Will you read a book by an individual who had some type of near death experience and claims to have experienced heaven — But not a book that thoughtfully and carefully considers what the Bible says about heaven, such as: Heaven by Randy Alcorn?
Will you read a book by someone who dreamed they spent 23 minutes in hell and then wrote about it — But not a book that thoughtfully and carefully considers what the Bible says about hell, such as: Erasing Hell by Chan and Sprinkle?
Will you read a creative fiction book like The Shack — But not books that thoughtfully consider the biblical view of the Trinity or why bad things happen in life, such as these: Making Sense of the Trinity by Millard Erickson (only 108 pages!!) and If God is Good, Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn?
None of the books I suggest (the links) are published by the academic division of a publisher. They were written for lay people, everyday people, but are books of substance to teach biblical truths.
I am not saying there is never a time or place for books about someone’s experience or a creative work of fiction. But if we are not grounded in the Bible, how will we know if these stories CONFIRM -or- CONTRADICT Scripture?
Are we basing our beliefs on someone’s experience or on the Word of God?
Do we really believe the Bible is our ultimate source of spiritual truth? The Bible makes us wise for salvation. Consider Paul’s final charge to Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Notice that Paul speaks not only about the primacy of the Holy Scriptures, but that Timothy learned from those he knew and trusted – individuals who, I am sure, were grounded in the Scripture.
We can learn a lot from books about the Bible. I have a huge library! But there is a difference between books that are grounded in the author’s serious study of the Bible -AND- books that are grounded in the author’s experience or a superficial consideration of the Bible. Be discerning.
Again, I am not dissing all “experience” books or fiction books. But it becomes a problem when that is the majority of what we read, to the neglect of Bible reading, Bible study, and reading books of substance about the Bible.
Are you primarily reading books that entertain you?
There is a time to be entertained but not all the time.
For thoughtful books about the Christian faith, by those well-grounded in the Scripture, some authors I recommend: AW Tozer, Jerry Bridges, John Stott, JI Packer, NT Wright, Randy Alcorn. And in this post I suggest some basic books to help you study the Bible for yourself: A basic Christian home library.
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UPDATE, a good article from Randy Alcorn:
When It Comes to Book-Reading, Let’s Raise the Bar and Expand Our Minds
“If we always put the cookies on the lower shelf, young people (and older people too) won’t learn to reach for anything higher. We popularize everything, and as a result, books and Bible studies and discussions of substance are becoming progressively unpopular.”
Update, From Karen Swallow Prior, in CT, Jan/Feb 2019:
“The greatest pleasures are those wrought of labor and investment. A book that requires nothing from you might offer the same diversion as a television sitcom, but it is unlikely to provide intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual rewards long after the cover is closed. Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you.”
– Note that Prior is a professor that teaches literature so this isn’t just about reading non-fiction that is informative or theological. Prior is an advocate of reading widely and “reading well” or with excellence. Quality works of fiction can entertain but can also teach us many things, if we are reading well. Especially in a digital age that encourages superficial reading and bouncing around on the internet, we need to make an effort to read deeply. We miss valuable lessons that can be gained from great works of classic literature when we lose our ability to read attentively and insightfully, paying attention to the text and context – in order to “harvest the fruit” that reading such books is designed to yield. (Prior recently wrote a book entitled: On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.)