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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 shape how you see yourself and 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 view 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 should we trust?
Both of the theologians I mentioned above are interpreting who they are in light of who they think God is. Even before the Fall, our first parents were dependent on God for the information they needed to relate to Him, each other, and the world they lived in. Since sin entered the world, our dependence is even greater because our minds are corrupted.
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. Our pastors, teachers, and fellow believers are meant to help us in our understanding. We need one another desperately.
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).
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. My friend, will you please, for the Lord’s sake, listen to your friend who is sharing concerns about your reading material, even if they’re doing so imperfectly?
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 begin 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 doesn’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.
If you’re reading this because someone you love is into bad books and you want to help them, perhaps I can help you. Here are a few suggestions.
First, I hope you will go to your friend in gentleness. If you have to suppress an eye roll when you think of your friend and that book, may I appeal to you to work through your heart attitude with the Lord before you talk to them? Please let the truth be the only thing that offends them, without adding self-righteousness to the mix. What do you have that wasn’t given to you?
Second, ask a lot of questions, listening kindly and attentively for the answers. What about this book does your friend find helpful? Ask them to clarify and elaborate on their viewpoint; what they say may surprise you.
Sometimes even less than ideal books have some good in them, and your friend may have gravitated toward the bit of truth it contains. They should be genuinely commended for this. Even if that’s not the case, the person in front of you is an image bearer of the living God, and they deserve your respect as you converse with them. Asking good questions helps you interact with what the person actually believes rather than what you assume they do.
Third, please remember that the author of the book in question is a human being, too. Yes, I know that the Bible uses strong words for false teachers. Rightly so. But Christians really stink at being right sometimes, and it can be heartbreaking to see how vicious believers can be toward people they disagree with, some of whom are genuine believers (Galatians 5:15, James 3:10). My brothers, this ought not to be so. When in doubt, be kind. Heck, be kind anyway.
It would be far better if you handled this in person, of course, as hard words delivered with a loving disposition are far more effective and better received than similar words on a screen. I actually have told people they were bearing the image of Satan (liar, slanderer, accuser), only to have them thank me for loving them well afterward. It can be done.
Finally, ask the person if you can share some concerns you have. This shows them respect. If they say they don’t want to hear what you have to say, honor their request. If they allow you to continue, perhaps you can share some Scripture or a book review from a trusted source, all in the spirit of loving your friend.
If you are overly emotional or demanding in any part of this process, you are being manipulative and not persuasive. Please don’t blow by what I just said. It would be better for you to teach them to apply the Word for themselves, patiently helping them ask good questions of the text than to try to force your viewpoint on them—no matter how right you are.
It takes a lot of courage to walk another Christian through a difficult conversation and I’m delighted you want to try. May the Lord make much of Himself through you, dear Christian. If you would like to talk to me about the content of this article, please go here. If you are a supporting member of our community, please go here.