"Read With Discernment": A Clumsy Attempt by LifeWay


I like LifeWay Christian Stores pretty well; run by our Southern Baptist friends, LifeWay promotes a decent amount of good stuff book-wise; unlike Family Bookstores, where I’d be thrilled to toss maybe 70% of its products in the garbage bin (and I’m being charitable using that figger), I’d probably only toss 40-50% of LifeWay’s stock in the dumpster. Joel Osteen is nowhere to be found at LifeWay, for instance; we can be thankful for such small favors.

That said, I was alerted to, and came to see for myself, a new initiative promoted by LifeWay entitled “Read with Discernment”. When you walk into a LifeWay and pick up a book by Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, or Rob Bell, or the wildly-popular The Shack by William Young, you are liable to be greeted with a little sign underneath suggesting we “read with discernment”. Yesterday, I was in LifeWay, and found the warning under Blue Like Jazz, though The Shack was no so labeled. On the website to which one is directed, LifeWay says,

We want you to know that the authors of books marked Read with Discernment may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.

Well, OK, I can buy that with some of these guys, although the cynic in me wonders if McLaren and Miller are singled out for their (disappointing) support of Comrade Obama for the presidency. I happened to really love Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell’s first effort, even if he said some things I wouldn’t have said. I’ve read three of Miller’s books and probably five of McLaren’s, and I liked Miller pretty well on a lot of things, and McLaren less so. But I digress…

Here are a couple of my thoughts on the subject:

One, right across the aisle from Blue Like Jazz were a number of books by T.D. Jakes. Yes, you heard me correctly…T.D. Jakes. Mr. Jakes has some peculiar, and possibly heretical, views on the Trinity; Mr. Jakes lives a high roller lifestyle as at least a semi-devotee of health/wealth “theology”. I wouldn’t recommend T.D. Jakes to anyone…but there he is, no warning label attached. I wouldn’t have had to go far to find plenty of others, I’m sure, whose writing was unBiblical, or whose lifestyle was questionable, etc. Further…if we want people to “read with discernment”, don’t all books, including foremost the Bible itself, belong on that list? Is there any book we can “let our guard down” with? I include the Bible, only because while God never steers us wrong in His perfect Word, there are some very important hermeneutical rules that we need to follow lest we go well astray in the study of the Holy Scriptures. It seems to me that singling out a few books by a few authors does a disservice to readers, even though i know what LifeWay is getting at.

Two, does this not set a dangerous precedent? LifeWay rightly rejects some books that fall outside Biblical orthodoxy, but where’s the line between the “acceptable but potentially hazardous” and just plain “acceptable”? Who decides? Why McLaren, but not Jakes? How much heresy can be tolerated? And what if a Southern Baptist pastor writes some questionable stuff? Further, what about pastors who write books and make sure that their smiling mugs are the most prominent feature on the front cover? I saw a new book by a young SBC pastor on the shelves, and his face was big enough that Joel himself would be proud. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t see “preacher vanity” as a big, big issue in the contemporary evangelical church, and the SBC is by no means immune to that.

I could probably think of some more things to say, but I’m not terribly convinced that such labeling is a good idea, despite the fact that it would seem well-intentioned. What say ye?


  1. Ian on February 19, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I was thinking about writing a book on the wrong way to plant a church. It’ll have to be a coffee table book though because I’ve already got the life sized head shot of myself for the cover.

  2. Laurie on February 20, 2009 at 12:43 am

    I agree it’s a clumsy attempt because if you’re going to “rate” books you should have some kind of guideline that makes sense, and apply it to all books, even the best sellers.

    Done right, it could be helpful for newbies who want to be discerning about what they read but don’t yet know what’s good and what isn’t, then again who is really qualified to make decisions like that?

    I don’t like the selection Family Christian carries either, it almost reminds me of secular bookstores, where the religious section has everything from Christianity to Paganism.

    • Byron on February 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

      Yeah, I think that the intent is noble, but it’ll be hard to implement in a consistent way, and will likely swallow some camels while straining at some gnats.

  3. Mark Merritt on February 23, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Now if I could just get a book titled “Discernment” into those bookstores soooon…:-)

  4. Don on February 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Not sure it’s really Lifeway’s intent to “strain” every book that is found on their shelves. Lifeway exists to sell books. On the other hand they have clearly stated that “almost every title requires some measure of discernment” and that “whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you.” It seems to me that they are merely providing some additional help with at least some of the more obvious instances of controversy.

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