Four and a half books I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian

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Last week, I shared five books I would encourage every new Christian read. In that post, I mentioned that in my first years as a believer, I read a lot of books I simply should not have. At all. Which ones were they? Here are five… well, four and a half:

1. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I picked this up because Bell was the hip teacher at the time. Lots of folks at our church were into the NOOMA videos, and we were all gaga over them. And kinda dumb for it. This book really messed with my head at a time when I was trying to begin figuring out what it meant to be a Christian. In the end, it seems I’ve come out better for it. But would I recommend anyone follow my path? Gosh no.

2. Just like Jesus by Max Lucado. This was the beginning of my life-long whatever the opposite of a bromance is with Lucado. As a new believer, I found this book to be sappy, sentimental pap, an opinion that’s carried over into pretty much anything I’ve read of his. While I’m sure he’s a lovely man, I can’t help but hate myself a little when I read something by him.

2.5. Wild at Heart by John Eldridge. This one’s the half book because I never finished reading it. I made it about halfway before I gave up. Terrible writing combined with a weird “frontier man meets mystic” idea of what it means to be a Christian man.

3. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. This, again, was one of the super-hot books of 2006, and easily one of the most pretentious. For a book advocating a “simple way,” it came across incredibly arrogant and condescending. Basically it read like, “If you’re not driving a van running on vegetable oil, living in a monastic community and not bathing, you’re doing it wrong.” It also didn’t help my wife with her ongoing issue of mocking authors in a sing-songy voice.

4. The Future of Justification by John Piper. This was actually the first John Piper book I ever read, and it’s a really good one. So why’d it make this list? Because I understood it and, as a believer for only a couple of years at the time, I didn’t have the emotional and theological maturity to handle that well. I already had some pretty serious pride issues by that point, and that only served to make them worse.

There were others, of course. I read a Brian McLaren book around the time I was gaining doctrinal convictions and threw it against a wall (it was either The Story We Find Ourselves In or The Last Word and the Word After That) because of its irritating hypothetical anecdotes about hypothetical people becoming hypothetical Christians. I read  memoirs by Mark Driscoll and Craig Groeschel that did nothing to help me get a clear picture of the challenges of pastoral ministry (or, in hindsight, the character of an elder for that matter). I remember really enjoying a lot of Don Miller’s books, but failed to see some of the significant theological problems in them (particularly Searching for God Knows What).

But you get the idea. Reading books is good for new Christians, but our reading is only as profitable as the books we’re reading are helpful. When the content is beneficial and we’ve got the maturity to embrace it humbly, it’s a good thing. When the content is awful and we have the acumen to critique it thoughtfully, it’s a blessed thing. But when we’re reading anything and lack either the maturity or discernment to appropriately process it, it can lead to disaster.

Your turn: What are a few books you shouldn’t have read as a new Christian?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

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  • Matt Henderson

    Hah! So glad someone else feels the same way about Wild at Heart. It’s sitting on my shelf dog-eared in the middle, probably not too soon to be opened again.

  • Deanna

    Loved this post! I don’t think “Jesus Calling” should be read by a new Christian.

    • toni

      or really by any Christian

      • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

        I would tend to agree.

    • Melissa Bjorgen

      Why do you say this? I’ve been thinking about reading this book. I would love to hear your opinion.

  • http://writingandliving.net Staci Eastin

    I read the Frank Peretti “This Present Darkness” series as a teenager. Yes, I knew they were fiction, but I took the premise that angels are unable to battle evil unless they have adequate prayer cover to heart. To think that you have to pray enough to help angels out is a big burden to carry!

  • Neal

    Happy to see “WIld at Heart” make the list. Read it as a young Christian, didn’t know what was wrong with it yet because I couldn’t articulate well, but I knew there was something. I think my first problem started with the fact that there were more Braveheart quotes than Scripture.

  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    I read this as a mature Christian, but I would warn young women who are new Christians (or even mature ones) away from “Created to be His Helpmeet” and “To Train Up a Child” and anything else by Debi and/or Michael Pearl.

    • Deanna

      I agree with you, Michelle.

    • kiplingsqueenbee

      Agreed. I have only read reviews of the Pearls’ books, but some things the reviewers have said about their discipline methods are disturbing to say the least, and do not sound Biblical at all.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Fun fact: you’re the first person I know of who has actually read something by the Pearls! Everything I’ve read about those books has been pretty terrifying.

      • Michelle Dacus Lesley

        Even if I knew nothing about the books theologically, just the fact that children have been killed by parents who have followed the instructions in the parenting book (in fairness to the Pearls– they say these parents weren’t following the instructions correctly) would be enough to keep me away from them. (Check out the comments on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Train-Up-Child-Turning-children-ebook/dp/B0038KA6GC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400624805&sr=8-1&keywords=to+train+up+a+child) But the theology is horrible, too. Challies did a good review a while back.

