Posted On May 25, 2012

Book Reviews, Discernment, and the Gospel

by | May 25, 2012 | The Gospel and the Christian Life

Today rather briefly, I wanted to give a few reasons why I do book reviews, and why they are important.  The first reason I do book reviews is that I love to read and regularly read well over one hundred books a year. Ever since I learned to read, I loved reading books of all genres. At the age of thirteen I became interested in theology and started reading everything I could from studying the Bible to church history. People in church at this time often commented that if I continued to read the way I was doing the Lord might call me to be a Pastor; the ironic thing about that statement is they had no idea at this point I was called to be a Pastor. Most of my reading today is either reading from my Bible or in the areas of biblical or systematic theology, or church history; although I occasionally read Christian fiction. One thing that my readers do not know about me but my closet friends know is that I am happiest when I am surrounded by a stack of books; reading, reflecting and evaluating what they teach from the Word of God. In other words, I have a deep love for research and am passionate about it.

The second reason I review books is tied to why book reviews are important. While reading many books can be a good thing I’ve learned over the years of reading as much as I have that not thinking through what the author is saying is a bad practice and even harmful to my walk with God. J.C. Ryle once said, “Whatever you read, read the Bible first. Beware of bad books: there are plenty in this day. Take heed what you read.” We should read our Bible’s first and then other good books second. Reading others books and not reading your Bible is dangerous because it elevates the place of books over the Book- the Bible. This is a real danger for anyone who does much reading and one I guard against by first opening my Bible and spending time in the Word of God in the mornings before I get to other books I have to read for seminary or publishers.

The reason why reviewing books is important to me is because I’ve been called by the Lord to serve God as a teacher of His Word. To this end, I’ve spent the last four and a half years in Bible and seminary studying the Word, and theology. Book reviews are important because a good review will go beyond just explaining what the book is about to provide a model of discernment for believers.

Many people may disagree with me that book reviews can provide a model for discernment for believers. When I write a book review for publishers I am trying to not summarize the book so much as I am trying to give reasons why I read the book in the first place, and why others should also. As I do this I highlight some parts of the book that are helpful. If I disagree with the author on a point I will state my concern in a nice way that promotes discussion rather than division, and emphasize the strengths of the book rather than the weakness of the book depending on how serious I feel the concern is biblically or theologically.

Book reviews provide a model for discernment when not only the question, “Why should I read this book?” is answered for others readers, but also when reasons are given that explain how the book personally ministered to the reader. A model book review will not only do these things but also address the most fundamental questions of all for the Christian reader, which is, “Is this book biblical?” and “Will this book bring me (the reader) to Gospel and help me grow deeper into the Gospel?”

To be discerning one needs to open up their Bible; read it, study it, know it, and meditate upon it. To be a discerning reader one needs to think through the author’s arguments and be able to explain whether the arguments are biblical or not, and elaborate on where they fall short. On this point if the reviewer feels that the author is wrong biblically or theologically he/she should charitably state the reasons why they feel the author is wrong rather than make accusations against the author. My point here is that a book review is not just a summary of the book itself, but ought to be written in such a way as to advance the discussion on the topic the book addresses.

Books are written to advance ideas and book reviews are written to further the discussion the author has started. A good book review doesn’t just answer questions related to why the book was written but rather asks questions of the book in order to advance the discussion. A good review written in this way can be of great help to other readers not only to further the topic but also to help the readers of the review learn to model charitable dialogue between brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words a book review written well will serve the Church and strengthen the church in its task to advance the kingdom of God.

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