Saturday, August 13, 2011

Want to know the Bible better? Then read other books

Huh? OK, I realize that is a bit of a shocking statement, but I assure you it is both well-intended and biblical. Of course, whenever one goes for shock value there is always the unintended side-effect of someone taking the sentence out of context and running off thinking they've just been giving permission to stop reading their Bible. Frankly, the average Christian needs to read the Bible much, much more--not less.  But the point isn't to read the Bible less; rather, it is to intentionally read non-biblical and especially non-Christian books.

Oswald Chambers once had a conversation with a friend who bragged that he refused to read any other book other than the Bible. The friend's intention was good--he wanted to know God deeply and felt other books would only focus his mind on worldly things. Chambers gave this response:
My strong advice to you is to soak, soak, soak in philosophy and psychology, until you know more about these subjects than ever you need consciously to think. It is ignorance of these subjects on the part of ministers and workers that has brought our evangelical theology to such a sorry plight. The man who reads only the Bible does not, as a rule, know it or human life."
The apostle Paul would agree (at least in part). Earlier today I concluded a study on Acts 17:16-34 in preparation for tomorrow's worship service. That passage describes a speech Paul gave before the intellectual movers-and-shakers in Athens. The sermon is significant for many reasons, one of them being that Paul quotes from two non-Christian writers (Epimenides and Aratus). Paul read non-Christian writings in order to better understand the culture around him. I think one of the reasons Christians today have been ineffective in our evangelism and influence upon this nation is because we know neither God's word nor our own culture.
The fear, of course, is that we will read these books and become negatively influenced by them. That is a legitimate and real concern, and those who dismiss it are being naive to Satan's snares. I wouldn't let my elementary-age child read The Golden Compass any more than I would let him go off and fight in Afghanistan. On the other hand, I would probably let my 15yr old read it (if he ever expresses a desire), as it would allow us the opportunity to discuss the book's underlying atheist worldview. Reading non-Christian books (or watching non-Christian movies) is something for those who are mature in Christ.

On the other hand, at least Oswald Chambers believed that the person who refuses to read these books will never achieve spiritual maturity.

Do you agree with Chambers, or do you think he went too far?


  1. I think he is right. Not just other books but other kinds of books, books outside of your theological camp, even books you disagree with. If every book someone reads is either written by or endorsed by the same small circle of people, you are never going to grow. I appreciate that you read books that are not on the "approved list", too many of our brothers are trapped in a self-imposed theological ghetto.

  2. I would tend to agree. The statement that it is for the mature believer can not be stressed enough. I tend to believe that philosophy and psychology, well at least their "pop-culture" form, really only discovers what has already been revealled in Scripture about the human condition. However, developing an understanding of these, and other subjects, can aid in identifying these threads in Scripture more readily.