Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to Read a Book (especially one written by someone with different beliefs)

Lutherans have very distinctive beliefs and firmly held convictions about the radical nature and content of the Gospel.  This is a good thing.  Lutherans who confess the articles of the Christian faith as explained in the Book of Concord have a firm grasp of who Jesus Christ is and exactly what He has done for redeem us from sin, death and hell.

This is not something they should give up.  This is a distinctive that must endure for the sake of the whole Church, for the sake of the whole world.The Good News of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed, and no other.

However, this great positive can sometimes manifest itself as a negative when Lutherans become overly critical of other Christians (or non-Christians) who write books.  Our knee-jerk reaction is to criticize everything that is wrong with the book, and never to consider what it might have to teach us.

The problem with this hyper-critical attitude is that it is a denial of the Gospel.  (More on that later.)

Why do Lutherans seem so surprised, shocked, and dismayed when they open a book written by a Baptist and, lo and behold, it contains Baptist theology?!  I would think most people in the world would be slightly less than scandalized by this, responding: "duh".

When we read books written by people from other faith traditions, confessions, philosophies, and worldviews, we should expect that there will be differences among us.  It would be ridiculous to expect that a Lutheran could pick up a Baptist, Roman Catholic, or atheist book and agree with all of the content.  Yet we often react to these writings as if that were exactly what we expected.

So rather than being scandalized by the differences, how should we react to the writings of others, especially those from different faiths or confessions?

First, we must always repent.  Yes, repent.  Remember that judgement for God's people often comes from the hands of pagans.  Just read Judges, Kings, or any of the prophets.  Those who are not exactly like us, who may hold very wrong beliefs, can and will be the instruments of God to call us to repent of our sin.

For example, if an atheist wrote that Christians are responsible for all of the evil in the world, that we have caused more harm than good, my first reaction is to criticize him, to point out all the good that Christians have done through the centuries, to give historical evidence (of which there is plenty) for how much of a positive influence Christianity has been in Western culture.

But my criticism would be shielding me from repentance.  Have I, in my life, given those outside the Church a reason to think evil of Christians?  Have I taken to heart the words of I Peter 2:11-17, living a life of good deeds so to silence those who are ignorant?  There is indeed much to repent of.

That is how criticism can lead to a denial of the Gospel.  If I honestly believe that there is nothing for me to repent of, that other human beings cannot possibly have any valid points to make to me, then I am denying that I am a sinner.  And thus I deny that I need a savior, THE SAVIOR, Jesus Christ.  This should not be so.
When reading the books of others we should also look for reasons to rejoice.  What in this book is good?  What is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent (Philippians 4:8)?

Repentance is certainly something to rejoice in, for it is the gift of God to His people in Jesus Christ (Acts 5:31).  Is the Gospel proclaimed in this book, even if veiled?  Is the author moving in the right direction theologically, even if he has not quit arrived yet?  Have I gained some historical, grammatical, or logical insight?  Did I learn anything of value?

Then, after we have learned what we can, after we have repented, taken the plank out of our own eye, and rejoiced where we can, we can ask what we have to offer this writer or author.  How could I call them to repent?  What might I offer that they would rejoice in the Gospel of Christ?

Please understand that this is NOT a plea to overlook our differences, but to take them seriously on more than one level.  There are many bad books, books full of half-truths and lies.  And these should be corrected.  But in correcting them, we should not miss out on God correcting us or blessing us through them.

To simply be critical is the knee-jerk reaction of a guilty sinner.  Let us rather be eager to repent, quick to listen, and ready to offer correction where it is truly needed.           


  1. Your wife shared your post with me this morning, and I'm thankful for it. This is slowly becoming easier for me, but still, I have difficulty. For me, personally, I know my own weakness of vulnerability. I know it is easy for me to be sucked into happy-sounding, scripturally-unsound words. Perhaps I am merely young in my faith, but I hope someday I won't have to keep quite such a strict guard.

    1. Keeping your guard up is a good thing, young in your faith or not. We all have temptations, even when we read. The best thing to do is make sure you are reading solid stuff the bulk of the time so that when you do read other things their "bad parts" not only stand out more, but they also become easier to handle. I'm glad this was helpful. Thanks for reading.

  2. Thank you for your sound advice. If grieve for others who can't take the good from others, even others they might disagree with in certain areas.

  3. thank you. throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not a viable solution.

  4. nor is drinking the bathwater.

    1. Ken, you shouldn't mix metaphors. It gets confusing.