Christian books are easy to find. They can be found in used bookstores, new bookstores, or garage sales. But it takes wisdom, effort, and research to find the right ones which can be nourishment to your soul. The other day my wife and I were strolling through one of our city’s used bookstores. As we browsed the shelves, we came across the small collection of books under the label of “Spiritual.” Now spiritual is a vague term, which is inclusive and not very precise. This could include a variety of books that could be beneficial for my spiritual health or detrimental. I found one book out of the five full shelves of books that I thought be would good for reading. The late Jerry Bridges titled the thin, 90-page book “Pursuit of Holiness.” How did I pick this book out? Why did this one stand out? Why was this one set apart from all the others? What should this tell me about the other books lined up alongside it? Is it important for Christians to know that there are certain books that fall under the “spiritual” category that may not be helpful for their spiritual growth?
Here are five ways to spot healthy, sound, and nourishing Christian books that will be beneficial for you to purchase.
1.) Be mindful of book recommendations from others. Sound Christian literature doesn’t always make it to the New York’s Bestseller list.
People have good intentions when it comes to suggesting certain books. I am thankful for the Christian’s in my life that recommend books they have been impacted by. Although not all books that are suggested are worth reading, there have been some helpful recommendations. Have you ever walked into a bookstore whether a Mardel’s or Lifeway and immediately went to the bestseller stacks because you thought the bookstore’s recommendations were the best? I’m not suggesting that all these stores poorly choose books to place at the front of their stores. What I am saying is that our default to Christian literature shouldn’t be what the bookstores or online shopping sites place in front of our faces. At the same time when someone in your church makes a book recommendation that you may not agree with, pleasedon’t be snooty. Instead, please be gracious and gentle. We not only need to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is within us but also make a defense of why we possess the books that sit on our shelves.
As Christians, we need to be careful and be on guard in everything even in books that are mindlessly recommended due to their popularity. Remember popular books don’t always mean profound books.
2.) The author is usually the first thing that I look for in a book.
As I look for books either online or in a Christian bookstore, I always start with the authors that I’ve already read. Sometimes I’ll explore and look for new authors, but only at the recommendation of authors I have already read. Usually, I’ll pay attention to the footnotes to spot new authors who have contributed to another writer’s work.
The best place to look for information on the author of a book is to turn the book over (if you have a physical copy) and look at the mini-bio of the author. This will tell you what schools they went to. This will tell what churches they have preached at. Through this small paragraph of biographical information, you will get greater insight into who the author is.
I also follow most of the authors that I read on Twitter, and I’ll watch if they drop any recommendations of their own. I’ll keep notes while I read. Usually, the author I am reading will quote someone in his or her book. I’ll jot that done and look up the book or author quoted within that text. Recently I’ve tried to search for authors who started writing closer to the time the Reformation that was 500 years ago. It is hard for me to read anything that was recently published. It seems relevant to read current authors because we all want to know what people are saying today to keep up with the time, but I believe that what’s current is not always the most important. I’d rather read authors who were on the brink of risking their lives than authors who are influenced more by culture. I still read authors who pastor churches today or are professors in seminaries, but even they usually recommend reading the old theologians and pastors of long ago. They too, quote most of these guys who were alive closer to the Reformation and even to the early centuries. Why is this important? Because outside of the Bible we only get secondary accounts of what took place inside the canon of Scripture.
Christians who want to be rightly informed about their faith ought to look to men and women who were just decades away from knowing people who knew Christ and the apostles. For some reason, Christians are caught up in the here, and now they tend to wander off from the roots of their faith. Yes, our faith is based on our current examination of self and our fruits. Though we need to stay informed about the current state of Christianity, we also need to be historically attuned. A pianist wouldn’t play a piano just because it makes a sound. If the piano were out of key there would definitely be a need for someone to come in and tune it. Some Christians today seem to be okay with books that just make noise, but are not in the right tune of the Bible. The Bible is our authority and the authors we read today need to write in words that reflect submission to biblical authority. If a book is not bound to the authority of the Bible, it will be noticeable. We need to be in tune with what the Bible says so we will be able to know when an author is out of tune with what the Word of God says.
3.) In the endorsement section, you will find people who praise the author and the book. Usually, these people and the author are like-minded.
The endorsement section will help you get to know who’s circle the author of the book falls into. This section can be found within the first few pages of the book or on the back cover. One thing that is helpful about this section is that it gives a wide variety of other Christians who affirm the book and the author. If you are familiar with books and authors, then this section should help you discern if this book is credible. Sometimes the publisher will have the credentials of the endorsers placed after their statement of commendation. I will then look at what seminaries they taught in or what churches they pastored at. Al of this means, you need to have a good idea of what institutions and churches have sound teaching. For example, let’s look at the book Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson. He has about ten guys who have written an endorsement for his book. A lot of the guys come from Christian non-profit organizations. Some are pastors. If you are familiar with Christian books, you would probably recognize the first three authors. At the top of the list in Wilson’s book, I recognized Matt Chandler, the pastor of The Village Church and President of Acts 29 Network. Immediately after seeing that Chandler endorsed this book gives me comfort that this would be a healthy read. It would be silly though for me to stop here and pick up this book to read because someone I like endorsed it. There are two more steps that are worth considering before you complete your purchase.
4.) Find a publisher that consistently releases sound material.
I am picky when it comes to publishers. I can count the number of publishers that I will read from on a single hand. Authors can use a wide range of publishers. Therefore it matters that we become familiar with more than knowing the author and reading the endorsement section. It is also important to become familiar with the different publishers out there. Not all publishers release sound literature. Most of the time the publisher will mix in quality reading materials with borderline nominal authors. As you venture out to Christian bookstores or browse Christian book vendors on the web, the publisher should be a key in how you search for book titles. Some publishers are denominational or even camp specific. What I mean by that is some publishers sign certain authors just because of their specific theology, eschatology, or gospel. Crossway, , and Broadman and Holman are some good publishers to look for on the binding of the book. Recently, Banner of Truth visited MBTS, the seminary I am a student at and I would highly recommend them as. they consistently publish worthwhile material. Publishers matter because they are the gateway for authors to enter to publish their books.
5.) Read the summary of the book or the introduction before making your purchase.
In these sections, you’ll get a taste of what the book is going to be about. In doing this, you’ll know where this author lands theologically usually. I’ve placed this as my last step because points 1-4 is where I would catch a book that is not ideal for studying or helpful for me to digest. I’d say the author or publisher would give that away quickly. With that said, if the suggestions in steps 1-4 do not work or if I am unable to make a solid stance on the book then I will take the time to read the summary or introduction or both.A few steps that are worth considering that I refer to when I am still not sure if such a book is good for me. I go to blogs I find trustworthy. I generally will look for book reviews or author reviews. I have found that blogs like Tim Challies, 9Marks, The Gospel Coalition, and Servants of Grace are useful in helping me think through how to choose healthy Christian authors to read.
Christian authors aren’t infallible so be careful what you pick up.
The most important thing above all is being prepared yourself before finding resources that will contribute to your sanctification. These little tidbits of advice may help prepare you, but there is nothing like growing in God’s Word and working through the tough doctrines stored in there. A healthy Christian will know how to distinguish between unhelpful literature and literature that will help you think carefully about God pointing to Him as having the final say. Above all the Word of God is sufficient for the healthy growth of a Christian desiring to be made to be like Christ. Be careful, be mindful, and do the research of a Berean.