It was a special treat that I will long cherish. Nine holes of golf with my wife’s uncle. Being nearly 80, he’s been playing golf almost longer than I’ve been alive. He is still pretty good, too. Our afternoon was refreshing. It is great to spend time with a kind-hearted and clear thinking older brother in the faith. He was glad to have me accompany him, because I could usually see where his ball landed. Between strokes we talked about many things. Although no longer serving in this capacity, Ewell served as a spiritual shepherd for many years. He remains intensely concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Lord’s church.
One thing that seemed to concern him a great deal is what he sees as a growing tendency to “accept, without discerning, what some man has written in a book”. Now, he’s a great proponent of reading and wouldn’t discourage reading widely for a moment. But, he noted that, in his estimation, this seemed to be a primary source of many of the problems that followers of Jesus have when it comes to living into what Christ has called us to do.
Evidently this is true. Few have traveled as far-and-wide in religious circles as F. LaGard Smith. His perceptions are based on a panoramic view of many faith-groups, especially churches of Christ, throughout the world. In his book, “Who Is My Brother?” Smith makes this passionate observation: “In one Bible class after another the diligent quest for an authoritative ‘book, chapter, and verse’ on such subjects as Christian fellowship has been replaced by banal discussion of books about the Book or, worse yet, by the latest psycho-babble on everything from marriage and parenting to dieting and codependency. The memorization of passages is all but ancient history, and adult classes rarely rise above the level of Scripture proficiency once expected in junior high.” (p. 52) This is a piercing observation, to be sure. The older I get, the more I agree, sort of. I don’t think our mental-midgetry is limited to thoughtlessly following what books about The Book have to say. Sometimes, it pops up when reading blogs about The Book. Or, while engaging in conversations about The Book. With the proliferation of information comes the necessity of practicing more intense scrutiny of what we are reading.
Now, I enjoy books. Books are my tools. I’ve got books everywhere. As I sit here in my home office, which is tucked away in the corner of a room in the basement, I count eighteen books within sight. (I’m not counting the books that are on the shelves, just the ones that are “in use”.) These are books that I am currently working out of. Sometimes my wife gently suggests that I need to round up some of the twenty or thirty books that are deposited next to the places I normally park around the house and take them back to my office. Books mean a lot to me. I collect them, but more than anything else, I read them. A friend recently asked me to write the introduction to his latest book. What an honor! Lord willing, I’ll gladly do so. I’ve even got a few of my own “book ideas” in the works, which I hope to publish some day. But, if I ever do get any of them written, I hope no one will accept, without careful investigation and analysis in light of God’s Word, what I write. This should be our practice with every book that we read, every sermon that we hear and every class that we attend. If what the Apostle Paul taught merited examination (and it did— see: Acts 17:11), then everything that we hear or read today should be examined as well.
I’m convinced that we must revive our sense yearning for truth which is revealed nowhere more explicitly than in the Scriptures. We can use the books of others to aid us in discerning the will of God, but that’s the extent of it. When eating chicken, we spit out the bones, right? In reading the reasonings of mere humans, we must be careful to do the same. A powerful guiding principle is set forth 1 Thessalonians 5:21, where we are told to: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” If our studies point us to something that seems “new” (and this will happen, because nobody can know it all), then we need to intensify our examination— Test Everything! If it is true, it’s not really new. It’s just new to me. Thus, I need to embrace it— Hold On To The Good!
This will require, for many of us, that we spend significantly less time reading books about the Bible and much more time searching the Scriptures, meditating on God’s Word, and memorizing the immutable truths contained therein. If we will do these things we will be better equipped to read, with discernment, and benefit from the valuable research of others. This will, also, serve as a safeguard against the tendency to accept, without discernment, what some man has written in a book, or in the footnotes of our study Bibles. Furthermore, this practice should protect us from having to deal with some of the self-inflicted problems which we face from time–to–time, because we have neglected God’s Word. In this regard, an ounce of prevention is worth tons of cure!
© Bill Williams
August 22, 2006