How to read a Christian Book

How to read a Christian Book as a student of Scripture, how to read, analyze, and understand a Christian Reference Book on some biblical topic. You may think that this is a silly topic, everybody that knows how to read and write can read a book. But as a student of Scripture preparing sermons and Bible classes, this is not true. You need to know how to get into a book, quickly find what you need, and then extract it and go on with your studies.

Not everything is bad, nor good in any book

It would be great if everybody had the same theological persuasions and points of view as I have, but that is never going to happen, that presumes that my views are right, which is always an arguable point. So my advice is for everybody here, no matter the similarities or differences between us.

When you look at a book, its use diminishes greatly depending on if the author was a believer or not, and if he was tangled up in bad doctrines. That “discredits” the work in my eyes. Maybe a Seventh Day Adventist would greatly love a book by Ellen White, but for me, she proclaimed to write books that were equal to Paul’s inspired writings, so I do not put as much value on her works. I don’t say I would never look at something she has said, but again, in my estimation (which is supreme for what I do and use) she is a heretic. But you get the point.

So even in “good books”, sometimes authors say things which are not exactly right, not exactly biblical.

Understanding People

I heard that when people find Jesus Christ, it is as though they found a precious gem. A gem that has many facets on it, like a diamond on a diamond ring. Each believer comes to Christ through some facet. Some are Calvinists and come to Christ through election. Others come to Christ because of a rousing evangelistic sermon and that sermon transformed their lives. Others picked up a tract, or had somebody witness to them one on one. Still others had godly parents, or other godly people in their lives that transformed their lives, and their salvation is a factor of that person.

Once saved, that person grew in the things of the Lord by some godly influences, a good church, a powerful preacher, or just some Christian that really helped them. These are how Christians come to be. These “avenues” are very different and at the same time all valid as long as in each case, the person accepts Jesus as their Savior.

After the salvation experience, and growing in the Lord, each Christian grows by his own efforts in the Word of God, and his experiences that demand decisions and actions, and he seeks God’s will. All of these factors cause a person to have his or her distinct perspective.

So for this, you need to do some research. A book is worth a whole much more to a Bible student when they know the background and general beliefs of the author. I can tell from what is written in a book many times whether an author is Reformed or Calvinistic by the topics and positions the author takes. But you need to compare a lot of different positions and read a lot to do that.

The Secret Tools of Every Book

Number one: The Table of Contents

Not every book has nor needs a table of contents. For something that is a single chapter and short, there is no need. But no author who is worth his salt will write a book of more than 20 or so pages and not put in a table of contents in it. Good “bookmanship” or “authorsmith” (I am fishing for the right words here) also divides his work into chapters with some other designation that “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,” etc. The chapter titles should describe what is in the chapter.

How to read a Christian Book is not so hard then. So when you grab a book, look at the table of contents first. The table of contents of every book should be the guide to where everything is in that book. If the topic of the book interests you, then check how the author deals with that topic in the book. Find one chapter that is of greater interest to you, and read part of that chapter. See how understandable the author is.

Number Two: Use the index of key words

Now this is found at the back of the book. Not all books have one, some very excellent books will not have one. But if you peruse (read lightly) from the list of key words used in the book, you will 1) see what topics the author deals with, and 2) you will see how well the author understands his subject matter. It takes a high level of familiarity with the topic of the book to make an index that is not dumb. Sorry to be blunt, but that is the truth.

In truth, many times you read a book from the index forward in How to read a Christian Book. You bounce between the Table of Contents to the Index trying to find what you want. Note that if your library is electronic, then you can use a cross book search function in the software that makes indexes less important. I still find that an excellently structured index with really important words and concepts tells me that the author know what he is talking about.

Guiding yourself through a book without Reading it all

In building a Christian Reference Library, you just simply cannot read everything you have cover to cover. These days, even reading a few two or three dozen works cover to cover is hard. There are a few books that lend themselves to this and you should do. For example, any one of E.M. Bounds works on Prayer could and should be read cover to cover, and repeatedly. That is because he makes a lot of profound observations about Prayer and the Christian.

