Is the Christian book store a safe place? Can you go there and let your guard down? I think we would have the intuitive feeling that we should be able to—I should be able to go into a book store that says that it is a Christian book store and find Christian things and not just Christian knick knacks or art or waterfalls but actual books.
Is this the case? Can you do this? Well, you can certainly go into a Christian book store and find things that are Christian but sadly, you can go into a Christian book store and find many things that are subpar.
I remember a long time ago, I shared an article on social media and it was about a popular book, a very popular book called The Jesus Calling. It’s a devotional and it’s like Jesus speaking to you each day. It’s written as if Jesus is speaking to you. I think as Christians, this should be deeply concerning because if we want God to speak to us, we go to his word. It was actually written thousands of years ago and it still speaks today and it’s the Bible.
If you want to hear God speak, read your bible, it’s been said. If you want to hear God speak out loud, well, read your bible out loud. There’s this devotional called The Jesus Calling and there’s actually a sequel coming out shortly that speaks for Jesus. It definitely seems to touch people’s emotions and their passions and things like this but the irony is, is when you actually read the gospels and you hear Jesus speaking in the gospels, this devotional sounds nothing like that and we should be very wary of things that claim to speak for God. In the Old Testament, when you claim to speak for God and you got it wrong, you got killed. I’m not saying that’s a New Testament standard but speaking for God is not something anyone should take lightly by any means.
I remember posting the article about The Jesus Calling. This sweet lady talked to me later in the week and said, “Brian, I had no idea. I read this devotional each day. I had no idea that it was so problematic.” The article had detailed several reasons why this was the case. It certainly wasn’t the one point I had just mentioned here.
She said, “How do you know what is good to read and what is not good to read? Can you just go to the Christian book store and find a book and be good?” I understood that this was a woman who desperately wanted to live a life that glorified God. She wanted to fill her life with Christian truth.
I had to tell this devoted lady that no, you cannot just go to the Christian book store and indiscriminately pick up a book and trust that it’s going to contain good, solid biblical teaching. That’s sad but that’s the case.
We have musicians out there who are thought of as Christian musicians that are materialists. They don’t think there’s anything supernatural. We have bands out there that deny the Trinity or at least now deny the Trinity. We have bands out there that are gay-affirming and those types of things. They go under the Christian name or at least at one time went under the Christian name.
What this should just show us with regards to music is we have to keep our guard up. We really do have to be cautious because one of the sad truths is is someone that is solid and biblical today may not be that way tomorrow. I think of Rob Bell.
I remember being a youth intern and sharing Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. This is about 10 years ago with a youth group. These are videos by Rob Bell where he would ask a lot of questions (which is still what he does today) and he would try to get you to think about Christianity and God in a different way. It was thought provoking but Rob Bell today isn’t the same Rob Bell at least publicly that he was those 10 years ago. What used to be sold and okay in a Christian book store back then maybe was troubling if you looked really closely, but today, a lot of the things he says are flat out heretical and against orthodox Christian teaching.
This speaks to the fact that someone who was solid 10 years ago may not be today. Then there are those people that are right on the line. I think of Joyce Meyer. She is popular in Christian circles but she really flirts with the prosperity gospel in some ways. More than that, she also has some bad doctrine. She says Jesus paid for our sin in hell. That is extremely incorrect. Someone who may be encouraging and uplifting and teach good morals in one way may be thought of as Christian but may have serious doctrinal or biblical exegetical issues in another place or they might just simply preach something really close to a false gospel but they may be thought of as Christian.
A Simple Model to be Discerning
We have to keep our guard up. How did I answer this woman who wanted to live a godly life, who wanted to be able to read Christian things that would help her grow in her walk? I said, “Here’s what you do (and this is not profound by any means), whenever you read something, you ask questions of it. You say, ‘How does this fit with Scripture?’ When you read Scripture, you say, ‘How does this Scripture fit with other Scripture?'” The word of God is a united whole. It’s God’s revelation to us. As such, it’s true, there’s no other standard or authority by which we could analyze that that is higher than it. God’s word is true and it all fits together. When we come to a passage and we ask what does this mean, we say how can I best fit this with what I understand about other passages.
