When you pretty much get paid to leave a job in ministry, inevitably there comes a crisis of belief. And as you emerge on the other side, dripping with the mire of failure and loss, reality comes into focus as you look through tears and sweat. The effects are myriad. Legion. Over the past year, one of these effects has been how I look at books. Since books have been precious friends since my earliest days, it is no wonder this would be the case. The effect has been to see how we often think about books wrongly.
For example, far too often we think of a book as “The Way” when we should be thinking of books as something to help us on the way. This thinking is betrayed when our opinion of people is lessened because they did not like a particular book we thought should help everyone in Christian growth. I mean, this bundle of bound pages is a “must read.” Right? Or when they love a book and we thought they should have thought it should have been bad for them.
But what I notice more than anything is our need to qualify our love for a book or an author by saying, “Of course, I do not agree with everything he/she says.” The “of course” is misleading because, let’s face it, we always feel the need to add it. “Of course” means “it goes without saying.” But we say it anyway because we want to make sure we do not get colored with someone’s theological errors, methodology, etc., though we want to make sure others know we benefited from the book or author’s work. A little.
Actually it’s refreshing when this does not happen. My wife and I have some friends who love and have benefited from a particular author’s books. He is a little, ehem, controversial in my world. So one night while eating dinner in their home, they told me they loved his books. I sat there and I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the, “Of course…” but it never came. I didn’t know how to respond, I probably stuttered trying to sound diplomatic. But I’m glad they did not feel the need to qualify their affection for this author and the books he had labored over.
And I’m glad because we should dispense with the whole thing. We are Christians, right? We believe everyone has a sin problem. Everyone includes authors. So, no one’s book is the book to end all books. Yes, even John Piper and Tim Keller. No decent author feels this way. We tend to think a book is a “must read” even when the author of the book does not. The fact that we would disagree with something in a book someone wrote should…well, go without saying. Literally. (Actually, we need to admit that we even disagree with The Book, The Bible, sometimes. Not because it is wrong but because we are natural rebels.)
The real danger comes when you feel the book you love could not have error, either because of your devotion to its message or because of your devotion to the author. It’s as if the problem of sin ceased to be a factor in the writing and editing of a particular work.
Maybe we should relax. Read books and be helped by what we can. Sure we can disagree with someone and still love their book just as we disagree with a friend and love them and benefit from their life. Let books help you on your way without feeling the necessity to live as if any book is the way. Because if you don’t, you will say something ridiculous like, “This is a must read.”