Admit it. We all judge books by their covers, don’t we?
Swirling, flowery letters. Pastel colors and feminine designs, surrounding a short but sweet title that intrigues us. The words on the back are easy to read and capture our hearts. The author herself looks beautiful, kind, and relatable. We are drawn in. Now, let’s check out the first page!
Lo and behold, the first few paragraphs match the cover completely. The writer’s style is intimate and friendly, right off the bat. She is not afraid to open up and bare her heart’s deepest struggles. She writes casually, as though she were instant-messaging a friend. She considers us one of her closest confidantes. She even expresses, in such tender words, how much she wants to sit with us and cry with us. Amazing!
So amazing… that so many women will buy the book, take it home, read it hungrily, and eat up every word the author writes–without thinking to compare it with their Bibles.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE COVER?
Let me set the record straight first: there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with a pretty book cover or an affectionate writing style. I’m not arguing for ugly, plain covers and mean authors.
I’d be a hypocrite if I did. Just look at my blog. It’s pink. It’s pretty. And if you’ve read my recent post on depression, for instance, I’ve offered myself as a companion to the reader.
So, that’s not what I’m saying.
What am I saying? That the feminine book covers and girl-talk so popular right now can be used in a manipulative way–as a way to cover up the ugly, rotten theology that hides below the surface. And many women are being deceived.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN JOHN OWEN AND A TEXT MESSAGE
Few of us today write like John Owen did.
The godly Puritan man wrote some of the best Christian works you’ll ever find, but even for the people of his era, he wasn’t easy to read. His sentences are meaty, long, and full of sub-points. His paragraphs can take up pages. His vocabulary sometimes requires a dictionary. But I wouldn’t argue that these are negatives. Reading Owen has the potential to vastly improve your reading comprehension, and you’ll never come away from it thinking, “I wish he’d packed a little more theology in there.” It’s chock-full of wonderful Christian teaching.
Now I wouldn’t expect writers today to mimic his writing style and language. It would sound far too strange for our time. I’m not advocating for female authors to suddenly write just like Puritans.
But is it too much to ask that the books today not sound like text messages? When the writing is so casual, rife with kindergarten-level words and catchy slang, it distracts from the solemn theology that the author is (presumably) trying to teach. And when you can fly through the book at record speed because of the lack of solid content, it makes it difficult to pay close attention–and way too easy to slip in some false doctrine, unbeknownst to the reader.
Not to mention, the gushy girl-talk cushions the blow, so that even if a statement leaves a reader scratching her head, the author’s good intentions and seemingly reasonable (but not Scriptural) explanations could cause her to lower her guard–or keep it down for good.
JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS THEOLOGY
This is really not meant to be the angry spews of a Grammar Nazi wanting everyone to write in complete sentences in standard English.
This is merely an appeal to female readers everywhere, to just be careful and watchful. To judge a book, not by its attractive cover or sweet style or raw, “authentic” words, but by its theology: what it says about God, the world, and you and me. Does the teaching of the author line up with Scripture? Or does it fall short–or flat on its face? What do we know about the public ministry of the author? Is she living in clear rebellion to God? If so, can we really trust her?
And that goes for dull-looking books by Puritans, too. No book but the Bible is exempt from scrutiny. We must always be on guard. There’s nothing unloving or prideful about putting an author and her writing under the magnifying glass. In fact, quite the opposite.
Some will say, “We can just swallow the meat and spit out the bones.” But far too often, women are choking on the bones, thinking that they are meat–because that’s how they’re being presented.
Occasionally we’ll stumble upon a book, unsure of its contents. What we need in order to avoid deception is to know the Word of God. Not just the stories, but the doctrine. We need to know who our triune God is, how He works, who we are, and what we’re called to do. This is where confessions and creeds come in handy. They help us see some of the fundamental truths the Church has held to through the ages. Of course, even they must support their positions with the Word of God. Whenever we read anything, we use the Bible as the one true standard.
But in the end, books and blogs and all the words of men will fade. None are infallible; they all contain error, some more than others. But the Word of the Lord never fails and never fades. It lasts forever, because our God lives forever. His truth may not be pretty and sweet, but it’s always beautiful. Just like He is.