It seems to happen on a regular basis. It is inevitable. I am asked to read a book. I love reading books and I encourage the reading of books. However, I cringe when someone offers me a book and says “Read it with an open mind” or “Pastor, this book will change your life”. These phrases seem to be an alert that puts my guard up. Reading books should never be with “an open mind” as this is both impossible due to our learned presuppositions and it is just plain foolishness. As a matter of fact I often wonder if “open minded” people leave their house and car unlocked 24/7. Why leave your brain open?
But just today I was asked to read a book by an author I am not familiar with. I declined the offer. I was asked to reconsider. With a long winded excuse, I further declined to participate in reading this tome. Yet again a challenge was made. As a matter of fact, the conversation ended with the person in question forecasting that they would buy a copy of the book “Knowing I would read it one day”. This simply brought to mind last years “debate: I had with someone over my opinion of “The Shack”. In that instance, I was asked to have an open mind, look beyond the blaspheme of it, and enjoy it. Hummmm, sounds like the same argument Satan uses. (By the way, search this blog and you will find my retort to “The Shack” question and our need for discernment.)
Please understand, not all books recommended to me fail to be read. In the last few weeks I have read Crazy Love, by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt under these same rules.
So now in context I would like to share the three most important questions I ask myself before reading a book.
My first question is “What is the reputation of the book and the author?”
There are many great books out there, some by lesser know authors. Every author has a first volume and thus may not be well know if that is all that exists. Some great authors have a few clinkers in their mix. My first and foremost inquiry involves knowing something about the author. Books are the expressions of the heart and mind of the writer. That is why the Bible itself has no comparison. If you want to get to know someone from long ago you read their writing. It can be the same today.
If an author is questionable, mamby pamby, or just plain trendy I usually do not go much further in their consideration. What amazes me is that every year Christians flock to some new title and fail to have discernment. This is precisely why Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and Joyce Meyer sell so many books. Their books are rife with sugar and man centered justifications (to use the term in a secular sense). The true gospel offends and will not sell like hotcakes to the masses.
Also an author’s denominational stance will be a clue here. Now I read a variety of writers from a variety of backgrounds; Baptist, Congregational, Independent, Lutheran, Reformed, Armenian, Church of England, Missionaries, a Catholic or two, men, women, clergy, business people, professors, music guys, celebrities, athletes, blogs, magazines, news sources, mission websites, and even something you may hand me after church. I write this piece with much critique, but remember there is bad out there and I do not have time for cutesy or trite, or worse venom. I am one who locks his doors at night.
Quite often I will search for a review of the book from trusted sources. Tim Challies has done a great job at http://www.discerningreader.com/. I do not always agree with Tim and his crew, but often enough I strongly agree with them. Book reviews are fantastic. They save us time and money. I usually buy those books I find referred to by authors I greatly learn from and agree with. Just today I ordered a book recommended in a sermon and one I heard of from C S Lewis. My problem with books just being handed to me by well meaning people leads us to my next question.
The second question regards “What seems to be the intent of the book or person offering it to me?”
The book offered to me today was well intended. It was politely suggested and seemed to have an impact on the person offering it to me. Many times I have discovered great reads by someone making me aware in this manner. But I tried to politely turn down this grace intending offer because it seemed from what the person was saying this book was all bout “How God serves you the reader and you can be empowered” rather than a book on how we desperately need God. Hence, I interpret the contents to be man centered theology not gospel.
Without getting into too much dialog, I believe that the Holy Spirit gives us discernment through knowing Him that we can sense when something is just not right. My friend is truly a Christian, wonderful, and yet naive in this area. Many Christians may be even considered gullible. Mind you, we all are. If you fall into sin you must be gullible, the only recourse is the work of God. And God work in different degrees in each of us, no one is above another. I am sure my areas of lack are quite apparent to him and others.
But the second question must take a hard look to ask what is to be taught through digesting these words. With that again, the edge of the knife division is whether the book is God exalting or man empowering. I am applying this to theological –Christian living books, not necessarily a manual on cooking. But even in secular books we must take time to be discretionary.
Should the person wanting my opinion on a book be sincere, I have found reading it may be very good for dialog. I do cringe at the “open minded” caveat if it is used. But in that same request I often ask that those who try to give me an unsolicited volume must also be willing to read a book I offer them, and understand if I decline their offer.
Others, and this is hugely one sided, seem to be wanting of me to see things in the same romantic experience they had with the book. If asked about the value of the book or its biblical foundations they most often respond without biblical defensibility.
And thusly, my third question arises.
I ask “Is there a redeeming value in reading this in accordance to my time and responsibilities?”
If a book makes it this far it still has to be a good stewardship of my time. I have about eight books at a time being read throughout the week. I have a stack of research books, kids books, classic literature, and growth books to read. This is not to mention time that needs to be spent in prayer, family, yard work, and such.
The bottom line for any book is whether or not it will bring me to exalt God by reading it. It may not be good for me to spend my time reading another book on prayer when I need to read on the atonement. I read a lot on the emerging church, but that has pretty much run its course with the exception of blogs and articles.
A good book is one that simply draws a person to glorify God. We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This then is the test of a good read.
If a book has made it this far, by a worthy author, of a subject that is pertinent to my life and work, and I have time; I will then read it.
Now in the same lesson, I need to consider what and how I am conveying the same intention when I ask someone to read a book? Their parameters need to be taken into account. Perhaps there is a better way to lead a horse to water, feed him salt, and let him drink.
Now I shared with my friend a couple of quips on books.
- If it is a new and exciting discovery that is on the fast track of being “life changing” wait. There is nothing new. New secrets or discoveries are most often the deceit of Satan.
- Be familiar with the Bible first. Know the real so you can spot the fakes.
- Just because a “Christian” bookseller has the book on hand does not make it doctrinally correct. Jesus cleared the temple over this issue.
- A Christian book is like worship, it must encompass spirit and truth. This is the basis of my doctrinal argument. You may also cite how a book handles the scriptures. Does it twist, misinterpret, take out of context, or otherwise pander to the reader? Remember, Satan is beautiful and speaks soothingly.
- Many great books that have lasted over time get ignored. We ought to be familiar with classics of the faith.
- If a writer claims to have a “special knowledge” read it with caution.
- Check with your pastor on books, see what he recommends. If he turns you away from a volume respect his leading.
- Interact with a book as you read. Write in it. Underline key conclusions. But most of all, read it with an understanding of the truth of God.