Challenging Yourself to Read Over Your Head


It may sound backwards at first, but even people who read a lot of non-fiction can become stuck intellectually on the same speed. They continue to learn new things of course, but they are a bit stuck on a single lane of learning. The cure for this, I think, is jumping into the deep end and occasionally reading over your head. Let me tell you my story to illustrate.


My Jump Into The Deep End

I few weeks back I completed a book by the philosopher Edward Feser called The Last Superstition: a refutation of the new atheism. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it. But this post is not about the content of that book. I mention this book because I really felt in over my head.

This particular book by Feser was 312 pages — so really only about 275 or so pages of reading when you discount the front matter and endnotes. Despite being 275 pages, it took me a LONG time to read. Why? Because it was philosophy. Feser was re-introducing me to my intro philosophy class that I took over a decade ago, and pushing me beyond that. I was reintroduced to Aristotle and Plato, final and efficient causes, and introduced for the first time to Thomas Aquinas.

This was very unlike most books I read. The lion's share of my time is reading biblical studies, particularly New Testament. When I do read fiction for enjoyment, I generally fly through it quickly. Reading in my area of New Testament, I'm fairly quick too. For instance, the book I read immediately after Feser's was 220 pages and with note-taking and creating chapter abstracts for my reference manager, it still only took me a few hours. But this philosophical work by Feser was one that I would have to stop, reread paragraphs or pages, and sometimes reread them again. I would have to at times look up definitions as well. This was a SLOW process, a mountain climb.


Brain Exercise

In short, this was brain exercise for me. And that was a very good thing. As a seminary professor and friend to many pastors, I often get concerned with the reading of my fellow ministers and former students. First, most pastor friends and former students are readers - and that is a fantastic thing, because leaders are readers and readers are leaders. But...the reading often becomes just the next best-seller by one of the US mega-church pastors. Much of the reading is fodder for sermons or strategies for growth, etc. This is excellent and much needed (so don't stop!). My concern, though, is the same concern that I have for myself: Am I exercising my mind and pushing the boundaries of my knowledge to grow and learn more in order to become a better reader and gain further wisdom? Am I intentionally jumping into the deep end?

Pause and think back to your first college class, or perhaps the first time you read Shakespeare. I recall, for instance, reading a book by Sire called The Universe Next Door. I remember finishing that book and having no idea what the book was about. Now I consider that a good but fairly basic book. As we jump into the deep end and read over our heads (or listen to lectures that are over our heads) you not only exercise your mind and learn something new, but you also expand your own personal reading level. In short, this brand new area of reading has a domino affect on your reading level everywhere else.


My Challenge To You

So let me challenge you — continue your vigorous reading schedule. But don't just stay in your comfort zone. You as a leader are very often asking those you lead to go outside their comfort zone. Challenge yourself to do the same, by intentionally adding every once in awhile into the rotation a book (or listening to a lecture) that is outside your area of expertise. Jump into the deep end and exercise those mind muscles!

photo credit: The little house on the praire via photopin (license)
Posted by Danny Zacharias.