On reading, heresy and false doctrine

I’ve recently finished reading Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke as part of a book club and should say that I completely enjoyed every word of it.

Even before I reached halfway through I kept asking myself why I hadn’t discovered this book sooner, when it was a clear, direct and concise summary of all I had believed about reading and, more precisely, reading in the context of being a Christian in a mostly non-Christian world.

And the answer was simple: I was wary of Christian literature. And this book, regardless of whether it was a guide to reading other books, was lodged way up in that shelf.

Image Copyright Jeff Larson

Anyone who goes through my GoodReads account – which I religiously update with every book I am currently reading without creating any private shelves because I lead a completely transparent reading life – will discover almost immediately that only a very small percentage of all the books I read every year is comprised of volumes that can be shelved under religious, spiritual, or theological reading – ironic, I know, for a writer of Christian fiction.

It’s not that I’m averse to anything that furthers my knowledge of the mysteries of God, but that for those things I’m the kind of person who’d rather reread and revisit and re-study my Bible a thousand times over than grope in the dark to find contemporary religious nonfiction that might take me to very dangerous territory.

And what territory is that? Tony Reinke very eloquently describes it in Chapter 4 of his book and, as I cannot write it better myself, will quote him below:

… The most treacherous spiritual dangers arise from theologically twisted books written by wolves in sheepskin. The greatest dangers arise when the gap is assumed to be small. Spiritual dangers are more venomous in a so-called “Christian” book. “For no heresy has ever sprung from pagan belief, from Aristotle, and from the books of other heathen,” wrote Martin Luther. “No, these necessarily emerge from the church.” … “Heresy and false doctrine are taken and adduced from no other source than Scripture.”

 

Luther is quick to affirm here that Scripture is pure and unadulterated in itself. But when a truth of Scripture is pulled out and warped in the hands of someone within the church, heresy is born. The resulting error is more dangerous than any error that originates outside the church.

 

… Heresy is dangerous because it camouflages itself as the truth, it resembles the truth, it emerges from within the church as a mistreatment of Scripture. On the other hand, books that are obviously non-Christian in orientation are far less likely to spiritually deceive us because we hold these books at a distance, we approach them with a guarded detachment, and we open the cover fully expecting to disagree with the author.

And those, my friends, are my exact thoughts in a nutshell.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we avoid Christian literature altogether – far from it. The main idea here is that we first immerse ourselves in the study of the Living Word, and then, when we finally decide to explore supporting literature, be on our guard against the whispers of false doctrine.

But test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24)

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)