The Mark of a Good Book

My dad was a very wise man who taught me a number of unforgettable lessons. One that stands out is “If you want people to believe a lie, print it!”

I have seen the truth of these words confirmed again and again. Books have an air of authority around them, which explains why people are oftentimes disappointed when meeting an author.

In reality there is no difference between the authority of the printed and spoken word, no matter how popular the former may be. As Robert Boston has wisely pointed out: “How a book sells is not an indication of its merit. The … public has a seemingly bottomless appetite for nonsense, as evidenced by the countless tomes about astrology, aliens from outer space, quack diets, and UFOs that have regularly graced best-seller lists over the years. Some books that sold millions have later been exposed as hoaxes. A slot on the best-seller list tells you exactly one thing about a book: that a lot of people bought it.”

The same goes for Christian books. In fact, a Christian book’s fame may oftentimes be an indication of its shallowness (The road leading to perdition is broad, remember?). A Christian bestseller list is an indication of a book’s popularity, never of its theological soundness.

The single most important criteria for judging a Christian book is never its popularity, relevance, practical usefulness or readability. Rather, it is the degree to which the centrality of Jesus Christ dominates the book.

That may sound a bit abstract, so let me assist by listing a group of Christian authors whose books fall into this category (There are many more): Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, A.W. Tozer, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Major Ian Thomas, T. Austin Sparks, Jessie Penn Lewis, Oswald Chambers.

Start reading these authors and you will know exactly what I mean.


7 thoughts on “The Mark of a Good Book

  1. Carla Swanepoel September 5, 2011 / 8:05 am

    Well said.

  2. Chris Lovie-Tyler September 19, 2011 / 10:14 am

    “The single most important criteria for judging a Christian book is never its popularity, relevance, practical usefulness or readability. Rather, it is the degree to which the centrality of Jesus Christ dominates the book.”

    Couldn’t agree more! I’m cautious of books where Jesus isn’t central, or where the content of the book doesn’t, in some way, bring me closer to him.

  3. naturalchurch September 19, 2011 / 10:42 am

    Thanks for the comment, Chris. I suspect people think that they won’t find enough books to read if this is the criteria. But there is a multitude of Christ centered works out there if we will only look. Part of the adventure (for me, at least) is to trace these authors. One of the best ways to find forgotten/unknown Christ centered authors is to read the better known ones, like the ones I mentioned above, and note which authors and books influenced them. And then to do the same with those authors, and so on. What a glorious treasure hunt, to dig deeper and deeper and discover more of Jesus Christ every time!

  4. Chris Lovie-Tyler September 20, 2011 / 8:14 am

    Good tip, Tobie, about reading the well-known authors and tracing who influenced them. I’ve been doing that to an extent.

    Some of Watchman Nee’s stuff is mind-blowing (The Normal Christian Life and Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things – Wow!). I’ve read an Andrew Murray book that was fantastic (in fact, I think he was one of Watchman Nee’s influences). I have My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, which is a constant challenge to me. I fairly recently read T. Austin Sparks’ “The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ”, which can be found online here:

    (I learnt of him via Frank Viola.)

    I’ve just finished reading Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, which was a great read. I’m looking forward to reading some of his other books.

    I also greatly appreciate Madame Guyon’s “Experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ”.

    The frustrating thing is, many of these writers are now labelled heretics (in fact it seems everyone is a heretic in someone’s eyes these days!). I guess maybe some of them got into flaky things at times, but most of what I’ve read seems thoroughly Biblical to me (just not stuff that’s taught often), and it certainly brings me closer to Christ!

    It’s great to see Frank Viola championing the centrality and supremacy of Christ, too.

  5. naturalchurch October 4, 2011 / 8:57 am

    Hi Chris. I’ve been wanting to respond to you since you’ve posted the above. I find the labels and stereotypes just as frustrating. In fact, I started writing a series of articles on the psychology of defense, and how it manifests in the church of Jesus Christ, a few weeks ago. I hope to start publishing them on the blog soon.

  6. Chris Lovie-Tyler October 5, 2011 / 8:42 am

    Sounds interesting, Tobie. I look forward to reading that.

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