Tuesday, March 12, 2019

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Reading Christian Books

There is great value in reading books by Christian authors; however, there are things that we should all keep in mind before we open the front cover.

1. The authors are fallible.

I know that for myself anyway, it can be easy to forget, but remembering this is crucial in approaching the books of Christian authors appropriately. We know that the scriptures are the revealed Word of God and that the men who wrote the canon did so by the Holy Spirit’s strength (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). This truth permits us to read the Bible without fear of running into errors in doctrine or history. We don’t have this assurance when reading books outside of the canon, however. This means that we need to approach the reading of non-canonical works with a different mindset. Even the most solid teachers and authors are capable of misinterpreting Scripture or making unbiblical assertions. I have often overlooked that fact. Never read an author without asking yourself, “Is this something Scripture teaches?”

2. The authors are like us.

Something else I sometimes forget when reading books by Christian authors is that they’re in the same situation as me. We’re in the same boat in the sense that we are sinners that have been saved by grace and are on the long road of sanctification. As learned and experienced as many of them are, they still struggle with sin. They still experience suffering. They still wrestle with hard questions. Galatians talks about the Spirit being at war with our flesh. Does this not also apply to the writers on the other side of the page? Being reminded of this, I hope, will lead us to read with hearts that are encouraged and uplifted by the ways in which God is sanctifying these individuals and using them to teach us as well.

3. Books ought to be used as supplements—not substitutes.

If there is one thing in this short list I am guilty of, it is this one. For some silly reason, I find myself more willing to read books written by fallible authors than to read the book by the infallible author, namely God. One of the definitions for “supplement” is: something that completes. This is not the way I am using the word. The Word of God doesn’t need to be completed. It is absolutely sufficient. Rather, think of books as “add-ons” or “bonus features.” (Don’t take that metaphor too far.) Again, only Scripture is infallible. However, there is a lot to be said for reading and learning from other Christians. What better way to love God with our minds (Matt. 22:37)? We just need to be careful that we don’t allow such reading to replace our reading of the Bible. God uses His revealed Word to mold us (2 Tim. 3:17). We can still learn from other books (and the really good ones will be brimming with Scriptural references), but we can’t expect to be sanctified apart from digging into the Word.

As Spurgeon is credited with saying, "Visit many great books, but live in the Bible." The Lord can and does use the wisdom of other men and women to shape and teach His flock--and their books are a great resource for us. May we be mindful of the way in which we approach the lessons they have learned and pass on to us.

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