Recently, a friend reached out to me with an interesting question. He really wanted to read a famous work of fiction, but he didn’t agree with the author’s theology. As a believer, he was concerned about being influenced by worldly wisdom. Should he read the book or no?
To me his concern raised two broader, relevant questions in my mind:
Should Christians read books written by other Christians they disagree with?
Furthermore, should believers read books written by non-Christians?
In this Internet Age where we are constantly being bombarded with stories, books, TV shows, and movies, believers have to think well about this issue.
Why We Can and Should Read the Works of Christians We Disagree With
Here’s the thing: I totally get it. For a long time I was hesitant to read any author (fiction or nonfiction) I disagreed with out of fear of being challenged or led astray.
But as John Piper points out in a well spoken response on this subject, there is no author or book we will ever agree with 100% (except the Bible, for those of us who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture). However, he says, there is much we can learn and gain from believers we disagree with.
Piper goes on to say that C.S. Lewis has been a huge influence on his life, though he disagrees with the famous author on the inerrancy of Scripture and the sovereignty of God. Furthermore, he’s benefitted greatly from Jonathan Edwards, G.K. Chesterton, and Marilynne Robinson–all of whom he disagrees with on certain issues.
Why Christians Can and Should Read the Works of Non-Believers
I would also argue that Christians can learn and profit much from reading the works of non-believers as well.
Think about it: all great stories say something true about the world or the human condition. And since God is the God of truth, even stories written by non-believers can bear witness to him in some way.
This is the essence of the doctrine of common grace. Since everyone is made in the image of God, there are plenty of books, movies, TV shows, plays, art, etc. created by non-believers with gospel undertones.
- The popular TV series Breaking Bad is a deep meditation on the nature of sin, judgement, and justice.
- The film Amadeus is a brilliant portrait of what it looks like to relate to God like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story (trying to live a good life in order to put God in your debt).
- The book The Road by Cormac McCarthy shows how goodness, love, and hope can exist even in the midst of utter depravity.
The Dangers of Not Reading Authors We Disagree With
Here are a few things we risk if we don’t read the works of non-believers or Christians we disagree with:
- We will become insulated in our Christian bubble–which will probably lead to moral superiority.
- We will have fewer things to relate to our non-Christian neighbors with.
- We will have fewer gospel conversation “bridges” with our non-Christian neighbors.
- We will not understand the human condition as well, which will lead to less love and empathy for others.
- We will not understand the secular worldview as well, which means we will be less equipped to respond to its arguments with the compassion and conviction of the gospel.
I could go on and on. The point is this: we must be fluent in the stories of our day if we are to minister effectively in our culture.
Why We Should Be Discerning About What We Read
That being said, we should absolutely read books and consume media with discernment, testing everything we read and hear against Scripture. We should aspire to be like the Berean Jews, who were “of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Younger believers (like myself) in particular should be very careful about the books they read and the voices they listen to, for their discernment is not as mature.
Furthermore, there are certain books/shows/movies that as a believer, I simply can’t watch or read in good conscience. For example, I’m not going to read or watch 50 Shades of Grey, because I know without a doubt that doing either would pollute my mind with lustful thoughts and images. Christ does indeed call us to holiness, to “set our minds on things above” (Col. 3:2).
All in all, I believe we should read books by authors we disagree with, so long as we read with careful discernment. Doing so makes us far more empathetic and nuanced in our approach to living godly, faithful lives.
More Resources on This Topic
What about you? What do you think about this issue? Leave your answer in the comments below.