How I Review Books (And Why You Should, Too)

I want you to review books. But don’t worry. You don’t have to write anything down!

Allow me to explain with an analogy. If you think about it, every patron at a restaurant is a food critic. We may not have the official title, but whenever we eat a meal at that place on the corner and give a report of how it tastes (“You’ve got to try the pad thai”), we’re acting the part. Our opinion about the food matters, and as eaters, we’re qualified to give it.

In a similar way, every reader should be a reviewer. We’re not meant to be passive recipients of what the author is telling us. We’re called to discern, to bring a critical eye to every word we read. If it’s not Scripture, it’s not infallible.

When you’re a kid, you believe everything you read to be true, no matter its source. (For some adults, this sadly applies as well.) But we know that every book other than the Bible is under the Bible–in terms of both worth and authority. That should affect the stance that we take toward the book from the get-go. We should realize that

  1. Authors are humans. Humans are sinful and imperfect. Authors may write things that are false, either intentionally or accidentally.
  2. Authors have an obligation to write what is true. They will be held accountable.
  3. Books can never usurp the authority of God’s eternal Word; in fact, they have no inherent authority of their own.
  4. Books are dead. God’s Word is alive.
  5. Books must be judged by the standard of Scripture.

Knowing these things should also impact the way we read. If we affirm points 1-5, then we shouldn’t treat any book like it’s perfect or as true as God’s–even if it’s by our favorite author. We also shouldn’t look to a manmade book more than the Word for our wisdom. Any real wisdom a book has must come from the Lord Himself.

Maybe you’re saying, “I got that. But what about reviewing?”

While you read, you listen to what the author says and make an evaluation. You notice a lot of things–the style, the headings, the specific words she uses. But the ultimate question must be, “Does Scripture agree with this?”

Here are 3 steps I take when I review books. This is what I did for both Unglued and For the Love. Perhaps it will help you as you continue to exercise discernment as a reader:

Step 1: Read and observe

Obviously, to review a book, you have to read it. But how we read the book matters immensely.

We should read:

  • …Closely and carefully. Try not to skim and skip. (I am tempted to do this at times, too.) Especially at pivotal moments on the book (when the author is making grand claims, for instance), look deeper at what he or she is saying. When a statement rubs you the wrong way, check out the context, the vocabulary, and any evidence the author gives to see if your doubts are founded or not.
  • …Both hopefully and critically. On the one hand, we should have hope for the best in the author, and avoid assumptions before having the facts. Even in cases when we know the author is a false teacher, we are still called, as Christians, to be unbiased and gracious, not quick to make judgments without knowledge. Everything we believe must be backed up by truth–not only so that we can defend our stance to others, but so that we can be Christlike and holy. But on the other hand, it is vitally important to read critically, with caution, testing everything. The sad fact is, there are many books riddled with errors and even heresies. Compare what the authors says to Scripture.
  • …With knowledge of the Word of God and the help of the Holy Spirit to apply it. No one’s understanding of the Bible is perfect. But if, with the Spirit guiding us and teaching us, we know the Word well and can apply it, then we are equipped to discern truth from error. The Spirit will often alert us to false teachings, because as Christ’s sheep, we only follow His voice. However, as imperfect people, we also need the help of the church to keep us in the way of the truth and not swerving into error.
  • …Using other resources to inform you about the author and book. If you see an article or sermon from a trusted source, providing facts about the author that could influence how you view his or her teachings, it is a good idea to use that information as you read. Sometimes even heretics can write articles that seem innocent and even biblically sound. Knowing that extra information can keep you from unintentionally promoting someone with a shady background. Or, conversely, knowing more about the author could help you view his or her works more accurately. Reading a Puritan is going to be different from reading a modern author.

After reading a chapter or section, reflect on what you’ve read. Even take notes if you’d like. (As a book reviewer and blogger, I take a LOT of notes) That way you’re better prepared to form an opinion of the book afterwards, and to share with others who ask for your opinion.

Step 2: Evaluate and develop your view

You may never end up blogging about what you’ve read like I do. (Or you might!) But it’s still important to consider what you’ve read and come to a conclusion about it, based on Scripture and any other correct information you have available. Because it’s not just about books–it’s about learning how to exercise discernment, and reviewing books is a great way to practice that vital part of the Christian life.

The ability to discern will help you, not only when you read, but when you’re talking to someone, listening to a sermon, or even wrestling with your own thoughts and feelings. But discernment is not easy! It’s like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through constant use.

Reading equips us with knowledge, true; but it also makes us critical thinkers who rely on the truthfulness of Scripture at every turn in life. Whether it’s an atheist arguing with us about God’s existence, or simply our own negative thoughts about ourselves, we need to be able to say, “That’s just not true, because Scripture says…”

Step 3: Consider sharing with others

We like to share our opinions on movies and restaurants; why not share about what we’ve read, too? Your friends may or may not agree with your conclusions, but by giving solid Scriptural points to support your stance, you are also encouraging the other person to evaluate things with a biblical foundation. You may help them become more discerning themselves.

Be aware that not everyone is at the same place with the Lord, or with their understanding of His Word. That fact can complicate how others receive your message. But if you have friends who desire to grow, you can graciously walk them through what you believe, how it is founded in Scripture, and how you came to your viewpoint. If they are reading books that you know teach dangerous theology, you can ask them for what they think–maybe they’ve never been asked that before. Just by discussing it with them, they may begin to question and look more deeply at not just the book and its author, but the Word of God itself.

We need more Christian readers and writers willing to critique books logically, biblically, and graciously. Maybe you can join me and others in doing this!

But now that you’ve read this article–closely, carefully, critically–let me ask you… what’s your review? 😉




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