“Of the Making of Books . . .”

2 Oct

I just wrote a post recommending some books on discipleship. Every time I write a post about books I think about some concerns I have about reading Christian books. So I wanted to take a moment to address some of those concerns in the hope that you might neither be afraid of books nor pin your hopes on them.

Here are some things Christian books can not do . . .

1. Christian books can’t replace the Bible. Only the Bible is Spirit-inspired. Only the Bible is that real food for the soul that we all need. So if you find yourself reading lots of Christian books but not reading your Bible very much, you are in danger.

2. Christian books can’t be the Holy Spirit. Christian books can point you to truth, can unfold ideas in ways you hadn’t considered, can bring research and wisdom to you that you may have never seen, but they can not convict or comfort like the Spirit.

3. Christian books can’t make you spiritually mature. Christian books can reveal to you something of the maturity of others, but they can’t make you mature yourself. You may read John MacArthur but that doesn’t make you John MacArthur, any more than wearing a Tom Brady jersey means you’re going to be throwing touchdown passes this Sunday.

4. Christian books can’t adequately replace obedience to God. Reading about evangelism without making Christ known is no good. Reading about prayer but never praying won’t cut it. A great book on service is of no use to me if I don’t seek to serve. In other words, a Christian book is only as good as how it shapes me in my daily life.

There are also some things that Christian books can do . . .

1.  Christian books can lead you into false teaching.
We must be wise in what we read, because much of the material on the bookshelves of Christian bookstores is marked by false teaching. Some teach a prosperity gospel of health and wealth. Some preach a works-oriented, man-centered approach. We must show wisdom in what we read.

2. Christian books can lead you into celebrity worship.
Whether it is a biography or the works of a well-known preacher or teacher, books can become a breeding ground for a culture of celebrity Christians. Combine this tendency with the abundance of conferences in our day and we can see how the message of Jesus can often get lost behind the image of the man. If you buying a book because of the little picture on the inside flap of the dust jacket, you may have a problem with celebrity worship.

3. Christian books can lead you to fixate on issues that are not a prominent focus in the Bible.

The most famous example of this is probably The Prayer of Jabez, where one small verse in the Bible, which is not all that clear in its meaning, was made the basis of a whole book and a campaign arose from that book which made it, for a time, the next big thing in the evangelical world. But sometimes this tendency to fixate on lesser biblical issues manifests itself in other ways. For example, a book on parenting may take a verse or two from Deuteronomy but the real substance of the book is more the particular author’s practice in his or her family. Yet, because of the use of these verses, the book is called “biblical.” Books are designed to sell, so it is often the case that they will overstate the importance of their central thesis. So many titles are promoted as the thing which will change your life or your marriage or your church or your city. If all the endorsements of Christian books came true the world would be won to Christ and every Christian would be walking in complete victory. Alas, Christian books often over-promise and under-deliver.

Now you might be wondering, how can you recommend that we read Christian books after all the warnings you’ve given about them? My simple answer is this: despite all the warnings, good Christian books can be a great help to us in our walk with Christ. I base this answer on three factors . . .

1. Good Christian books help us better understand the Bible and that is always helpful. Good Christian books take us deeper into the Word and show us how to live in light of the Word.

2. Good Christian books give us a different perspective.As with hearing preaching, I sometimes need to hear a different voice than my own in order to really come to grips with a particular truth. Sometimes an author can shed light on Scripture in a way that is very helpful and which I would have been less likely to see without his or her help.

3. Personal experience. I have been encouraged countless times in my Christian life through good books. I can think right now of at least a dozen books that have made a profound impact on my life. They have shaped who I am and how I look at the world. So I recommend reading from my own personal experience.

Yes, there are pitfalls to avoid, but overall good Christian books are our friends and we should be exceedingly grateful for the time in which we live, when such good resources are available in abundance.

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