Monday, March 13, 2006

Book Reviewing

I haven’t done a book review in probably 12 years since I graduated University, and maybe even longer than that, since my degree is in Accounting. Business classes meant a lot of number-crunching textbook reading, as opposed to evaluating literary content, so pardon my methods. However, I’ve been spurred to share what God is teaching me from a few books I’ve been reading.

As I stated in my post about parenting last week, I believe the Word of God ought to be our authority on matters of living, including parenting, wifery, evangelism, money management, church life, etc. And in His Word I read, "Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored." (Titus 2:4-7)

The books I’ve been reading lately have fallen into this category of teaching. I’ve learned a great deal about how to live out these God-honoring traits and, although the teaching is not infallible, I believe it falls under God’s umbrella of teaching me in a hands-on way, which is very helpful. As I review, let me make some preliminary statements: I appreciate books that include a great deal of scripture as they discourse on life, but I am still careful to keep my radars up for "proof-texting", incorrect interpretation due to a neglect of context, and any sort of humanistic pop-culture via psychology, sociology or personal experiences.

We live in an age where books are so prolific that we, as Christians, need to be very aware of the attack on our minds, via ideas. Sadly, in amongst this arena of the printed word, there is so much being said that is counter-biblical, and even within a Christian bookstore, there can be a great deal of "biblical" drivel.

As with everything in life, let us read carefully, and filter through the lens of scripture. Then, (and only then) whatever true grains of help we may glean from a pilgrim also walking the narrow road, let us keep them, and follow their example. This is what I believe Titus was trying to have us women do.


Yummy Mommy said...

I totally agree Marlene! I am constantly going back to God's word when a "Christian author" says something that I think... are you sure? What is the context you took that from? Many authors grab one verse here and there to support their opinion and I know they are going to be held accountable for misusing God's word. I have found that the more I study the bible, the more sensitive I am to be discerning. Everything with a grain of salt. It isn't that I don't enjoy and benefit from Christian books. I love Mike and Debi Pearl, Donald Miller and Francine Rivers. But, if we studied God's book diligently we wouldn't feel the need for all the self-help bologna out there under the guise of "Christian literature"!

Homemanager said...

Thank you, Marlene for expressing your thoughts concerning what is being "called" Christian, and yet is a mix of truth and error. That is more poisonous that just plain error!
I know so many Christians that are not discerning in their selections of books.
It doesn't help when we have some of these errors reinforced in our pulpits.
I co-lead our women's bible study with one of our elders wives. (we have a plural eldership model) One of the things I did was to put together a list of good bible based books and give this list to the ladies.
I think as Titus 2 women, it is one way to help guide the younger women into better "eating". With that, I've also been pushing on the "disciplines". I do think that we need to have our "appetites" trained.:)
What do you think?

Marlene S. said...

I was just thinking along those lines today, with respect to ministry to women. If we were to develop a women's ministry in our church from scratch, what would it entail? The disciplines of prayer, reading and obeying scripture, witnessing, serving the Body, understanding a theology of God, etc. would be places I might begin.

We already have a women's program, so this is not of real relevance, but it definitely might be a criterion worth using to evaluate our current program. I wonder if we are often getting off track because we have forgotten the importance of the basics.

Clearly what we encourage women to feed their brains affects what they think and consequently how they live. It troubles me that the most used part of our church library is the romantic fiction section. Not because reading a fictional book will contaminate us, but because a habit of feeding on fantasy can be like eating cotton candy all the time.

We need to feed our minds with ideas that challenge us to Christ-likeness, and do it in a manner that stirs us in our souls and in our cerebrum. This is like anything worthwhile... it takes diligence and hard work.

I better watch it. I think I'm starting another post.

Homemanager said...

Now you have two posts...
Martha Stewart, on spot removal and your thoughts about what we feed on! :)
I do believe that the Lord has us on the same page. It is exciting and encouraging to see how He lead us by His Holy Spirit!
God Bless!

opora said...

With regards to "better eating," is the best thing to eat not "the pure milk of the word" (1 Peter 2:2-3) We wouldn't ask anyone to chew our food first, so I find myself constantly wondering why we really need other sources/resources at all. Truly, they are helpful, but the Holy Spirit is all-powerful and all-knowing, therefore has, can and will teach us what we need to know when the time is right from the Holy scriptures themselves. Am I being too simplistic here? Please correct me as I am honestly here to learn.

I don't know what to make of our search for more knowledge. I once read that "mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend." Are we too impatient to wait for the Holy Spirit to reveal the mysteries we long to know? How to be a better wife, parent, Christian etc. are questions on our minds, but do we need to reach out and take control trying to find the answers on a bookshelf? Did Jesus himself not go about his journey with purpose, yet with much mystery? Is there value in waiting for the message to be shown to us through situations we encounter, people we meet and parts of the bible we read? Is that too simplistic an attitude?

