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Why Christians Should Read in the Mainstream
April 04, 2011
Christians read a lot of books. This is a good thing. Christians read a lot of Christian books. This is another good thing. But it’s also an easy thing, a safe thing. Though I am glad to see many Christians reading many books, I believe there is value in reading not only deeply but also widely. And this means that Christians should read more than just Christian books—we should read books that are in the cultural mainstream.
Let me offer you a few reasons that you should consider reading regularly in the mainstream:
Christians have long understood that God gives a measure of grace to all human beings and not just to Christians. We know this as common grace, grace given in common to all people. The great theologian Charles Hodge summarizes it in this way: “The Bible therefore teaches that the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, of holiness, and of life in all its forms, is present with every human mind, enforcing truth, restraining from evil, exciting to good, and imparting wisdom or strength, when, where, and in what measure seemeth to Him good.” Common grace tells us that Christians do not have the market cornered when it comes to what is true and what is wise.
What this means is that we are wise to read all kinds of books, and not just those that have been sanctified by association with a Christian publisher or Christian author. The Parable of the Dishonest Manager in Luke 16 is one of Jesus’ stranger parables, but its purpose should not be lost on us: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus knew of God’s common grace. He would tell us that truth and wisdom are waiting to be mined in every genre of books.
The people who live around us, the people we work with, the people who come through the doors of our churches, tend to live downstream from the bestselling books. The Secret has convinced millions of people that there is validity to the Law of Attraction; Getting Things Done has transformed the way people understand prioritization and productivity; Good to Great has changed the self-perception of individuals, churches and businesses at the deepest levels.
If you want to understand the people around you, why they are the way they are, what influences them, why they make the decisions they do, you will do well to read the books they read. These books explain the ideas; the people live the ideas.
To Practice Discernment
Reading in the mainstream represents a challenge, a way to practice spiritual discernment and Christian thinking. If you read only your favorite books by your favorite Christian authors you will grow only so far and in only so many directions. To read widely is to engage with people who think differently and who approach very similar issues from a radically different worldview. Read Daniel Pink’s bestselling Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and compare it to David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture. Think about the way these men approach a similar subject matter from very different perspectives. And do not be surprised when you find things to agree about and disagree about in each of the two books.
There is Much to Learn
The sheer size of the mainstream publishing industry compared to Christian publishing means there are many topics Christian publishers simply cannot cover. Reading in the mainstream will open new vistas that simply are not available in the Christian market. C.S. Lewis once wrote that there are two great benefits available to us if we choose to read widely: we will have the opportunity to experiences places we’ve never experienced and we’ll be able to think thoughts we’ve never thought before. Though there is some truth to his words in the Christian market, there is great truth to it outside.
Here are a few recent mega-sellers you may like to consider: