When I started my journey as a Christian reader, I was hungry to know God, and Christian nonfiction was my meal of choice. I devoured books voraciously during that season. But I didn’t realize the books I was reading were incapable of satisfying my hunger. They were hyped up on sugary, me-centric content with little to no substance, leaving me spiritually malnourished. By God’s grace, I finally recognized that while my to-be-read pile may have been growing, my appetite for God wasn’t. I needed a total reading reset!
That started a process that I now identify as becoming a discerning Christian reader. Biblical discernment is critical in our reading lives. Books can have just as much influence on our discipleship as our real-life Christian relationships do, so it’s important for us to choose well. Here are three principles of discerning Christian readers.
1. A discerning reader knows God through his Word
In my earlier reading years, God’s Word didn’t inform the books I read; the books I read informed how I understood God and his Word. As a result, I was discipled by biblically inaccurate understandings of God. Because I didn’t prioritize knowing God through his Word, I couldn’t recognize when an author was mishandling or manipulating Scripture. Instead of glorifying God and enjoying him forever, I was glorifying myself and enjoying the temporal things of this world “in the name of Jesus.”
One of Scripture’s primary aims is to teach us what we should believe about God. God chose to reveal his character, his works, his Son, and the gospel to us through his Word. Knowing and treasuring God through his Word changes our hearts, desires, and affections (Ps. 119:33–36, 127–128). We grow to care more about the eternal than the temporal and more about the gospel of Christ than the false gospel of self. Before long, the books we select start to reflect the scriptural truths we’ve been feasting on consistently.
We’re equipped to choose well when we’ve tasted and seen the goodness of God and the sweetness of Christ and his gospel in the Word.
2. A discerning reader has an overarching goal
Have you ever stepped back and thought deeply about the goal of your Christian reading life? I’m not talking about goals that shift with the seasons of your life, like raising toddlers or navigating challenging friendships. While those have their place, we should approach reading with a more overarching goal that guides those smaller, more seasonal goals.
The goal of our Christian reading life isn’t that much different from the ultimate goal of our Christian life. As believers, we’re called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). If our goal is to make much of Christ in every area of our lives, the Christian books we choose should support that goal.
3. A discerning reader examines fruit
In the apostle Paul’s letter to his protégé, Timothy, he warns him of godlessness in the last days. He says, “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2–5). Paul isn’t warning Timothy about people outside the body of believers but about those who profess to follow Christ. Still, Paul assures Timothy that they won’t get very far in leading those under Timothy’s leadership astray (2 Tim. 3:9). Sooner or later, their godless fruit will overshadow their religious facade and their behavior will serve as an indictment of their true character.
Ungodly fruit can be the byproduct of books written by some Christian authors, so it’s important for us to be vigilant as we read. Is a book encouraging us to be obsessed with ourselves or to love our neighbor as ourselves? Does its message reek of arrogance and pride, or is it saturated with the sweet fragrance of humility? Is it promoting that we trust in our resources or trust in the One who cares for the birds of the air and lilies of the field (Matt. 6:25–33)?
Scripture has much to say about the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the flesh. We are equipped to choose well when we know both and examine the contents of a book for the fruit it produces.
Practical Tips for Choosing Well
The Christian reader who practices these principles is equipped to make better choices. But buying Christian books, especially online, is tricky. Use these tips to discern more about a book’s contents than what you can glean from a synopsis alone.
- Check the author’s social media and/or website. If you see ungodly fruit there, it will most likely show up in what they write.
- Research the publisher of the book. Some publishers target a very specific Christian demographic, and knowing more about them may help you make a clear decision.
- Read a sample. Many online booksellers allow you to read the first few pages of a chapter on their website.
Be encouraged, dear sister—the Holy Spirit is our Helper in this worthwhile and God-honoring work. So we can pray, asking that as we trust him to aid us in each of these areas, he will use our reading lives to the glory of our Lord and Savior.
Meet the Author
Brandi Davis is a lover of Jesus and all things bookish. She works as a typesetter and interior book designer for Moody Publishers and is a biblical studies graduate student at Moody Theological Seminary. As a Christian bookstagrammer, she enjoys building community around her love for books and dishing out Christian nonfiction and clean fiction reviews and recommendations. You can follow her on Instagram @becomingbookbybook.