The vast majority of your library will not fall into that category though. Really good books need to be handy. In other words, you need them to be where you can grab them quickly if you need something out of them. In preparing sermons, finding information is most of the battle. If you have Bible training, you should not be wrestling a whole lot all of the time with understanding simple texts.

Physical Arrangement of Books on a Shelf

Let me lay down a principle. You cannot use something if it is lost and inaccessible to you. We will revisit this when we talk about electronic books. But you need to be somewhat of an expert at categorizing books into what their main topic is. Put all your devotional works together, all your doctrinal works (that present some specific doctrine), all your commentaries together, your Bible Dictionaries, etc. This is group your books. When I had an active physical book library buying new books, I had to move them around and make room for new additions constantly. You cannot guess what you will have, so make your bookshelves flexible if you are going to use them.

Preface, Introduction, and more prefatory stuff

Most commercial books are “pushed” by a book publisher to sell. Today almost all have these kinds of things in them, and they are promotional literature. I skip all of that to be truthful. They hype the fame of the author, the greatness of the book, and your need to shell out big bucks for it. Don’t fall for that.

When you see recommendations by people not on the publisher’s website talking about the book, that is valuable. Many of the blurbs that people put up about a book really tells you zero about the author (they assume their author is so famous that the whole world knows him well), and they tell you about zero about the book. I can usually get 100 times more information from the table of contents than this material. Most specifically, when a review by somebody mentions the author’s point of view on a topic, his place in his movement (everybody belongs to somebody, don’t let those who disclaim being related to a particular denomination or theological mindset kid you). I want to know what people that have nothing to gain say about that author and that book.

Example, Arthur Pink.

Arthur Pink is a good writer, and I have a number, a large number of works written by him. So he was reformed Baptist. I would and do use a lot from his books when I cross a topic I am studying and something he has written. But, there are limits that I would place on his works.

First of all, is a typical Reformed Calvinist. That is not my position personally, and I filter out what I do not agree with as far as Calvinists are concerned. But I probably have 1000s of works by Calvinists, and I happily use them a lot. Secondly, he got “angry” or disillusioned towards the end of his ministry, and he refused to even attend church.

Brethren, being a pastor, I cannot fully endorse anybody who is supposed writing spiritual things when they do not comply as a habit with Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Your Book Rides on Your Personal Testimony

Within the things of God, God uses holy men of God. If a man is not holy, if he does not have a good Christian testimony, then his doctrine is suspect. If he is not Christlike, he is Satan-like. Making fun of God and His structures like the local church as given to us in the New Testament is a deal breaker for me. We all sin, and we all have our defects. But to go into a premeditated and unrepentant plan of disobeying God means that there is something wrong with that person’s spirit. That bad thing can be communicated without your knowledge through his writings.

So I can still read Pink, but it burns me that he didn’t pay the price of admission as far as being some brother than writes books that help us. His failure in being part of a local church makes a stain and blotch on his usefulness in my library. Since about 95% of what most authors write is taken from the books he has available to him at the time, I can still find some good stuff in his writings. But to go whole heartedly after his writings, no. John Calvin also initiated and brought about the death of Servetus because he did not agree with Calvin. I cannot believe that John Calvin had a better gripe on Christianity than anybody outside of Paul and Peter. Testimony has to be there. Doctrine causes conduct. When the premeditated conduct out of a man’s heart is very sinful, and not repentant of that sin, then his doctrine has to be in error close after that.

Making Book Notes

When you evaluate a book, there is preliminary evaluation you do before buying it, usually in the bookstore where you are purchasing the book. But once you decide to purchase it and bring it home, you do a more thorough review. It is a good habit to make some notes in the flyleaf of the book when you come across either very good things or bad things that you don’t like, so that you can find those things more easier later on. Also when you do research on authors, it is good to put things in at least one of his books in the flyleaf as far as these things. You may get to always recognize them later, but put them in one of his books.

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