Monday, January 24, 2005

Bad Christian Books

Most Christians I know who take their faith seriously also take book reading seriously. The reason is simple: many of the greatest insights into the Christian faith are contained in books, and those who wish to deepen their faith desire to find out what the great masters had to say on any given subject. There are some fantastic books out there, some of which I've listed on the sidebar to the right. (scroll down to see all the books, and be aware that some are just interesting non-fiction books that don't necessarily have a Christian theme!)

One thing I've realized through the years is that there may be many "inspirational" books out there, but not all inspirational books are created equal; and some are quite a bit less equal than others.

One such example is the book Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes, pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. I bought this book because I'm very interested in the concept of spiritual disciplines. While it does have some spiritual disciplines in it, it is really much more about sin management. In other words, it just a bunch of do's and don'ts categorized by type. Of course there are a lot of do's and don'ts listed, far too many for any sane person to keep track of.

In my many years of being a Christian, I have discovered that there are many Christians and Christian leaders who seem to think that the most important element to a victorious life in Christ is the near complete total removal of sin. While I am certainly no fan of sin, I find that excessive focus on "right" and "wrong" living does nothing but breed spiritual pride and triumphalism. Not only that, but those who are having a truly difficult time struggling with sin and temptation dare not mention it! And if one should decide to talk about it, you will usually get pat answers concerning verse memorization, accountability, prayer, and so forth. For all the time many Christians spend discussing sin and sin avoidance strategies, they really don't have a clue what the real cause of sin is. This seems to be especially true of those most steeped in a Calvinist tradition, for with Calvinism everyone is just a totally depraved loser from the start. There's nothing to understand about sin, it's just wrong. Of course this attitude is found even beyond Reformed churches; other traditions are equally clueless about the origins of sin. (And no, I'm not talking about the Garden of Eden…)

Most inspirational, "Christian Living" type books at the local Christian bookstore are just like Hughes' book: everything you ever wanted to know about avoiding sin and living a righteous life. But there are precious few books--if you can find any at all--on the subject of intimacy with Christ. In my many years as a Christian, I've found that focusing on greater intimacy with Jesus is the best "sin management" program of them all. And the best disciplines are those that bring you closer to God.

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