Christian books are easy to find. It takes wisdom, effort, and research to find the right ones which are nourishment to your soul. Just the other day my wife and I were strolling to our town’s newest bookstore. As we browsed the shelves we came across the small collection of books under the label of “Spiritual.” Now spiritual is a vague term which is inclusive and not very precise. This could include a variety of books that could be beneficial for my spiritual health or detrimental. I found one book out of the five filled shelves of books that I and the author were likeminded. The thin, 90 or so page book was by the late Jerry Bridges titled “Pursuit of Holiness.” How did I pick this book out? Why did this one stand out to me as being set apart from all the others? What should this tell me about the other books lined up alongside it? Who should know how to pick out books that may be in the mix with books that the store claims to be just “spiritual” instead of Christian? Should Christian books be mixed in with other books that would not and do not claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father?
Here are five ways to spot healthy, solid, and even nourishing Christian books that will not mislead you, but are not infallible.
1.) Be mindful of the person or church who recommends you any book even if it is a New York Times Bestseller or has made a Years Top Christian Book List.
People have good intentions. When I was younger I didn’t like to read. Many of you might be familiar with Accelerated Reading. It was a program setup that had tested students after they had read their books. This program made me despise reading. It was a point and percentage based system. I didn’t like it at all. I usually read a bunch of the half point books just to meet my goals. Some of my favorite books were sports books, and dog books. However there was a time after my conversion that I had a thirst for Christian literature. Our library had a section that had books like C.S Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and David Wilkerson’s Cross and the Switchblade. As a sixth grader these books deeply impacted my life and spiritual growth. These books were found on my own. However there will be books that some Christians will think are helpful, but it would be better to do some research before you delve into the books recommended. As Christians we need to be careful and be on guard in everything even in books that are mindlessly recommended due to their popularity. Remember popular books doesn’t always mean profound books.
2.) The author is usually the first thing that I look for in a book.
As I look for books either online or in a Christian bookstore I always start with authors that I’ve already read. Sometimes I’ll explore and look for new authors, but only at the recommendation of authors I already read. I follow most of the authors that I read on Twitter and I’ll watch if they drop any recommendations of their on. Also I’ll keep notes while I read. Usually the author I am reading will quote someone in his or her book. I’ll jot that done and look up the book or author quoted within that text. Recently I’ve tried to search for authors who started writing closer to the time the Reformation started about 500 years ago. It is hard for me to read anything recent. It seems relevant to read current authors because we all want to know what people are saying today to keep up with the time, but I believe that what’s current is not always backed by truth. I’d rather read authors who were on the brink of risking their lives than authors who grew up watching the Disney show Brink. I still read authors who pastor churches today or are professors in seminaries, but even they usually recommend reading the old theologians and pastors of long ago. They too even quote most of these guys who were alive closer to the Reformation and even to the 1st century. Why is this important? Because outside of the Bible we only get secondary accounts of what took place inside the canon of Scripture. Christians who want to be rightly informed about their faith ought to look for men and women who were just hundred years away from knowing people who knew Christ. For some reason Christians are so caught up in being about the here and now they tend to wander off from the roots of their faith. Yes, our faith is based on our current examination of self and our fruits. However we need to not just be okay with the current state of Christianity. But we need to be historically attuned. A pianist wouldn’t play a piano just because it makes a sound. If the piano was out of key their would definitely be a need for someone to come in and tune it. Some Christians today seem to be okay with books that just make noise, but are not in the right tune of the Bible. The Bible is our authority and the authors we read today need to write in words that reflect that submission to biblical authority. If a book is not bound to the authority of the Bible it will be noticeable. We just need to be in tune with what the Bible says so that we will be able to know when an author is out of tune with what the Word of God says.
3.) In the endorsement section you will find people who praise the author and the book. Usually these people and the author are like minded.
The endorsement section will help you get to know the author. This section should be called the “praise the author” section. In most cases, if you read enough endorsement sections you’ll note a similar trend. “This book is refreshing.” This author knows his stuff about_______.” Then you’ll have those endorsements where you kind of can get that the one writing the endorsement may not have even read one page into the book. They’ll say something like “This guy is the real deal. He is up and coming on the ministry scene. I know you’ll love his book as much as I will.” Anyways the endorsement section is like a mini-series of summary’s about the author and the book. In some endorsement sections the publisher will note the credentials of the people who are endorsing the book. This helps in getting an idea of the system of belief each person follows. You may not get a crystal clear understanding of each person who endorses the book. However, it will give you more insight author’s work.
4.) Find a publisher that consistently releases sound material.
I am picky when it comes to publishers. I can count the number of publishers that I will read from on a single hand. Authors hop from publisher to publisher. Not all publishers release sound literature. Most of the time the publisher will mix in quality reading material with the borderline heretical authors. As you venture out to Christian bookstores or browse Christian book vendors on the web. The publisher should be key in how you search for book titles. Some publishers are denominational or even camp specific. What I mean by that is some publishers sign certain authors just because of their specific theology, eschatology, or “gospel.”Crossway, Inter-varsity Press, and Broadman and Holman are some good publishers to look for located usually on the binding of the book.
5.) Read the summary of the book or the introduction before making your purchase.
In these sections you’ll get a taste of what the book is going to be about. In doing this you’ll know where this author lands theologically usually. I’ve placed this as my last step because usually 1-4 is where I catch a book that is not ideal for studying theology. acceptable for me to digest, or good for helping me grow spiritually. Unless I am looking to read to build defense against an idea, false doctrine, or misuse of Scripture by an author. I’d say the author, or publisher would give that away quickly. However if the suggestions in steps 1-4 do not work or if I am unable to make a solid stance on the book. Then I will surely take the time to read the summary or introduction or both.
A few steps that fall into the honorable mention categories that I refer to when I am still not sure if such a book is good for me or someone that I am looking to buy for. Then I go to trustworthy blogs to look for book reviews or author reviews. Blogs like Tim Challies, The Blazing Center, 9Marks, and The Gospel Coalition are great websites that help me think through how to choose healthy books v.s books that will mislead me. These sources set me up to be prepared to make a defense against books and authors that if not careful could be misleading.
The most important thing above all is being prepared yourself before finding resources that will contribute to your sanctification. These little tidbits of advice may help prepare you, but there is nothing like growing in Gods Word and working through some of the tough doctrines stored in there. A healthy Christian will know how to distinguish between unhelpful literature and literature that will help you think carefully about God pointing to Him as having the final say. Above all the Word of God is sufficient for the healthy growth of a Christian desiring to be made be like Christ. Be careful, be mindful, and be researchful.