I review books – a lot of books. Some people have expressed an interest in how I evaluate them. A few specific criteria govern the way I evaluate the overall effectiveness of Christian books, in particular.
First and most important, is the book biblical? That is, does the content reflect the teaching of the infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God? The label “Christian” does not automatically mean that a given book is a faithful representation of orthodoxy. Does it accurately unpack doctrines that are in step with the Reformed faith and exalts the Lord Jesus Christ? Any deviation from the truth results in a sharp critique and swift relegation to the “heresy shelf.” Tragically, my heresy shelf has steadily grown over the years.
Second, is the writing clear and compelling? Does the book address essential questions? And does it offer answers that genuinely help readers? Does it posit suggestions that encourage their Christian growth? Is the book coherent, or does it violate the laws of logic? Is the writing organized and systematic? Tragically, logic and a systematic approach to theology are viewed with suspicion and even disdain in some Christian circles. The very act of repudiating the laws of logic that God has established is a foolish act and is, by definition, illogical!
Third, does the book impact lives and promote progressive sanctification? Many Christian books (or books that are at least categorized as “Christian”) offer little in the area of practical help. Instead of helping readers become conformed to the image of Christ, they foster pride and build upon on edifice of shifting sand. A worthy Christian book should alert readers to the problem of sin and reveal the remedy, which is found exclusively in Jesus Christ.
A good Christian book should guide the reader to the Celestial City. It should lead them in a Godward direction and inspire them to live hopeful lives and holy lives.
Finally, does the book magnify the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is the gospel at the heart of the book, or is it a mere tack on? Is the gospel the primary fuel that drives the arguments in the book, or is the gospel more like “fumes” that emerge from the tailpipe of worldliness or pragmatism? Such an approach may be appealing in the short run, but will lead readers to a path of destruction.
These are only a few of the special areas of concern that I consider when I place a Christian book under the microscope. Such a pursuit involves having a sharp eye, a soft heart, and a sanctified mind. Having a sharp eye involves God-centered discipline to read everything through the lens of a Christian worldview. A sharp eye will not only pinpoint doctrinal error; it will pay tribute to doctrinal purity. A soft heart avoids the extremes of a hyper-critical spirit and a pietistic free-for-all. And a sanctified mind requires complete submission to Scripture and surrender to the Spirit of God. This approach is undergirded by a commitment to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
May the Lord grant much discernment as you dig deeper and grow stronger in the Christian faith. May you echo the prayer of Solomon, who cried out to God, “So give your servant a receptive heart to judge your people and to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9, CSB).