1 Timothy chapter 4 talks about using scriptures to strengthen and teach. It also talks about being careful in our lives and our teachings. We are told to use the gifts we have and I think it wise for mature Christians to look at the message they are sending in refering to works other than scripture.

You don't really know me, so let me just add that most of my life has been lived as a non-Christian. I sometimes joke within my mind that I am becoming Amish or something! In giving up many of my bad habits, as well as things that were not habitual (like television) I have to keep myself in check that I am not running from the world. Although having lived and participated on "the dark side" for a very long time, I realize that the purity and simplicity of God's way is so much more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer. I have so much to learn from you ladies, and my questions are honest and sicere, not with the intent of being disrespectful, provocative or argumentative. So please forgive me if my writing leaves that impression.

I, too, am amazed at how the Holy Spirit works. This subject of books etc, has been on my mind for many, many months.

Thank you Marlene for hosting this "virtual fellowship meeting," as it is challenging me and that's a good thing!

Marlene S. said...

Opora, I agree wholeheartedly that our food is God's word. It is life! God has given us everything we need in His word.

At the same time, there are admonitions in Scripture to learn from others, like in Titus 2, or as Deuteronomy 6:7 exorts parents to teach. Similarly, in the NT there are the gifts of teaching, preaching, etc. that are described as being "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service."

So how does teaching take place? By example, by verbal instruction, by written instruction, and that's where I believe some of these books fit in. However, as I mentioned in my post, I believe we need to be very careful in accepting this teaching - just as we should be careful listening to sermons given from the pulpit. 1 John 4:1 speaks to that end. We have to be vigilant in testing everything against Scripture. Are people helping us apply God's Word to our lives? Have we asked the Spirit to guide us and help us discern what is God's way? These are key questions that ought always to be part of any "learning" and "listening" that happens.

In regards to patience with the Spirit to teach and lead us... definitely this is something I believe we struggle with - particularly in our "instant fix" society. I often wonder how my great-grandmother grew spiritually, when she couldn't read. She had to rely on others reading scripture to her, interpreting it for her, and then trusting the Holy Spirit to lead her in His way. I think we often take the printed words for granted and therefore are slow to obey and slow to trust the Spirit to guide us into all truth.

Again, I want to affirm the sufficiency of Scripture and re-iterate my understanding of learning from other people as lining up under the umbrella of God's Word.

Homemanager said...

If I could add to your thoughts concerning reading books other than scripture...

One of the major reasons for reading someone else's book, is because we are a many membered body. As I'm reading and studying I might get an insight or understanding of a passage, when I share that with someone else, they might get another piece of understanding that I don't have.

How about the Christians that have gone before us? Are they not part of the "body of Christ" as well? We are not functioning as the body, if we don't have their input. How do we glean from their input? Is it not from reading what they wrote and taught concerning the scriptures?

I believe that there are "checks and balances" within the body, so that no one would think more highly of themselves and despise another part of the body.

This is where having a good knowledge of the scripture, and spending time in prayer gives us a base to discern other books.

We must humbly submit ourselves to one another as is stated in the scriptures for our protection from error and to bear fruit unto the kingdom.

If all we are reading is other books, then we can easily lose our way.

I also think that we need to choose books wisely. Ask a trusted Christian Pastor, Elder, Older Woman, who you know is following the Lord for recommendations.

I really appreciate your careful selection of materials. It is important for us to grow.
Thanks so much, dear friend!

Dan S. said...

Great points, yummy mommy, Opora, Home Maker and and Home Manager. As you've all expressed very clearly, the Word of God is our highest source. It is the only book that is inspired. It is the only book that is completely perfect.

Having said that, there are other books that are helpful. As Home Manager wrote in the last comment, this is one of the reasons God has placed us in a body of believers. And the saints of old are a great source of encouragement. Jude tells us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed sown to the saints.

Also, if we were to not read anything but Scripture, would it not follow that we should not listen to anything but Scripture? In that case, preaching would be suspect.

Some Scripture passages might bring some light to bear on this. Here's just one:
Ecclesiastes 12:10ff The Preacher sought to find delightful words to write words of truth correctly... but beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard is, Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

Some wise words there. Excessive devotion is wearying, but that does not mean other books are prohibited. But the last word is to fear God and to keep all His commandments (i.e God's Word is pre-eminent in all we read.)

Great comments, gals. I think all these are probably worthy of a post. It's too bad your thoughts are hidden away in the comments.

opora said...

