I wouldn't call myself a health fanatic, but I try to eat a reasonable diet. There was a brief period where my go-to snack was a granola bar because I assumed that granola was healthy. Can't go wrong with whole-grain oats, right? I thought so until I bothered to read the nutrition information and discovered these "all natural" granola bars were high in sugar (corn syrup too!) and low in protein. Since then, I've learned to put less stock in what manufacturers advertise and read the labels.
If I care about the nutritional value of the food I put into my body, then what about my spiritual diet? An author's claims about his/her book may look promising on the cover, but is it really going to nourish my soul or just give me the emotional equivalent of a sugar rush? It would be nice if there was a labeling system for Christian books just like the nutritional guidelines for food. Each label would give me information such as the author's hermeneutics (method of interpreting the Bible) and the ratio of exegesis to eisegesis (drawing meaning out versus imposing meaning into the text.) But alas there is no such thing. Also there aren't convenient "genre labels like "fluff" and "I may look like I have my life together more than you but I'm about to wreck your theology.""1 But that doesn't mean we can't do a little research on our own.
I've been reading No Little Women, the latest book by Aimee Byrd (review forthcoming Lord willing,) but I skipped ahead to Chapter 9 "Honing and Testing Our Discernment Skills." She gives four essential questions to evaluate what we read.2
1. What does the author say about God's Word?
Is the Word authoritative or optional? Can we trust the Bible, or does the author instill doubts? Are verses taken within context and interpreted properly or misused?
2. What does the author say about who man is?
And related, what does the author say about sin? Do we need a Savior to save us from sin and the wrath of God or a life coach to help us reach our full potential? Is there a ladder we need to climb or a formula we need to follow to achieve the desired end apart from the gospel?
3. What does the author say about God?
It's sad that this question even needs to be asked, but just because someone uses the word "God" or "Jesus" does not necessarily mean they are accurately teaching the Triune God of the Bible.
4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing?
What is the author's worldview and his/her stance on creation, fall, redemption, and restoration? Is he/she offering our best life now or our best life then?
It would be nice if we didn't need to ask questions such as these and be able to trust what is marketed as "Christian." But reputable publishers have been known to print less than sound fare. An author may be the sweetest person imaginable who we'd love to chat with over a cup of tea, but orthodoxy consists of more than having an engaging personality. The bar is set high for those who would be teachers and rightfully so. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for verifying what he taught against Scripture, and he wrote a good chunk of the New Testament! If any writer objects to his/her books being scrutinized against the Word, then maybe we shouldn't be reading them in the first place.
The saying goes, "You are what you eat." Well, we may be what we read or, at the very least, strongly influenced by it. All the more reason to be wise and evaluate the spiritual nutrition of what goes in our heads. Ultimately, Aimee's questions reflect not a disrespect for an author but a right reverence for God because the last thing we would want is to have Him or His word misrepresented.
1. No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2016, pg. 49.
2. Ibid., 223-230.