Beware the Books!

As I consume more modern Christian books, I often have a little red flag raise in my mind. Why does the tone of this book seem off-putting to me? Why does the word choice give me a nagging sense that God would not have chosen that word if He were writing the book? As a contributor to the column Books to Grow By, I decided to follow those trains of thought and see what I came up with. We all know we need to filter what we read through a Biblical lens, but what are some specific things to watch out for when reading ecumenical (definition: movement or tendency toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation Encyclopedia Britannica) self-help books?

First, what are the word choices of the author? I have two examples of common buzzwords in modern Christianity: broken and community. Are those terms Biblical? Not in the sense they are used today. For example, one might say, “We live in a broken world” or “I need God’s grace because I am a broken individual.” On the surface level, this seems like it agrees with Scripture, but the word “broken” subtly shifts responsibility outside of the sinner to circumstances or Satan. We are not merely “broken”; we are transgressors, enemies of God, condemned! (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 5:10; John 3:18) I don’t accuse the authors of intending their readers to interpret the word as such, but we need to be so careful what words we use to represent God’s truth! (Some ideas taken from Michelle Lesley’s website here, but BEWARE, she is Calvinist in her beliefs.)
Now let’s consider the word “community.” Often, this word is used to describe Biblical concepts like a church family or fellowship. But is that really what it means? It lends itself to being interpreted as any group of people (ie-one’s neighborhood or friend group) instead of specifically speaking of brothers in Christ. Also, it could give the impression that all Christians are part of this “community,” which is the doctrine of the universal church and unbiblical. Beware! This word may be used appropriately, but is there a more Scripturally specific word we can use instead?

Semantics aside, let’s consider another key issue to consider when reading ecumenical literature. Is the writing dramatic and over-the-top? Or is it fearful and reverential of God? It was hard for me to pinpoint this one, because often the authors have really good things to say, things that agree with Scripture! But when God’s awesome, matchless grace becomes “winsome” or “jaw-dropping,” doesn’t it cheapen our value of it? Think of it like this, lay a modern Christian book next to a work by Oswald Chambers or Charles Spurgeon. You will see how the modern book tastes like fluffy, sugary cake next to the difficult, meaty phrases used to describe God’s majesty. Watch out for authors who are overly flippant with the Father and Jesus rather than choosing fear and reverence for their tone.
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Beware psychology and hidden agendas! These are coupled, but could each warrant their own examination. Psychology does not belong in Biblical counseling, even where it agrees. Choose God’s method over man’s every time. Hidden agendas could be discounted standards of separation, outcries against Biblical modesty, or a mis- definition of legalism. Sadly, an otherwise encouraging book has caused great consternation when the author subtly pushes her agenda regarding some of these.

To summarize, God tells us to “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) Don’t take the words of any author (even me!) as truth—compare it to the Word of God to see what God has to say about it. Please don’t just avoid reading these books altogether, but read them with your eyes open to word choices, an irreverent attitude, and hidden agendas.
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