Buyer Beware: Where do you shop for wisdom?


In my Christian walk, my appetite for truth seems to grow stronger each day. My bookshelf is growing at an alarming rate. So many books, so little time! Can you relate? Unfortunately, I have been led astray a few times by sources I thought were trustworthy. I’m beginning to realize that it’s not so easy to shop for trustworthy wisdom these days.

Book Stores

Christian Book stores have been my go-to for buying books since I was a child. Recently I’ve discovered that most Christian bookstores are not necessarily Christian. They just sell products to Christian customers. Stores like these do a poor job sorting the truth from the lies. Because they are a business, they seem more interested in making a sale. They sell Christian self-help books with prosperity gospel messages, cult books on mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness, charismatic doctrines, and their best sellers tickle your ears with controversial content that Bible scholars and pastors would be quick to label heresy.

Big stores like Walmart and Barnes & Noble have big card-board cut out displays for these controversial books with little to no biblical resources or Bibles.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

Popular Christian publishers like Zondervan are owned by larger secular publishing companies (Harper Collins) and also publish books on satanic practices, witchcraft, and exploratory spirituality.

Mainstream Media

Another large source of my interest come from entrainment sources like documentaries on YouTube or Netflix. I’ve learned some interesting things but for the most part, there isn’t a way you can double check the factual sources while watching. That would never work with a book. Books need cited sources and footnotes, etc. Documentaries seem one-sided and you end up just trusting in the producer as the facts fly by at 100mph.

Ever since the Bible TV series became a hit, Christian movies have been booming. Unfortunately, these movies are being produced by catholics, atheists, and secular mega-production studios. We took our small group to see the new Noah movie, only to discover they had rewritten the story line… To our surprise, we found another sales-driven motive. Noah raked in $44 million on its opening weekend. All the hype over the inaccuracy of the movie may have driven an even larger crowd.

Christian Media

I’ve subscribed to Christian magazines and radio, but find them shallow at times. Many of them discuss poplar social topics and TV shows instead of theology and encouragement to their Christian listeners. Most Christian radio hosts don’t dig deep into Christian life and seem to play the same 10 songs over and over. Again, I think this is about sales…

I used to subscribe to a popular young adult magazine until I discerned it a bit too relevant. The magazine (designed for youth and young adults) was hip and edgy, but lacking in biblical wisdom and scripture. They have a bunch of writers that submit articles on their web blog. It’s hard to tell if these random writers are wise or just popular writers. They post topics that sound something like “10 tips on how you should live your life”. I typically found a lot more opinion than doctrine and I found a lot of scripture out of context. However the edgy nature brings up a lot of great (and often avoided) topics and I still check in here and there.

Christian Music

I used to think Christian music was just music. I have recently bought an old Baptist hymnal off of Amazon and discovered music is theology! It’s really impossible to write Christian music without theology and doctrine. That being said, I’ve been cleaning out some of my music collection. I’ve found conflicting views on pneumatology and some I’ve removed for lack of any theology. The label is “Christian”, but the music just doesn’t give that impression. Some of the new music is shallow and just sounds hip to mainstream. It’s ironic because I had finally got what I asked for: Christian music that sounded “cool”. Now I’m asking myself why cool was ever really important? Contemporary Christian music is not the best source of theology… But I would recomend picking up an old hymnal!

People

I’ve found council to be a much better source of wisdom then the sources mentioned so far. Elders have life experience and have sifted through scripture and listened to hundreds of sermons. Scripture tells us to seek wise council and listen to others wiser than us and in authority.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
-Proverbs 12:15

However… judging the title of this article will lead you to believe that there is even a caution here. Most pastors are qualified to share their messages with you, but everyone has biases in doctrine. If you listen to one source your whole life, changes are you beliefs will mirror. It’s important to listen to multiple angles before making your decisions. This principle goes for college professors and online authors as well. Shop around and constantly challenge your current close-held beliefs.

THE BIBLE

By far the greatest of all the sources of wisdom is the Bible. God’s word is described as a light unto our path, and sharper than a two edged sword.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12

We also know that Scripture is inerrant and without flaw,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
2 Timothy 3:16

However, after taking a hermeneutics class at my church, I learned that there were still three things that could interfere with this awesome source of wisdom: Translation, Interpretation, and Application.

Translation is important because the original texts were written in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Some things just don’t translate perfectly into our modern day english. Did you know there are 6 words for Love in Indonesia? We only have one here in the USA! Compare english translations as well. Most translations differ on a spectrum from being closest to individual word meanings or closest to entire phrase meanings. A great tool for comparing individual words is Blue Letter Bible. For entire phrases into english, use something like the NLT translation.

Interpretation of scriptures will very, even from respected sources. I found this out when I had purchased commentaries from my favorite pastors, only to discover they would both interpret a passage differently! I was dumbfounded by this because they were both super credible resources. I have a new habit of using multiple sources from multiple angles before taking a stand on a passage or topic. Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting scripture apart from worldview, mores, theology, and personal preference to determine the original meaning of the author. And it’s tough! Most modern day differences in interpretation are due to differences in doctrinal beliefs. You’ll need to discover your own doctrinal beliefs!

Your application will be effected by the successfulness of your interpretation, and by guidance of the Holy Spirit. When interpreting scripture, you’ll realize not everything is about you. Most misapplied scripture is done this way. Some text is descriptive and not prescriptive. It’s important to know the difference. Knowing biblical genres is great for applying scripture.

“Exposition effects Disposition”

Conclusion

Finding good wisdom takes work and the search never stops. You have to do your homework. Test everything. Beware of ear tickling and hidden motives. Seek council from multiple sources. From what I’ve discovered, the truth is a treasure worth finding! In closing this ultra long post, observe the Bereans in their quest for seeking out the truth,

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Acts 17:11