeling as though he was so caught up in trying to sound smart that he did not care if I understood what he was saying. The irony is, that my roommate this past week actually liked the author, and did not share the attitudes I had. “Understanding a book can be described as a kind of agreement between writer and reader.”[2] It was obvious there was no agreement there.

However, with that all said, I loved how the authors brought this same principle to mind in regard to Canonical books; mainly the Bible. In the same manner that I could not connect to the previous author mentioned, I also feel connected to God through Scripture. When I read the bible, I never feel as though it was written for me, but rather, know that somewhere in its pages; God is just waiting to teach me. I never know when it will come, or what the lesson may be, but there is a message waiting. The authors expressed that because we see it as the true “Word of God,” that it presents much more difficulty for some in the reading because of the seriousness that it requires. I must admit, though I understand the point, and even agree with the concept, I guess for myself, I have always found that to be what made reading it even easier. There was a point when I was doing a personal study on the book of 1 Timothy; it was not for a class or sermon, it was just for me. 1 Timothy had been the first book I had been encouraged to study when I preached my first sermon at the age of 11. I studied hard out of a study guide called “A Book for Young Leaders,” which was designed as short easy sermons for young future preachers. Though the lessons were helpful, and set me on a great path, as a grown minister, many years later, I found that the same understanding I had as a youth seemed to have changed. When I was 11 I connected with the book of Timothy from the point of view of the young man in the story, but as a grown man, I found myself connecting more with Paul teaching lessons to a young man. I envisioned my own sons sitting next to me as I explained to them the struggles of ministry and the importance of staying true the Word that God had given to them. The book of 1 Timothy has never made as much sense to me as it did that day.

I believe that ultimately, this book on “how to read a book” was showing the importance of connecting with your material. The more interested I am in reading it, or the more invested I am in needing to know its contents, the more impacting it may become. As we work on our dissertations for this program, I kept thinking about how important it is that we truly pick a topic that we are passionate about. How do we truly write an honest and impacting paper if we cannot even grow from the sources we study? Anyone can write a paper, but it takes passion to write a good one.

 

Bibliography

Adler, Mortimer J. & Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York : Simon & Schuster, 1940.

 

 

[1] Adler 1940, p 9.

[2] Ibid, p 151.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

12 responses to “They Read Me Too Well”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hay Shawn! You have five big sisters?!? Wow! I’m the youngest of five girls, so I can imagine the house you grew up in, minus YOU! I’m your opposite, as a young child I hated reading, I always wanted to be playing. It wasn’t until High School that I discovered a love for reading, and then went on to be a literature major in college.

    You mention the idea of connection between the author and the reader. I think this is where an author needs to consider his or her “audience.” The book you didn’t like in seminary–was it written for Mr. Joe in the pew on Sunday? Or was it intended for theologians? Sometimes those “5-point words” are targeting a certain group, speaking their lingo. I wonder if that was the case in this instance.

    And then when you think about your own dissertation, who will be your intended “audience” and what do you think you will need to do to connect to that audience?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I believe that is why I am looking forward to writing my dissertation, for exactly the points you just made. Frustratingly, when I did my M.Div, the books were usually picked for me, rather than me truly getting to write on something I was passionate about. I am already eagerly exploring my library, the church library, and the George Fox library for books that will add to the paper that I truly look forward to sharing.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    I found your comment very thought provoking when you said, “When I read the Bible, I never feel as though it was written for me…” Wowza, I wondered how this could be? But then you went on and explained, and even came back with the statement after reading I Timothy, that you thought the words, “Were just for me.” Now I feel better.

    Well done my Brother.

    Jay

    • Shawn Hart says:

      When I first read Timothy it was because my dad was trying to make me into a preacher. To be honest, I fought that man for years, insisting that I would never walk that road. However, I have since embraced my calling and have found such great passion in biblical study that Timothy is now personal and special to me. It is lovely thing to see it different.

  3. Shawn,

    I liked the quote from Adler you began with: “There is clearly no difficulty of an intellectual sort about gaining new information in a course of reading if the new facts are of the same sort as those you already know.” Reading that doesn’t challenge us, but merely reinforces what we already know, is a wasted opportunity.

    I think that’s the beauty of this course of study. Jason alerted us in Cape Town of the likelihood that we would all read material in this course that would disturb or threaten traditional ways of thinking. We cannot grow unless we are jolted out of our comfort zones.

