Berean cogitations

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to evaluate a book -- by its effects or by Scripture?

In times past, I've expressed concern about some of the Christian books on the market. Some of these books are tremendously popular and they have taken Christendom by storm; nevertheless, I have grave concerns about the accuracy of their Biblical exegesis and the theologies that they espouse.

When I mention this, people frequently respond with comments like "Our church has grown much closer to God since we started studying this book" or "What about the thousands of people who have come to Christ through these books? Surely that means that it's been blessed by God!" I can see how people would respond that way; however, with all due respect to these individuals, I don't agree with those viewpoints.

First of all, I would question the foundations on which such comments are made. A church may feel that it has grown closer to the Lord, but feelings can be deceptive. Unless a church was grossly dysfunctional to begin with, I think it would be difficult for anyone to accurately determine that any given book has indeed caused a church to grow closer to God. Similarly, I would question the oft-repeated claim that thousands have come to Christ through these books. Make no mistake; they have been tremendously popular; however, I have yet to see any reliable evidence that they have resulted in mass conversions to Christianity.

More importantly, I believe that these comments reflect an improper approach to gauging the doctrinal accuracy of a "Christian" book. Books should not be evaluated based primarily on the putative good that they produce. Rather, we must always evaluate them based on how accurately they line up with the holy Scriptures. If a book does not accurately reflect Biblical teachings, then it is teaching falsely -- regardless of how much good it may produce.

We must always remember that Satan is a master deceiver. He would gladly allow a church to become deeply inspired by a bestselling book, if this would open the doors to subtle errors. In fact, the most dangerous counterfeits are often those that most closely resemble the truth.

Satan is also a master tactician. In the course of a battle, a general might grudgingly allow a dozen of his own men to be killed, if this means slaughtering thousands of the opposing forces. In the same way, Satan would surely allow a thousand people to come to Christ, if this means leading a million more astray.

Unfortunately, searching the Scriptures can be hard work, and few people are willing to do so meticulously. It's much easier to evaluate a book based on whether it sounds good, or whether it's popular, or whether it produces some good fruit. Ultimately though, faithful Christians are called to a higher standard. We must always let the Scriptures be our final authority, even if this means refusing to follow the crowd.