A few years ago, for my birthday, a friend bought me Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz.
I don’t know if you have read this book, or heard of Donald Miller. Perhaps you are a huge fan, or maybe, like me, you harbour some reservations. There were many points in Miller’s book with which I agreed. However, as I read ‘Blue Like Jazz’ my gut feeling was that I deeply disagreed with Miller’s approach and attitude (particularly regarding the Church).
This provoked some questions in my mind. The most prominent of which was ‘Have I wasted my time reading this book?’
I asked a few friends for their opinions on reading authors you disagree with. Many of them replied with ‘I don’t have enough time to read those kinds of books’, or ‘When I read I need to read good books’.
Now I understand where my friends were coming from – but after some reflection I think their responses were too simplistic. Rather, I think it is beneficial for Christians to intentionally read authors they disagree with. Here are four of my reasons:
1. It corrects bias
One of the most important reasons to intentionally read authors we disagree with is to correct bias.
All of us have our own theological framework, and obviously we all believe our theological framework is the right one (otherwise we wouldn’t hold to it, would we?).
It is, therefore, important that we read authors who have a different theological framework and who give us different perspectives, because we will have our theological and practical biases exposed. Now, this is not pleasant but it is necessary.
One example – NT Wright. Before going to Bible College Tom Wright is an author I would not have touched with a ten foot barge pole. While at college I had to write an essay on Tom Wright’s position on justification. Now, before you exit your browser, let me say that I have lots of reservations about Wright’s position. However, one way in which I benefited from Wright was his focus on the community aspect of justification. We are not only justified as individuals, but we are justified into a community. This challenged my reformed, individualistic biased view on justification.
So reading authors we disagree with can correct our biases.
2. It gives authority
Have you ever found yourself talking to someone who is talking about a book without having ever reading it? Intensely irritating, no?
It irritates me. I think there is nothing worse than someone slandering something because of second hand information. ‘O I wouldn’t read that book because Piper said it was rubbish!’, or ‘I would never buy that book because McArthur says he’s a heretic’. Yet, many of us are guilty of exactly this.
Now it is right to be discerning about the information we consume. It is also right to take the counsel of godly, mature men and women as they try to guide us through the minefield that is Christian literature.
However, for those who have read a book and then give a critique of it there is a lot more weight behind the advice. I am more likely to leave a book alone that you have read and suggest is not wholly beneficial. Whereas, if you tell me that someone else read it and they said it wasn’t great – well, that’s third hand information.
So, I think Christians should intentionally read books they disagree with so they can speak about those books with authority. In doing so we can more effectively guide brothers and sisters through the minefield that is Christian literature.
3. It broadens horizons
A third reason to intentionally read authors we disagree with is that it helps broaden our horizons.
As I mentioned earlier, we have our own theology. If we only read people we agree with it will only result in a reinforcing of our own theological framework. This is a bit like sticking our head in the sand – albeit sand that we chose, but sand all the same.
If we are reading people we disagree with we are most likely reading a variety of theological frameworks that differ on a number of points from ours. This helps us know what is out there so to speak. It helps us to be aware of the major schools of thought on certain topics. It aids the mapping of certain theological approaches to issues.
So, we should read authors we disagree with to broaden our horizons.
4. It helps to formulate arguments
I have a friend who is irritated by Christians who have the ‘right answer’, but can’t defend it well!
Lots of Christians suffer from this, the inability to make an articulate defence of what they believe. So many of our young people growing up through youth groups being told what they should believe, but very rarely why they should believe it. This results in Christians with the right answer, but poor ability to defend that answer!
One great advantage to reading authors we disagree with is that we are exposed to argumentation for a position (most of the time anyway). In being exposed to this argumentation we will naturally and automatically formulate counter-arguments in our minds for the positions we hold. Doing this consistently, and with discernment, will develop our ability to formulate a coherent and effective argument for the positions we hold.
Therefore, we should read authors we disagree with to aid us in formulating arguments.
Have a look at your book shelf.
If your book shelf is supplied by a few similar publishers or authors you are probably only reading authors you agree with. I believe this is unhealthy.
If we are to grow into mature and discerning Christians we must have a varied reading diet. By all means read the authors you love and enjoy – but maybe every once in a while (to begin with anyway) push the boat out and read someone you disagree with.
You may even come to appreciate the different perspective they offer…
If you have any more reasons please comment for the benefit of all our readers