    Adler concludes the paragraph: “He has indeed elevated himself by his activity, though indirectly, of course, the elevation was made possible by the writer who had something to teach him.” (p9)

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Mark, I actually love to read stuff that has a different perspective than my own; I think that was one of the parts of this program I was really looking forward to. The reality is, we are all used to what our own churches have as foundational teachings, but it is through opposing views that I believe we are encouraged to study harder, review things we have already studied, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even be blessed with learning things we had never learned before.

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Shawn! Hope you had a good transition back home. Lucky you to have 5 sisters!

    In light of our challenging conversations in Cape Town, I appreciate your comments regarding connecting with a book/material. I’m curious if when you read and/or do research on topics/content you are intentional about seeking information on both sides of an issue? I found that during the election this past year, I tried to read and listen to both liberal and conservative commentary to understand where both sides were coming from.

    I agree with your statement that we must be passionate about our research topic and I’m anxious to hear your research interest?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I could make a bunch of jokes about being the youngest and only boy that was raised in a house full of women, but to be honest…I was spoiled rotten by my sisters and mother. I hope that the experience I had in a home like that helped me to become a great father and husband.

      As to your question Jean, I appreciate the challenge it posed to not just myself, but to all of us in this program. I pray before I study my bible, and always ask for God to show me what He has to say, rather than what I may desire to find. I call it “cleaning my slate.” So if I am doing a bible study, I truly work at not coming in with preconceived notions or ideas, not do I short-change the reading by only reading one or two verses; I am a full-context reader. I do not let the sign outside of the church building ever dictate the message that I preach; only scripture.

      As for a more scholarly (if I can say it that way) approach to study, such as research papers or dissertations, or even just a deep bible class topic, I believe it is important to look at all of the points of view to give a true range of ideas. However, I also believe that the second I start trying to prove something rather than just let the study develop, then I may risk finding the actual truth. Everyone has an opinion, but I want the truth.

  5. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Shawn,

    I appreciate your opening in the quote about no intellect is gained if you read books about what you already know. My first professor in seminary on the first day in speaking of reading things that would challenge was “If all you have in your library are books you agree with, your library is incomplete”. He was encouraging us in the same way Adler does to try to connect to and understand the things we read, even if we disagree.
    I also, like you connect to 1 Timothy now from Paul’s point of view. Two of my sons have expressed a call of their life from God. I have spoken to them about remaining true to their call and to always test what they feel against God’s word.

    Thanks for the post.

    Jason

  6. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Shawn, thanks for your perspective and insight into your own reading journey. Just hearing you mention how the content mirrors your own life gives me an understanding of your own process and journey. You mention being bothered by the ‘5-point words’ of the author. There were a few moments where I realized in my own reading that the author’s have quite a vocabulary. I have a few friends who are the same way and have come to realize that they are reading giants. They just read so much that the words they use are very familiar to them, even if not to the average human like me. I also remember early on in the book the mention of something to the effect of ‘if you have to look it up you are not being challenged in your reading.’ Do you remember that part? I thought about that a lot through my reading and since and wonder if quite possibly Adler was just trying to apply to us the very thing he was teaching at the same time. I would love your perspective on it all.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Trisha, I can honestly say that at times, I have hated scholarship because I felt as though it has changed the way I talk to my congregation. I know there is a beauty to knowledge, words, and even the poetry that they can give to speaking, but there can also be an alienation to it. I have seen my vocabulary change over the years, and part of me loves that it means I am growing who I am, but when I say something in bible class while teaching scripture and see these blanks stares looking back at me, I have to remind myself that the only benefit they have in having me as their minister is if I can actually teach them what I know. Realistically, I keep a Dictionary, Greek lexicon, and even a Thesaurus near by when I read because I hate not knowing what a word means. However, though I expect to find those words, I guess I just struggle with the dividing factor that scholarship has if we lose the ability to transmit the message.

      Thanks for the feedback

  7. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    Great Post again! You were the spoiled little brother I see. Wow, that explains a lot.

    If you think this book is good, wait till you start on the next one! I will not spoil it for you, but you may be surprised on Bayard’s “non-reading” tactics. Combined with Adler’s as a reference guide, we will be ready to read with real perspective as we research and prepare annotated bibliographies for our dissertation topic.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

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