Reading books by great Christian authors: it’s something I always meant to do more of. Frederick Buechner, A.W. Tozer, Tim Keller, I know they’re great guys. I’ve just never taken the time to pick up one of their books and dig in. (And prior to college, the only C.S. Lewis titles I’d read were the ones about the lion and those pre-Katniss warrior children that my mom liked so much.)
But I’m working to change that. I want to grow in my faith: to deepen my knowledge and understanding of God. And if that means watching a few less episodes of Girl Meets World and venturing to pick up a paperback, I guess I can do that.
The thing is: books about theology are not Scripture. They are inspired by Scripture, but they should not be blindly accepted as truth. To be honest, a lot of my distaste for Christian literature comes from the trendy title-of-the-month stuff you find at your local Christian bookstore. Titles tainted with prosperity gospel, watered down theology, or text trying to get us to jump on some political bandwagon.
Reading Christian books can be instrumental to developing and strengthening our Christian faith, but — like anything — it must be done carefully and intentionally. Don’t just blindly accept something because some Christian author happened to be on the New York Times bestsellers list.
The Bible tells us to test everything to see if it is from God, because many false prophets have gone out into our world. (See 1 John 4:1.)
With new truths you learn — new understandings of God — (especially ones that might strike you a little funny) test them to see if they hold up to Scripture.
- Read Christian literature in tandem with Scripture. If anything strikes you strange or as discordant with who God is, turn to Scripture. See if God’s word is in line with what your book is saying.
Make sure it’s not just in line with a selected verse or two, but with the heart, mind, and actions of God. No point of sugarcoating this: some truths of Scripture will be tough truths. But they will be meant for our ultimate good.
Often, they’ll involve complete surrender to God (his will instead of our will) and delayed gratification on our end. They’ll include a deep love for all people, but a strict personal adherence to God’s rules; his idea of what is best for us, not our human understanding of what’s best. Seeking personal sacrifice and serving others instead of pursuing the desires of the world.
- Scripture won’t always have a concise, clear answer. When it’s confusing, ask pastors or wise spiritual mentors in your life. But don’t believe what someone else tells you if it is counter to repeated statements in Scripture (cultural and historical context duly considered, that is — the Bible is an old document from an entirely different part of the world, so there’s a lot of context that should be taken into account, when it comes to slaves, the role of women, etc. Some truths and timeless, others were situational depending on specific contexts. For lot of them, scholars have a pretty good agreement on what is contextual and what isn’t).
- If what you are reading feels deeply contrary to how you feel God leading in your spirit (the Holy Spirit inside you), question it.
Here’s the caveat, though. We can’t just say “I can’t imagine God wants me to do X, because that would cause me pain, and a God who bestows pain is fundamentally incompatible with my view of God.” Again, the Bible does have some hard truths. Pain is tough, but God can use it for our good. He may ask you to accept something difficult, but he it will bring people (all people) closer to his love and salvation in the end.
Understanding the Holy Spirit is a process … a lot like working out. Without frequent, repeated practice: diet of Scripture, a daily exercise plan of prayer and listening to try to hear how God is speaking in your life — it’s a lot harder to hear the Holy Spirit.
But if you’re in a place where you’ve been seeking after his heart and his will, and you feel his nudging you to or away from something, don’t ignore that.
When paired with our daily practices like prayer, worship and reading the Bible, learning from wise Christian authors can help deepen and strengthen our faith and our knowledge and understanding of God. But our world is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are people who seek to use God’s truth for their own selfish end. Then there are some who mean well, but provide a confused or slightly-mistaken version of the truth.
So when you read, never blindly accept what you read as fact. Test everything to see if it is in line with Scripture, with wise Christian counsel, and with the direction you feel God is leading you. Learn from wise leaders, but don’t blindly allow yourself to be led astray.