How to Be Discerning About Christian Books

youmakemewannabebrave asked:

Hey! So as part of a leadership/discipleship ‘programme’ for my church they’ve given us a list of a few ‘christian lifestyle-ish’ books that they recommend that we read (as well as the bible). I was wondering if you had any strategies/questions to keep in mind as I read through the books, just so that I can be discerning about what is being said in them?

I answered:

Yes! Now this is a sharp question right here. Discernment is one of the most important things you can develop in your walk, and it is criminally under-discussed in the church today. In this case, discernment means being able to tell if something is based in truth or not. That doesn’t mean you have to condemn authors, or people who like certain books that you disagree with. It just means deciding whether or not something is good for you to be taking in.

The last word of discernment always rests with God. You want to be going to Him in prayer with everything you read (including this blog) to make sure it checks out. It takes some time to get the hang of that, so let’s look at some factors to look at when you are reading a Christian book.

The most important question to keep in mind is: who is this author, and why should I be listening to what they have to say?Just because someone has a book on the Christian bookstore shelf does not necessarily mean that have anything helpful to say. It means that a Christian publisher thought their book would be profitable. So if say, a 21 year old single guy where to right a book about how dating and marriage should work, it would be insane to assume he is some kind of expert on the subject.

Not so say that all Christian authors are bad, or even most. The simple fact is, they may not have the expertise that we tend to associate with being an author on a subject. Many of the most popular Christian books are written by people who are megachurch pastors. That means their skill is in running a church that has a lot of members and brings in a lot of money. If your goal is something other than to run a church with a lot members that brings in a lot of money, then that author may not have anything to say that will help you towards your goal.

If you want to learn about ministering to individuals, look for a book by someone who has done one on one ministry, not one on 10,000 ministry. Look for books by missionaries, or pastors who have some extensive counseling experience.

Another thing to keep in mind is that nothing you read should contradict the basics of Christianity. There is a temptation to want something that is “revolutionary” and “all new”, but the reality is that the basics of the gospel are what they are. If someone is saying something that seems to contradict the plain vanilla gospel, then you should proceed with caution. Check everything you hear or read from anyone against scripture. No one’s understanding of scripture is perfect, but if you know the basics, you should not just accept something totally different because a book says to. Run any contradictions by a pastor or mentor (or your friendly neighborhood bloggers/podcasters).

The key is not to turn off your BS detector (BS of course stands for “Biblically Specious”) just because a major publishing company thought that a particular pastor would sell books. That’s not a condemnation of all Christian books. Some are great, there are Christian authors I love; but the reality is that some aren’t, and popularity or being on the Christian bookstore shelf is no guarantee that it is one of the good ones.

An extra bonus tip: books by authors who are older (and especially dead) tend to be a safer bet. Those authors wrote those books before Christian publishing was a multi-million dollar industry, and almost by definition they did their ministry for decades.

-Matt from The Bridge

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