This takes us to what we looked at last week with the question of abortion in the Exodus passage that made it seem like the unborn’s life was not as valuable as the mother. This flies in the face of other passages so we should always interpret Scripture in light of other Scripture in a harmonious way. We ask questions of the text. What does this mean? How does it fit with other Scripture? Then when we read something that is not the bible, we say how does this square up with what I know from Scripture.
If I read a devotional that says “God wants to bless you today. He wants to work through you. Don’t hamper him. He wants to make your life good and enjoyable and easy,” you ask, does that fit with what I know about God in the bible? Does the bible say God wants to give me an easy life? No. It actually says that we should expect tribulation and persecution. Maybe this warm flowery devotional isn’t actually aligning with God’s word. It also doesn’t align with God’s word when it says that God is just desperately waiting to move but we’re hampering him. God is sovereign over everything. He waits for no man. He accomplishes his purposes. As Ephesians 1 says, “He works all things together according to the counsel of his will,” in his time. He raises rulers. He deposes kings. He is sovereign.
We have to be careful because there are things out there that play to our feelings, that play to our emotions, play to the things we like but it doesn’t mean they’re true. We always need to be asking questions. How does what I’m reading line up with what Scripture says? I would say more than that, we just cannot walk into a Christian book store and find things that are necessarily solid. There are a wide range of views that are considered to be Christian. There is everything from “Jesus got it wrong” or” maybe Jesus was right but Paul got it wrong“ to “every word in Scripture is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.” That range exists in what is called Christianity today, and more than that, if our current American election season hasn’t demonstrated it, there are so many people calling themselves evangelicals that just have wildly different morals and values and definitions of Christianity.
Then when you look at polls, you see that a remarkably high percentage of those who call themselves Christians think that everyone goes to heaven and that you’ll go to heaven if you live a good life. What we realize is this label “Christian” doesn’t necessarily mean what we always think and hope it means. We have people that have books published by Christian publishers that deny the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus alone. We have to be careful.
We cannot just go into the Christian book store. We cannot just look at a blog. We cannot honestly just listen to someone who preaches and claims to be a Christian. We must hold every idea up to the light of Scripture and submit every philosophy, every idea to the word of God and critique it there in light of that.
Will we get it all right? No, we won’t. I don’t get everything all right. You won’t get everything all right. Only Jesus is the man who walked the earth and got everything all right but our goal should be to get it right. Part of being a Christian and growing in maturity is growing in discernment. That’s not necessarily something like a sixth sense you get but what that is is knowing the truth and being wise in its application to see error and realize it before you accept it as some other truth.
This has been kind of a different episode today, I know that but I think it’s helpful because we do think, “Well, the Christian book store, that’s where I go to get Christian books, right?” Not everything that’s “Christian” is Christian, sadly. We have to be aware because just like there are false teachers roaming around like wolves seeking who they can devour, there are books where the dust jacket says Christian that are not Christian in their contents or they’re questionable enough where we still need to keep our guard up.
It’s interesting that even some of the best preachers and best speakers out there still accidentally say the wrong thing from time to time, and if we’re just accepting everything we hear and not critically saying how does this fit with Scripture, how does this fit with other truths. We always should be thinking. We always should be analytical people. That doesn’t mean critical people but it means alert people. We need to be alert with our learning, with our lives, with our doctrine.
We need to not be able to be led astray. The only other thought I’ll leave you with is this: my church is currently going through Galatians. It’s my favorite letter in the New Testament. It’s interesting that Paul’s spent so much time with these people. He taught them the gospel. As he says in Chapter 3, “Christ was very vividly portrayed as crucified before you.” They got it. He explained it to them and they knew the gospel and then he leaves. He says, “I’m surprised that you’re so quickly deserting the truth that I taught you.” What happened is there were people who came into their midst and started teaching something contrary to it and they weren’t critical enough to understand the mistake, to resist it, maybe even to realize it was wrong. We cannot be like that.
It’s been said that the gospel’s always one generation from going extinct. From man’s perspective, I think this is true. However, I don’t think God will ever let that happen. But if we don’t keep and maintain the purity of the gospel and we let it get perverted and watered down because we’re not careful of what we take in and what we teach others and what we teach our children, then we’re going to become propagators of error, just like those people that we’re supposed to be on the lookout for.