I have to admit that I have a problem. I'm not sure if it would qualify as an addiction but I suppose it has tipped the scales in that direction at different points in my life. It's not exactly a substance but is powerful none the less. My problem is with books.
Not just books, but also blogs, podcasts, online sermons; anything that I can gain information and help from. It's not necessarily a bad thing but I am learning that I need to be careful.
One such book I've read recently is called "No Little Women" by Aimee Byrd. The funny thing is that in this particular book, the author warns us about books. Not just books alone but she says that "The issue is that we have no problem setting our affections on many things and many people. But here (John 17:17 'Sanctify them in the truth; our Word is Truth') we see that we need to love the Lord our God, who is One. So we need to make sure that the God we are learning about in any church, Christian book, radio program, conference, or conversation, is the Lord God--the God whom we learn about in His Word. This is of utmost importance."
Paul tells the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:4) that "For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough." Oh how often we fall for the same thing.
When I was going through a particularly tough time in my life, I wasn't sure who I could turn to for help or didn't think I should, so I turned to books and just about anyone I could listen to in anonymity that could help me with my particular problem. I just needed someone to tell me what to do, to empathize with my situation, to convince me that I could fix the problem and to walk me through the 5 steps in how they did it themselves. I was desperate.
I was pouring myself into the Bible at the same time but I wasn't being as careful as I should in discerning whether the teaching I was receiving was compatible with Scripture. Most of them were, and I was able to tell fairly soon when they were totally off-base, but I did find myself being tossed to and fro a little while wanting to believe teachings that didn't line up with the Word of God because they were what I wanted to hear.
In Aimee's book, she walks the reader through how we need to hone and test our discernment skills when choosing material. She points out that the author may not use these precise terms but what we need to look at is what the author is saying (1) about God's Word, (2) who man Is, (3) about God Himself, and (4) and about what God has done and is doing.
(1) What Does the author say about God's Word?
"We need to begin by knowing God's Word and then we are responsible to discern whether what people say is in line with its teachings. (Acts 17:11) The Bible isn't merely a large book that we can compare all other teachings to, it is the inspired Word of God, meaning that it is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). We are not to treat it as words from wise men that we can go to for guidance in life...but as direct revelation from our Creator. We need to look at how the author uses God's Word and discusses it. Are the teachings being shared coming from Scripture or are they playing fast and loose with the information, bending it to fit the formula they are trying to sale?
(2) What Does the Author Say about God?
God wants us to know Him intimately but to know Him correctly. We need to watch how the author portrays the Trinity. The Lord is one. The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. They are not 3 different beings and one is not more powerful than the others.
(3) What Does the Author Say about What God Has Done and is Doing?
Do the author's teachings line up with the gospel taught to us in Scripture? What are they saying that saving faith is based on? In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul says, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." Does the authors' message teach that we are saved by faith alone or by faith in Christ plus our religious observances?
In her book, Aimee sites an article by Albert Mohler called "A Call For Theological and Christian Maturity". I found this fascinating and he clearly described the levels of importance our differences in theology actually have and why we can accept some and not others.
Mohler divides doctrinal differences by "orders". "First order" doctrines are the essentials; the ones that are necessary for a Christian to believe. These are things such as the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity, and humanity of Christ, and justification through faith. If these are all agreed upon, we can worship together and call each other fellow believers.
"Second order" doctrines, also called "secondary" doctrines are those that are so important that they do cause us to worship separately but do not stop us from counting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. These are things such as church government, the ordination of women, the act of baptism, and the use of sign gifts.
"Third order" doctrines are differences that are real and important, but not ones that would keep us from worshiping together in the same congregation, such as details on Christ's return.
Aimee points out that we need to take theology seriously, but we also need to deal with these differences with humility. We need to make sure that we don't put things that belong in one "order" in another and cause disunity. If we are honest about our distinctions, we can set proper boundaries and acknowledge where we agree and disagree, all with the goal of sharpening each other according to the Word of God and His Spirit.
She reminds us to "remember that we are reading for understanding, discovery, growth, and conversation. Reading with an open mind does not mean we will accept anything that we read, but rather that we are willing to give anyone a chance for critical engagement. The more engaged we are with Scripture, the better our skills will be and the more equipped we'll be to recognize good books and materials. There are authors who may have serious theological errors in one area of doctrine, while having a lot to teach us in another. Authors like this require more discernment and maturity from a reader."
We as women need to be especially careful when selecting books to read and absorb because we are especially drawn to enthusiasm for the faith and someone who seems to understand our struggles and wants to teach us from their experiences. Unknowingly, they can end up attacking healthy teaching in a subversive kind of way and we can get caught in the cross-fire.
Aimee describes 3 dangerous ideas that are commonly found in the best-selling Christian books for women:
1. Ecumenicalism at the Expense of Doctrine. We want so badly to focus on unity and love that we don't want to cause division over doctrine. This causes superficial unity and waters down the important teaching on sin, repentance, justice, holiness, and salvation in order to not offend.
2. Claiming Direct Revelation from God. We need to be careful with this one because the Holy Spirit can do what He wants and directly speak to someone, but we have all the revelation we need in God's complete Word. We need to intimately know the Word He has given to us and discern if the author's words line up with Scripture.
3. Bad Hermeneutics (interpreting the meaning of Scripture). Too often authors will read their own meaning into a text to fit their particular message.
I will be sharing more from Aimee Byrd's book "No Little Women" because we want to be women who study God's Word carefully and correctly. I have learned so much from her and have been challenged by many of my own thoughts and beliefs. In fact, I plan to regularly share books that I think fit into these guidelines and ones that are endorsed by fellow Christ Followers who have better discernment skills than I have so far. I think you will find this helpful and wish that I would have had better guidance along the way.
I will leave you with one passage from 2 Timothy 3:6-7 that should jar all of us. As Paul was warning Timothy about the false teachers that were infecting the church, he said: "For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth."
We are called to something better; something more responsible; something more powerful.
"We didn't get to choose our DNA, body type, birthday, time-slot in history, or many of our circumstances. But make no mistake, we do get to choose what kind of women we are going to be." Beth Moore