05 September 2009

Reading Christians

I suppose I could have gone in several directions with this post. For example, I could have written about the practice of discerning or understanding other Christians, about Christians who read, or about reading things written by Christians. Although all worthy blog fodder in their own right, it is this final point I am interested in right now.

In the past several months, I have ramped up my reading, always hungering for more. In a desire to know more about God and His will for me, I spend much of my free time searching out and reading books, blogs, and articles about God in addition to His holy word. I have become increasingly aware, that despite my frequent encouragement by Christian writers, I am too often frustrated by what I read, so I started asking myself why.

I have pinpointed a few things that have contributed to my annoyance. Fundamentally, I often forget that, unlike God's word, Christian writers are fallible. Even those attempting to elucidate God's word with the utmost care are fallen sinners who write with error. In today's information age, anyone with Internet access has a pulpit, without a requirement that they actually think or analyze scripture (I say this, fully recognizing the irony that I am writing this in an un-reviewed blog). In ages past, writers faced scrutiny by their peers and if their writings did not pass muster, they did not persevere, if they even managed to see the light of day. I also see evidence of people pursuing worldly agendas before God's will and subsequently bending God's word to fit their desires.

I initially came up with several rules to circumvent my annoyances:
  • 1) Read only books put out by Crossway publishing company--Crossway is the primary publishing portal for such thinkers as John Piper and Mark Driscoll, dubbed the leaders of New Calvinism. They write in a refreshingly direct way, leaning strongly on the Bible, which they recognize as inerrant.
  • 2a) Avoid any book written or endorsed by Brian McLaren--McLaren is a leader of the emergent movement and is most recently notorious for his decision to celebrate Ramadan this year to demonstrate solidarity with the nation of Islam.
  • 2b) Avoid any book with "emergent" in the title--See point 2a above. There is a tendency, I believe, for the emergent church to place a strong focus on re-interpreting God to be cool, hip, and relevant and in the process, twisting the Gospel.
  • 2c) Avoid any books published by Windblown Media--Windblown Media is most well known for publishing The Shack, a piece of Christian fiction which has exploded with massive readership and has led people to say such things as "this book has been life changing and caused me to re-think God." More recently, Windblown has been recognized for their book So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore?, which suggests that the Bible does not recommend involvement in any kind of institutional church (for those who agree with this, I would encourage reading the New Testament).
  • 3) Be selective in which blogs I read and never read the comments--There are many Christian blogs out there with no editorial oversight (you are now reading one). Some of them show deep thought, some are political soapboxes, and some are just poorly written. Even worse, the comments often demonstrate no humility or wisdom, but much venom.
As I pondered these "rules," I believed they had some merit, but are mostly absurd. Rather, I think a different approach is beneficial.

First, the Bible should be pre-eminent as it is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. We need to read the Bible first and read it most. It is to be our primary source of information about God and our lives in Him (2 Timothy 3:16). Use a literal translation (e.g., ESV) rather than a paraphrase (e.g., The Message) for most of your Bible study. Second, pray for spiritual discernment (Ephesians 5:6-11), seeking to understand what is consistent with the Bible and what is not.

I like how John Calvin described how to deal with the world (including its writings) in his Institutes:
  • For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.
In other words, we are to use God's word as a lens through which to view our world, including the things that we read about God written by others. Put another way, we should act as the Bereans who "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

In sum, I believe there are worthwhile Christian writings out there, but I also believe that we need to carefully consider the veracity of what we read, consistently praying for discernment and regularly checking what we read against the scriptures.

1 comment:

JasonSix said...

I've recently realized that almost all my favorite books are from Crossway publishers. Also I've been reading up on the emergent churches on their web sites recently and their shabby exegesis of scripture, twisting it all into a political soapbox as you would say just makes me want to beat my head against the keyboard. I have to remember it is only by the grace of God and the humbling of the Holy Spirit that God communicates His Word to me more clearly and my understanding will never be fully mature and complete in this life. So more mature believers like like Piper, Driscoll and Chandler might have to bear some patience with me were we ever to discuss scripture and doctrine.