There is no end to the making of books. The good news about is that we benefit for God’s glory. The bad news is how a lack of discernment about Christian books can harm your soul.
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It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I’ve often thought that we should post people outside of Christian bookstores holding signs with this quote on them. It’s a toss-up between it and one of Dante’s, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
I decided against Dante because in most Christian bookstores, there are still a few Bibles in the back. Occasionally, there are even some good ones, not just the themed “study Bibles” that come prepackaged with their misleading lenses for you to read them through.
We should be able to trust Christian content. Sadly, many times we can’t. And there aren’t any warning labels on the harmful material. Much of what flies off the shelves of Christian stores hinders people’s growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Are you aware that when you read a Christian book, you have the potential to be swept off to somewhere you never intended to go? Have you trained your powers of discernment by constant practice, so you can distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14)? Can you hear the strenuous work implied by this verse?
Every single person on earth is a theologian (Romans 1:19-20). Everyone has thoughts about God, and those ideas make up that person’s theology. Not every “theology” is a good one, obviously, but it’s theology nonetheless.
Your theology will also have implications for the way you live your life. One author’s theology (despite his claim not to be a theologian) requires that he look in the mirror and say affirming things about himself. In contrast, Isaiah’s views of God profoundly humbled him (Isaiah 6:5). But the author’s and Isaiah’s perspectives of God can’t both be right, so which one is correct?
Man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. – John Calvin
Both of the theologians I mentioned above are interpreting who they are in light of who they think God is. They, like the rest of us, are born interpreters. The problem is our fallenness because of the nature we inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12), and therefore our take on the world (and God) is marred. We have a 100% chance of seeing the world incorrectly apart from God regenerating us and renewing our minds (Titus 3:1-5, Romans 12:2) through His word.
If we don’t see ourselves through the Word of God, soundly interpreted and illumined by God’s Spirit, we don’t see ourselves correctly. Even as regenerate Christians, we spend our lives growing in our understanding of the Bible; we don’t know all there is to know the moment God saves us.
Are you a good theologian, or a lousy theologian? (And if you read that in Glinda the Good Witch’s voice, you have made my day.)
What Does This Mean to Me?
The goal of good theology is the worship of God.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36
When Isaiah saw the LORD in chapter 6, it made him worship. It also gave him the courage to serve God for the rest of his life, speaking His words to a thankless, rebellious people who never listened to him. Isaiah knew he existed for God, not the other way around. Only a clear view of God can do this for a person.
Why study theology? For God. Because He’s worth it.
Will it change you? Of course. But that’s not the primary reason to grow in your understanding of the Excellent One. He wrote a book for us that we may know Him and make Him known. What a privilege it is to read and study it, and to know Him more! Other books are helpful, but only insofar as they help us understand what God meant when He wrote His Word (Acts 8:31).
The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. – Jen Wilkin
1 John 3:2 tells us that when Christ appears, we will be like Him. Why? Because we will see Him as He is. We only conform to His image to the extent that we are seeing Him clearly.
If my husband were telling someone that he loved me, going on about my lovely brown eyes, angelic singing voice, and love for country music, I would not be flattered at all because he wouldn’t be talking about me! Those things aren’t true at all!
Why, then, do we think God is pleased when popular authors say all sorts of unbiblical things about Him? Shouldn’t we let Him speak for Himself regarding His nature?
When I have expressed concern with books Christians are fond of, a typical response is, “This book has really helped me.” My question in response is, “Helped you how?” Books that don’t align with God’s Word can’t have helped you become more like the Lord. It’s just not possible.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them. – Psalm 135:15–18
If you’re fixing your gaze on any version of a false god, friend, you are becoming spiritually malformed—no matter how good it makes you feel. If someone who cares about you is willing to risk offending you by pointing you to a clearer vision of the Lord, will you humble yourself and listen? Will you allow the Scriptures to shape what you believe?
The fact that so many sub-biblical writers use Bible verses in their work can be confusing to people who sincerely do want to know and honor God. Most Christians have trouble discerning whether a verse is being used the way God intended it to be. If this describes you, I encourage you to bring your journey into good discernment by reading a biblical theology book.
Biblical theology doesn’t just mean a theology that conforms to the Bible, although it includes that. A solid biblical theology book gives you a sweeping view of the Bible’s big picture: the story of God’s redemption of people for His possession through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It tells how each part of the Bible fits into that one overarching theme.
When you understand the Bible in this way, any purported explanation of one of its parts that don’t align with the Bible’s overall message will sound suspicious to you. This study will be a huge step toward protecting yourself from soul-mangling error.
I’ve linked an excellent, accessible book here, which is a solid place to start. I trust it will be helpful to you if you long to know God, His word, and yourself better. May the Lord bless and guide you as you step onto the road.
Also published on Medium.