A Plea to Pastors and Elders

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I recently heard of yet another field experiment demonstrating how easily a stranger at the park can lure an unsuspecting child. Even though parents felt confident in their discussions about not talking to strangers, and especially not to follow them anywhere no matter what, the old, "I've lost my puppy, will you help me find him" ditty still works like a charm. These faux abduction investigations reveal the inadequacies of the whole "stranger danger" message. The problem is that predators are very friendly; they don't look like the monsters that their parents make them out to be. What child wouldn't want to help a smiley guy with a picture find man's best friend?

There seems to be a similar scenario going on in the world of "Christian" books. I'm sure pastors are thrilled when they have congregants who love to read. But what are they reading, and how are they processing the material?

The other day I was in the middle of a workout when the phone rang. I glance over to notice that it is my grandma. Better get that. As I push the pause button and catch my breath to answer, grandma is spilling praise over the phone to me about my newly released book. Of course my grandmother is going to be biased, but it was encouraging nonetheless. Just as I was getting excited about using my book to have deeper theological discussion with my sweet grandma, she drops a bomb: "However, I haven't finished your book yet because I've also been reading another fantastic book called, Jesus Calling. Have you heard of it?" Why yes, yes I have.

Immediately I began to wonder, how can someone read the claims in my book alongside of the claims in Sarah Young's Jesus Calling and say they are both wonderful? They say two completely different things about how God speaks to us and conveys Christ to us. I wondered how you could faithfully attend a Southern Baptist church for most of eighty-four years and not have the discernment skills to see when the sufficiency of Scripture and authority of God's Word is threatened.

Meanwhile, as I'm still talking, I hear a text message come in. When I get off the phone, I check to see I received a message from my mother-in-law who is a Roman Catholic. She wanted to encourage me that her friend from church was so "blown away" by my book that she was buying copies for her daughters to read. As I was happy to hear that, again I was perplexed. It seems like reading without discernment isn't only a problem for Protestants. How could a devout Roman Catholic, who brings communion to the shut-ins, love what I had to say about things like justification, the church, and the means of grace? I thought of the irony of being interrupted from a physical fitness workout to be reminded of the need for theological fitness.

I do a book review club at my house every now and then where a group of women get together to review what we've been reading. Even in this intimate setting with people who know a bit more of my passion for theology, I've had women bringing in books such as Todd Burpo's Heaven is For Real, and Rob Bell's Love Wins, with positive reviews. These are popular books that attempt to persuade readers to think differently from what the Bible says about heaven, the extent of God's love, sin, and hell. I always get to play the role of the unloving, bad guy when I ask more challenging questions about the books.

And so now I make my plea. Pastors, elders, is there something more we could be doing in the church to equip the congregation with discerning reading skills? Good, Christian people are being deceived. Sadly, sometimes it is those in leadership who recommend such books. The so-called Christian author can actually be a potential predator of orthodoxy in the church. They have great personalities and wonderful stories to share, but where are they leading your flock?

Of course, you shouldn't ban church members from reading such books. I can tell my son to NEVER go anywhere with someone we have not pre-approved. But how can you better provide the skills to recognize the ol' puppy trick when it comes to reading choices? Maybe it is by actually reading some of these books together, and teaching how to examine them against Scripture. Maybe it is by teaching that niceness is not the same as godliness. Perhaps we need to be challenged with our own hearts and why we want to believe a message that is contradictory to the Word of God. Whatever the case, the sheep are susceptible to looking for candy in poisonous books. It's time to raise awareness for the church's need to "learn to discern."
Posted October 28, 2013 @ 2:40 PM by Aimee Byrd
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