Christian booksellers today have a large selection of junk. Walk into a Christian ‘Book’store and after you make your way through the Christian candles, bookmarks, pens, jewelry, toys, coloring books, t-shirts, neckties, potpourri, candies, and videos you will find a book section.
Immediately upon arriving at the book section of the store you will be engulfed in a seemingly endless sea of fiction by Oke, Blackstock, Dekker, and LaHaye. Walk through those and you will encounter the devotional/prayer journal section. Continue on past those through the maze of physical fitness books and hopefully you will eventually find a Christian Living section and on the backside of the shelving there will be a Leadership section. Christian Living and Leadership is where you should start looking for books, but don’t spend a lot of time there, because there may just be a small corner in the back of the store labeled Theology. And by God’s grace there may also be a Commentary section, next to a Christian Classics section. This is where you should spend most of your time.
But you have only won a small battle as you arrive in these sections. The war is still raging. You need to know which of these books are worth reading. I hope to give you some pointers on how to discover treasures in this Convenience Store of over-priced ‘Christian’ paraphernalia. (Hey! Let’s slap a cross on this $5.00 cell phone case and jack the price up to $25.00)
The first question to ask about a book is, “Who wrote it?” Rather than give a list of authors here, some good advice is to listen to the names of people your Pastor quotes favorably in his sermons. More than likely, you will notice a few names keep coming up. That’s because your Pastor has found their books helpful. As you begin to read books by these authors, you will notice other authors who are quoted often and favorably in their books. You may want to looks for books by some of these authors as well. Most books will have a short biographical sketch of the authors credentials. Read these closely to find their denominational affiliation, where they studied, and where they serve God now. There will also be names of men from Church History that you recognize as well. Virtually anything written by a Puritan or a Reformer will be helpful, though not always.
The second question to ask about a book is, “Who endorsed this book, and what do they say about it?” Let’s say you are browsing titles, looking for a book on a certain topic, or commentaries on a certain book. Read the recommendations on the back cover to see not only who reviewed the book, but why they recommend it as well.
Third, ask the question, “What other books and authors does this author cite?” Look at the bibliography to see if some trusted resources are consulted. While you are there, go ahead and look in the index, find some key words and flip through to see what the author has to say on words such as ‘justification’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Trinity’, etc. Pick words that relate to the topic of interest.
A fourth question to ask about a book is, “Who published this book?” Currently, Crossway has a very good reputation for publishing biblical books. But this may not always be the case, so be careful. Some publishers which had previously published good books no longer do so. You will also begin to recognize those publishers that are not quite as biblically sound as others after you make a couple of ‘mistake’ purchases. Use those purchases to help inform you as you look at other books to buy.
Finally, ask yourself this question, “Where does this book lead?” Look at the contents page. Find what path the author follows as he leads you through his book. Does he follow a path that is well marked by biblical positions? Or is there a lot of wild conjecture in his reasoning?
Disclaimer: This is not a guaranteed way to find the best books possible. But it will help you to find some pretty good books. As you read you will become more familiar with the names of authors that can be trusted. And if you do buy a ‘mistake’ book, use it to learn all you can about authors, or even publishers, to avoid. And when in doubt, call your Pastor. He’ll be glad to know that you are reading.