"A wise teacher's words spur students to action and emphasize important truths. The collected sayings of the wise are like guidance from a shepherd." I just wanted to add this other version from the NIV of the verse that Dan shared below because it relates to his comment about the importance of preaching the truth as well as our forefathers.

Hebrews 4:12 also says "God's word is alive and working and is sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way into us, where the soul and spirit are joined to the center of our joints and bones. I have been amazed at how just looking at the WORDS in the WORD have given me whole new meaning. My time has been spent wallowing in God's word, rather than searching God's word. (not that is a bad is necessary as well!) (observations on Cain and Abel on my blog)

Isn't it fascinating how God uses our own bodies to try and help us understand all that he wants us to know. To carry on with this analogy, a few questions and thoughts come to mind.

Firstly, a question about this analogy, is God the brain that gives direction and oversees all the parts?

Secondly, an observation that each part of the body has a direct link to the brain. Although not all parts are on a "high-speed connection" they are all dependant nonetheless and how the body is being overseen.

Try to read the section below as an analogy to what we are discussing about the reading of other books.

What happens though when something like alcohol slows down the nervous system (which is the wiring the brain uses to send messages to different parts of the body to move or to perform a certain action)? When a person drinks alcohol on an ongoing basis, he/she may become physically dependent on it; may start to crave it. Some signs of physical dependence may include the need to drink more alcohol to get a desired effect (tolerance), and the development of withdrawal symptoms, if the person stops drinking. Because tolerance develops, many drinkers don't appear drunk, even when they are drinking more and more. Their body may start developing problems from the amount of alcohol constantly being brought into it and some organs may start to break down and stop working . There are short and long term effects on eyes, throat, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, and reproductive organs.

We all agree on the importance of God's word as the ultimate source of truth, and I'm sure we wouldn't argue the fact that many books are helpful. Good historians use primary sources do they not? Yes, the other sources are also helpful, but isn't first hand knowledge the best? That's what makes great preaching in my eyes. When a preacher relates a biblical truth to the sharing of his own life. That's when the scriptures come alive!

2 Timothy:16-17 says "All scripture is given by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. Using the scriptures, the person who serves God will be capable, having all that is needed to do every good work." and 1 Corinthians 2:13 says "And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom but with words taught us by the spirit."

In a conversation with a friend the other day, I figured out why I am so passionate about this issue right now. I am concerned for those seekers, new believers or people that are trying to growth their faith, and when they look to see how it's done by their "elders" it's a shame that more emphasis is not put on reading God's word. More mature Christians hopefully have the discernment to decipher biblical from non-biblical books, but what about those madly reading "Christian books" in the comforts of their homes or are focusing their "bible studies" on some secondary source?

Not just that, but using the alchohol comparison, I am concerned that we have just become tolerant and accepting of other secondary sources and can't not even recognize our own "drunkeness." I am concerned that one of the symptoms of this is that we are ever so slowly shifting our focus from the word of God towards the trends of publishing companies and the hottest sellers. Is feeding our body orange juice instead of water bad? No, of course not, but wouldn't the fresh spring water without all the yummy sugar be better for us?

This little debate has been most thought provoking. I wonder why we don't debate about bun recipes!?! (hee hee) I think there is much sharing going on and that can only mean some learning. My girlfriend shared this quote with me:

Augustine says, "I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress by writing."

I hope in all this writing, some of us are progressing!

Dan S. said...

Opora - I think you meant to say NLT in that first reference, not NIV.

You make some great observations throughout your comment. To try and answer your question about the body analogy, God is not called the brain anywhere, but Christ is called "the head" of the church (Eph 1:22, Col 1:18). I think this is probably talking about the fact that Christ has authority over the church as a Head has authority over the body (some might say, "Head" is referring to 'source'). In that sense, I suppose the brain can be equated with Christ, depending on how one makes that connection.

The Bible uses the "body" to heighten the meaning of the church as being interconnected and interdependent. That's the point I think Home Manager was tying to make - that we need one another to help us grow to maturity (including the writing of books).

Having said that, you are absolutely correct in your observation that some might be less able to discern what are biblically-based, God-focused books, and what gets passed off as "Christian" just by virtue fo the fact it is sold at a Christian bookstore. Even those that are supposedly more mature in the faith are still involved in "elementary teaching" (Heb 5:12; 6:1). My own little pet-peeve is that Christian fiction seems to be more popular than books that teach how the Christian faith ought to be lived.

To summarize, I agree with you wholeheartedly that the inspired authoritative, inerrant Word of God should be the content of our teaching, rather than the latest fads that publishing companies seem to be jumping on. To those newer in the faith, I suggest they look for studies that center squarely on the Bible.

opora said...

well said Dan and thank you all for helping me to understand this a little bit better.