Continuing from the previous post, here I want to give a few suggestions on how to choose good books. Before I give suggestions, I would like to define what I mean by “good” books. A “good” christian book is not necessarily one with which you will agree on everything. A “good” christian book, according to me, is one which follows sound theology (2 Tim 1:13), at least for the most part, and presents clear and cogent arguments for its claims and conclusions . This applies even to Christian fiction and poetry (for they too convey some theology). A book may be well written, but that does not make it good automatically. Take for example Purpose Driven Life. Its a book which is well-organized. You can follow Warren’s arguments very easily. However, many of my respected teachers (and I am persuaded) deem it not good since it does not have sound theology and does not follow sound patterns of interpretation.
Now having said all this, my definition begs the questions – What is “sound theology”? Well, I believe Calvinism and Reformed Theology is sound. Not everyone will agree with me. That’s fine. Nevertheless, this does highlight the fact that you should first get convinced of what sound theology is . If you make up your mind on that you will be in a much better position to choose good books. If you haven’t, you may choose books which shed light on the questions you are grappling with. See, already we are getting into a rational process of choosing good books! So, with that said, let me move on to my suggestions.
These suggestions that I am going to mention are those that I have learned from my teachers over a course of time. I do not claim originality on all of them.
Read Books of Select Authors
A Book is only as good as its author. If the author holds to wrong convictions, it will inevitably be seen in his work and you will not be built up or edified. So choosing good books is same as choosing good authors. How do you get to know who the good authors are? Well, you will need to do your research. You will need to ask a few trusted people whom you respect highly, gather a few author names, search for reviews of their books on the Internet, read those reviews, and get convinced. If an author is really good, you may want to read up all his works. Only by doing this you may get an insight to the way he thought – something which reading a single book may not accomplish.
For the sake of the upcoming sale, I will suggest a few of my favourite authors later in this article. Martin Luther and John Bunyan are on top of my list among many others.
Read Books Which Are Difficult
I picked up this tip from Mortimer Adler’s book – How to Read a Book. He suggests that if we want to gain greater understanding, we need to read books which are beyond our current level of thinking. Only when you move from a state of understanding less to one of understanding more would you have made progress. This is one of the reasons why you must not always read popular books and popular authors. They may have written well and there may be sound theology in their books. But that book may still be well within your grasp. Read books which are difficult. Read those which offer spiritual potatoes rather than vitamins. Books by Martin Luther, John Calvin and English Puritans immediately come to mind.
Read Books Which Have Stood The Test of Time
Time is a great leveler, they say. Many books which were popular in one era have vanished into thin air in another. But great books are those which have stood the test of time. I am talking about Christian Classics. Read books like Confessions by St. Augustine, Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen, Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. These books have stood the test of time because they contain what is faithful to Scripture, not something which our ears may itch to hear.
Read Books Which Help You Increase in Bible Understanding
In one way all my previous points indirectly point to this heading, but I am here talking about reference work which will help us dig deep into the Bible. The Bible is God’s book. If the writings of men can be dense then the writing of God can be denser. We need help. We cannot arrogate ourselves and say – “Its me and the Bible.” Such a thought, though encouraged by some churches, is doomed to failure. God has appointed teachers in the body of Christ so that we may increase in our understanding of God’s word through them. The Holy Spirit can reveal everything to everyone all by himself. But He chooses not do so.
So, invest in a good Study Bible. Invest in good commentaries – both single volume and individual-book commentaries. Invest in Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, Bible atlas. Books on Historical Theology, which help us see how those before us interpreted the Scripture, can also aid in understanding Scripture better. John Calvin’s Institutes comes immediately to mind.
So, these are a few ways which God has shown me. I hope they are beneficial to you as well.
Finally, let me give you a few of my recommendations and also a few resources where you will find further recommendations.
Some Favourite Current Authors
Some Favourite Past Authors
Some Favourite Publishers
Some Favourite Review Sites
I hope this post will help us make better investment in the upcoming sale. And above all, I pray that God will help us invest in good books which will help us dig deeper into Scripture, help us gain greater understanding of who He is and help us become more obedient to him.