Books and Reading – A Call for Discernment

Last week over at Ref21, Todd Pruitt posted an article about members of the ministry not recommending certain books to congregational members. One quote jumped out at me:

Urging people away from certain books and insisting that ministry staff not recommend them is an important task of the pastor these days. . . It is the pastor’s duty to protect the purity and unity of the flock he serves as shepherd.

I would fully agree with this. One of the problems currently facing the church is a lack of deeper understanding of theology by the man-on-the-street church member, and reading light, fluffy, skirting the edge of orthodoxy (or falling right over it) books certainly doesn’t help matters. Further, if a pastor is aware that the members of his congregation are reading troublesome, wrong, or downright heretical books he should say something to protect his people.

But it doesn’t always work this way.

Unfortunately, when a book is popular many church leaders seem hesitant to speak against it. Worse yet, they may think that a book’s popularity among Christians means that it is a helpful, and therefore good, book for Christians to read. How else can you explain church-sponsored small groups using books like Velvet Elvis (reviewed here) and The Shack (reviewed here and here), and women’s groups within churches passing around books like Heaven is for Real (off a church denomination’s official women’s group reading list, reviewed here and here). I believe the church is full of more examples like this – these are simply examples of which I have first-hand knowledge.

Should pastors tell their ministry staff when a book isn’t fit to be recommended to the people of the church? Yes. Should pastors tell their congregation when a book (especially a popular one) is full of bad theology and potentially dangerous? Absolutely. Sadly, many will not.

Pastor, don’t be so afraid to offend someone that you let your congregation run to the bookstore to grab the latest piece of Christian pop-culture without a warning if one is called for. If a book is suddenly very popular in your church, learn about it. You may be the only person in someone’s life who knows enough to warn.

Christian, the popularity of a book does not affect the truth of the book. A book is not acceptable simply because many people have read it any more than it is not acceptable simply because of low readership. Read your Bible first – then if you need a book recommendation turn to trusted church leaders or theologically knowledgeable friends. Do a bit of research before accepting a book. Remember that the church is 2,000 years old. Brand new theological insights are often heresy (and usually old ones at that).