We are living in wild times, friends. Pretty much anything can be called Christian even though what fills the pages strays pretty far from it. We live in a time of celebrity pastors and celebrity authors. I’m pretty sure if Paul saw those two words together, he would have thought it was a joke. I remember listening to a missionary in another country say that she didn’t understand celebrity Christian culture because where she lived, it was risky to be a believer. You had to be ready to die. No one casually took on the role. It didn’t make you popular, give you a platform, get you on the bestseller list, or get you invited to the cool kid’s table like it does today in the US.
But here we are in 2022, in the age when being a pastor isn’t so scary if you keep to non-controversial topics and dress like the cool kids, and it might even be more lucrative than running a Fortune 500 company.
Before I make it sound like all celebrity pastors or authors aren’t sharing the true gospel, let me say, there are many pastors and authors who are sharing the gospel and taking any celebrity they have and using it for good. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, (the Bible itself tells us how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven), but they are out there!
So back to the original topic. A few months ago, I was searching the top 50 Christian books on Amazon and was amazed at what was included! I’ve done enough book research to know that many didn’t even have a biblical worldview. I don’t know why this shocked me so much, but it did. It’s not like Amazon has a credible board of theologians that weed out the books that are teaching false doctrine, but it still made me wonder how many books would be picked up by believers who assumed they’d be solid reads.
I’m not sure where you land when you read all this. You might be thinking, “Woah! I didn’t know to be leery of books in the Christian category!” or maybe you’re thinking, “I know there’s false doctrine out there, but how do I discern what’s what when it’s all just lumped together?”
I’m actually not here to name names. I see plenty of ministries doing this and I don’t agree that it’s the most healthy use of my time or yours. I think it can lead us to a lot of fear and judgmentalness instead of genuine discernment and seeking the Lord to give us wisdom.
So instead of telling you the authors I won’t read or publishing houses that send up a red flag, I’ll give you some really practical tips on how to discern what to read and which ones to steer clear of.
1. Know that blind trust for anything labeled “Christian” isn’t faith, it’s foolishness.
We want to believe the best in everyone and feel almost bad to question whether a book is going to be good. It’s not offensive. We just live in a time when lots of things are being called Christian.
2. Take time to intentionally choose which books to read.
I know this is weird to make an actual point when this is the main point of this post, but I’m including it because I have been impatient. I’ve seen a title that spoke to me only to get it home, read a few pages or see who they quoted and literally toss it in the trash. This will take a little effort but it will be worth potentially saving time or money on a book that’s not edifying to you and could lead you into false teaching.
3. Know what you believe. And how strongly you feel about it.
It’s really hard to know what we are against if we don’t know what we believe. But also, we need to know what things are worth talking about, fighting for and dying for, and knowing full well that there is a difference. There are some books I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole because there is no fruit in them for me. There are more authors than you’d realize that are talking about Jesus and God, but that don’t actually believe salvation is necessary or believe that what’s inside of us unlocks our potential. There are others I may not 100% agree with, but I can find the value in them because what I don’t agree on is a secondary issue, not a primary one.
4. Do a background check on the book.
Nope. You aren’t looking into their criminal history. There are some quick ways to get an idea of where someone lands in relation to their views on faith.
- Endorsements – I have gotten choosier as I’ve sought out endorsements as well as endorsed books because I know how much weight I put into it when I see names listed good or bad. We cannot hold an endorser 100% responsible for someone’s wild tweet or bad judgment but the company we keep does have some merit.
- Publishing House – Who is publishing the book and what other types of books do they publish? Some publishing houses vary greatly, but others, if you spend a little time on their websites, you’ll get a sense of what authors they promote.
- Bibliography – When I crack open a book at the bookstore or library, I always flip to the Bibliography page! It’s always super telling when you see who they quote. If you aren’t an avid reader, feel free to screenshot the page and get advice from a trusted friend.
The more you know, the longer you’ve had a real relationship with the Lord, the more it may be possible to read books you aren’t sure about with a discerning eye. But if you are new to faith though, I’d steer clear so it’s not confusing.
5. Do a background check on the author.
Still not looking at criminal history… but hey, anything is possible. What is their presence like on social media or online? We’re not here to make some ultimate judgment on their choices, but ask yourself a few questions to see if they are worth letting be a voice in your life:
- Does their life inspire me to look more like Jesus or more like the world? We can debate all day long whether pastors/authors should be as wealthy as some are, but what we can’t debate is how it makes us individually feel. I struggle to read books by some mainstream authors when their lives on social media seem so disconnected from what I feel God has called me to. I’m not gonna judge that Christ isn’t real in their lives, but from the outside, if they don’t point me to Christ but instead point me to worldly things, I know it’s not something I want to spend my precious time on or let sink into my heart.
- Do they balance truth and love well? Within the church, there are those that feel the truth must be shared no matter how rude or abrasive. And there are those who feel that love must be given at the cost of standing for truth. Both sides see the other side as wrong. Both sides gravitate towards different verses in the Bible about love and truth or even about Jesus himself. Jesus flipped tables. Jesus sat with the sinners. Well, He did both. And truthfully, He is our model for speaking truth in love.
- Whose authority are they speaking for? John 7:17-18 says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” Do they seek God’s glory or their own?
6. Pray about it.
I mean, I had to. If you aren’t sure about someone, pray about it. There was a time when I listened to a popular pastor and even shared a quote of his on my social media. Someone mentioned that they were a false teacher and though I didn’t see it at first, I mentioned that I would pray for God to give me wisdom about the pastor. Shortly after, I got a lot of clarity about it and noticed some red flags. I was thankful for the way God revealed it to me. It wasn’t some knee-jerk reaction to seeing his name on a list but one that I felt confident about.
This might feel like overkill for reading books but we do live in a unique time where polarization and confusion will only grow.
A few verses that came to mind as I was writing this:
Ephesian 4:18 – They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 – For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Acts 20:30 – Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
1 John 4:1-3a – Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.
Matthew 7:15-18 – Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
The truth will be twisted and it will be gradual and not obvious.
Reading books will continue to require more discernment but I don’t think it’s something we should fear. Just something we need to be proactive about and prayerful about.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How do you choose books with discernment?