I love books; I always have. There’s something almost magical about opening the cover of a book and looking inside for an escape from the ordinary or sit at the feet of people with something interesting to say. My day-off frequently includes a stop by Barnes and Nobles to scan the latest offerings in some of my favorite reading categories: action adventure, history (especially ancient and early American history), sociology, occasionally politics, and of course religion. Occasionally, I buy one.
When I buy fiction, I usually read through at a leisurely pace—occasionally having to go back and pick up the thread of the plot again, if I’ve been too leisurely. It’s a story, a diversion, I can take it lightly, and I’m supposed to suspend my skeptical critique.
If its a non-fiction book, on the other hand, it’s a different story. I’ll often read it with a pen or pencil in hand, so that I can underline, comment, expand, apply, criticize, and basically have a conversation with the author in the margins of the book. Non-fiction books that I buy will never be resold as “practically new”.
Why would I apply such a different approach to non-fiction books? Because while many things in a book may be true, not everything printed in a book written by a man is necessarily true. Tragically, sometimes folks read non-fiction as it were fiction—leisurely, gullibly, and uncritically. But everything making a claim to be true—men or the written words of men—must be challenged, critiqued, and compared with THE Book, the ultimate truth, the Bible. The inspired apostle John warned the early church (1 John 4:1), “Beloved, 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.” And on the other hand, Jesus commended the Ephesian church (Revelation 2:2), “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” Those claiming to be prophets or apostles—some of them even had books that they wanted to call Gospels—needed to be tested against God’s word, the Bible; and in many cases, they were found wanting.
You see, while books of men may be useful, they are still being written by men, who are fallible, sometimes agenda-driven, sometimes well-meaning-but-lacking-enough-information, sometimes less-than-thorough-in-thought, and sometimes willing to simply tell us what we want to hear. They may be inspiring, but in the end they aren’t inspired. They may promise great insights and solutions for our personal lives, our spiritual lives, or even church growth; but men’s wisdom will always pale in comparison to God’s. Some authors will have an “alphabet soup” of letters behind their names from prestigious universities, but the three letters that matter the most—that none of them will have—are G O D.
And by the way, yes, I’m well aware that the Bible was physically written by men; but the crucial difference between books and THE book was and remains the Bible’s God-breathed inspiration. As Peter discussed the subject of true versus false prophets, he said this, (2 Peter 1:20, 21) “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
And that God-breathed inspiration makes all the difference. Paul wrote by the Lord’s inspiration, (1 Corinthians 1:18-20) “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” And you could read right on through chapter two for even more inspired wisdom about the so-called wisdom of the world. Put succinctly, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Thus, commentaries, theologies, devotional books, web sites, class lesson books, paraphrases, Christian novels, church growth literature, periodicals, preachers, etc.—even this bulletin article—are men’s works which must be cross-checked (and “cross” checked, if I may be allowed a pun,) with the inspired word of God, and to be believed only after a healthy application of skepticism. Because truth matters (Prov. 23:23); accurate handling the word of truth matters (2 Tim. 2:15), teachings and doctrines matter (Gal. 1:8,9); and what we think and believe matters (Eph. 4:4-6). And sometimes men’s works are off.
Am I advocating some sort of book-rejecting ignoramus-ism? No, not at all. Come into my office, see my own library of books, and ask that question again. I am encouraging readers of serious books that they cannot afford to swallow what they read “hook, line, and sinker”, no matter how riveting, how inspirational, how academic, or how well-researched the author’s writings may seem to be. What I am advocating is that we must be thoughtful readers, cross-checking with Scripture, and “spitting out bones” as necessary. I want to urge that when we read, we need to pick-up on warning signs (e.g., no mention of Scripture, or the regular use of “I feel” and “I think”). And I am fervently advocating that we need to be strong students of the one book that is always true, the Bible.