        I think more pastors need to be made aware of the dangers of these books. I know a couple of them who have recommend them during marriage counseling sessions.

        • Michelle Dacus Lesley

          And a lot of the problem with “Christian” books is that there is almost zero discernment in Christian publishing houses and Christian retailers about what biblically qualifies as Christian and what does not. That’s where unsuspecting young Christians get confused.

          Any heretic can spit out a book, and as long as he has the requisite platform a Christian publisher will publish it and a Christian retailer will sell it. And people will assume it’s orthodox because of that.

          I am constantly beating the, “You can’t trust something to be Christian just because it says it is. Do your homework,” drum to my readers. I’m convinced that if Jesus were here, bodily, today, He’d be overturning tables at our local Christian bookstores.

          Ok, sorry. This is your blog not mine :0)

          • http://www.ImAllBooked.com/ ImAllBooked

            Your point about Christians not being discerning and devotedly following “Christian” writers was the impetus behind my current three-part series, “‘Christian’ Books Every Christian would be better off NOT reading.” My list includes Osteen, Bell, Jesus Calling, Heaven is for Real, Left Behind, and The Shack

    • Melissa Bjorgen

      Yes. Aaron, I have read both of those books. The reviews are much worse than the books actually. There is SOME good advice in them, but you have to be willing to wade through the legalism and judgement.

  • http://www.glorydistilled.com/ Nick Horton

    Read half an Osteen book before I threw it in the trash. No one told me not to read it. Thank God he didn’t let me walk that road.

    Dallas Willard’s “Hearing God” is confusing, poorly written, and emphasizes hearing from God other than the Bible. At least what I remember of it. Didn’t finish.

    I learned to get selective with readin

  • Amber

    What would be an interesting post is how these books led you personally in the wrong direction and the path you’ve taken to get back.

    In college, I wanted to learn more about the Holy Spirit, not having heard much about him growing up. So I went online and found a couple promising looking ones. One by Billy Graham that was really helpful and one by…wait for it…Benny Hinn. (I had never heard of him.) I remember reading it and thinking, “Hmm, I’ve been a Christian my whole life and never experienced THAT.” :)

    Several years later, after being in a very legalistic church environment that had led me astray, I read McLaren’s New Kind of Christian. It was exactly what I needed to hear in some ways and exactly not what I needed in others. It helped me break free of legalism, but it also helped me spiral into a period of a crisis of faith. I was in a fragile period, and it really wasn’t what I needed (lacking the discernment I might have had at other points in my life.)

  • Mark Tubbs

    So glad you followed up with this post, Aaron. By the way, an excellent choice of 5 books on the previous list, although I would think the list should vary according to the person doing the reading. Not having become a Christian via sudden or discernible conversion, I had a different journey to faith as a young child. But I will share that CJ Mahaney’s book “Humility” messed me up in my mid-twenties. When I thought about it carefully using my own brain (if you know what I mean) I realized that it wasn’t bad, it was just terribly incomplete. No wonder Mike Bullmore recommends Andrew Murray’s “Humility” over CJ’s.

    Also, something I see lacking is mature Christians taking the time to read along with and discussing materials with new Christians. “Here’s a book” isn’t as helpful as that investment of attention, time, and prayer.

    • Mike Stephan

      That final paragraph is true, and it stings. Discipleship is lacking, in general, in American evangelicalism. And I am guilty of this as well.

      Interestingly though, when I was growing up and attending our churches confimation class (I was attending a PCUSA church at the time), the youth (9th graders) were paired with an adult for discipleship. I still remain in contact with the gentleman who was my discipler for the year. He took the time to talk and pray with me and answser my questions. It was a great time for me and I think it was one of the foundations that put me on the path for ministry.

      I think we, as a church, should figure out a way to do this sort of discipling again. We miss much without it, in my opinion.

  • N. Vale

    90 minutes in heaven. While a beautiful story, I took way too many assumptions away from it and ended up being pretty messed up in my view of heaven for a few months. Like anything, read it with a grain of salt and understand exactly what the author wants to convey.

  • Nick

    Left Behind Series – but no old Christian should read this either…

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Indeed.

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  • Melissa Sanders

    Hmmm… never really got into the reading of books… I read the BIBLE… and well… it’s good enough for me and I’ve found that I don’t NEED to read other books to explain the Bible… I know the author and He does all the explaining I need.

    • http://www.ImAllBooked.com/ ImAllBooked

      But there are a lot of helpful, useful book written that are theologically solid and well written, so don’t write off all books besides the Bible. Many men have studied hard and have great wisdom and insight that I know I don’t possess, so I am grateful to those who have given us wonderful books to help me in my understanding of Scripture and how to apply it in my life.

  • Melissa Bjorgen

    I would love for you to write a blog about the books women should not read

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      That could be a lot of fun. Consider it on the list.